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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2015
It seems strange at first that the author should refer to the former Kommandant of Auschwitz by his first name, Rudolf. There can be no such misgivings that the man who hunted him down should be Hanns, but then Hanns didn't have a hand in killing in excess of one million people.

But as one reads their life stories told in alternate chapters, one begins to understand through the disparities of the two men's background and circumstances, why the author tries to remain nonjudgmental. And he is surely right to concentrate on their actions, rather than make any detailed attempt to examine their characters. It seems at times that Hanns is portrayed as less than perfectly good and Rudolf less than totally evil. But finally, there can be little doubt that their lives might have been very different but for circumstances.

The publicity for the book gives prominence to the hunt and capture of Rudolf. And whilst that is absorbing enough, it is the contrast in their lives that really makes the book notable. The sentences are plain, almost matter-of-fact, without recourse to hyperbole. There are perhaps too many books which seek to exploit the holocaust, but this isn't one of them. It is in understatement that the true enormity of the crime is profiled.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2014
I thought this was an excellent book. It's certainly not the first I've read about the Holocaust, but it's impressed me for a particular reason. The author, Thomas Harding, is the great-nephew of Hanns Alexander, the eponymous German Jew. Given what his family went through during the Third Reich, it would not be unreasonable to expect him to succumb to the temptation of painting a one-dimensional portrait of his great-uncle as the perfect hero and Rudolf Hoess as the blackest of black villains. Yet, remarkably, he doesn't. While he doesn't hesitate to describe in harrowing detail the mass murders and appalling 'lesser' crimes for which Rudolf Hoess was responsible, and his utter lack of real, genuine remorse for them as opposed to for their consequences for him and his family, he also reflects the other side of the man - the obedient, hard worker and loving father. In equal detail he describes the sometimes wilful child that his great-uncle was, and writes openly of his prolonged procrastination towards the girl who was later to become his wife. I was especially struck by how Hanns and his twin brother Paul, both as children and adults, teased children in an almost bullying way that left me feeling rather uncomfortable. I couldn't help wondering how that trait might have developed had they later found themselves in circumstances where it could have been given free rein and encouragement - running a concentration camp, for example. It's very much to Mr Harding's credit, especially given how emotionally involved he must be in the story - that he gave us a picture of both Mr Hoess and Mr Alexander as human beings, with all the qualities and the flaws that every human being has. I think that added a great deal to the awful fascination of their stories, and it makes it almost impossible to finish the book without wondering 'what might I have done?' - in either Mr Hoess's or Mr Alexander's position. A very, very good read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 September 2013
Nazi and Jew. Jew and Nazi. Can you imagine two more disparate people? In his book, British author Thomas Harding writes about Hanns Alexander, a German Jew who emigrated to England in the mid-1930's with almost his entire family, and Rudolf Hoss, a German Nazi who was the commandant of Auschwitz and self-confessed murderer of 2 million people. Could two men - in and of the world at the same time - be more different? In "Hanns and Rudolf", Harding, great-nephew of Hanns Alexander, tells the story of the two and how one man helped decide the fate of the other after that other man had decided the fates of millions.

"Hanns and Rudolf" is a double biography of those two men. Hanns was the son of German-Jewish parents. His father was a well-respected doctor and the Alexander family - with two older daughters and twin sons, Hanns and Paul - lived a good life in Berlin. During the 1930's, the family realised the Nazi governments restrictions on German Jews were not going to lessen and there was no future in Germany for the family. They were all able to emigrate to England, where the father reestablished his medical practice. The boys joined the British Army in a special unit made up of former German Jews who had emigrated. Hanns became a translator after the war for the British army's war-crimes division and was one of those officials tracking down Nazi war criminals. It was in this capacity that he captured Rudolf Hoss and brought him to justice.

Rudolf Hoss was the son of staunchly Catholic parents. He lied about his age in 1915 and joined the German army in the WW1. He served honorably but was one of the many "disconnected" Germans after the war and into the 1920s, searching for a direction in life. He discovered Adolf Hitler's Nazi party and was an early member. He rose up the party ranks and was eventually put in charge of directing concentration camps. He reached the height of his career when he was given the task of building up Auschwitz from the small camp in occupied Poland to the killing center it became with the additions of gas chambers and crematoriums to make more efficient the mass murder of millions. He and his wife and their five children lived in a villa on the grounds of the camp. After the war, the family fled to the British sector of divided Germany and Rudolf went into hiding. He was eventually tracked down by Hanns Alexander and testified at the Nuremberg Trials against other high-ranking Nazis. Then he stood trial in a Polish court where he was sentenced to death and was hanged in Auschwitz in 1947.

Thomas Harding's well-written book contrasts the lives - and deaths - of these two men. Hoss was hanged, a dishonorable life ending in noose. Alexander lived a life of honor in London after the war, dying at age of 90, with his wife and two daughters with him near the end. Could lives of ying and yang end any other way?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2015
This book is a fascinating and compelling read. The process of how an ordinary empathetic and sensitive young man (Rudolf) could become so callous and hardened as to oversee the torture and murder of so many is hard to fathom but this book sheds some light on this chilling process. As for Hans, I had not heard his story until I read this and was captivated by it! An amazing and very clever young man. This book needs to be on the reading list for anyone studying or interested in Nazism and the Holocaust
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2014
It's gripping, moves you along at the pace of the unfolding tragedy and the subsequent hunt. An interesting perspective on the Jewish experience of the Holocaust, we see the horrors of deportation and the concentration camps through the story of the German Rudolf, while Hanns's experience is different from most written about, he is able to escape Germany. A fascinating account of his enlistment in the British Army, his desire to fight the country that has betrayed him, and then finally finding his motivation in hunting down nazi war criminals, what he feels born to do.

Clearly very well researched, and the letters and extracts from Rudolf's testimony also help to bring both characters to life. The narrative is constructed very well. I was moved reading the final letters by Rudolf to his wife and children, before his execution, because we are presented with his humanity, and suffering, and this also makes the narrative so compelling.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding is a fascinating historical and personal account of the lives of Hanns Alexander a German Jews who captures Rudolf Hoss, the notorious commandant of Auschwitz. This is no dry historical tome, however, but the personal story of the lives of the two men, told in parallel. The subject of the book is harrowing in the extreme. The author, Thomas Harding, writes with a sensitive pen, yet does not shy away from the atrocities presided over by Hoss. It does, however, attempt to paint as accurate a picture as possible of the man, his family, his rise in the Nazi machine and the scope and scale of his work. It also shows the plight of the German Jews from the perspective of those who fled Germany in time to avoid persecution and settled in England. Hanns and his brother join the British Army and in due course become British Nationals.
WWII and the holocaust should never be lost from the world's conscience and this is an excellent way of ensuring the story will continue to be told.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2014
Hanns's words have been written in a wonderfully sympathetic way and the life of Rudolf and his wife and children made me squirm. The whole scenario seems like madness in today's Europe, and to think that this is what our parents and grandparents fought against makes the entire book a valuable piece of history. As the words go ... lest we forget.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2014
Mr Harding is telling a story gained his family history and one which could have easily gone to the grave with Hanns Alexander. I found this to be an absorbing read. It was good to reflect on the dual strands of the Alexander twins and Hanns in particular with Rudolf Hoss. What made Hoss the man he was? This book uncovers this well and as such makes for uneasy reading as he was never alone in his views or turning these into actions of brutality with an indifference which sent a chill to my core. The decency of the Alexander family is worth chronicling for those of us who appreciate there are always other moral choices than those exercised by the likes of the Hoss's of the world. Thank you Mr Harding for such a deeply moving story.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2013
Really enjoyed this. It starts off with the ordinary backstories of both men, shows their increasingly divergent paths and choices and brings them back together with one as the pursuer and one the pursued- and the very different fates that await them. Hoess is presented as human- which he was, there is no such thing as monsters his evil was of the purely human variety- and its fascinating (yet very disturbing)descriptions of his family and home life amidst slaughter are important in rounding him out as a character and as a man- rather than a nazi sterotype. I cant begin to comprehend how someone who clearly adored their children could do such things to other peoples. On the other side of the coin Hanns story is also fascinating (if a bit embarrassing as a Brit that we didnt do more) and isnt something id read about before- this quiet unassuming man did quite extraordinary things in his youth, helping to fight for his adopted homeland and bringing to justice those who had deemed his people worthless. Fascinating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2014
By focussing on the personal experiences of two protagonists, brilliantly interwoven, Thomas Harding brings the full horrors of the Holocaust and its aftermath to life. This tragic story is utterly compelling. A must for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers.
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