Most helpful critical review
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A disturbing and problematic parallel
on 28 April 2015
This story is very interesting and it reads quickly, but I must say that I had a few major problems with it. At the very beginning Thomas Harding affirms for us that he in no way means to equate the two men morally, yet as you read through the book you get the impression that he in some way is. Right at the beginning he says "this story challenges the traditional portrayal of the hero and the villain. Both men were adored by their families and respected by their colleagues...Rudolf Hoess, the brutal Kommandant, displayed a capacity for compassion. And the behaviour of his pursuer, Hanns Alexander, was not always above suspicion." When Alexander finally catches Hoess, he allows his men some moments of revenge, where Hoess is beaten and humiliated. But these men were mostly German Jews; Jews who had lost family members to this man. Alexander himself lost family and friends. It may not be nice, but it is hardly difficult to understand their motivations and feelings. How in the world can this compare to a man who systematically murdered millions of innocent people who had no connection to him whatsoever in some of the most brutal ways imaginable? One of these men had a difficult, perhaps ultimately wrong, human reaction. One of these men can not even be described. Human is just not the word for this. What do you call such a personification of evil?
And the letter Hoess wrote to his children...I felt nauseated. Not from the letter but because I was beginning to feel bad for him. In fact, I already felt bad for him as he was separated from his family, which he clearly loved, and they he. And I don't want to feel bad for him. I feel that Harding has manipulated me into viewing this monster as human. I just don't think he is. And I feel he not only deserved what he got, but he should have gotten worse. And I don't feel bad for the family either. His wife knew, and ignored, the most unimaginable cruelty happening right next door? And am I supposed to believe the children know nothing? Children are not so stupid, especially the older ones. Obviously, they are not responsible, but I still can't feel bad for them.
I absolutely think Hoess was right when he wrote in his memiors that they should not publish the parts about his family, his "soft emotions," and his "secret doubts." He writes "Let the public go on thinking of me as a bloodthirsty brute, a cruel sadist, the murderer of millions-for that is the only way the vast majority will be able to imagine the Kommandant of Auschwitz. They would never understand that he too, had a heart, and was not a wicked man."
Right, and it is a desecration of the memories of all those millions of innocent people sent to their deaths, all those crying and laughing children sent to their early graves, all those families ripped apart, never to see each other again, to think otherwise. What kind of "heart" is that anyway?
I would have liked to give this book four stars, but I just can't. I am so bothered by this aspect of the book. Complex, Hoess might have been. Human, he certainly wasn't.