Once in a blue moon you come across a book which you can devour in no time, and consequently leaves you with a feeling of loss and bewilderment over where to find another read as easily enjoyable. 'Hanns and Rudolf' is one of these books.
Two diametrically opposed lives evolving from post WW1 Germany through the Rise of Nazism and the German Reich come full circle to be drawn together in (if perhaps not strictly a 'thriller') a thrilling historical account of WW2 through the eyes of two polar opposite war personalities.
Alternating chapters between Hanns the German Jew (later Nazi-hunter) and Rudolf the paradigmatic German country boy (later Kommandant of Auschwitz), Harding traces each lifetime from the very beginning. The first thing this achieves is the juxtaposition of a German Jew's life vs. the life of a 'normal' German boy in the rise of the Reich. Second, it allows the reader to trace the fabric of both personalities, a vital part of the book. For Rudolf, Harding addresses the constant moral enigma: how was the holocaust carried out? but addresses it from the biographical perspective of the man who personally administered the mass killings, the man who forced himself to look through the peep-hole of the gas chambers to show the face of unflappable conviction to his subordinates. This is an insight into humanness and how Rudolf lost his, retreating behind a wall of glass on the way to conducting one of the most abominable crimes in history. For Hanns, Harding highlights with how a German Jew deals with the intractable circumstances of Nazi Germany. An identical twin with an insatiable hunger for causing havoc and pulling pranks, Hanns develops into a prudent adult with a sense of duty, and it is specifically this which leads him along his extraordinary path to end up in post-war Auschwitz. Third, if the two characters' biographies were not interesting enough in themselves, Harding brings them together in a gripping dénouement, exploring the often overlooked matters of what happened after the war.
This book provided me with a different outlook on Nazi Germany. The concentration camps were not run by villainous killing experts, but men whose botched initiatives at mass murder evolved into a terrifyingly efficient system of genocide. The element of revenge that ought to induce satisfaction towards the book's end is tinged with an awareness of the inability to restore any sense of normality after such an atrocity. The comfort that one might think to find in revenge is therefore, in this book, replaced by settling for justice, since there were no winners in such a sad episode for mankind.