Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz

Hanns and Rudolf is a fascinating dual biography of Rudolf Höss, kommandant of Auschwitz, and Lieutenant Hanns Alexander, a German Jew in the British army who captured Höss during the chaos after World War II's end. Thomas Harding, Alexander's great-nephew, chronicles these two lives driven by very different notions of duty and honor. His profile of Höss is especially engrossing; the future architect of the Holocaust's worst extermination camp developed an affinity for nature and horses during his emotionally turbulent early life. Höss's strict religious grooming for a church life fell apart after his own priest betrayed his confessional confidence. At age 14, he joined the German army, fighting throughout the Middle East during World War I, cementing his nationalist fervor and military path.

Hanns Alexander enjoyed a considerably more comfortable early life as the son of a successful Jewish doctor who kept spacious apartments in Berlin. The Alexanders, uprooted by the rise of Adolf Hitler and violent anti-Semitism, barely escaped to London before the worst persecutions began. Harding alternates between Höss's early association with the Nazis, including a close relationship with Martin Bormann and a reverence for Heinrich Himmler, and Alexander's struggle to assimilate into a country suspicious of all German nationals. Alexander enlists with the British army, where his language and detective skills earn him a job hunting Nazi war criminals. Alexander's hunt for Höss is a relatively brief portion of the book, but is no less engrossing than Höss's transformation into genocidal bureaucrat. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

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