Hanns and Rudolf
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 30 Dec 2015
Full Title: Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz
The phrase "banality of evil", subtitle to Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem, introduced the notion that the great evil of the Holocaust genocide was conducted by masses of common men. In her book, Adolf Eichmann simply did his work as ordered; his lack of morality made him unquestioning, but did not necessarily make him a monster.
Thomas Harding's Hanns and Rudolf took a similar approach with Rudolf Höss, a Nazi German SS functionary who was best known for his two stints at the commandant of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in occupied Poland. "Rudolf", as he was referred to in this work (avoiding "Höss" as the reader would automatically conjure up the war criminal), was very much a common man much like Eichmann (aside from being an accomplice in a murder of the suspected communist Walther Kadow in 1923, of course). He was a WW1 veteran, a hard working farmer, and a loving family man. Also like Eichmann, following orders to commit mass murder bothered him very little. Harding's book provided a dissecting view of this conflicting man. Sharing the spotlight was Hanns Alexander, great uncle to the author. Referred to as "Hanns" as an attempt to make him a common man like Höss, Alexander was a German Jew who escaped Nazi German and joined the British Army. By chance, he became an amateur Nazi hunter at the end of the war, and through a combination of determination, skill, and luck tracked down and captured Höss. This dual biography of Alexander and Höss detailed the lives of the two men well, intimately describing each man's upbringing, careers, and personalities. The ultimate intersection of their lives was told expertly, suspenseful and dramatic. What the author failed to do, however, was to really equate the two men. He noted that Alexander should be remembered as a hero, but at the same time he had his shadows as well; all I got out of the book, however, was that he allowed British Army personnel under his command to brutally beat Höss for ten minutes at the time of the arrest. Höss, Harding seems to argue, should be recognized for his compassion as much as his heinous crimes; but could the introduction of hydrogen cyanide (commercial name "Zyklon B") as an instrument of genocide really be on par with Alexander's moral indiscretion?
I had reviewed this title in its audio book format and thought that Mark Meadows did a great job with the reading.
Hanns and Rudolf had its weaknesses, but overall I found the book to be an excellent one. Even though Harding failed to truly present Höss as a banal man, I enjoyed learning about the author's journey in family history research, the results of his detailed research on Höss, and his writing style. I would certainly recommend this title.
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Winston Churchill, 1935