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Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz
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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited May 16, 2014 08:12AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod

For those of you who have completed the book and/or who want to discuss aspects of the book that are beyond our weekly assignments in the non-spoiler threads, this thread is a spoiler thread where you can discuss those points. We know that some folks like to color outside the lines - so this a place for them.

If you have completed the book and would like to tell us what you thought about this selection, please feel free to discuss your opinions in a respectful way here.

However, please no links to personal reviews because we consider that self-promotion. Simply post your thoughts here without the links.

Many folks read ahead of the weekly assignment and that is okay too; however, you must make sure that your posted comments on the other weekly non spoiler threads do not reflect reading ahead of the posted weekly assignment. If you would like to discuss aspects of the book further along, this is a spoiler thread where you can do just that.

We try to move along the discussion slowly on the weekly non-spoiler threads but realize that some folks like to move along swiftly. So we have options for both groups of folks.

This is also the thread where you write your review of the book after completing it.

Hanns and Rudolf The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding BY Thomas Harding Thomas Harding

message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited May 02, 2014 09:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Just an FYI:

Folks, goodreads has a disclaimer at the bottom of their book giveaways which says the following:

In compliance with FTC guidelines, please disclose in your review that you received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

In the instance of a book you may have gotten here through one of our kind publishers - make sure to say that you got the book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads if you plan to post reviews elsewhere - like on the goodreads site or on the web.

I guess any free item when you review it has to have that disclaimer if you do the review on goodreads, on a blog, anyplace.

For the folks who received the free book through the History Book Club - one of the t's and c's is that you do a review of the book. This is the thread where you would post it although you are free to post it elsewhere afterwards. Your review and your rating are up to you - but please feel free to discuss your opinions in a respectful way.

Kressel Housman | 917 comments My review:

When it comes to books on the Holocaust, I generally prefer memoirs by the victims who kept their faith and helped others survive, but this book, which traces the lives of Rudolph Hoss, Kommandant of Auschwitz, and Hanns Alexander, a German-born Jew who escaped to England, joined the Allies, and ended up a Nazi hunter, was still very good. It might even make a good introduction to the subject for someone, the kind of book to be assigned in high school or college. By focusing on two individuals, it makes the period understandable. It’s by no means the only book a person should read on the Holocaust, but it’s a good springboard for beginners and adds depth to those of us already well-read on the subject.

The book alternates between the two men’s lives, so you see Hoss as a soldier in the First World War, his involvement in the “volkish” groups in the 20’s, and his rise through the ranks of the Nazi party. In parallel, you see the Alexander family’s rise to prominence in the 20’s and their scramble to escape once Hitler came to power. Hanns’ and Hoss’ stories merge after the war when Hanns uses his fluent German and his hatred for the Nazis to track Hoss down and bring him to justice. Hanns’ methods were sometimes ruthless, but I suppose that’s the only way to catch a Nazi on the run.

The part of the book that really made my blood run cold was the description of Hoss figuring out the most efficient means of extermination, ie the crematoria. There’s been plenty of discussion on the History Group boards about how anyone could be so evil. The answer, of course, is complicated, and probably beyond our understanding, but I think it’s significant that once the mass killings started, Hoss could no longer sleep with his wife. When he silenced whatever natural compassion was within him in order to kill, his personal impulse for love went along with it.

As I said before, this is not THE definitive book on the Holocaust, but then perhaps, no such book can exist. For general history, there are plenty of excellent documentary films – a picture’s worth a thousand words – but for the human experience, this book, as long as it’s supplemented with some books by Orthodox Jewish survivors and stories of righteous gentiles, is a fine addition to anyone’s Holocaust education.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads. Thank you, Simon and Schuster.

message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Thank you Kressel.

message 5: by Linda (last edited May 27, 2014 10:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Linda (seniorsadie58) | 13 comments I've read so many books about the Holocaust it was great to read a book that was about just two major individuals, Hanns Alexander, who was a German Jew who moved to England and would become the Relentless Jew who would hunt down Nazi's his last Nazi would be, Rudolph Hoss who would become the Kommandant of Auschwitz!

The stories of each man and their families are compelling. Hanns and his family, after all had moved to England would work their way to wealth, Hanns would join the Army to fight in WW11 but would rise to the level of top Nazi Hunter and eventually be given the job of tracking down, Rudolph Hoss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz.

Rudolph married with children became a Nazi and quickly rose to the ranks of the SS, the top Officers and would be commissioned to find a quick solution to the extermination of the Jews at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Eventually, Hanns obsession to find Rudolph was a success. Rudolph showed no emotion as he just told them how he had created the gas chambers, the showers he told the Jews, who would die in them, and the need to dispose of the bodies thus building the Crematoria, a place where bodies were shoved into ovens blasting. It prove to become quite the success for Rudolph.

Hanns spewed out question after question for many hours and ranted at Rudolph who was beaten and denied food, left naked to walk on hard floors then moved to a tiny cell barely big enough for any man, of course having been fed almost nothing Rudolph was very thin. Hanns wanted Rudolph to experience as much as he could what the almost three million Jews he had murdered felt. Rudolph continued to say he was just doing his job.

Rudolph Hoss was tried and found guilty, as the Kommandant of Auschwitz of murdering the almost 3 million Jews and was to be hanged!

Hanns job was finished though he had a hard time dealing with Hoss and Auschvitz the remainder of his life, he married and had children. Only one of his family,a cousin and woman was sent to Auschvitz and was murdered.

It was only when Rudoph, with the noose around his neck began to think about what he may have done was wrong. He thought perhaps he should not have followed the orders regarding Auschvitz! He thought about the family he had left forever and his wife who he had stopped all love for her, including physical! That was the price he paid for being the Kommandant of Auschwitz! Hanns made sure he died a slow death before his feet hit the ground and he was dead.

I happened to be on Twitter when I received a Tweet from Thomas Harding thanking me for my review of his book, which I thought was a very good book using only two main characters. This book was not meant to be about the Holocaust. There are hundreds of books for that!! I gave this book 5 stars, it was an, "I couldn't put it down book."

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads Giveaways.

Thanks to the Publisher, Simon & Schuster

message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited May 27, 2014 06:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Thank you Linda - pretty close.

I can see that Thomas appreciated it.

Nance (carousel1231) | 22 comments I agree with Linda that it was very interesting to read about two individuals rather than groups as a whole. From reading this book and others about the rise of the third reich, I keep coming back to a few characteristics of the Germans at that time: they were very hard working, they felt themselves as superior to others and they were very obedient - they did not question what they were told to do and what they were told to believe. Although these traits are broad generalizations, they seem to be embodied in Rudolf. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. My only negative was that not much of the book was devoted to Hanns' search for and capture of Rudolf.
I want thank Simon and Schuster for providing this book to Goodreads members.

Bryan Craig Zohar, feel free to post your review here, but no linking to your is self-promotion.

message 9: by Helga (last edited Jun 09, 2014 10:21AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Helga Cohen (hcohen) | 591 comments I have read many books about the Holocaust so I found this book to be a fascinating read because it was primarily about two important individuals and not just a group. What makes it so interesting is the personal link the author had with Hanns the German Jewish Nazi hunter. It gave it the personal touch many other books lack unless they are personal memoirs which I especially like.

This book is compelling because of the two families described and how they lived and thought during the Nazi regime. Hanns and his family were forced to flee Germany during the rise of Hitler’s power and he would join the British Army to fight in WWII against his former countrymen who he began to hate with such ferocity it became a mission for him to hunt and track down one of the most wanted men, Rudolf Hoss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz. After capturing Rudolf, Hanns would never return to Germany but live a comfortable life and help found a synagogue for German Jewish refugees. His life was a mitzvah to others.

We can see how Rudolf Hoss thinks in a dispassionate way. He feels that he only followed orders. It makes him think that he has a license to kill and that it is his duty to find a solution to exterminate the Jews at Auschwitz Concentration camp and at the same time he rises in power and esteem. He shows little remorse. He only thinks about what he actually did after they captured him and imprisoned him. It is then, when he writes his memoirs, that he thinks of the path he took.

I highly recommend this book because I liked the premise of using two main characters and describing their lives in vivid detail. It was not just about the holocaust but about how these individuals lived their lives and thought and why they did what they did. I found it hard to put down and therefore give it a 5. I found that it made me reflect and to want to read more on the topic.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads Giveaways.
Thanks to the Publisher, Simon & Schuster.

message 10: by Cameron (new)

Cameron | 16 comments this is a great book it bring the two families in a great sight it tell both sides which is great it brings a great knowledge of each family I learning about them and wish there was another two books that brings more insight on the different family

I got this book free from the history group on good that got it from the publisher Simon's thank you

message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Excellent Helga - great review and thank you Cameron.

@Zohar - as Bryan indicated - there is no linking to personal sites or blogs or self promotion but we do expect you to post your review here and I am looking forward to reading it. So please post minus the link.

message 12: by John (last edited Jul 02, 2014 07:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

John | 167 comments Review:
One of the more difficult subjects to discuss or read about is the Holocaust. It is difficult for many people to comprehend the unmitigated hatred and inhumanity that went into devising and carrying out Hitler’s “Final Solution.” It is understandably hard to read the firsthand accounts, the eyewitness statements and the evidence. Reading about such atrocities and to see the photographs, even more so visiting the camps and hearing oral histories, make it hard to forget. It is for that very reason that the accounts should be published and that the stories should be told, that the pictures and evidence should not be hidden away in secret government files somewhere; so that it is not forgotten. We must not forget so that we never assume that it never did and never could happen. Such an assumption allows for the very inhumanity of it all to thrive under the surface, to one day bubble up and consume victims yet again.

Thomas Harding’s Hanns and Rudolf, is one such book that needs to be read and digested. It wasn’t just a recounting or history of the Holocaust. This was very much a personal odyssey for the author. Imagine growing up to learn that one of your family members was not just a veteran of WW II, but also a Nazi hunter; and that he not only tracked down and arrested fleeing members of the Third Reich, but that he also caught and apprehended the Nazi Kommandant of Auschwitz, and responsible for millions of deaths. This is Harding’s experience, and the book is the result of his desire to learn the true story of his Great-Uncle, Hanns Alexander and his quarry, Rudolph Höss.

Harding’s tale is one of dueling biographies; one of his Great-Uncle and the other of Höss. Harding does a great job at attempting to remain objective throughout, so the story can be clear and precise. So while the reader understands in the Prologue how this is a very personal book to Harding, the author divorces himself really well from the prose, allow the evidence, the interviews and the accounts to stand up as history. Only in the Prologue and in the Postscript does the author insert himself, but in a way that enriches the material.

Hanns and Rudolf alternates chapters between the two men. We learn of their childhoods, both growing up in Germany but with very different experiences. As they become young men, we also see the choices they made and people they associated with which influenced their paths. Hanns is at first a very average, likeable young man, who witnesses the change beginning in his homeland and eventually is able to make it, as does most of his family, to England to survive the increasing hostility and violence against the Jews at the hands of his fellow countrymen. Angered towards his former homeland, Hanns enlisted in the British military and fought, and eventually became a member of the war crimes unit as an interpreter.

Rudolf is more distant and difficult to place, while he has a desire and love for family like most people, he also seems to have a pathological need for a mentor of some type- someone to be loyal to and to receive such loyalty back. Originally having fought for Germany in WW I, Rudolph returns to a changed Germany, and a new political movement brewing under Adolf Hitler. Rudolph eventually joins the Nazi SS and quickly rises up through the ranks, eventually becoming Kommanant of the concentration camps at Auschwitz. As one of SS leader, Heinrich Himmler’s protégés, Rudolph, is brought in on the Nazi’s plan to exterminate the Jewish people. Rudolph actually designs a method of doing so that would be used at the camp to terrible and horrible efficiency. It’s almost impossible to reconcile a man such as Rudolph, who is able to approach death and murder with business like precision and in the evening return to play with his children and eat dinner with his wife in their well-appointed quarters behind the crematorium; all with the singe of death still clinging to the air. One shouldn’t try to reconcile such barbarity or confusing duality- even his son would later remark that he remembered the strange smell coming from behind their home- but one should not dismiss it as impossible.

Hanns certainly could not dismiss what he witnessed as a member of the War Crimes Investigative Unit. It was his eyewitness account of the devastation and death wrought by the Nazis that indeed extinguished any sentiment or connection to his homeland forever. During his service as an interpreter, Hanns was able to see the camps and to hear the testimony and accounts of the Final Solution. With the anger growing inside of him, he was motivated to become more active and actually hunt down the Nazi criminals at large to bring them to justice.

Harding’s writing style is immediate, placing the reader in the middle of the story, and at the heart of the tragedy. At times, especially later in the book as the description of the camps is detailed, you have to pause and breathe and get your bearings again to carry on, as the intensity can be a little much. But never is it really too much, as the story has to be told and has to be known. Harding presents a very different kind of history- one that allows us to see both sides of the story- to be able to see both in the looking glass and through it. In the end it is a common thing of duality – of two sides of the coin that is the dominant position of the book. It is at once personal and objective; it is also at once a heroic story and a tragic tale of monstrosity and evil. It is a story that hits hard and doesn’t let up and yet offers a psychological insight to the hunter and the hunted- and even they switch roles at the end.

The author has gone to great lengths to include us as spectators to the history, but also to invite us in to his personal history. Caution: do go not diving in and out so quickly; take time to start with the Prologue and read the Epilogue and Postscript. Your experience will be rewarded as you gain greater context and insight into the author’s experience with the book, as well as insight into Hanns’ life and the lives of several figures of the book after the war. In fact, any quibble with the book would be in not having a much more detailed account of Hann’s life and journey after the central events of World War II, as one might expect from a biography. However, this is no typical biography. Hanns and Rudolph is highly recommended, but make no mistake it is no “beach book”; this is one you will want to read and digest, and to constantly remind yourself as you are reading that while many believe history repeats itself, there are just some things we must never allow to be repeated. 4 ½ stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads Giveaways. Thanks also to the Publisher, Simon & Schuster.
Hanns and Rudolf The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding by Thomas Harding Thomas Harding

message 13: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Hanns and Rudolf The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding by Thomas Harding Thomas Harding

The preceding reviews from members were so complete and well stated, that I don't have much to add to them

The Holocaust is an event that will mark history event that was and continues to be beyond comprehension. So any book about the Holocaust is often hard to read. But the author approached his story from a personal viewpoint.....actual hands-on participation by one of his family in bringing the death camp commanders to justice. One of the pluses of the book is that it concentrates on only two characters (with some peripheral individuals) which allows for a deeper look at the psychological aspects of their personalities and actions. The author does not try to explain why Rudolf turned into a monster but leaves it to the interpretation of the reader.

I don't perceive this book as a biography in the usual sense but rather a character study of the mindset of two people caught in the maelstrom of WWII......the history of a time when the world was spinning out of control. Never again.

I received this book gratis through the History Book Club

message 14: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Thank you John and Jill.

message 15: by Donna (last edited Jul 01, 2014 06:11AM) (new) - added it

Donna (drspoon) This book tells the story of two ostensibly ordinary and very human men who live through a particularly horrific time in world history. We learn about their family backgrounds, the choices they make, and the way in which their lives ultimately converge. It was especially chilling to read about Rudolf Hoess and the completely callous way in which he carried out the atrocities at Auschwitz. The book caused me to ponder lots of things such as how single events or decisions in one's life can have a huge impact on the path one takes and all of the variations and extremes of behavior humans are capable of. I think history as told through individual life stories is very important and makes for compelling reading.

I received this book free through the History Book Club on Goodreads. Thank you, Simon and Schuster.

message 16: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Thank you Donna

message 17: by Katy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) This is a well written book, but the subject matter makes it a hard book to read. It is a sad but true story of the brutality of men. It is necessary that we as humans do not forgot this part of our history. This book made me rethink what I know of the holocaust. There is no happy ending here.

Simon & Schuster sent me a free copy of the book as part of a History Book Club read.

message 18: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Yes Kathy I have to agree - I find reading about the Holocaust to be a very heavy experience - I feel so much empathy for the victims of the Holocaust - that it is hard not sensing great loss as you read about them and their lives cut so short.

However, I agree that this is a story that should never be forgotten.

message 19: by Lewis (new)

Lewis Codington | 291 comments "Hanns and Rudolf" is an unusual and unique book about the Holocaust and Germany in World War Two. What makes it unique is that is recounts a very narrow and fascinating slice of the events, focusing on the lives of two players in the events related to the extermination of the Jews. It is also unusual in that it reveals to us the entire life story of both men, not only their brief years during the war. Both grew up in seemingly ordinary German families in the pre-war years. But as it does happen in life, a variety of events and circumstances built and shaped the men into who they would become during and after the war.

For Rudolf, especially, the loss of his family and the trauma of his experiences in World War One formed him into a hardened, emotionless soldier who craved the approval of authority figures and who latched onto the German Nazi beliefs where he found acceptance and a task to carry out. These factors, as well as the right opportunities that crossed his path during the war, led him into the situation and actions he played out.

For Hanns, seeing his family and his people hunted, hounded, and squeezed out of his own country, led him to greatly appreciate the place he was given in England. He was motivated to serve and to give to his new country, and again, when the right opportunity presented itself, he discovered that he was the right personality, with sufficient motivation, to become the hunter of Nazi war criminals.

Thomas Harding does a great job revealing the dual lives and events of these men, writing in a pleasing, engaging way, while at the same time recounting the horrific, tragic events surrounding the Jews in Europe during the war. A fascinating, well written story that takes place in the middle of the war but is not about the major fighting and battles that took place.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads. Thank you, Simon and Schuster.

message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Good review Lewis - thank you.

message 21: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jul 07, 2014 01:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Hanns and Rudolf is a book that normally I would not tackle. The subject matter - regarding the Holocaust - would have been the main reason that I would have avoided reading it.

What happened to innocent people in Germany was one of the most evil and horrendous crimes against humanity ever known. So often in the past when I decided to read a book on the Holocaust - I was moved too deeply after finishing the selection so that it affected me long after the book’s completion. I remember watching Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice and being upset and irritable for a full week and attributing my strange mood to the power of that film and choice. Books and films do matter and do have a major impact.

So when our group was offered this opportunity to discuss this book as a selection - I pondered whether to accept this offer. Would this be the kind of selection that would be too upsetting to our group members? I decided to afford the opportunity to the group members and let the discussion unfold.

The book cleverly told the story of two protagonists - Hanns Alexander and Rudolf Hoess - who also became each other’s adversaries. Hanns was the hunter and Rudolf was the hunted. However, though Rudolf was hung in the process - Hanns lived on with the memories of what part he played in the capture of Hoess and his execution - long after Rudolf was buried in an unmarked grave.

A tattered copy of Hoess’s memoirs was part of Hanns Alexander’s belongings and according to the author - it had had much use. Neither man forgot the other for the remainder of their lives.

The author paralleled both men and set up two life stories woven into one, showing the reader how each man made different decisions and how the effects of these decisions determined their lives and their ultimate futures. In one instance, a man prospered and enjoyed his life after the war - in the other - the man was imprisoned and hung. Yet despite their many differences - both Hanns and Rudolf were in many ways bookends of each other. And the reader discovered much to their shock what average men are capable of.

The Holocaust was not engineered by serial killers or psychopaths - but by normal, sane men and that was and continues to be the most chilling part of the book. Of course, the backdrop of the book was Auschwitz and the various concentration camps and the horrific details of those camps were captured in the story line. These details were grizzly, upsetting and sad. The reality was obviously much, much worse.

In many ways, the book is not just a tribute to a great uncle and family member - Hanns Alexander - but also a book honoring those innocents who were not as fortunate as Hanns and lost their lives during the Holocaust. This book remembers them too and gives them all a memorial and a name.

"And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a "yad vas hem")... that shall not be cut off."

(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)

Thomas Harding did an admirable job in maintaining a neutral position when writing this book and accomplished much more than he could have imagined. The book had quite an impact on me. At the same time, Mr. Harding remembered his great uncle and the innocent victims of the Holocaust and in telling this story - we also remembered Hanns Alexander and those who perished
and in a small way - we also understood Rudolf Hoess better.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads. Thank you, Simon and Schuster.

message 22: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John | 167 comments Awesome review Bentley.

message 23: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Thank you John.

message 24: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
All, every person who received the book through the offer is required to do a review of the book as part of the t's and c's and this is the thread to do this on.

Your review and your rating are entirely your own - however we do want to hear your final thoughts about the book so please post your review here when you are done.

message 25: by Tomi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tomi | 161 comments Thomas Harding did an excellent job with this book. The matter-of-fact tone made the events all the more horrible. There isn't much I can add to what has already been said in previous reviews. Harding's characters are very real - there were times when I wanted to spank Hanns and his brother Paul! I appreciated the last part of the book where Harding told what had happened to the relatives of the two men. How surreal it must have been when Harding was with Rudolf's grandson at Auschwitz.
I received this book for free from Goodreads, and am thankful to Simon and Schuster for the giveaway.

message 26: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Thank you Tomi - appreciate your posting your review.

Bryan Craig I finished the book last night. Here are my thoughts:

This is a hard topic, but the book is worth it. It traces the life of the Auschwitz commandant and the man who caught him in a dual narrative. Harding's writing is very good and it is an emotional, but brisk read. I think this will make a good primer for people who are first learning about the Holocaust and for folks who have quite knowledgeable. An excellent book.

I plan to give this book to my father-in-law who lost family members in the camps. He has read a lot on the Holocaust and this will be a new topic for him, so he will be interested.

I received this book free through the History Book Club on Goodreads.

message 28: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
Thank you Bryan for your thoughts and review. I am delighted that you are paying it forward and giving your father in law this book to read. I would be very interested to hear his thoughts.

Also, my condolences to your extended family for those lost family members.


Bryan Craig I will let you know; he saw the book cover and asked about it when he saw me last month.

And thanks to you Bentley for all your hard work to make this discussion happen.

message 30: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44167 comments Mod
We try (smile). I would be very much interested to hear his comments.

message 31: by G (new) - rated it 3 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments I would first like to thank the author, Simon and Schuster, Goodreads, and the History Book Club for this book which I received as a giveaway. I'd also like to thank the participants who gave constantly interesting, and challenging comments on the Nazi's, the era, and the responses of individuals in horrendous situations.

I am of two minds about this book. It gave me a look, from the personal perspective of a participant, at the difficulties faced by Germans who also happened to be Jewish, and the decisions they had to make as the Nazi plague started to steam roll. But it could have given more. It helped me see how the most ordinary of lives could turn and create someone who had no remorse over the actions he took. Even as I write this I have a visceral response to the thought of Rudolf. But the author could have written more.

I am grateful to have read the book, and even if 'History differs depending on the point of view', I think at times, Mr. Harding was too kind to Rudolf Höss. This was a good book and a painful book, but I would have liked more information on Hanns transition to who he became. An amazing family, the Alexanders, and I am glad to know the story, albeit incomplete, of one of them.

message 32: by Ctgt (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ctgt | 13 comments I would like to thank the author, publisher Simon & Schuster and The History Book Club on Goodreads for providing me with a free copy of this book.

The book parallels the lives of two men, Rudolf Höss-who was to become Kommandant of Aushwitz and Hanns Alexander-who would track and bring Höss to justice, as their paths are inexorably drawn together. Born sixteen years apart-Höss in Baden-Baden in 1901, Alexander in Berlin in 1917, their early childhood years were polar opposites.

Höss spent most of his time by himself and his best friend was a pony named Hans who followed Rudolf around like a pet dog. His father Franz, was an officer in the German Army in Africa but was determined to see his son become a priest and raised him as a "fervent believer". When Rudolf was eleven there was fight with some other boys in the neighborhood and he went to confession only to have the priest tell his father about the confession and the incident.

"For a long, long time I went over all the details of what had happened again and again, because such a thing seemed to me so monstrous. At times-and even today-I was and still am firmly convinced that my father confessor had broken the seal of the confessional. My faith in the sanctity of the presthood was gone, and I began to have religious doubts. After what had happened I could no longer think the priest trustworthy."

This moment seems to have set Rudolf on a path to the 21st Baden Regiment of Dragoons in WWI, the Freikorps of post WWI Germany, the NSDAP and eventually the Kommandant of Auschwitz.

Alexander and his twin Paul, were born in the turbulent post WWI years in Berlin of well to do parents. Dr. Alfred Alexander served in the German Army as a doctor and returned to Berlin to rebuild his practice. The boys and their two older sisters had the run of the twenty two room apartment as their nanny Anna, believed "children should allowed to develop their individual personalities". So the twins became famous for their high jinks and sometimes posed as the other to fool guests at the home.

Following these disparate upbringings, the author switches back and forth chapter by chapter chronicling their lives until the execution of Höss by hanging just a few steps from the old crematorium in Auschwitz.

I found this to be another interesting, fascinating and horrific story among the thousands of stories from this time period and would highly recommend this book to anyone with even a remote interest in WWII.

message 33: by Brian (last edited Jul 12, 2014 09:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brian Sandor (briansandor) | 70 comments Thanks go to Simon & Schuster, Thomas Harding, the History Book Club on Goodreads, and Bentley for the free copy of Hanns and Rudolf.

This a well written and researched dual biography of the Kommandant of Auschwitz and the Jewish German expatriate who captured him after World War II. Very personal and in depth. The only drawback is what inspired Thomas to write it in the first place. His uncle never talked about his service in the war and most of his family did not know that he had in fact captured the man who had killed millions at Auschwitz.

Thomas did an excellent job of fleshing out these two very different men in an engaging and flowing style. I was frequently wondering how much richer parts of this book would have been had Thomas been able to talk with Hanns and get his input. Thomas also didn't get bogged down in a good-vs-evil, flat narrative, but balanced them out as two men with families and desires with their sometimes reprehensible actions.

Hanns and Rudolf is well worth the read on the very difficult subject of the Holocaust.

Bryan Craig Thanks Ctgt and Brian.

Kressel Housman | 917 comments Yes, thanks to all of you who made this possible. Having the author here made the group read even better than usual!

message 36: by Teri (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teri (teriboop) In Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Thomas Harding tells the story of his great-uncle Hanns Alexander, the man who investigated and captured Rudolf Höss, the SS Kommandant who was instrumental in building the crematoriums in Auschwitz. Harding alternates chapters that concentrate on each of these two very different men following the timeline from 1901 to 2006, from their childhoods to their deaths.

Thomas Harding never had the chance to talk with Hanns during his life time about this part of his life that forever changed him. Hanns began life in Germany as a Jew, narrowly escaping to England during WWII, joining the British Army. His time in the army led to his assignment tracking Nazi criminals post-war. It was during this assignment that Hanns found the man that was behind over 3 million deaths of Jews and political prisoners. After Hanns death in 2006, Harding researches both men and chronicles their separate lives that became intertwined at the close of the war.

The book was thoroughly engrossing, despite the tough and at times graphic nature of the subject. It is important to know this history, so that it is never repeated. This story helps the reader to understand the mindset of each man and to see how such an atrocity ever happened in the first place. Hanns spent his later years as a humble family man, not wanting to acknowledge the past or the hero that he was.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads. Thank you, Simon and Schuster.

David (nusandman) | 111 comments I enjoyed Hanns and Rudolf. While the subject matter is dark and disturbing, I feel that we can only learn from this past by becoming aware of how things like this happened. The first part of the book was more heavily weighted towards the story of Rudolf and how he got into the position he eventually did. As the story moved on and Hans was growing up, we soon saw how the war affected him and his eventual quest for justice for the German Jews he had to leave behind during the war. As another poster mentioned, it's too bad the author never knew this about relative but the research he followed after he found this out was complete and told a great story.

I'd like to thank the Goodreads History Book Club and Simon & Schuster for providing me a copy of this book and as always to Bentley for his work to facilitate this.

Bryan Craig Thanks Teri and David, good write-ups.

message 39: by [deleted user] (new)


Harding, while attending his Uncle Hanns Alexander’s funeral, discovered his uncle captured and delivered Rudolf Hoess to justice. This nugget of information served as the catalyst in propelling his research efforts. After lengthy exploration, Harding compiled his findings to craft this provoking novel.

Harding’s writing is to be recognized without hesitation. Despite his blood relationship with Hanns Alexander he masterfully presents both men equally, showing both are human beings but very different at their core. I found myself breathless as I read of Hoess playing and frolicking with his children as the gas chambers served as the backdrop, made my hair stand on its ends. Hoess was known to possess a reputation as an adept manager, and competent commander to his troops, totally aware of his role and direction, he made it clear he was “following orders”, as justifying his actions as a part in the atrocities. Hoess certainly mastered the art of compartmentalization as well as being absolutely forthright when he was on trial. He was candid as he recounted his participation in the cruel and heinous treatment as well as extinguishing of millions of human lives. A man clearly mentally ill with a unmistakeable black heart.

“I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least two and a half million victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half-million succumbed to starvation and disease making a total dead of about three million.”

Hanns is a true fighter as Harding describes to readers this quiet hero. A young man ready to take on Germany, the country that ultimately turned its back on him and his family. A lover of life, a prankster with a undeniable sense of honor trumping all.

“The number of murderers I had to dismiss made me sick. They made fools out of us. You know, the Russians were more efficient. When they heard such stories they found the accused and shot them. We could not do it. We did not do it.” The war, for him, was never a topic for discussion. “I would not talk to I, however, am full of hatred.”

The parallel lives of both men as the horrific story unfurls along with comprehensive research and reliable sources, numerous documents make for a gripping yet heartbreaking story due to the affecting subject matter. A sobering reminder of the atrocities in history, well worth the time and attention, a reminder of what occurred and what will hopefully never occur again. History does not have to repeat itself.

Harding pays tribute to Hanns along with a legacy of a man of humble, modest conduct. Sobering portrait of abuse of power, leaders and followers annihilating the innocent.

A copy was provided in exchange for and honest review

Bryan Craig Thank you Melinda for sharing your thoughts with us and your review.

message 41: by (last edited Jul 21, 2014 07:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars (manoflabook) | 6 comments Here are my thoughts:

Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the Ger­man Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kom­man­dant of Auschwitz by Thomas Hard­ing is a non-fiction book detail­ing the cap­ture of the noto­ri­ous and elu­sive Rudolf Höss. Mr. Hard­ing started research­ing his fam­ily his­tory and dis­cov­ered and amaz­ing story. Mr. Hard­ing heard that his rel­a­tive tracked down the noto­ri­ous crim­i­nal and, while inves­ti­gat­ing, wrote this book.

Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the Ger­man Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kom­man­dant of Auschwitz by Thomas Hard­ing is a non-fiction book detail­ing the cap­ture of the noto­ri­ous and elu­sive Rudolf Höss. Mr. Hard­ing started research­ing his fam­ily his­tory and dis­cov­ered and amaz­ing story. Mr. Hard­ing heard that his rel­a­tive tracked down the noto­ri­ous crim­i­nal and, while inves­ti­gat­ing, wrote this book.

Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the Ger­man Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kom­man­dant of Auschwitz by Thomas Hard­ing is an absorb­ing book, a story told with gusto and admi­ra­tion to his ances­tors. Mr. Hard­ing heard about his relative’s con­tri­bu­tion to world jus­tice dur­ing his funeral and went about researching.

As it turns out, Jew­ish Ger­man immi­grant Hanns Alexan­der was a Lieu­tenant in the first British war Crimes Inves­ti­ga­tion Team dur­ing the war and was respon­si­ble for the cap­tur­ing of Höss.

The chill­ing part, for me, about the book was the descrip­tions of Höss as an effi­cient man­ager, and a good com­man­der to his sol­diers. He knew what he was doing, cre­ated and man­aged a mur­der­ous enter­prise in a cold, cal­cu­lat­ing way and some­how jus­tify it in his writ­ing as sim­ply “fol­low­ing orders”.

Höss tries to shift respon­si­bil­ity from him­self, how­ever the author makes it clear that Höss was a major cul­prit in mass mur­der and even using his own words against him. After all, Höss didn’t hate Jews as indi­vid­u­als but as a race and he says so in his autobiography.

The story of Hanns is intrigu­ing as well, Mr. Hard­ing does not por­tray Hanns as a vic­tim, but as a strong Jew­ish boy who is eager to fight against the coun­try that betrayed him. The author tells of Hanns as a per­son who loved life, had a wicked sense of humor but a sense of honor.

Both men were fam­ily men, which seems strange for Höss. that is one of the things I could never under­stand is how those that worked in con­cen­tra­tion camps were able to sep­a­rate to such extremes as the hor­rors they were par­tic­i­pat­ing in (even sec­re­taries) and the sim­ple joys of life such as fam­ily and picnics.

Mr. Hard­ing wrote a strong, thought pro­vok­ing, fas­ci­nat­ing book which, most impor­tant of all, is a fam­ily heir­loom and an homage to a rel­a­tive who has passed away. I found the book to be well researched, an easy read and a win­dow into a time where the ideal of right and wrong was clearly defined.

message 42: by Katy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) Melinda & Zohar I appreciate your comments.

message 43: by Cary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cary Kostka (caryjr73) | 39 comments This is not the sort of book I typically read, but it locked me in from the beginning. You have the stories of two men that had very different beginnings and endings based on the paths they chose to walk.

One man starts life living carefree and ends up narrowly escaping the horrors that the Jewish population would have to endure in Nazi held areas, eventually hunting those responsible for these acts and finally settling into what we would consider a normal life. The other man has a hard go of it from the beginning and for me he developed a sick logic that would lead him to blindly spearhead the most heinous of events in human history.

For me, this book illustrates just how narrow a line we walk in our lives. One tiny slip can lead one to spiraling into an abyss of pain and horror…one man went all the way down while the other managed to hang on to his humanity even in his dark moments. The history presented by the author was beautifully done and boldly reveals lessons that humanity still need to learn based on some of the current events unfolding now.

I think that this book should be required reading for older students when the holocaust is covered in class; I have made this a required read in my household.

I would like to say thank you to Simon & Schuster, the author Thomas Harding, and to the Goodreads Giveaway via the History Book Club for providing a free copy of this great book.

Bryan Craig Thanks, Cary, good review.

Kristjan | 45 comments This book traces the lives of two men. One is a German Jew (Hanns) raised in pre-WWII Berlin, who escapes to Britain and joins the Royal Pioneer Corps of the British Army. The other is a German (Rudolf) who fights in WWI and ends up becoming the Kommandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Eventually, the paths of the two men meet as the Jew captures the man responsible for making the mass killing of Jews more "efficient".

The author uses the first names of these two men throughout to remind us of the humanity of them both, even though one committed unspeakable atrocities. Chapters alternate between the stories of the two men until they intertwine in the last few chapters.

The subtitle of the book, "The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz", may be a little misleading. The time from when the Hanns' attention was fixed on Rudolf until he was caught is covered in less than 10 pages towards the end of the book. The aftermath shows us that Rudolf's capture was a pivotal point in the Nuremberg Trials.

Overall, I found the book to be very readable, even though the pace was rather slow when covering the pre-WWII years. It gives the book a very personal touch that Hanns was the author's great-uncle. Unfortunately, the author only became aware of what his great-uncle had done after Hanns' death, so the author was unable to interview him directly and had to rely on official records, personal letters, etc. in building the story.

Disclosure: This book was provided to me for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads Giveaways. Thanks to Simon and Schuster for their generosity.

message 46: by Katy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) Nice reviews, Cary & Kristjan. I appreciate reading your comments.

message 47: by Jerome, Assisting Moderator - Upcoming Books and Releases (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jerome | 4282 comments Mod
I got around to starting this book today and couldn't put it down. Here are my thoughts:

A gripping dual biography of both Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz and Hanns Alexander, who hunted down Nazi war criminals first on his own and then by official assignment. The book is very well-written and well organized. Harding remains objective throughout, making for a clear and precise story and letting the atrocities and flaws of the characters speak for themselves.

The story’s hero, Hanns Alexander, is not presented as a hero; upon reading the book I doubt Alexander ever viewed himself as one, and he refused to tell his story to his children. The book’s villain, Rudolf Höss, is not presented as a villain, just a self-centered sycophant doing his job, a job that required him to murder millions of innocents. Harding is good at presenting these nuances and ambiguities. While no one can doubt that Höss was a murderous war criminal guilty of horrible crimes and atrocities, Höss never saw himself as such, and often had at least some sort of qualms about his work; but of course, not enough qualms to actually put a stop to the evil he was without a doubt guilty of perpetrating.

Harding’s style is gripping, and brings the events of the time period to life. He places the reader at at the heart of the story, and at the heart of the story’s tragedy. The story is a little choppy and lacking in detail at parts, but never loses its drama.

I received this book free through the History Book Club on Goodreads.

message 48: by Katy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (kathy_h) Wow, Jerome. A one-day reading is pretty impressive.

Bryan Craig Great reviews everyone. Glad we got a chance to read it as a group.

Vincent (vpbrancato) | 1245 comments REVIEW

Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Commandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding

This is a story of two German born men, both born in the first quarter of the 20th century, and their lives, and their eventual interaction in the second quarter of that century.

The individuals, while players in that struggle, are really used as a moving platform to present the conflict and atrocities of Hitler’s Germany.

The other note is that based upon dates of birth and death it is a biography of Rudolf Hoess but only a partial history of Hanns Alexander.

The formation of Hoess from childhood to adulthood and into the Nazi party illustrates how a man (maybe an example for the country) moves from normal human being to cold-blooded killer while seeming to keep a sense of righteousness – of doing his duty.

The book shows how the values of the individuals are molded and further formed and then hardened.

Following Hoess one can see the aftermath on the Germans of the loss of WWI – the eventual building of the Nazi party including how some individuals (Himmler for example) worked to build it and make it work. One can likely see the progression of inhumane treatment but not an understanding of it. Likely as no understanding may be really possible for a “normal” person. This fellow is however mostly a more horrible exception but too many Germans were complicit for him to have been so unique.

From the Alexander family there is real illustration of the evolving growth of anti-Semitism under the Nazis. The individual struggles to escape and to survive.

The eventual interaction between the two men was really just a small time after the escape of Hoess had failed and his capture by Alexander. The real story was their individual developments during the years the book covered.

Thomas Harding, the author, brought personal connection to the telling of this history (I refrain from calling it a story) with what seems to be the most current research. So Harding interviewed family members and others in the story over 50 years later. Papers were available that were not beforehand. Defense mechanisms were lowered. Guilt for some of the Germans was still present but much of it was directed to Hoess.

The book is a good, less emotional, less graphic, telling of the Holocaust by focusing on one corner of it, the Auschwitz camp, and two men – one who perpetrated it and one who suffered and then partly revenged it.

It might be good to read possibly The Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt in trying to better understand this but the Harding book stands strongly enough alone.

It is a relatively fast read and worth the time and viewpoint if one is interested to better know and understand this horror story.

Disclosure: This book was provided to me for free through the History Book Club on Goodreads Giveaways. Thanks to Simon and Schuster for their generosity.

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