About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Capturing the Kommandant of Auschwitz

Hanns and Rudolf
In my last post I started a review of Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding by discussing the lives of Hanns Alexander and Rudolf Hoess through WW II. 

As the was drew to an end it was remarkable the lack of foresight by both the Allied and Germans with regard to what would happen to those Germans who had administered or worked at the concentration camps.

Hoess appeared to believe until into 1945 that somehow Germany would win the war. Only in late April of that year did Hoess and some senior SS concentration camp administrators leave the Berlin area. In a hastily arranged convoy they moved northwest to Denmark.

Contrary to my expectations there were no careful plans and money for escape from Germany. A week before the war ended Himmler said it was every man for himself. Now there were "ratlines" going north and south for Nazis escaping Germany but they appeared limited.

Beyond being given a false identity Hoess had little assistance. He found work on a farm near the Danish border. Eventually he hoped to go to Sweden and then South America on the northern “ratline”.

On the Allied side the British had less than 40 men assigned to investigate and hunt war criminals. Harding points in contrast to the major effort made by the Allies to find German scientists and take them West. The minimal effort at finding any but the most notorious war criminals was comparable to the limited effort dealing with the looted art works of Europe outlined in The Monuments Men.

Thus it was that Alexander, who was not trained as an investigator, was assigned as a translator to the war crimes investigation unit. Once a member of that team and exposed to the horrors of the Belsen concentration camp going after war criminals became a personal vendetta. Alexander's intensity and success was recognized. He was authorized to pursue Hoss.

As with most investigations he was successful because of his diligence at following up leads and being undeterred by dead ends. It was not brilliant deduction but attention to detail and determination.

In the end he extracted from Hedweg, the wife of Hoess, through a threat to deport their oldest son to Siberia, the location of Hoess.

I was struck by how each man, neither holding high position in the military nor involved in politics, had such an impact on the war and the prosecution of war crimes. Both were very resolute and well organized.

Hoss used his skills to become a mass murderer. The Final Solution would have proceeded without him but Hoess worked hard to make the process efficient. He was even called back to Auschwitz in 1944 to ensure the killing of 400,000 Hungarian Jews went smoothly.

Alexander, by capturing Hoess, provided the witness at the Nuremberg trials who personally confirmed the mass murder of Jews in concentration camps by the Nazis. It is clear that if he had not pursued Hoss there was no other active search and Hoess would probably have left Germany during 1946.

Both men received little public recognition for their work. Neither sought attention. Hoess was promoted to Major but there were no awards for being an effective concentration camp commandant. Alexander received no honours for capturing Hoess.

It was not until the author, a grand-nephew of Alexander, was at Alexander’s funeral over 50 years after the war that he learned of Alexander hunting down Hoess. Inspired to learn more he researched the lives of both men and how they intersected in 1946.

Each man was an example of the power of one in our world.

Hanns and Rudolf is not a great book but it is a good book. The hunt for Hoess was not a cliffhanger story. Harding does not over emphasize the irony of the capture of the Kommandant of Auschwitz by a German Jewish refugee. There was a compelling conclusion. Harding accompanied one of Hoess's grandsons and the young man's mother to Auschwitz.

I cannot say I enjoyed the book about the Holocaust but I am glad I read Hanns and Rudolf.
 Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding


  1. Thanks for sharing the rest of your review, Bill. I'm glad you highlighted the perseverance involved on both sides. As you say, solving a case involves that sort of persistence. And it is interesting to see how these men, neither particularly high in status, impacted the war. I'm glad you brought that up, too. I think we can learn a lot from the histories people who might not have been at the top of the proverbial tree, but who did make a difference.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Successful governments and businesses need dedicated men and women to carry out the orders of their leaders.