"Le Carré is quite correct. The last section of Harding’s book does indeed read like a gripping thriller, no less so because we know how the pursuit of Höss is destined to end." from a review in the Spectator by Miranda Seymour, 9/21/2013
Thomas Harding, grand-nephew of Hanns Alexander, has written this highly readable and thoroughly researched book to honor Alexander who was part of the British War Crimes Investigation Team which was assembled to find Nazis who had fled at the end of World War II. The author knew nothing about his uncle’s service during the war, only learning about it at his funeral.
Harding constructs his narrative by alternating chapters. He writes a chapter about Hanns Alexander and follows it with a chapter about Rudolf Hoess (not to be confused with Rudolf Hess), an important figure in the building and administration of Auschwitz who Alexander was charged with capturing. The book starts at the beginning of both of their lives in Germany, recreating the culture, atmosphere and circumstances out of which they emerged and follows both to their deaths.
Harding describes in interesting detail Alexander’s life as a member of an affluent Jewish family who lived in very comfortable circumstances in the Jewish section of Berlin. His father was a highly regarded doctor who had in his possession what became known as the Alexander Torah commissioned in 1790 by Hanns’ great great great grandfather. Hanns Alexander's mother came from two prominent Jewish families: the Picards and Schwarzchilds. Notables like Albert Einstein came to their house for dinner.
After establishing the family’s background, the author then narrates the rise of Hitler and how incremental restrictions affected German Jews. Luckily, all of Hanns Alexander’s immediate family eventually escaped to England in the late 1930’s when he was a young man. When the war broke out Hanns enlisted, wanting to fight against Germany, a country he had loved but whose ruling party he hated. He was not happy when the British would only take him into the Pioneer Corps, a division which had been recently created for Austrian and German refugees. They were not allowed to have rifles. But once he proved himself more than capable and certainly loyal, he was asked to join the War Crimes Investigation team. The fact that he spoke fluent German helped him immeasurably.
Harding takes us through Alexander’s suspenseful capture of Hoess, the interrogation, the Nuremberg trials and Hoess’s trial in Poland to where he was transported because Auschwitz, where he had committed crimes, was on Polish soil. Throughout, the author describes post-war Europe - its physical devastation, but especially the scrambling that went on, with very few resources, to set up a system to bring Nazis to justice. His great-uncle Hanns Alexander was an important part of that process. Alexander’s getting Hoess to confess was crucial as his testimony provided information needed to prosecute other perpetrators.
Having conducted interviews with family members and having access to family papers helped Harding flesh out the character of his great uncle. Documents in the public domain that Harding consulted add to the reader's understanding of what Hanns Alexander contributed to the post-war effort to bring Nazis to justice.
This book includes many photos, maps, useful endnotes, a family tree, an end note on Research Sources and an annotated Bibliography.
To see photos of the Alexander family's torah go to the author's website here.
To watch a short video of Rudolf Hoess's testimony at the Nuremberg trials, click here.
People and Places
Moses Alexander – married Sophie Neustein
Herman Alexander – son of Moses and Sophie; married Bella Lehmaier
Sophie Alexander – daughter of Herman and Bella; married Albert Simon
Paula Alexander – daughter of Herman and Bella
Alfred Alexander – great-great grandson of Moses; married Henny Picard
Bella Alexander – daughter of Alfred and Henny; married Harold Sussmann; 2nd marriage to Julius Jakobi
Peter and Tony Sussmann – sons of Bella and Harold
Julian Jakobi – son of Bella and Julius; married to Fiona
Stephen Jakobi – son of Bella and Julius
Elsie Alexander – daughter of Alfred and Henny; married Erich Hirschowitz (Eric Harding)
Frank Harding – son of Elsie and Eric
Thomas Harding – son of Frank; married to Debora; author
Kadian and Sam Harding – children of Thomas and Debora
Amanda Harding – daughter of Frank
Michael Harding – son of Elsie and Eric; married to Angela
Vivien Harding – daughter of Elsie and Eric
Hanns Hermann (Howard Harvey) Alexander – son of Alfred and Henny; married to Ann Graetz
Jackie and Annette Alexander – daughters of Hanns and Ann
Paul Alexander – son of Alfred and Ann (twin of Hanns); married to Elisabeth Heymann; 2nd marriage to Tamara Lesser
John and Marion Alexander – children of Paul
Family of author’s paternal great-grandmother
Moritz Lazarus Schwarzchild – married Clementine Schwab
Lucien Picard – married Amalie Schwarzchild
Henny Picard – daughter of Lucien and Amalie; married Alfred Alexander (see above)
Cacilie Bing – great-aunt of Hanns Alexander; exact relationship not clear
Author’s great-uncle Hanns Alexander’s wife Anneliese's family
Paul Graetz – son of Sarah; married Kate
Anneliese Graetz – daughter of Paul and Kate; married Hanns Alexander (see above)
Wolfgang Graetz (Grey) – son of Paul and Kate; married Antonia
Friends and Acquaintances
Stephen Abrahams – son of Karl
Neue Synagoge, Berlin, Germany
Gross Glienicky, Germany
Belsize Square Synagogue, London