Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding is our Non-fiction choice for May. Here the author explains how he set out on the trail of Rudolf Höss…
On the trail of a War Crimes Investigator
It was in 2006, at his eulogy, that I first heard that my great-uncle, Hanns Alexander, had arrested the kommandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss. But, in truth, I didn’t believe it.
How was it possible that this charming, elderly, but modest man, who I had known all my life, could have achieved such a feat? How could it be right if I had never heard about it?
To find out if was true, I jumped in my blue Volvo, and drove out to the Intelligence Corps Museum, which is based at a military base near the village of Chicksands, fifty miles north of London.
At the main gate, my identification having been checked, and a visitor’s pass now issued, I was driven to a small bungalow building towards the back of the base. There, at the door to the museum, I was greeted by a Major Edwards, the man in charge of the Intelligence Corps’ archive.
Having made me a cup of milky tea and handed me two biscuits, Major Edwards pointed me towards a blue folder on a table towards the back of the bungalow. He told me that this was the official record of the arrest of the Kommandant of Auschwitz.
Sitting down, and having sipped my tea and eaten one of my biscuits, I started leafing through the papers. They had that musty, historic smell so familiar to me having spent countless hours in archives around the world. After a few minutes I had made it to the back of the file, and was looking at a report compiled by a Captain Cross, who in March 1946 was the commanding officer of British Field Security Section 92.
In this report, Cross describes the steps that led to the arrest of the Kommandant: the people who were interrogated, the soldiers involved, the arrest itself. And then, as I turned to the last page of the report, I saw the name: H.H. Alexander.
There it was, my great-uncle’s name, Hanns Hermann Alexander. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I was both shocked and excited at the same time. This was the first piece of solid piece of evidence that my uncle had been involved with the arrest of the Kommandant.
It from this point that I realised that the story had, after all, been true. My great-uncle had indeed been responsible for the arrest of the Kommandant. I would spend the next six years tracking down the rest of the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle, speaking to colleagues, interviewing family members, visiting other archives, until at last, I was able to tell the story of Hanns and Rudolf.
Thomas Harding, for Waterstones.com/blog
Read more from Thomas Harding about Hanns and Rudolf
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