JQ Wingate Nominee: Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding
As we countdown to the winner of the JQ Wingate Prize, here's an extract from Hans and Rudolf by Thomas Harding.
ALEXANDER. Howard Harvey, lovingly known as Hanns, passed away quickly and peacefully on Friday, 23rd December. Cremation on Thursday, 28th December, 2.30 p.m. at Hoop Lane, Golders Green Crematorium, West Chapel. No flowers please. Donations, if desired, to North London Hospice.
Daily Telegraph, 28 December 2006
Hanns Alexander’s funeral was held on a cold and rainy afternoon three days after Christmas. Considering the weather, and the timing, the turnout was impressive. More than three hundred people packed into the chapel. The congregation arrived early, and in full force, grabbing all the seats. Fifteen people from Hanns’ old bank, Warburg’s, were in attendance, including the former and current CEO. His close friends were there, as was the extended family. Hanns’ wife of sixty years, Ann, sat in the front row, along with the couple’s two daughters, Jackie and Annette.
The synagogue’s cantor recited Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead. He then paused. Looking down upon Ann and her two daughters, he delivered a short sermon, saying how sorry he was for their loss and how Hanns would be missed by the entire community. When he had finished, two of Hanns’ nephews stood to give a joint eulogy.
Much was familiar: Hanns growing up in Berlin. The Alexanders fleeing the Nazis and moving to England. Hanns fighting with the British Army. His career as a low-level banker. His commitment to the family and his half-century of schlepping for the synagogue.
But there was one detail that caught nearly everyone off guard: that at the war’s end Hanns had tracked down the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss.
This piqued my interest. For Hanns Alexander was my grandmother’s brother, my great-uncle. Growing up we had been cautioned not to ask questions about the war. Now I learned that Hanns may have been a Nazi hunter
The idea that this nice but unremarkable man had been a Second World War hero seemed unlikely. Presumably, this was just another of Hanns’ tales. For he was a bit of a rogue and a prankster, much respected for sure, but also a man who liked to play tricks on his elders and tell dirty jokes to us youngsters, and who, if truth be told, was prone to exaggeration. After all, if he had really been a Nazi hunter, wouldn’t it have been mentioned in his obituary?
I decided to find out if it was true.
The JQ Wingate Prize recognizes Jewish and non-Jewish writers resident in the UK, British Commonwealth, Europe and Israel who stimulate an interest in themes of Jewish concern while appealing to the general reader.
Moving from the Middle-Eastern campaigns of the First World War to bohemian Berlin in the 1920s, to the horror of the concentration camps and the trials in Belsen and Nuremberg, this book tells the story of two German men whose lives diverged, and intersected, in an unusual way.