True story of tracking down Auschwitz Commandant

Recently, The Green Ribbon Club was treated to a superb example of the skill of storytelling. Thomas Harding had an astonishing story to tell us, that of his great uncle, Hanns Alexander, who had tracked down the Nazi Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, at the end of the war. This was the subject of Thomas Harding’s book Hanns and Rudolf, published last year and already a bestseller. Thomas Harding led us through the lives of Hanns, an engaging, good-looking and fun-filled character and Rudolf, the epitome of Hannah Ahrendt’s phrase, ‘the banality of evil,’ eliciting key moments from the lives of each. Hanns was a mischievous twin and refugee from a distinguished family from Berlin (Hanns’ father had been Einstein’s doctor) and Rudolf a lover of the German countryside where he had been brought up and where he might have stayed but for chance meetings which took him to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (where, extraordinarily, his path crossed with the Hanns’ future father-in-law) and on, through twists and turns of fate, to become the overseer of the development of Auschwitz, where he lived with his family (in a house adjoining the walls of the now infamous institution). At the end of the war, Hanns tracked down the fugitive Rudolf in a thrilling tale, leading to a farmhouse on the Danish border and the discovery of Rudolf, living under a pseudonym, initially denying that he was Rudolf of Auschwitz. He was identified eventually by the initials on the inside of his wedding ring. The story remained compelling through to Rudolf’s full confession (a key point for The Nuremberg War Trials since others had claimed to know nothing) and justice through his being hanged within the walls of Aushchwitz. Hanns was happily married after the war. Thomas Harding had also been able to track down and interview Rudolf Hoess’ surviving daughter, Brigitte, and his account of that interview was fascinating. It was a wonderful, compelling and educative evening. The questions (all of them excellent) flowed and would have continued well into the night had they not been halted. May I thank Thomas Harding most sincerely on behalf of Bedales History.

By Jonathan Selby, Head of History

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

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