British documentary filmmaker and journalist Harding traces the lives of Auschwitz Kommandant Rudolf Höss and Hanns Alexander, a Jewish refugee from Nazism who hunted him down and brought him to justice.
The author only learned about his great-uncle Hanns' wartime record when attending his funeral in 2006. Alexander served with British forces during World War II, refused awards for his wartime service and never told his own story. (He also swore he would never return to Germany, and he didn't.) Harding commemorates his great-uncle's life and the contributions that helped to ensure that crucial evidence was presented at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in what the New York Times described as “the crushing climax to the case.” The author traces the lives of Alexander and Höss in parallel. Alexander's family, along with other Jews, were steadily stripped of the capacity to function following Hitler's assumption of power, yet they were conflicted about leaving their homeland. Höss joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and was later recruited into the administration of the concentration camp system by Heinrich Himmler. Höss organized the Auschwitz camps under Himmler's orders and accepted the part he was personally assigned in the Final Solution. Höss and Alexander crossed paths after the Allies liberated the Bergen-Belsen death camp on April 15, 1945; it was then that Alexander became an avenging stalker of Nazi war criminals and Höss, his prey. Alexander's hunt unravels some of the background to Allied decisions about pursuing war criminals and punishing war crimes. Höss admitted to the murder of millions of Jews in interviews conducted for the war crimes tribunal and was finally executed in Poland. Harding's portrayal of both men's lives before the war sets the scene for the hunt and its aftermath.
The protagonists' individual choices and family backgrounds give this biographical history a unique, intimate quality.