The man who captured Hoss was a German Jew. Hanns Alexander came from a highly assimilated and party-loving family that stayed in Berlin until it was almost too late, finally fleeing to Britain in 1936. Little Hanns and his twin brother, Paul, were for most of their indulgent childhoods oblivious to the anti-Semitic plague growing all around them. Their parents were cultured haute bourgeois; among their dinner guests were Albert Einstein and Marlene Dietrich. In 1939, Alexander joined the British army and served uneventfully until, in May 1945, he came upon the shocking scenes of stacked corpses at the newly liberated Belsen concentration camp. Carrying bodies to their graves, he was “gripped by a barely controllable rage.”Though he had no policy experience, no support and no clues, he became a self-appointed Nazi-hunter.
The once-spoiled and jolly boy learned how to be cruel in the cause of revenge. Tracking down Hedwig in an abandoned factory outside Berlin, he broke her silence by threatening to put her young son on a train to Siberia. She directed Alexander to the farm where Hoss was hiding under the assumed name of a dead sailor. When Hoss refused to identify himself or to hand over his wedding ring, Alexander threatened to cut off his ring finger. Hoss gave him the ring — with the names Rudolf and Hedwig inscribed inside the band. Alexander left the prisoner alone with some guards and a box of axe handles for 10 minutes. A doctor told him that if he did not cut the beating short, he would have only a corpse to bring back.