My mother was a hidden child, baby and toddler during the Holocaust so I know what it is like having the emotions and perspectives of a child of a Holocaust survivor. Traditionally I have had no sympathy for the plight of the descendants of the Nazis. Reading about Rainer Hoss makes me have food for thought. He is certainly a person to be admired.
Rainer Hoss the grandson of Rudolf Höss, the man who commanded the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War gave an interview excerpts from which is below. “Before he was hanged, my grandfather wrote to my grandmother that she should change her name,” Rainer said. “Both my grandmother and my father were in complete denial of his crimes, and so they adamantly refused to change their names. ‘Höss will remain Höss,’ my grandmother would say. I decided that if I kept the name, this would enable me to do my part in repenting in my grandfather’s name. It’s not so simple, of course – you need to always be careful about everything you say, because people are judging you. Sometimes people curse me on the Internet and neo-Nazis are always trying to contact me. Ultimately, the name Höss is connected with Auschwitz, where millions of people were murdered.”
Rainer’s father, Hans-Jurgen, who worked as an engineer for Volvo, was, according to Rainer, a cold and cruel man. “The home I grew up in was hell on earth. My father would beat me and my mother all the time. He ruled the home with an iron fist. We were not allowed to speak without permission. We were forbidden to cry or show any feeling whatsoever. If we ever disobeyed him, he would beat us to a pulp. My mother tried to commit suicide a number of times.”
Rainer’s first encounter with the “Jewish issue” was incredibly traumatic. “I was maybe five or six years old, when a boy from school invited me over to his house for ‘Pesach-fest.’ I had no idea what this was. So I approached my father and stood still until he gave me permission to speak just like I always did. In a hesitant voice, I asked for permission to go to Chris’s house for Pesach-fest. My father leapt from his chair and hit me so hard that he broke my nose, and then he locked me in my room. ‘You will have no contact with those dirty Jews’ he screamed. The next day, I saw that there was a new sign hanging on our front door that read: ‘No Jews allowed.’”
Rainer didn’t know anything about his grandfather’s exploits. “My family would talk about how he was such a brave soldier, and that he was killed defending the homeland. Leopold Heger, my grandfather’s driver in Auschwitz, would come to our home and take long walks with me, while he told me about my grandfather’s heroism. He would call me ‘prince,’ because ‘your grandfather was like a king.’"
When he was 12, Rainer went on a school trip to the Dachau concentration camp. “My grandfather commanded this camp before being transferred to Auschwitz – I saw his name written on a plaque with my own eyes: Rudolf Höss. I ran home at the end of the day and asked my father if it was true, and he told me, ‘That’s a complete lie.’ And I believed him, since at that age you still believe everything your parents tell you.”
When he turned 15, Rainer came across a book at home titled Men of Auschwitz. “When my father saw me take that book off the shelf, he bolted towards me, slapped my cheek and told me never to touch that book again. Of course, the next day, after my father left for work in Sweden, I read the whole book. This was the first time that I read about what my grandfather did at Auschwitz. I was overcome with an intense mixture of shame, anger and sadness.”
The very next day, I packed a few things and left home. I went to live at a boarding school where I studied culinary arts. But I was just a kid with no framework and no family, so of course I soon got into drugs and alcohol.” When Rainer was just 16, he got his girlfriend pregnant, but when he turned 18 he married her and managed to create a normative and warm family with her. “I wanted so badly to form a new family, to disconnect from my family’s gene pool,” Rainer says. At the age of 21, Rainer cut off all contact with his family – his father, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. His mother, who divorced his father in 1983, is the only person he’s still in contact with. After his parents divorced, Rainer began investigating his grandfather’s exploits.
“My mother went through a pretty difficult time herself. I would sit with her for hours and make recordings of her talking about her life. She would also cry a lot, and say over and over again how sorry she was. She herself didn’t know anything about my grandfather until 1963, when the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials began. Following the trial, an article titled “The Gas Man from Auschwitz” was published, alongside a picture of the entire Höss family. My mother ran home and asked my father if that was really them. ‘Yes,’ he told her.
Today, Rainer's eldest granddaughter is 15 years old. Rainer who is 51, lives in Munich, is divorced and is the father of three children. One of his daughters is married to a Bosnian Muslim, “and I’m so happy for her – I’m in favor of pluralism,” he says. He is a chef by profession. “We used to go to Bavaria every year for vacation. I would tell my family that I was going out for a bike ride, but really I would take a taxi to the central archive and spend hours there,” Rainer says with a smile. “One time, my oldest daughter followed me, since she suspected I was meeting a lover. I love researching and figuring out how all the puzzle pieces fit together to form a big picture. Over time, I discovered that my grandfather did not operate in a vacuum.
He had many contacts in a number of different camps, like Mauthausen and Buchenwald. Auschwitz was actually much more complex than most people know. There was one main camp, but there was also IG Farben, a chemical factory, and a sub-camp called Buna.”
At one point, Rainer received the rights to his grandfather’s archive, which consisted mostly of documents and photographs.
In Israel, rumors began circulating that he was interested in selling items in the archive. “But that’s just not true. I handed everything over to the IFZ, on condition that they be used for research purposes only. The IFZ is currently preparing a traveling exhibition with these documents called ‘The documents of the Auschwitz commandant.’”
For years, Rainer engaged obsessively in rehabilitating his family name. He researched his grandfather’s and others’ crimes, spent hours in archives, has had talks with groups of teenagers about tolerance and fighting racism, and he gives (self-financed) guided tours of Auschwitz.
He’s active in an organization called Footsteps, which was founded so that people can not only learn about what happened in history, but also so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Rainer also works with Khubaib Ali Mohammed, a German- Muslim attorney, to bring to justice other Nazi war criminals who are still alive. “We work together – Christians, Muslims and Jews – and I’m very proud of that.”
Rainer’s father, Hans-Jurgen Höss, who was born in 1937, one of Rudolf and Hedwig Höss’s five children, grew up in a large villa near Auschwitz. There are color photographs that were taken during the war (with the new camera that Rudolf was given as a present by Heinrich Himmler), which show the Höss children frolicking in the garden and swimming in the pool at the villa, with the death camp and crematoria in the background.
“The villa is still there today – it’s owned by a Polish couple that I’m in touch with. Many people don’t know much about this house, such as the secret escape tunnel built by my grandfather that reaches from the crematoria to the house. A prisoner who worked for my grandfather told me that he would make the whole family practice using the escape tunnel at least once a week. The management of the concentration camp doesn’t like to publicize this, because they’re worried that neo-Nazis might turn this complex into a pilgrimage site.”
Years after the war ended, Rudolf’s children – and even his wife – claimed that they did not know what was taking place at the camp. “This is ludicrous, of course, because all of the servants at the house were prisoners from the camp,” Rainer explains. “All the gardening, landscaping, construction and renovations were carried out by prisoners. Even my grandfather’s barber was from the camp. My uncle used to use his slingshot to shoot rocks over the wall at the prisoners. There are prisoners who remember all of my aunts and uncles.” Rudolf’s wife, Hedwig, would later recall to friends how much she had loved living in Auschwitz, a time in her life she recalls as being “heavenly, happy times.”
“She was cold and tyrannical. When she would enter a room, it would all of a sudden feel like we were in a freezer,” Rainer says. Living 150 meters from the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp certainly had an effect on the Höss children, they all stayed supporters of Hitler and hated Jews.
Gradually, HÖSS abandoned all other activities. He sold his catering business and now devotes all of his time and money to Holocaust and tolerance education.
“The current situation in Europe highlights the lessons of the Holocaust. In Germany alone, there are 360,000 active Nazis. In all of Europe, there are more than 2.6 million Nazis,” Rainer says. He works alone (“I can’t trust anyone”) and is careful not to take personal donations, “since that would just generate gossip. All donations go directly toward projects.”
About a year ago, Rainer joined Ben Lesser, an American businessman who survived the Holocaust and founded an organization called Zachor. Together they are working on a project called Six Million Screams. “People ask me how I can be friends with someone whose grandfather murdered my family,” Lesser writes. “The answer is simple – you can’t control the reality you were born into, but you can choose which reality you want to live in.
I see before me a strong, courageous and caring man who is trying to make amends for what his grandfather did.”
Rainer wears a Star of David necklace around his neck that he received from a Holocaust survivor. He does not hide how proud he is to have relationships with Auschwitz survivors. “Somehow, I manage to connect with them well. They carry with them such wisdom. I have found that the children of survivors are more belligerent towards me."
Mostly edited from http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/The-sins-of-the-grandfather-437607
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