viernes, 21 de noviembre de 2014
Auschwitz commander's grandson: Why my family call me a traitor
There is no grave marking where Rainer Höss' grandfather lies. But if there were, Mr Hoess knows what he would do.
"I would spit on it," he said. "I can't forgive the burden he brought into our lives. We had to carry a very heavy cross."
Mr Hoess's grandfather was Rudolf Höss – the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, and the man who oversaw the murder of an estimated 1.5 million people.
And November 20 marks the day, 69 years ago, that the trial of his grandfather began in Nuremburg – perhaps the biggest series of trials of the past century.
Mr Hoess, 49, is the only member of his family to publicly denounce his grandfather, who was hanged at the end of the trial, in 1945.
And he told The Telegraph, speaking by phone from his home in Germany how, as a child, he had no idea of the history of the man who died 20 years before he was born.
"There was a dictatorship in the house, and we weren't allowed to disagree," he said. "I had to admire my grandfather like a hero."
Hoess joined the Nazi party in 1922 and 12 years later became part of the SS. His extensive experience at Dachau and Sachsenhausen as well as his long-time friendship with SS commander Heinrich Himmler led to his appointment as commandant at Auschwitz in 1940.
He was the designer and administrator of the gas chambers and the one that introduced the Zyklon B gas that was used to execute children, the elderly and everyone else that was unfit to work.
It was not until Mr Höss was 12, while at boarding school, that he learnt the true story of his dark family secret.
Security guards caught him and his friends stealing from the kitchen, and so the head master of the school punished them by forcing them work in the garden. However, the gardener was an Auschwitz survivor, and the young boy's name immediately caught his attention. So he kept him working for three months – with the pretext that he wasn't working hard enough – and enjoyed slapping and kicking around the unruly pupil. The boy couldn't understand why.
It was only when a teacher told him that his grandfather was responsible for all the agony the gardener had witnessed at the extermination camp, that he understood.
But still his father, Hans-Jurgen – Rudolf's son – dismissed those claims.
"My father would punish my mum and me. My mother tried to kill herself ten times and she once tried to hang herself from the balcony. I tried to kill myself twice and suffered from three heart attacks and a stroke in the 1990s."
Three years later the young Mr Hoess spent the holidays with his grandfather's driver, who told him of the luxurious life enjoyed by Rudolf Hoess in the villa he lived in near the camp.
"Life at the villa was beautiful – but prisoners would be punished there," he said.
"One of them got lost in the garden and was taken back to Auschwitz to be hanged. He was only spared at the last minute because my grandmother needed him to work."
In the villa many Jehovah's Witnesses were forced to work indoors. Communists, political opponents and gipsies were made to work outdoors. No Jews were allowed in the premises.
Hoess's driver added that the Auschwitz commander always ordered a prisoner to sing for him before he went to bed.
"He was a cold-hearted soldier who got 20,000 people killed by dinnertime – with the excuse that he just did his job," said Mr Hoess. "Yet he would later turn to a loving father who would tuck his kids in bed."
Eventually, Mr Hoess left home at the age of 16, trained as a chef, and broke all contact with the rest of his family by 1985. He said that they now call him a traitor.
He had the chance to visit Auschwitz for the first time one cold morning in 2009 with his mother, an Israeli journalist and writer Thomas Harding.
"I couldn't sleep the night before I went, and was walking around my room instead," he said. "At first I was looking for reasons not to go – but I had to check with my own eyes and needed to feel Auschwitz.
"It was hard.
"There was silence inside the car when we arrived. It was scary. I couldn't believe how big it was. I couldn't touch the bricks or anything else."
Mr Hoess's grandfather tried to escape with his family to South America after the war, but was captured by the British, confessed to his crimes in Nuremberg, and was hanged next to the camp's crematoria.
The site of his execution is still there – and Mr Hoess considers it the best part of the tour.
"He couldn't harm or punish people again. I wondered how he felt before being executed. How did he feel while looking at the villa, crematoria and camp?"
Mr Hoess was given a Star of David as a present by a Jewish lady, which he promised to wear at all times. "It offers me joy and help," he said. He was also recently informally adopted as the "grandson" of Eva Mozes Kor - an Auschwitz survivor, who was used in Mengele’s infamous experiments.
He currently lives in south west Germany and speaks at around 70 schools a year where he tells children about his grandfather as well as extremist parties.
"I never miss a chance to take on the far Right, " he said. "I have no fear in facing them."
Mr Hoess said that the "ideology virus" is alive and well in Europe today, and warned that "all far Right parties are exactly the same as the Nazis."
He believes that if his grandfather was alive today, he would definitely join those political bodies.
"Their ideology is the same and they never switched rules. They use horrible phrases to influence young people and say that minorities steal jobs and space. Just like the Nazis did with Jews."
He added that the only difference now is that the far Right parties have learned from the Nazis' mistakes.
"They find effective and silent ways to spread their hate to others. But now they are not just talking about Jews, now the target is much bigger," he said.
"The movements are much better organised than Hitler's Germany. I think the rest of the countries have learned nothing from the past."