My interview with Rainer Höss. Part I
**In honor of Rainer’s book release in Germany, I am reblogging this interview from May. Click on the Amazon link within the interview to purchase the book. There still WILL be a part II to the interview, Rainer has been very busy but things seem to be finding a chaotic rhythm for him lately. On a personal note, congratulations Rainy on the book – I’m so proud to see you holding it! 🙂 **
It is 3:15 am in Germany as I begin my writing. My friend ‘Rainy’ is sleeping. I miss the ‘ding’ of the email as he shares more and more about his journey, his hopes and his fears.
He is a book I cannot put down – a person I have come to deeply respect and care for in a short time. I do not know what time or even what day it will be in Germany when I finish. Or if I’ll ever be finished.
While it has to be mentioned to make any sense, this post is not going to be about his grandfather, Rudolf Hoess, (Höss, Höß) Commandant of Auschwitz.
It’s not for at least two very good reasons.
1) I am smart enough to know that I am too ignorant on the topic to have the nerve to offer any opinions or insights. There are far too many souls who have been personally harmed. I will not rehash only what is available to me on the internet and in history books. That information can’t begin to afford me the experience to decide how it must have felt, how it must have been. I will not disrespect those who have personally been affected by the holocaust.
2) My intention from day one was to offer Rainer’s story. His story, in my voice.
When I first saw him in a documentary I was immediately pulled into his world.
He cried, I cried. He was nervous standing before a group of students, I was nervous. He looked around the Villa where his father grew up on the grounds of Auschwitz, I was peering around the corners with him.
Rainer outside of the Villa at Auschwitz, where his father lived
So engrossed was I in that documentary, Hitlers Children, that it affected me profoundly.
We all have family secrets … personal shame about something or another and a lot of us must confess to having at least one ‘monster’.
That in mind, I could not fathom the magnitude of bearing the weight of not only having a most well-known ‘monster’ (I have a problem using that word) in my past, but it not being a secret.
Far from it.
Once Rainer shares his last name – the speculation and judging begins.
It is here that I will offer my ever so humble opinion.
We cannot be great people because our ancestors have done great things, so it stands to reason that we cannot be evil if our ancestors have done evil things.
I believe that those in fear, and still suffering, need something tangible to blame. Someone in the flesh to hear their story and to turn their anger on.
And that is not fair. And that is not right.
Rainer has said often he fears he has his grandfathers evil in him, “As if it could be inherited.”
My heart swells and my instinct is to protect – I do not believe for one minute that evil can be inherited. I believe that we choose our own paths and that we are not defined by our forefathers deeds. Or, more to the point, we don’t have to be. Sometimes our circumstances make it harder to take a different route, but it can be done.
As Rainer said to me, “To come to terms with your past, it takes a lot of strength, but it is also worthwhile to confront his demons. Rising to the task, and where there is a will there is a way. Of course, the path is sometimes rocky and hard, and not immediately visible. Giving up is too easy.”
Let me tell you about Rainer Hoess, who chose not to give up.
His favorite color is blue. “I could paint everything blue around me. The blue color gives me a sense of harmony and security.”
He likes to sit outside on his terrace and look at the stars at night, thinking about nothing. Sometimes with one of his cats in his lap.
He loves diving in the ocean, kickboxing, jogging, cycling.
He practices Tai Chi and Chi Gong daily for focus.
He is well-traveled, educated, genuine and loves his family. He often mentions his 4 beautiful children and his two beloved grandchildren.
And yet, in his words, “Often you stand before the mirror in the morning and look at yourself, similarities, comparing yourself with this monster. The worst thing is that you being to ask yourself the question, what I have of him that I do not know yet?”
I argued with him – pointed out how very different he is from his grandfather, from his own father even! But how can I think for one minute I have the right to do that? I am not walking in his shoes.
He went on to say, as we discussed his never-ending research, “I am always deeply penetrated into the psyche of my grandfather and have therefore often put myself in danger.” He was speaking of his health – his obsessive research in an attempt to understand, resulted in 3 heart attacks. He immersed himself in a desperate quest. (Which resulted in this book.)
But Rainer is also a thrill seeker – an adrenaline junky. “It gives me the opportunity to make myself free of these constraints of society. Myself to determine how far I want to go. There is also a kind of therapy to overcome boundaries.”
I think it’s also a vehicle to get out of his own head, if only for a little while – to feel something other than the weight of his ancestry.
Good thing he has a God of his understanding on his side.
Rainer also studied theology in his ‘free time’, “To cover all eventualities in my research and to get answers of my questions”
He went on to tell me, “But in churches I encountered a lot of misunderstanding after my questions. Faith as a shield and excuse for such crimes I cannot accept. And especially the denial of this crime by some churches and their leaders.”
Rainer is not in denial.
Rainer in the barracks in Birkenau
“To me it’s important that my generation had the chance to speak. Because what we have seen and experienced applies to everyone, and not just for descendants of Nazis.”
And speak he does. To students, to survivors. Rainer is on a mission to speak out in hope of understanding, healing and prevention for all who care to listen.
“Many believe what they read in the media, whether it’s true or not. They want to get to know me really the least, because who would gladly look in the mirror of his own soul through me?”
I wanted to look.
And as for the ‘Rainy’ nickname at the beginning. I know Rainer isn’t pronounced like Rain-er in German.
But when I saw the man who was raised to believe “A Hoess does not cry!” shed tears at Auschwitz – I cried along with him.
This morning I said to him,
“I’m glad to know the Hoess that DOES cry.
Tears are cleansing.
(All photographs copyright of Rainer Hoess. Used with permission. All quotes and material is owned by Debauchery Soup/Amanda Hoskins.)