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Das Erbe des Kommandanten: The Heritage of the Commandant.

Rainer with his book - October 2013.

Rainer with his book – October 2013.

Here is the link for the whole book in German Das Erbe des Kommandanten – once I have a release date for the English version, I will definitely post it.

Rainer has allowed me to post two excerpts from his book in English.  Estimated time of publishing for the English-speaking market is early next year, 2014.

Incredibly moving and rich with history – I found myself lost in the words I share with you below.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did – Amanda.

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TITLE: The Heritage of the Commandant

Subtitle: On being part of a terrible family

The burden of an infamous surname (excerpt)

“My name, that’s for granted, is that of an outlaw all over the world. And poor you will get in unnecessary trouble over and over again with this name.

Especially the children will have a hard time in their further progress… so it’s the best if – together with myself – my name would vanish too.“

My grandfather Rudolf Höß on April 11th 1947 (a few days before his execution) in a letter to his wife Hedwig.

It was on my second visit to Auschwitz in October 2010 when a teenage-girl from a group of Israeli students asked me:  “If you met your grandfather today – what would you do?“

“I would kill him“, I answered right away.

Some of the students applauded.

I enjoyed that and felt pretty cool – like a cowboy. But later that night, lying in my bed thinking, my hands got clammy.  What a stupid, boasting answer!

What should that mean – kill him?  Was I, like my grandfather, to decide about life and death?

As an offspring of a Nazi-criminal you have to be cautious with what you say.  Whatever you prattle around could suddenly become a sort of significance you didn’t mean and attention you are not entitled to get.

But a fact is – especially in Europe – the name Höß is connected with Auschwitz.  And the name of Auschwitz is connected with millions of murdered

Jewish men, women and children.

So, when you say “My name is Höß ” over there – people get curious. And their interest, I have to admit, is in a way flattering.  All of a sudden you are not one in a crowd anymore, not a John Smith – Hallo and Goodbye. You are somebody, all the same if you are the descendant of a statesman or of a criminal.

It’s really strange with names – famous or infamous – it doesn’t make that much difference in the attention one gets.

I really do sympathize with the children and grandchildren of the holocaust victims when they look at us – the children and grandchildren of the nazi-committers – with distrust and aversion. They have all reason for it: quite often we are in the focus and they are forced to remind people of what their families suffered and went through before anyone listens to them.

But of course, there are some disadvantages too bearing the name of a nazi-killer. Some people judge you right away. Preferably anonymous in the internet. Other people might try to approach you for reasons you don’t ever want them to get closer for – like old or Neo-Nazis.

So, of course, I could have followed the advice of my grandfather and changed my name. For my grandmother Hedwig this was no choice.

She was proud to bear the name Höß, never ever would she give it up. Impossible for them.

Just thinking about how her friends would react to something like that, all those eminent ladies, whose husbands also had been fanatic servants of the so-called Third Reich.  “No, no ” she used to say, “A Höß stays a Höß! There is nothing to be ashamed of“ – That was her point of view.

And myself?  Should I do what my grandfather suggested? No. I did not want this Mass murderer  to tell me what I have to do or not to do. So I kept the name.

Chapter 1

The end of a war-criminal / Animal-lover and child of nature

“Along with this letter I was allowed to send you my wedding ring. Full of melancholy I think of the times in the spring of our lives when we put on those rings. Who could ever have expected such an end of our togetherness?“

Rudolf Höß, commander of Auschwitz, in his Farewell-Letter to his wife Hedwig on April 11th 1947, five days before his execution

I still see this ring right in front of me. It used to be kept in grandmothers casket, along with a pile of letters and curls of hair from her children – and her jewellery.

A simple, narrow ring it was, the edges slightly rounded. Inside, in flourish handwriting: August 17th 1929, Hedwig and Rudolf.  The engraving was a little shabby.

My grandfather wore this ring 17 years, seven month and 14 days.

He wore it in the year 1933, when he lifted his hand to take the oath of allegiance with the SS; he wore it, when the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler appointed him in 1940 to be Commandant of the concentration camp Auschwitz – the camp, Höß himself described as “the largest manufacturing plant of all times for the extermination of human beings“.

He even wore this ring when he went to bed with his mistress, the beautiful and mysterious captive Nora Hodys, and he wore it while under his order hundreds of thousand men, woman and children were killed in the gas chambers.

On April 11th 1947 my grandfather rubbed the skin of his right hand with soap in order to make it smooth and pulled off the ring from his finger.

Supposedly he used to do that every night before he went to sleep. Along with his farewell-letter to his “beloved and sweet Mutz“ – that was his pet name for his wife, my grandmother Hedwig – and letters to each one of his five children, he put the ring in a brown envelope.

Five days later he was being executed by hanging right at his former field of activity: in Auschwitz.

Up to one and a half million people, most of them Jewish men, and woman and children were killed in Auschwitz while Rudolf Höß was Commandant there and, later on, when he was a so-called “Standortältester“, which means kind of an elder camp-statesman.

One and half a million is the number he calculated himself . From a simply “technical“ point of view, he measured while in prison in the polish town of Cracow, it might even have been possible to match the number given by Adolf Eichmann, the Organizer of the holocaust. Eichmann named about two and a half million “Exterminations ” in Auschwitz.

Whereas Rudolf Höß, painstaking book-keeper that he was, estimated this number as settled “much too high“.

I did not know the man I dread since I know who he was – and therefore know who I am but not want to be: the grandson of a multimillion contract killer.

It put an imprint on my whole life.

First there was Leo: Leopold Heger, short, wiry, closely cropped hair, strong like a bull and in his sixties when I was born. He was the one who told me more than anyone in my family about my late grandfather when I was a child.

He used to be the official driver of my grandfather in Auschwitz until Rudolf Höß became chief of the so-called Amtsgruppe D1 – Inspection of all concentration-camps – in Oranienburg by the end of 1944.

During the weeks of the dissolution of Auschwitz, the head over heels flight and the collapse of the Nazi-rule Leo again followed Höß and his family, now acting as their in official driver. A loyal vassal he was to his “boss “or the “senior“, how he referred to him until his own death.

This man Leo became my substitute-grandfather. Once in a while he called me “prince“– since for him I was the grandson of the King of Auschwitz.

Whatever I, as a little boy, learned to like about this “grandfather in heaven“, whatever impressed me about him – I got it from Leo. When we were rambling together through the woods of the Swabian Alps he told me his tales about the “senior“.

What a daring horseman he had been. How deeply he had cared for his horses and for Rino, his breed of large German dog. An animal-lover and child of nature through and through. How could I have not adored a man like this – dead or alive?

The truth trickled through to me only many years later and only little by little. In the beginning I was just too naive, later on than I was much too startled and frightened to grasp that this “king“ actually was a slaughterer.

At home in my family? No word about it. You are too young. You are too stupid. You wouldn’t understand it anyway.  Your Grandfather? He died for his fatherland and now he is with the lord in heaven.  Period.

The subject “Rudolf Höß” was a taboo in the family of his second-born son Hans-Jürgen, my father.  The force of law at our house were his orders: Sit still and upright!  Keep your mouth shut!  Don’t you ask questions! And if you do it in spite of it – well then: carpet lifted up, question put underneath it, carpet back in place to cover it up.

With Leo it was quite different: At his house I couldn’t ask enough questions about the “senior“– as long as I did not put anything in question. Neither his former boss nor the Nazi-Ideology and the mass-killings. When I was little this was easy play for me.

And yes, I loved Leo, my substitute-grandfather.

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Musings from the Laundromat: Catch Up edition

Everything I said that I would do while Nic was gone, I did not do.

I did manage to accomplish getting hooked on two shows.

Not only did I watch all the episodes of the Orange Is The New Black first season – but I decided to out do myself and see what all the fuss was about with regards to Breaking Bad.

54 episodes on Netflix.  3 episodes on ‘On Demand’.  And the series recording is set for the new and final episodes.

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Where WAS I for this show??  I think everything happens for a reason, so the reason I wasn’t watching Breaking Bad in ‘real time’ these past few years, was probably to spare me the agony of having to wait for the next episode every week!

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I’m caught up now – and will be anxiously waiting for the last few with the rest of you.

I have interviews coming up that I’m excited about.  One was going to be conducted today, but I asked for a delay.  Not only is the topic one I have to research at length before ‘sitting down’ with my subject, but I knew I needed today free.  (More on that in a paragraph or two. )

The other interview will be the long-awaited ‘Part II’ with Rainer.  Just not sure which direction I want to go with it.  I told him it’s time – but he gives me such freedom that it’s almost as hard to write as it is to pick something off an expansive menu to order!

So I took the cowards way out and put the decision in his hands.  Then I’ll take it from there.

(At this point finding part I will take clicking on the ‘Interviews’ category on the right hand side of the blog, or using the search tool at the top right hand side.)

It’s been a long time since part I.  But, Rainer and I have stayed in touch the whole time – so I promise there will be an amazing read coming up.

Now, the reason I wanted to have today free (other than doing laundry of course) …

My boy is back!

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I was so excited yesterday!  Couldn’t wait to get to the airport.  I did the mandatory “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” the entire trip to Vegas.  Of course, I knew we weren’t there yet … but it’s fun to say. 

I watched as person after person came through the little corridor – and then!  My boy. 

Yes, I cried.

The first thing Nic wanted was ‘American Cheese’.  That bite of burger was almost as satisfying to watch happen as I’m sure it felt eating it.

Now, as exhausted as he was – after a ten and a half hour flight, and an hour and a half car ride back to ‘home’, we had a concert to go to.  I gave him an out, but he assured me he could handle it. 

After I quickly changed and swiped my lipstick on – he wanted to change his mind.

There is no cancelling after lipstick has been applied.  (Especially if you’re me and don’t wear a lot of make-up.)

Write this down men.

There is nothing worse than ‘wishful make-uping’

So we went.  But, knowing how tired he was, we didn’t stay for the whole thing.

I have taught my boy well – I KNOW how to ‘concert’ and he does too.  Once the music started, he found the perfect spot at the stage for us to be. 

My ear drums are well-trained, so there was no danger of having them blown out considering the fact that a speaker was right next to me – but I was in danger of having my hand stepped on by the singer.

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Took some amazing video that I wish I could share with you.  One day I’ll upgrade to have that capability.  Then you’ll wish I hadn’t.  😉

So here I am,  the laundry is done, and my bird is back in the nest and I’m drinking banana milk!  

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Nic not only knows how to ‘concert’ he knows how to ‘gift’ very thoughtfully. 

These are just a few of the things he brought back to me from England.

Someone has been paying attention for the past 18 years. The Mr. Men book … and Alice – such huge parts of my childhood.  The banana Nesquik – my favorite milkshake.  He also gave me a Monet print of the Thames (I have a few Monet’s) and Beefeater chapstick.  (I always have a chapstick next to my bed.)

Thought FULL! 

Then came a letter … written in this card – and when I read it, I was undone. 

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I’ll keep the words to myself – except for this sentence, because when I read it I had to giggle. 

I also felt awful – imagining him about to write an amazing, sweet, heartfelt letter and because he knows how I am, inserted this line:

“Before we go any further, I’m sorry for any poor grammar that might ensue.”

LOL!

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Of course, the above funny picture is only partly accurate – I would have spelled ‘you’re’ right.

What he hasn’t figured out yet in 18 years, is that I completely abuse the rules for punctuation marks.

I’ll put that on my list of things to work on next time I’m left unattended for a length of time.  And then I won’t get that done either.

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! 🙂 **

 

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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

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. 

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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. 

Like Rain.”

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(All photographs copyright of Rainer Hoess.  Used with permission.  All quotes and material is owned by Debauchery Soup/Amanda Hoskins.)

Prelude to something big …

Not in my wildest dreams could I have conjured the events following my post “There is such good …”

The following day, I checked my email as usual and promptly sat with my ipad as if I were holding the most precious, fragile item with shaking hands.

An email – from Germany.

Not just any email.  An email from Rainer Hoess.

Two sentences:

“Thanks for your comfort article at your website (There is such good) Warm and friendly regards from Germany

I haven’t been in shock many times in my life.  I can assure you, I was, at that moment, in total and complete shock.

It’s not often the subject of something that touches you so profoundly contacts you.  Okay, NEVER does the subject of something that has touched me so profoundly been in contact.

I did not know what to do.  Other than sit – and stare at my email as if it were going to suddenly delete itself if I looked away. 

Do I reply??  I thought perhaps not – I didn’t want to bother him with my gushing compliments and over the top thank you’s for taking the time to write a note to me.  But, then I thought, WHEN am I ever going to have this opportunity again?

So I proceeded to embarrassingly gush and thank.

I hit ‘send’ while holding my breath.  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t breathing anyway.

*Ding*

A reply. 

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I’m barely functioning at this point.  How to read when my vision is swimming? Comprehend the words when my brain is doing some odd dance in my head? And how to use the touch screen when I can’t feel my extremities??

I’ll save the rest for the big event, but let me just say, after some 32 emails back and forth later – he graciously agreed to allow me to interview him.

I know how huge this is.  I know. 

And a part of me is terrified I’m going to let this amazing man down.  But he trusts me. 

And I trust my voice. 

And I want to be a part of his generations effort to offer healing and hope. 

I want to focus on his journey.  A man who has struggled with coming to terms with his past.  A past he had no part in, but is still persecuted for. 

So watch this space. 

I’ll be continuing to get to know this funny, insightful, delightful, strong, brave and caring man.

Then I will share some of him with you.

There is such good …

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I find myself from time to time almost pleading Earths case to God.

I’ll share with you my nightly prayers.  I always say “Thank you.” I always end with “God bless all those in my heart, on my mind and in the world, Amen.”

The meat of my prayers is usually me asking for guidance –  praying for strength in areas I’m lacking.

Sometimes I pray for more patience, the increased ability to love – to be tolerant.  I pray to know which path I should be taking.

When it’s a particularly sad news day though, when atrocities have been committed and we’re made aware of them – I don my humankind legal defense cap.

As if God doesn’t already know, I plead “God, there is such GOOD in the world too.”  As if I’m afraid he’s going to shut the whole event down because of evil.

I have a favorite quote, by W.H. Auden.

“Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table …”

I love that quote.  I love how the words feel coming out of my mouth  – how the thought provokes – the simple eloquence of it.

And it, for me, is truth.

I watched a documentary this morning called “Hitlers Children.” (If you have Netflix, it’s a streamable selection. )

One particular storyline resonated with me.

It was that of Rainer Hoess – grandson of Rudolf Hoess.

He looked at photographs of his father standing in the garden of the family home on the grounds of Auschwitz.  Other photos showed his grandfather in that same back yard.

Later in the documentary, he took a trip to Auschwitz – his first one.

One of the questions he pondered, while staring at a photo of his father standing by the garden gate was, how could they not have known – not have seen?

He was afforded entry into that same garden and stood at that very garden gate.  The house was cleverly designed with no views of the crematorium – textured glass windows on the side of the house that might let some truth in.

The garden itself was surrounded by tall walls, offering only a glimpse of outlying buildings.

I wondered what it must have felt like to stand in that location.  To know that your lineage included a monster.  I didn’t need to wonder for long – when Rainer lost his composure, I did too.  I wept on the couch with this man who was riddled with guilt for a crime against humanity that he couldn’t possibly have anything to do with.

During the tour, he agreed to speak to a group.  He was nervous – understandably.  At one point, a holocaust survivor, from that camp, wanted to shake his hand.

My already wet cheeks were wet anew when this old man took his hand and told him, ‘you didn’t do this.’

They hugged and my heart wanted to burst.

There is good.

There is good everywhere if you look for it – take time to avert your eyes from your problems and worries and choose to see it!

On a personal note, I have a friend, who takes care of not only her grandchildren – but her bed ridden mother and her disabled brother and reached out to ME to offer ME help to send my son to England!  She is the epitome of selflessness to me.

She smiles and though she gets tired, she’s happy and grateful and is of service to others.

GOD!  There is SUCH good.

I’ll be praying tonight to be a part of that good.