Of all the Nazis who forced the Allies to defeat Germany during World War II and who carried out the murder of more than 6 million Jews, Rudolf Höss was one of the most complicit in the regime's crimes against humanity. As commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, Höss was directly responsible for the extermination of millions. While Höss was captured after the war, tried, and hanged, his family has had to live with the legacy of the crimes he committed. The Jerusalem Post's Tal Bashan has written a compelling piece about Höss' grandson, Rainer, who has spent his life trying to make amends for the horrors of his grandfather:
Rainer Höss is tall, athletic and has a chiseled face (“I’ve been told a number of times that I look like my grandfather. It’s not pleasant to hear, but there’s not much I can do about it.”). He’s used to meeting with survivors, as well as children of survivors, and he speaks freely with me.
I, for one, am still keeping my distance.
To me, he’s first and foremost the grandson of the man who commanded Auschwitz-Birkenau, the hell my mother was sent into in September 1943. Every once in a while I remind myself that Rainer was born in 1964, and that he isn’t responsible for his family’s horrific past.
The first question I ask him is why didn’t he change his name? “Before he was hanged, my grandfather wrote to my grandmother that she should change her name,” Rainer explains.
“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.”
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..."