As a grandmother and great grandmother, I want my grandchildren to love me and want me around, but even more that that, I want my grandchildren to respect me, because when it comes down to it, your good name is really the best thing to pass down to your kids, whether they take your last name or not. Your name is your identity, oh sure, you can change it, but once you have ruined your reputation, not much can fix it.
As a prime example, take the case of Rainer Höss. The name might not ring any bells to you, and mostly that would be due to the fact that the English pronunciation of the name, doesn’t really tell you what the name is. Rainer Höss is the grandson of the former commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolph Höss, and he knows first-hand how bad it can be when your name has been ruined.
In 1933, Rudolph Höss joined the SS in Nazi Germany, and in 1934 he was attached to the SS at Dachau. On August 1, 1938, Rudolph Höss was appointed as adjutant of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp until his appointment as Kommandant of the newly-built camp at Auschwitz in early 1940. In May 1941, SS commander Heinrich Himmler told Höss that Hitler had given orders for the final solution of the Jewish question and that “I have chosen the Auschwitz camp for this purpose.” It was then that Höss converted Auschwitz into an extermination camp and installed gas chambers and crematoria that were capable of killing 2,000 people every hour. He was brutally meticulous…counting corpses with the cool dedication of a trained bookkeeper, he went home each night to the loving embrace of his own family who lived on the camp grounds. Rudolph Höss had no qualms about watching millions of innocent human beings dissolve in the gas chambers, burn in the crematoriums and their teeth melt into gold bars, Höss even wrote poetry about the “beauty” of Auschwitz. He was a monster of epic proportions.
Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann recounted in his memoirs how he was assigned in early 1942 to visit the Auschwitz death camp and report back to superiors on the killing of Jews. He wrote that the methods for killing were still crude, but these represented a gruesome foretaste of the factory-style gas chambers and crematoria that were to follow: “Höss, the Kommandant, told me that he used sulfuric acid to kill. Round cotton wool filters were soaked with this poison and thrown into the rooms where the Jews were assembled. The poison was instantly fatal. He burned the corpses on an iron grill, in the open air. He led me to a shallow ditch where a large number of corpses had just been burned.”
Höss eventually found that gassing by carbon monoxide was inefficient and introduced the cyanide gas Zyklon B. He later recalled: “The gassing was carried out in the detention cells of Block 11. Protected by a gas mask, I watched the killing myself. In the crowded cells, death came instantaneously the moment the Zyklon B was thrown in. A short, almost smothered cry, and it was all over…I must even admit that this gassing set my mind at rest, for the mass extermination of the Jews was to start soon, and at that time neither Eichmann nor I was certain as to how these mass killings were to be carried out. It would be by gas, but we did not know which gas and how it was to be used. Now we had the gas, and we had established a procedure.” Rudolph Höss not only “enjoyed” his work, but he was proud of his accomplishments.
His family, or at least his grandson Ranier Höss was horrified by the legacy his grandfather so “lovingly” left him. He could not believe that his grandfather was not only proud of what he had done, but he liked it so much that he wanted to watch from inside the chamber. Rainer Höss has spent his whole life trying to escape the stigma of being related to Rudolph Höss. Rainer doesn’t expect to be forgiven…he knows that he will always be blamed for what his grandfather did, because his grandfather left him the name. His grandfather was proud his “accomplishments.” He honestly thought everyone would be proud. He honestly thought he was a hero.
Rainer Höss doesn’t expect to be “forgiven.” He knows it wasn’t his fault, but he understands the reasons people react the way they do, because it’s how he would react. That is the real legacy his “grandfather” left him. You see, for Rainer Höss…grandfather is an abstract word.