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.
Sometimes, there are events in history that end up tied to other events in history, in one way or another. On this day, December 9, 2003, Tehran, Iran was hit by unseasonably cold temperature, that led to the deaths of 40 people from hypothermia. It is very rare to see such large groups of people die in this way at the same time, but it does happen, as seen in Tehran. Their deaths occurred when their core body temperature fell to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. So, how does this have anything to do with history beyond 2003? Well, it actually does, and not in a good way.
Most of us, these days, know about hypothermia. In fact, the causes and the fixes are pretty well known, but what I didn’t know before, although maybe I should have, is that the information we have on hypothermia came from the horrible experiments that the Nazis performed on the prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp during World War II. These unethical medical experiments that were carried out during the Third Reich fell into three categories. The first category consists of experiments aimed at facilitating the survival of Axis military personnel. In Dachau, physicians from the German air force and from the German Experimental Institution for Aviation conducted high-altitude experiments, using a low-pressure chamber, to determine the maximum altitude from which crews of damaged aircraft could parachute to safety. Scientists there carried out so-called freezing experiments using prisoners to find an effective treatment for hypothermia. While the findings might have been a good thing, the way the experiments were carried out was horrendous. After these experiments, most people knew that if they were outside in frigid temperatures, they could die of hypothermia. Nevertheless, there were a few miracle situations, such as the two year old girl in Canada in 1994, who survived after her core body temperature dropped to 57 degrees Fahrenheit when she wandered away from her home in Saskatchewan.
The second category of experimentation involved developing and testing pharmaceuticals and treatment methods for injuries and illnesses which German military and occupation personnel encountered in the field. Apparently the Nazis felt free to find ways to save their soldiers lives, at the expense of their prisoners. At the German concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, and Neuengamme, prisoners were subjected to immunization compounds for the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases, including malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis. The Ravensbrueck camp was the site of bone-grafting experiments and experiments to test the efficacy of newly developed sulfanilamide drugs. At Natzweiler and Sachsenhausen, scientists tested prisoners with phosgene and mustard gas in order to find possible antidotes. Their lives simply didn’t matter when it came to the experimentation.
The third category of medical experimentation sought to advance the racial and ideological principles of the Nazi worldview. The most infamous were the experiments of Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. Mengele conducted medical experiments on twins. He also directed serological experiments on Roma Gypsies, as did Werner Fischer at Sachsenhausen, in order to determine how different “races” withstood various contagious diseases. The research of August Hirt at Strasbourg University also intended to establish “Jewish racial inferiority.” Other gruesome experiments meant to further Nazi racial goals were a series of sterilization experiments, undertaken primarily at Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck. There, scientists tested a number of methods in their effort to develop an efficient and inexpensive procedure for the mass sterilization of Jews, Roma Gypsies, and other groups that the Nazi leaders considered to be racially or genetically undesirable. It is difficult for me to even think about the cruelty that the Nazis inflicted on the Jews and Gypsies during those horrible years.