Grandson of Auschwitz commandant turned anti-Nazi campaigner


Rainer Hoess a nagyapja eszméi elleni küzdelemnek szenteli életét. 

Rainer Hoess: grandson of Auschwitz commandant turned anti-Nazi campaigner

The last person you would expect to find at Auschwitz next week is a man called Hoess. For every survivor of that grim killing factory, for the family of every victim, Hoess is a name for ever associated with the worst cruelty it is possible to imagine.

Rudolf Hoess was the commandant of Auschwitz. He was a man so devoted to exterminating his fellow human beings that Heinrich Himmler asked him to advise other Nazi concentration camps on how to improve their murderous efficiency. After the war he was sentenced to death at a war crimes tribunal in Poland and was returned to Auschwitz to be hanged, right next to the crematoria. The exact spot is pointed out on every guided tour.

What, then, is a Hoess doing taking part in the solemn events to mark the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation? “I think I will be the only grandson of a perpetrator there,” 49-year-old Rainer Hoess says, as if he can hardly believe it himself. Here is a Hoess who will stand alongside the last witnesses to his grandfather’s wretched handiwork, coming together from around the world for a final vigil at the place where their family and friends were destroyed.

Rainer admits that some of them would be shocked to learn that in their midst at this most sacred moment of reflection was a direct relative of the monster who oversaw about a million murders. Yet this is where he feels he belongs. It is half a lifetime since he was taught to revere his grandfather as a war hero. Rainer Hoess has journeyed far from his Nazi roots, befriended several Auschwitz survivors and even acquired a Jewish grandmother to replace the racist relatives he rejected.

“It was like a dictatorship in our family. My father was a very brutal guy,” he says. “If there was any disruption you would have corporal punishment. My father was taught not to cry by his father. I was not allowed to cry. I had to stand upright like his father. If I had some problems or an accident and started crying I would be beaten by him, not for what I did, but for the crying.”

He only began to learn the truth of his grandfather’s “heroism” when others reacted to his name. “I was 12 years old and stole food from the kitchen at school with some other boys. We were brought to the headmaster who sent us to work for two weeks for the gardener,” he says. The gardener seemed to take a strange delight in setting the young Rainer arduous tasks and slapping him for no apparent reason. “What I did not know was that the gardener was a survivor of Auschwitz.”

A teacher told Rainer that his grandfather was responsible for a lot of suffering in that man’s life. For the first time, he confronted his father to find out what really went on but was met with denial. “It is a mistake. The man thought your name was Hess,” his father told him, referring to Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess.

The subject was closed, for a while. “I was 12, I was too young to realise what happened at Auschwitz. It was not spoken about in Germany in those days and not taught in school and it was not until a few years later that I became aware.”

At the age of 15, he had a long conversation with the former driver of his grandfather, “a Nazi through and through” who remained a family friend and who told him all about the boyhood of Rainer’s father. “I guess he thought I would follow that stupid ideology,” says Hoess. That was when he learnt that all those family photos of laughing blond children playing happily with their parents in a sunlit German idyll were taken in the garden of the commandant’s luxury villa inside Auschwitz. Just out of camera shot, through a gate in the garden wall, the most monumental crime of the 20th century was under way.

Rainer’s grandfather would oversee the murder of several thousand people every day, then come home to play with his kids. A Jewish man who stumbled into the garden was immediately ordered to be hanged.

As a teenager, Rainer began to realise that the photos reflected the attitude of most of his family — his father, grandmother, aunts and uncle. The more Rainer learnt, the more the cracks began to show. He says his mother was his only ally. “My father beat my mum and she attempted suicide many times. I tried to kill myself twice,” he says. He remembers the first thing he did when he came home from school at the age of 13 or 14 was to look around the house to make sure his mother had not tried to hang herself again.

At 16 he left home at the earliest opportunity, to train to become a chef. Then came the dramatic break with his father when his girlfriend, later his wife, had their first baby. “That was when my father said he would not accept my son as a Hoess. In his eyes he was a bastard. He was born out of marriage and could not be a Hoess. I was not really a Hoess. It was the point where I had enough and I cancelled all contact immediately. Since then I have had no contact with him or my two aunts.”

Rainer set about building his own family, fathering two boys and two girls by the time he was 30. The pressure he felt to work around the clock to provide for them while dealing with the demons in his head that kept him awake at night led to two heart attacks in his thirties and contributed to the breakdown of his marriage.

In 2004 he suffered a stroke and fell into a coma. It was touch and go whether he lived. When he woke up, he knew what he must do. “I saw how fast it can happen and everything is done. I got a second chance in my life,” he says. “Money is not everything. You can only eat one piece of steak every day and drive one car. After I woke from the coma it was so clear to me to get rid of my catering company and go into a new stage in my life, so I started working against the Nazis.”

For the past 10 years, Rainer has devoted his time to campaigning against racism and the far right in Germany and increasingly around the rest of Europe, where he feels extremism is gaining more of a foothold. He gives talks in 70 schools a year and speaks at conferences around the world. 

Hoess was inevitably drawn to Auschwitz. His first visit to the death camp in 2009, along with his 75-year-old mother, was a disaster. His room at the hotel was booked in his name and the management, fearing that someone called Hoess could only be a Nazi, called the police. They put Rainer under such intrusive surveillance that he cut short the visit after a day.

On his second visit he found himself in front of a group of Israeli students, one of whom asked what he would do if he met his grandfather. “I would kill him,” Rainer said, at an emotionally charged meeting, where, for the first time, a Holocaust survivor asked to shake his hand.

As word spread that the grandson of Hoess was campaigning against the far-right, he was gradually able to win the confidence of other survivors.

One, Josef Paczynski, the barber of Auschwitz, frequently met his grandfather. Those distinctive green-blue eyes made Paczynski shudder.

“At our first meeting, he told me to stand up and walk around for him,” Hoess says. “He said I moved like him and my voice was like his. I am a little bit taller and my shoulders a bit wider, but the rest is the same. It was heavy to hear this from a guy who met him. It’s scary to look like a mass murderer.”

The most extraordinary relationship that has developed is with Eva Mozes Kor, who survived the deadly experiments conducted on twins by Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. Her parents and two older sisters were murdered there, while her twin Miriam died in 1993.

Eva, an 80-year-old who now lives in the US state of Indiana but has not lost her strong east European accent, was lost for words when she received an email from a German called Hoess asking if they could meet. When she agreed, Rainer sent her another email to ask if she would become his grandmother.

“He wrote that he would like to meet me and could he hug me. I thought, wow, this was a strange thing to get from a grandson of Rudolf Hoess. So I wanted to meet him immediately,” Eva says. “In the second email he said: ‘Could you be my grandma?’ I wondered where he was going with that. So I said to him, ‘That is a little bit too fast.’ Until I met him I was not 100 per cent sure that he was real because the idea of a grandson of a Nazi becoming an activist against Nazis was too good to be true.”

They first met — where else? — at Auschwitz. That is where they will be reunited later this month for the ceremony on January 27 marking the camp’s liberation by the Red Army 70 years ago, when Eva and Miriam were 10 years old.

“How did I decide to be his grandma? Once I met him, I was very excited. Then I said, ‘I have to look you in the eye to see if you are real because I can tell if people are lying by looking in their eyes.’ He said, ‘All you will see is a German who is grateful to meet you.’ So I agreed to be his grandma.

I actually love that he is my grandson and I am very proud of what he is trying to do.”

Rainer, not a man to do things by halves, showed his commitment to Eva by having her concentration camp number tattooed on his chest. “We finally met last summer after I pursued her for many months to try to get in touch,” he says. “It was the best thing in my life.”

Eva ruffled many feathers in the Holocaust survivor world by taking a very public decision 20 years ago to forgive the Nazis — even Mengele, who nearly killed her. “I would say that Rainer is not the typical grandchild of a Nazi and I am not a typical survivor,” she says.

So a Jew and a Hoess will stand arm-in-arm at Auschwitz next week. For Rainer it represents another milestone in his mission to atone for his name and to reclaim it from history. “It is another stupid part of Nazi ideology that everything comes out of blood. Well, I never inherited that sickness from my grandfather. There is no reason for me to bear any guilt but I still carry it with me.”

source: The Times

Find the right words from the text to finish these sentences.

1. When something works very well, it can be praised for its …

2. If they set a place free, we can speak of its …

3. If someone commits a crime, he or she is a …

4. If someone is beaten for doing something it’s …

5. If your job is the second most important in an organization, you are a …

6. If you have found something accidentally you have …

7. Someone who is ready to help you is your …

8. If you never stop working you work …

9. If you want to be free of something you want to …

10. If someone is attracted to something he or she is …

11. If someone or something is watched closely, it is under …

12. If people trust you it means you have won their …

13. If you don’t know what to say, you are …

14. If you are loyal and supportive to somebody it shows your …

15. An important event in someone’s life or career is a …


1. efficiency

2. liberation

3. perpetrator

4. corporal punishment

5. deputy

6. stumbled into it

7. ally

8. around the clock

9. get rid of it

10. drawn to it

11. surveillance

12. confidence

13. lost for words

14. commitment

15. milestone

Nézd meg ezt is:  Ruházkodás - KÉPES-HANGOS SZÓTÁR






to exterminate


fellow human beings






to hang

felakasztani valakit


ünnepélyes, fennkölt




elkövető, gonosztevő



sy’s handiwork

valaki keze munkája


virrasztás, tiszteletadás





to revere

nagyra becsülni, tisztelni



corporal punishment

testi fenyítés




fáradságos, nehéz

to slap

pofon vágni

for no apparent reason

látszólag ok nélkül





through and through

tetőtől talpig



to be under way

folyamatban van

to oversee


to stumble into








to make sure

meggyőződni valamiről




törvénytelen gyerek

to set about


around the clock

szüntelenül, 24 órán át



touch and go

hajszálon múlik, veszélyes

to get rid of

megszabadulni valamitől

to devote


far right


to gain foothold

teret nyerni

to be drawn to sg

vonzódni valamihez


tolakodó, bosszantó


rendőri felügyelet



mass murderer




to be lost for words

szóhoz sem tud jutni


elkötelezettség, odaszánás

to ruffle many feathers

felborzolja a kedélyeket



to atone

engesztelést, bocsánatot szerezni

Kapcsolódó anyagok

Egyéb megjegyzés