Monday, September 16, 2013

Commander of Nazi Death Camp or Loving and Loyal Father?

Brigitte Höss of Virginia is an 80 year old grandmother who was recently diagnosed with cancer. But I'm not sure how sorry I feel for her.

Brigitte is not responsible for the actions of her father, Rudolf Höss, who built and commanded Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death camp where more than 1 million people were murdered. Nor should she feel bad about keeping the stories of her sheltered and luxurious childhood until age 11 to herself. But the way she thinks of her father now, and the way she understands the Holocaust today, gives me pause.

In an interview with Thomas Harding, author of a new book about the capture of Rudolf Höss, Brigitte said she knew as a child that her father ran a prison camp, but still doubts that six million Jews were killed during World War II. "Brigitte does not deny that atrocities took place or that Jews and others were murdered in the camps, but she questions that millions were killed," wrote Harding in The Washington Post. "'How can there be so many survivors if so many had been killed?' she asks."

She said her father was forced by the British to confess that he killed more than million Jews during the War. “He was the nicest man in the world,” she told Harding. “He was very good to us.” She recalled them eating together, playing in the garden, and reading Hansel and Gretel, Harding wrote.

Eight years ago, I wrote a story for The Journal News about the recollections of four residents of the Lower Hudson Valley who were children when victory was declared in Europe in 1945. Among those I interviewed was a man who grew up in Germany during World War II and whose father fought in the German Army. The man said his father didn't join the Nazi party, a decision that both placed him on the front lines during the War and allowed him to move to the U.S. afterward. I remember asking if he was proud of his father. He said he was, and I don't blame him: like Brigitte, he was just a child who loved his dad. But there were also millions of children murdered during the Holocaust. As a Jew, I can never forget.

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