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there is an amazing story in the Washington Post, titled Hiding in N. Virginia, a daughter of Auschwitz.  It is about Brigitt Höss  (born Inge-Brigitt Höss in 1933), whose father was the Commandant of Auschwitz.  The story is written by Thomas Alexander, who writes

I discovered where she lived while doing research for “Hanns and Rudolf,” a book on how Höss was captured after the war by my great-uncle, Hanns Alexander, a German Jew who had fled Berlin in the 1930s. It took three years to find her. She would be interviewed only on the condition that neither her married name be revealed nor any details that would disclose her identity.
Here I note that her "thick German accent" and her age and her first name are probably sufficient for people who know her to identify her.

She was born on a farm near the Baltic Sea, where her parents met, a farm

which was a haven for German youths obsessed with ideas of racial purity and rural utopia.
  The third of five children, her childhood is a roadmap of the obscenity of the Holocaust:  
Brigitte had an extraordinary childhood, moving from the farm to one concentration camp after another as her father scaled the ranks of the SS: Dachau from ages 1 through 5; Sachsenhausen from 5 to 7; and from 7 to 11, in perhaps the most notorious death camp, Auschwitz.

From 1940 to 1944, the Höss family lived in a two-story gray stucco villa on the edge of Auschwitz — so close you could see the prisoner blocks and old crematorium from the upstairs window. Brigitte’s mother described the place as “paradise”: They had cooks, nannies, gardeners, chauffeurs, seamstresses, haircutters and cleaners, some of whom were prisoners.

Please keep reading.

I am the descendent of Eastern European Jews.  My mother's maternal grandmother was trying desperately to get relatives out of Bialystok, from which she came, as the Holocaust ramped up.  After an failed uprising in 1943, most of the remaining Jews were sent to Treblinka where they were exterminated.

I grew up in a suburb of New York City that had survivors, although in the 1950s we did not often talk openly about it.  The family across the street had a mother from Switzerland and a father from Austria who had been lucky to get out in time, avoiding the camps.

I have over the years known people who history was to put it mildly troublesome.  One, a bishop in the Orthodox Church of America with whom I served on a church-wide committee, had as a young seminarian given a rabble rousing speech in Bucharest which led to a mini-program in which some Jews were hung alive on meathooks in butcher shops.

I have known people who helped liberate the camps.

The Holocaust and its history remains an open sore within me, not completely healed.

Yet I cannot hold against this woman what her father did, or even what her mother believed.

I can understand why she has tended not to discuss this pas, including with her grandchildren, for almost 7 decades - after all, she was not quite 12 when the war ended (although her now ex-husband shared her father's autobiography with two of the grandchildren).

Her immediate family knew

The family that employed her, Jews who had survived the Holocaust knew.

She married an Irish-American engineer in 1961.  He knew her background.

This is in some ways a troubling story to read.  

She does not understand or accept how many were killed in the Holocaust, even though her father, who later testified in war crimes trials on behalf of the Allied prosecution, admitted his own responsibility for the deaths of over a million - in other words, as Commandant of Auschwitz he was one of the worst mass murderers in history.

From the description of the neighborhood in which she lives, this daughter of Auschwitz could well be my neighbor in Arlington, or in nearby Falls Church.

I wonder how I might react were I to encounter her.

Again, I cannot hold her responsible for what her father did.

The author spoke with the son of the salon owner who had employed this daughter of Auschwitz.  Allow me to push fair use and share three relevant paragraphs:

When I ask him why his parents had decided to employ her all those years ago, despite knowing that her father had been a senior member of the Nazi leadership that had driven their own family out of Germany, he told me that it was because of “humanity.”

His parents had seen her as a person, in her own right, apart from her father. “The one has nothing to do with the other. She is a human being,” he says. “She was not responsible for her father.”

Reflecting on his parents’ decision, he says, “I am proud to be their son.”

I offer no judgment.

I encountered the article, read it, and thought more ought to see it, so I posted this.

Make of it what you will.


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Comment Preferences

  •  a brief explanation of the tags (21+ / 0-)

    which have Hoess instead of Höss - the tag editor would not accept the latter.

    I hope my sharing of this is of some value.

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 06:06:28 AM PDT

    •  Thank you so much to make me aware (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, ichibon, chimene

      of that article. I can't comment on it, because I intend to read a lot about it beyond what the article says and I haven't read the article yet. But from your diary I know how important that article is.

      It's these kind of life stories that are the most challenging to read and comprehend. I realize she is my name's sake. I am a Birgitt too.

      Luckily I didn't have to live with the burden she had. But then I realize that's only the luck which saved me dealing with the issue on a personal level.  As it is for most Germans. For most of us it's a matter just to "how much of Nazi" my parents could have been.  Which makes it not easier.

      We all know we could have been her, if our parents would have been at the wrong place at the wrong time believing the wrong stuff and making the wrong decisions, if they were able to make those decisions freely (which in the case of her father was the case, he decided consciously to join the SS as an adult).

      Again I didn't read the article yet. But I thank you for posting this diary. I don't know if I should wish you to meet her in person. In the end it would be hurting you too much and I hope you are able to leave the persistent questions that must go through your mind behind. I know that won't be possible, I just say I wished it were the case and could be done.


      And in this case on a personal level, I might want to say that I am so sorry for all the pain you, your family and ancestors went through.  I don't feel responsible personally, but then I do on a general level. This history will follow us as much and as long as it does follow you. And when it's forgotten for most to the history books, there will always be the ones, who dig into history and search for arguments and justifications for their own point of political views for decades to come and revive the pain for those who are still living or who remember those who lived under that period of time.

      Civil Men Are For Civil Rights

      by mimi on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 06:53:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's generally pronounced Hess. n/t (0+ / 0-)

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 05:25:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  but important to have the different spelling (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        so as not to confuse with the gentleman who flew to Britain to try to negotiate keeping the UK out of the war, and for his troubles spent decades in Spandau

        "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

        by teacherken on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 06:23:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  No, it is not. (0+ / 0-)

        ö is definitly not e in German.

        Höss is pronounced as it is written.

        •  to expand on that (0+ / 0-)

          "ö" is a distinct vowel, and any German speaker knows to to say it. It is similar (but not identical) to the second vowel in "Alert" or the one in "Turf" in English.

          Germanic words have a tendency to be spoken the way they are written - one of the things that Germans learning English first need to get their head around is that this is not so in English - compare the "u" in "Turf", "Run" and "Utah".

        •  The O with an umlaut (0+ / 0-)

          is, as I understand it, rather like the French oe which I learned as saying "oo" with your lips forming "ee." I think that is in part why English transliterations use the oe.

          Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

          by ramara on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 04:17:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  It is what it is. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hnichols, jayden

    What she does with her own life reflects, in a way, how she has distanced herself from her father's choices. Forgetting, however, is not an option.

    Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

    by Temmoku on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 06:14:27 AM PDT

  •  I was there (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, teacherken, ichibon, Munchkn

    In 2009 with a friend we visited the Baltic countries and then Krakow. We spent most of a day touring Auschwitz, or Oswiecim.
    My first impression was that it had been sanitized by time. There are beautiful trees that may have been seedlings at the end of the war. These are near the main entrance with its infamous ,,Arbeit macht frei" sign. In the main camp there are numerous posters with grisly pictures. Captions are in Polish, English, and Hebrew. No Russian.
    I wish I had gotten booklets about its history, both as a camp and as a museum.
    Auschwitz II or Birkenau I think has been left pretty much as it was at the end of the war. Some structures such as crematoria have been partially destroyed. I later found out that Nazis were trying to destroy evidence.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 08:11:24 AM PDT

  •  You offer no judgment, but I do... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, Munchkn

    I was willing to give a lot of slack to a 11 years old girl who didn't know what she was doing when:

    Once the Höss children dressed up as prisoners, pinning black triangles and yellow stars to their shirts, then chased each other until their father saw them and told them to stop the game.
    But at least I reserved it to the last paragraphs:
    “I am still scared here in Washington,” she says. “There are a lot Jewish people, and they still hate the Germans. It never ends.”
    Brigitte tells me she has never visited the National Holocaust Museum. And while she understands the value of a museum to remind us of the horrors of the past, she says it should be in Auschwitz or Israel, not Washington. “They always make things worse than it is,” she says. “It is so awful, I can’t stand it.”
    She does not deny that atrocities took place or that Jews and others were murdered in the camps, but she questions that millions were killed. “How can there be so many survivors if so many had been killed?” she asks.
    This is not her father speaking here. These are her own words (at least as conveyed by the reporter).

    A run of the mill Holocaust denier who is afraid the Jewsin Washington (there are so many of them....) who are out to get her.

    Queror Ergo Sum. -- Rene Descartes Shakshuka

    by The Revenge of Shakshuka on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 08:39:56 AM PDT

  •  A fascinating story. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It reminds us of all the stories about the Holocaust that will never be told.

  •  The Holocaust has always been an area of (0+ / 0-)

    scholarship for me. I am not a Jew. I'm a mixture of Italian and German/Irish, raised Catholic by parents who didn't really believe in it. Mom had been married to a shell-shocked Jewish war vet and they divorced, so the Catholic Church refused to marry them. They married via a civil ceremony. To me, the Nazi slaughter was not so much unique in history because it was murderous; Ghenghis Khan, Tamerlane, the Romans, and countless others committed atrocities throughout history. US troopers under Chivington committed vile atrocities against Native Americans. No, what made the Holocaust unique was that Germany was supposed to be a culture of sophistication and high civilization. It was NOT some rural backwoods village where the peasants could not read and could easily be swayed to believe in blood libels and such. Moreover, the brutality did not end after the war; I urge all here to read Savage Continent by Lowe; ethnic Germans across Europe were herded up after the war, put in boxcars and shipped to Germany because the other countries wanted them OUT, even though many had never been to Germany. Poles and Ukrainians continued to slaughter each other in hellish numbers after the war. The Soviets reopened the concentration camps and used them as holding pens, and shipped thousands to their own camps in Siberia.

    •  the gulags had their horrors, but one difference (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is that they were not extermination camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 09:22:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, extermination was not the purpose (0+ / 0-)

        of the camps in Siberia. But very few survived them for long. One of the best books on the subject was Terence Des Pres' Survivor, which may be out of print now, where he examined both types of camps. Just now I am reading the new book Iron Curtain and also Gulag by Anne Applebaum. I also read a new book about just how many Nazi war criminals actually went to work for the Allies after the war, damned if I can recall the name right now. We had a guy right in NJ, Soobzokov, who eventually was firebombed in FL IIRC. Basically, the US and allies weren't really that interested in going after these folks one the Cold War got going; I forget the Nazi housewife who was actually living on Long Island after the war but it was fairly high profile. And Mengele's son was visiting him in South America how hard could it have been to find him? Tom Segev's bio of Weisenthal also sheds light on the postwar search for Nazis and the dynamics of Europe and Israel in this period. Wiesenthal clashed with Elie Wiesel because the latter saw the Holocaust as exclusively genocidal while the former felt that all of the Nazi victims should be included. OTOH, Wiesenthal seems to have pulled the 5 million figure for non-Jews killed in the camps largely out of his hat.

    •  to clarify, they didn't believe in Catholicism (0+ / 0-)

      that might have been misinterpreted by my wording to suggest they did not believe in the Holocaust. Nothing could be further from the truth; my uncle had been a POW in a Nazi camp after being captured during the Battle of the Bulge. Because he was Italian American, they questioned him about being Jewish because of his dark complexion and pointy nose. Because he was American he was permitted some bread and water; Russians were fed grass, and Jews were not fed, according to him. He recounted an OBE where he was starved and down to bones when an apparition, whom he believed was Christ, appeared to him and told him he would survive. probably a starvation induced hallucination, but he swore by it. my dad went through the entire war and was shot at only once, by a Brit after a card game. he served in the Persian Gulf command and met the father of the infamous Shah Reza Palavi....

    •  For someone who claims that the Holocaust (0+ / 0-)

      has always been an area of scholarship your statement that the Holocaust was not unique is quite puzzling.

      Just several point (after all a complete answer is material for several Ph.D theses):

      The first thing that makes the Holocaust unique is its totality. Unlike other genocides in history, the Jewish population had no recourse. No escape. It wasn't a question whether they accept their overlords as rulers, it was not whether they give away all their property, heck it was not whether the person marked for extermination was Jewish at all. All one needed is to have a single Jewish grandparent for a one way train ticket.

      Once the "savage" Indian converted and accepted the white man as his superior, he survived. Far from well, but it is not like the Holocaust.

      Even if they ran away across the border they were not safe. If you read the Wannsee list you will see that the Germans were not satisfied with the Jews under their control. Marked for extermination were Jews from places they did not even occupy  - The United Kingdom, Italy, Bulgaria, Sweden etc. The goal was total and absolute annihilation of the Jewish people . I don't think that Genghis Khan dreamed of killing every last Chinese or Turkmen, or the American government sought the death of every native American in the world.   The Turks did not perused the Armenians once they fled the Ottoman Empire.

      Second - The goal of exterminating the Jews was a primary goal and ideology of German Nazism, not an action that comes about during war or conflict over land or resources or religion. It ranked as important priority as world domination.

      The Germans were so committed to the extermination campaign that even during their darkest hours on the eastern front where every train engine and car were desperately needed to move troops to the battle line, they increased the rate of transports of Jews to the extermination camps, denying their own starving troops the supplies they needed.

      Third - the meticulous method and scope in which it was carried out. This wasn't some American column of troopers entering a native American and slaughtering everyone around. The Holocaust was a well prepared campaign, designed by the highest echelons of the Nazi regime.  The German archives themselves show how grand was these scheme - they kept fucking records.
      The amount of personnel that participated in it was huge. It wasn't only the SS or the Wehrmacht. It was large  chunks of German society who took part in it. From the Industrialist who benefited from the slave labor to the last clerk who signed on food quotas for the untermenchen. One can say that the entire German Society was recruited for this task

      Fourth - They new that what they were doing was horribly wrong. Unlike the other examples you mentioned  - while horrible cases of genocide, were not hidden or even frowned upon. Roman emperors and Egyptian kings built monuments to record their conquests (e.g. Titus Arch in Rome). This is how warfare was conducted back then. I guess you can call it the "shock and awe" doctrine of yesteryear. The Germans on the other hand tried to suppress any information of the Holocaust leaking to the outside (they shouldn't have worried), and when the Russian forces advanced, they tried to erase any record of their actions.

      Queror Ergo Sum. -- Rene Descartes Shakshuka

      by The Revenge of Shakshuka on Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 01:40:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My point is only that human savagery is not unique (0+ / 0-)

        I have studied the Holocaust, at length, for decades And I take your points as completely valid. Perhaps I wasn't good at explaining myself. in my lifetime there have been genocides in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Cambodia. Stalin attempted to starve the Ukrainians ( there are scholars who deny this ) and god only knows how many perished under Mao. My study of the Holocaust though, is more about the way that average people were turned into mass murders. And that, sadly, is not unique. History screams it at us. The question is, how do we prevent it in the future? Because genocide cannot be carried out only by sociopaths; there aren't enough of them; they need to enlist the help of ordinary people. How is that accomplished? To me, this is the central question of humanity. How do we keep from destroying each other?

  •  Dachau started in 1933! (0+ / 0-)

    I'm embarrassed to say I had no idea it was that early, right after Hitler came to power.

  •  Author is Thomas Harding, not Alexander (0+ / 0-)

    And David Irving knew about her in the late 90s.

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