Rainer Hoess, the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, during an interview in Stockholm last month.
Rainer Hoess, the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, during an interview in Stockholm last month. Photo by AFP
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AFP
Rainer Hoess, the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, wears a Star of David round his neck. Photo by AFP

Rainer Hoess was only 12 when he discovered that his grandfather, Rudolf Hoess, was the longest-serving commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

"I knew nothing about Auschwitz, I knew nothing about my family, I only knew that my grandfather was in the war like thousands of other grandfathers were," Hoess said in an interview to AFP.

The 48 year old found out the truth at school, when he was just 12 years old. He couldn't understand why the school's gardener, a Holocaust survivor, didn't seem to like him, and a teacher told him the truth. "For a 12-year-old boy its huge information," he said.

Today, Hoess, who sports a Star of David round his neck, is committed to fighting right-wing extremism.

"Right-wing extremists are not stupid," AFP cited him as saying. "They are growing, gaining ground, very slowly but very effectively."

Hoess, who has turned down many invitations to take part in neo-Nazi events, was recently in Sweden to support an anti-neo-Nazi campaign – "Never Forget to Vote" – launched ahead of the European elections at the end of May. The campaign is by the Swedish Democratic Youth League (SSU).

"He brings a lot of pain in our family, not only for his children but over decades," said Hoess of his grandfather, who oversaw the deaths of 1 million Jews and 100,000 non-Jews at Auschwitz. "Generation after generation we bear the same cross he put on our shoulders."

Today, Hoess is dedicated to educating youth about the dangers of neo-Nazism and right-wing extremism. Last year, he spoke at more than 70 German schools.

Hoess told AFP he has visited Israel to take part in a documentary, but that it wasn't an easy trip. "It was a little bit tricky, as the grandchild of a mass murderer to go to Israel," he said.

In Israel, a group of Jewish students asked how he would have reacted on meeting his grandfather, he answered emotionally and impulsively, "I would have shot him."

Hoess' aunt Brigitte gave an interview to the Washington Post last year. One of five of Rudolf Hoess' children, the 80 year old was living in the U.S., having worked in the fashion industry for many years. Suffering from cancer, she agreed to share her story as long as her married name wasn't published or her identity given away.

She told the Post she has never visited the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, adding that such a museum should be in Auschwitz or Israel, not in D.C.

“They always make things worse than it is,” she told the Post. “It is so awful, I can’t stand it.”

Though she acknowledges that mass murders happened, Brigitte told the Post she has doubts about the number of people killed in the Holocaust.

How can there be so many survivors if so many had been killed?” she asks.