Education Briey: Rainer Höss, grandson of the commandant of Auschwitz, testifies before high school students.
You don’t choose your family. The grandson of the commandant of Auschwitz, Rainer Höss was condemned to suffer his origins. Rather than hide it, he prefers to testify. On Thursday 29 November, he was at Briey’s high school.
“What I like about the students is that after the big leap into the first question, there is a certain freedom of speech that takes hold,” Rainer Höss said at the end of the meeting. Photo Fred Lecocq
“Go ahead! Go ahead! It’s a discussion. There will be no stupid questions,” says Marylene D’Onofrio, a German teacher at Louis-Bertrand High School in Briey. In front of her, first-class students, all Germanists. Next to her, Rainer Höss is patient, ready to share this heavy past that he inherited. His grandfather Rudolf was the commandant of Auschwitz extermination camp. He discovered this as a teenager. For several years now, he has been travelling throughout Europe to testify. Rainer Höss that he felt invested with the mission of awakening consciences because the present is constantly fed by the past.
A very rigid Catholic family…and anti-Semitic
“How did you explain your family’s past to your children?” dares a young man. Unlike his own parents, Rainer Höss never let the mystery hang over the evil role of Rudolf, his grandfather. "When I graduated from high school, my son came across this subject. He had, as a result, a lot to say..." Further questions follow. We want to know how his grandfather got into this position of commander. "By lying! He said he received the Iron Cross for his heroic actions in the First World War. But he was laying the rails... He came from a very rigid Catholic family... and anti-Semitic. So he was given this function. Himmler knew he had falsified everything. He used it, when he ordered him to expand the camp, to accelerate the extermination. Even if he had wanted to, Rudolf could no longer say no.”
Rainer Höss shares an anecdote about his childhood: "My parents sent me to a boarding school, a place that at the time of the war was reserved for the Nazi elite. This boarding school was always run by a man who had been the leader of the Hitler Youth. He was very happy that the grandson of the Auschwitz commandant was here. I still didn't know anything about my history. It was the'70s and this man was still supervising children..."
Rainer Höss then asked Elisabeth, the translator who accompanied him, to read a letter he received last May. It comes from a female doctor in a hospital in Stuttgart. She writes that it was not the gas that killed in Auschwitz, but typhus. Among the students, there is again a lack of understanding. "But how can she deny what happened? There is evidence!", a young lady gets angry. Their teacher explains the negationism. "And it's not just in Germany. In France, people believe in it too.”
"With him, history comes to life"
Before the meeting, the students had watched the film The Counterfeiters. "We see the camp commander, who is a good father by the way and who then commits these horrors every day. It was an aspect that interested us because Rainer tells the same thing about his grandfather," explains Fanny Baholet, the other German teacher who made the appointment. "First graders study dictatorships in history class. There, they can see that it is not only in books, that real people could have been around Nazis. All this comes to life.”
It's 11:05. The bell rings. The first ones have to clear the room, to make way for the seniors who have a test. It's grumbling. "Can't we give them another room? We still have too many questions..."