Friday, September 20, 2013

'The nicest man in the world'

A remarkable story has come to light this month. Brigitte Hoess, a German woman who lives in the United States, worked in Washington for 35 years for a Jewish couple who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Brigitte's father, Rudolf Hoess, was the commandant at Auschwitz, where 1.1 million Jews were killed, along with 20,000 gypsies and tens of thousands of Russian and Polish political prisoners. After the war, Rudolf Hoess was captured and executed.

Brigitte travelled to Spain and worked as a model for dress maker Balenciaga, then to the US, where a Jewish store owner asked her to work for her. Soon after she was hired, she got drunk and confided that Rudolf Hoess was her father. The Jewish lady said she could stay, as she had committed no crime herself and was not responsible for her father.

The son of the store owners said they had employed Brigitte out of a sense of humanity. "I am proud to be their son," he said.

Brigitte was tracked down and interviewed by British writer Thomas Harding, whose great uncle, Hanns Alexander, captured Rudolf Hoess hiding on a German farm in 1946.

Asked about her father, Brigitte, now 80, says he was "the nicest man in the world." There must have been two sides to him, "the one I knew, and then another." He was, she says, "very good to us." She remembers them eating together, playing in the garden, and reading the story of Hansel and Gretel.

She does not deny what happened in Auschwitz, but questions that so many people were killed. Above her bed hangs her parents' wedding photograph, taken in 1929.

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