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Genealogy Meeting This Sunday

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  • SusanneLevitsky@...
    September 10, 2013 Upcoming Meetings: Next Sunday, September 15, 10 a.m., Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright Street, Sacramento The Paintings of Moshe
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 10, 2013

      September 10, 2013
      Upcoming Meetings:
      Next Sunday, September 15, 10 a.m., Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright Street, Sacramento
      "The Paintings of Moshe Rynecki" -- Elizabeth Rynecki
      Elizabeth Rynecki will describe her quest to recover the remaining paintings of her great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki.  He painted the Polish Jewish community in the 1920s and 1930s before being exiled to the Warsaw Ghetto and sent to his death in a concentration camp.  He and his family hid more than 800 of his paintings in small bundles with non-Jewish friends, in hopes of retrieving them after the war. Only one bundle was found.
      Elizabeth has since uncovered another bundle in Canada and individual paintings in other countries.  She's now making a documentary film about her project.  Elizabeth has a master's degree from UC Davis and lives in Oakland.

      October 13, 2013, 2 p.m., Davis -- Yolo County Branch Library
      Ukraine Scrapbook” -- A Journey of 105 Years
      Allan Dolgow will reprise his presentation on his family research in Ukraine that culminated in a 2008 trip.
      October 20, 2013, 10 a.m., "Fleeing Hitler -- One Family's Story," Sacramento -- Einstein Center -- Dan Warschauer will trace six siblings from life in Germany to post-Holocaust days.
      "Who Do You Think You Are?" concludes tonight.
      Jim Parsons plays an unforgettable character on The Big Bang Theory. And on the season finale of Who Do You Think You Are? he finds interesting people run in the family. Come along to New Orleans, Paris and Versailles as he searches for his French ancestry — and finds connections too incredible to
      reveal here. 9 p.m. on TLC.   See full episodes online at TLC.com.
      August 18, 2013 Meeting Notes
      President Victoria Fisch welcomed members and guests and outlined upcoming meetings (see above).  She mentioned that the Sacramento Public Library continues to offer weekly genealogy programs, along with free genealogy consultations.  (On Tuesday afternoon, Bernie Marks provides help.)
      Victoria is chair of this year's Family History Day at the State Archives October 12.  Those who volunteer can receive a free breakfast and speakers syllabus.  The JGSS will have a table as in previous years.
      Bob Wascou returned from the International JGS conference in Boston and said it was "fabulous."  He said there was a large contingent of beginners and live web broadcasts of the programs.  Next year's conference will be in Salt Lake City (July 27 -August 1), it's the 34th conference.  Bob was heavily involved with RomSig  (Romanian Special Interest Group) activities; it is the 20th anniversary for the group.
      The keynote speaker at the conference was Aaron Lansky, author of many books.
      August Program -- Gary Sandler        
                                                                "Citations Made Simple --  Make Them Work For You"  
      JGS member Gary Sandler talked about why we should cite our sources, why we don't cite them, the elements of a citations, citations that work, and various tips and traps.
      Why cite sources?  The point is to remember where you got this particular information, and later, do I trust this information?
      We may not be the last person researching the family tree -- so do a citation not just for yourself but for the people who follow after you, Gary says.
      You and others will be able to leverage the information going forward. "I can't tell you how many Sandlers I've researched because I've no idea if we're related," Gary says
      Why don't we cite sources? It's inconvenient, takes time, we think we're going to remember where we got it.
      We often don't write down a primary or secondayr source -- we think we'll be able to find it again.  "It really behooves you to make some notes."
      Primary sources:
      -- official records of event itself -- birth certificate, court records, wills, deeds, personal writings, diaries.
      Secondary sources:
      -- after the event, people who weren't necessarily there at the time, many death certificates
      Original (birth certificate) and derivative (restated or extracted) sources
      Elements of a citation -- who, what, where, when, how, details -- but don't get carried away.  "The bottom line," Gary says, "is we want to be able to go back to what you found."
      There are different kinds of source material -- interviews, web sites, online databases, books, etc.
      Links change over time -- what was the actual source?
      Citation tips:
      Record your citation -- somewhere, anywhere. Can number people, families, etc.
      Gary uses the RootsMagic program -- "anything he makes, I buy -- the software is very good."
      Puts in master source name, short footnote, bibliographic reference.
      Supports video and images
      Books -- record edition page, third printing,etc.  -- can easily scan
      Keep your citation in some place organized, put with the material you're using.
      One copy is never enough -- a printer, scanner, copier can be your friend.  Or stick in different folders -- put in grandfather's folder, grandmother's folder, etc.
      RootsMagic -- program keeps a master list of all the sources, can print out.
      Have a safe place outside your home  -- a good friend, family member, safety deposit box (although this last is notoriously inconvenient).
      Share your information -- Plan for all your records to survive.
      Validate your information -- little stories, nuances,  a "falling out" between family members.
      Find Your Tipping Point - -how much are you willing to do? It has to work for you or it doesn't work.
      The researcher who will follow in your footsteps -- what will they need?
      Do It!  Develop the habit, get started.
      Put both sources -- death certificate, CA death index
      Later researcher may not have access to all sources for future research.
      Traps to Avoid
      1) Post-its  -- Designed to be removed.
      Instead, do notes that go with research material and indicate if unsure, put that in actual records.
      2) URLs
      3) Maybe you think you'll remember ..
      4) Fear
      "The bottom line is to start," Gary says. "Take three sources, record them, practice.

      It's more important that you do them than to do something in someone else's definition of perfect."
      From recent editions of Avotaynu's E-Zine…
      U.S. Supreme Court Rules Genes Cannot be Patented
      Many readers are likely aware that the presence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in a women demonstrates she has a strong propensity (60 percent chance) for breast cancer. Ashkenazic Jews have a greater likelihood of carrying the gene compared to the general population. Remarkably, there is a patent on the BRCA gene held by a company called Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City. This means that no other organization can test for the BRCA gene except Myriad Genetics. The test is costly.

      Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that isolated human genes cannot be patented “because nothing was invented.” They did say that artificially created genes are patentable.

      A subsidiary of Family Tree DNA, FreeMyGenes, began offering BRCA tests for substantially less than the $3,340 price of Myriad Genetics. FTDNA president, Bennett Greenspan notes that “Our precedent-setting reduction in price meant that millions of Americans who previously could not get the test—because their insurance company wouldn't pay, or because they lacked insurance—now had access to a high quality test for breast cancer risk.” Family Tree DNA and FreeMyGenes are now being sued likely because of other patents Myriad Genetics holds for artificially created genes.

      The Supreme Court decision is reported at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-strikes-brca-gene-patent/story?id=19392299. Greenspan’s full comment can be found at http://dna-explained.com/2013/09/07/message-from-bennett-greenspan-free-my-genes. The FreeMyGenes site is at http://www.freemygenes.org.

      IAJGS Responds to European Union’s Proposed Data Protection Regulation
      The European Union is proposing a regulation that would serious effect records access in the name of privacy. The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) has written a letter to the 28 EU Ministers of Justice expressing concern about this regulation.

      The two issues in the IAJGS letter focus on:
          • The importance to trace family medical history back both direct line and collaterally, and we used the BRACA I and BRACA 2 breast and ovarian cancer as examples.
         • The importance of Holocaust victims not to be forgotten and for family reunification. We countered with the proposed regulation’s advocating the individual‘s right to be forgotten with the “right to be remembered”

      A copy of the letter can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/IAJGSEU.
      U.S. to Return Jewish Artifacts to Iraqi Government
      In 2003, shortly after U.S. forces secured Iraq, Harold Rhode, a member of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington and then a U.S. government official, discovered Jewish artifacts, including a Torah, in the flooded basement of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in Baghdad. Rhode wrote about the find in the Summer 2003 issue of AVOTAYNU. These Jewish books, records and Torahs managed to make their way to the U.S. Now the Iraqi government wants them back and the U.S. has agreed.

      A furor has developed over this U.S. decision noting there are virtually no Jews left in Iraq and the material does not belong to the Iraqi government but to the Iraqi Jewish community, now in exile. As one columnist stated, “Jewish bibles seized from the custody of the Nazi SS would not be sent to the German government. There is no reason to send Jewish bibles into the custody of the Iraqi government.” A petition has been placed on the AVAAZ.org website http://tinyurl.com/AVAAZIraq asking the U.S. government not to return the archive to Iraq.

      The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is planning an exhibit opening Friday, October 11, 2013, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage.” It will be the first time these artifacts will be on public display. The exhibit will run through January 5, 2014. There is a video that shows saving the materials, freezing them, bringing them to the U.S. and preserving them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZmP0uwzEII.  Rhode can be seen in the Intelligence Service building at the 28-second mark in the film. NARA identified it as the “Rhode collection” based on his name appearing on the containers that held the material. The materials will be digitized and put on a website before returned to Iraq. The collection includes more than 2,700 Jewish books and thousands of documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and English, dating from 1540 to the 1970s.

      To read more about the exhibit go to: http://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2013/nr13-96.html.

      Library and Archives Canada and Canadiana.org Partner on Digitization of LAC Collections
      Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has signed a 10-year agreement with Canadiana.org for the latter to undertake digitization, indexing and the description of millions of personal, administrative and government documents, as well as land grants, war diaries and photographs. There will be no change for those Canadians who wish to access these collections at LAC. This will triple LAC’s digital content on the Internet.

      Canadiana.org also will also transcribe millions of handwritten pages and create related descriptions. Enhanced search tools will be available to Canadians free of charge at LAC, as well as at hundreds of subscribing libraries in regions across Canada.
      Additional information can be found at http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/news/Pages/2013/lac-canadiana-partner-digitization.aspx.

      California Marriage Index (1949–1959) at Ancestry.com
      Ancestry.com has created an index of California marriages for the period from 1949 to 1959. The index has some 2.3 million names. Details include the groom’s name, bride’s name, bride and groom’s age, date of marriage, county of marriage and the state file number. The database is at http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=5186.
      List of Holocaust Museums Throughout the World
      A list of Holocaust museums throughout the world can be found at http://www.science.co.il/holocaust-museums.asp.

      Turn-of-the-Century Odessa Directories Now Online
      Odessa address and business directories (Vsia Odessa) for 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902/1903, 1904, 1906, 1908, 1910, 1911, and 1914 are now searchable at http://genealogyindexer.org. Search results link to scans of the directories on the Russian State Library website.

      These directories are written in Cyrillic, but can be searched with either Cyrillic or Latin letters. If you enter a Latin word and leave the default "Add Latin -> Cyrillic" search option selected, possible Cyrillic transliterations and their gendered forms will be matched.

      New Database on Medieval Spanish Jewish Surnames
      A major new database of medieval Spanish Jewish surnames that have survived into the current Diaspora now exists at http://www.sephardicgen.com/databases/MedievalSurnames.html.

      Crowning 25 years of creating databases for Jewish genealogists, Mathilde Tagger has labored for six years, searching through 138 books and some 600 periodicals in multiple repositories to create a database of “documented” Jewish surnames in medieval Spain that have survived as surnames into the present. The new database consists of 20,526 citations for 12,134 unique name spellings and provides sources for the information.
      From the Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2013
      Hiding in N. Virginia, a daughter of Auschwitz
      The kommandant’s daughter
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      Rudolf Höss, Kommandant of Auschwitz.
      U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy Auschwitz -Birkenau Museum
      Back to beginning
      More from The Washington Post
      Written by Thomas Harding
      Brigitte Höss lives quietly on a leafy side street in Northern Virginia. She is retired now, having worked in a Washington fashion salon for more than 30 years. She recently was diagnosed with cancer and spends much of her days dealing with the medical consequences.
      Brigitte also has a secret that not even her grandchildren know. Her father was Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz.
      It was Rudolf Höss who designed and built Auschwitz from an old army barracks in Poland to a killing machine capable of murdering 2,000 people an hour. By the end of the war, 1.1 million Jews had been killed in the camp, along with 20,000 gypsies and tens of thousands of Polish and Russian political prisoners. As such, Brigitte’s father was one of the biggest mass murderers in history.
      About “Hanns and Rudolf”: Thomas Harding discovered that his great-uncle Hanns Alexander had been a Nazi hunter at his eulogy in 2006. The revelation set Harding off on his own search. For six years, the journalist (a British and U.S. citizen) researched archives and interviewed survivors for his book, being published this month. Harding, who lives in Hampshire, England, until recently co-owned the WV Observer in Shepherdstown, W.Va. (Simon & Schuster)
      For nearly 40 years she has kept her past out of public view, unexamined, not even sharing her story with her closest family members.
      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.
      “There are crazy people out there. They might burn my house down or shoot somebody,” she says in a thick German accent.
      If the subject of the Holocaust comes up, she steers the conversation in another direction. “If somebody asks about my dad,” she says, “I tell them that he died in the war.”
      But she has just turned 80 and wonders if it’s time to tell her grandchildren her story. She was a young girl caught in epic historic forces she could little understand, much less be responsible for. Is now the time to process her family history? Does she pass on the fear of discovery that she has lived with all her life? Or does she take her story to her grave?
      “It was a long time ago,” she says. “I didn’t do what was done. I never talk about it — it is something within me. It stays with me.”
      Rudolf Höss with children on Sola River a few yards from Auschwitz, 1940-1943. (Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München/Rainer Höss)
      Rudolf Höss, front row, second from left, singing with officers at a celebration in his honor at Auschwitz in 1944.
      Rudolf Höss, front row, second from left, singing with officers at a celebration in his honor at Auschwitz in 1944. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
      According to SS personnel records — held in the National Archives in College Park — Inge-Brigitt Höss was born on Aug. 18, 1933, on a farm near the Baltic Sea. Her father, Rudolf, and mother, Hedwig, met on this farm, which was a haven for German youths obsessed with ideas of racial purity and rural utopia. Brigitte was the third of five children, three girls and two boys.
      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.
      The family decorated their home with furniture and artwork stolen from prisoners as they were selected for the gas chambers. It was a life of luxury taking place only a few short steps from horror and torment. Most Sundays the kommandant drove the children to see the horses in the stables. They loved to visit the kennels to pet the German shepherds.
      Photographs show a pond in the garden and a large table for picnics. The prisoners made giant toy airplanes for the boys, big enough for them to sit in and push around the garden. The girls liked to flirt with the handsome soldiers who guarded the camp entrance.
      The children were aware that their father ran a prison camp. Men with black-and-white striped uniforms worked in their garden. 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.
      In April 1945, as the end of the war appeared in sight, Rudolf Höss and his family fled north. They split up. His wife took the children and found refuge above an old sugar factory in St. Michaelisdonn, a village near the coast. The kommandant took on the identity of a laborer and hid on a farm four miles from the Danish border. The Höss family waited for the right moment to escape to South America.
      Hans Jürgen, Inge-Brigitt (Brigitte) and Annegret Höss on a slide in the Auschwitz villa garden. (Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Munchen/Rainer Höss)
      We sit in a small, dark den to the side of her house. Brigitte lies on an old couch, complaining that her feet hurt. I sit on a plump loveseat next to a Christmas tree, upon which hangs a star knitted by her mother, Hedwig, the kommandant’s wife.
      I start by asking about the time she spent living next to Auschwitz. “It is best not to remember all those things,” Brigitte says.
      She is more willing to talk about when the British captured her father. One cold evening in March 1946, Hanns Alexander, my great-uncle — a German-born Jew but by then a British captain — banged on the family’s door.
      “I remember when they came to our house to ask questions,” she says, her voice tight. “I was sitting on the table with my sister. I was about 13 years old. The British soldiers were screaming: ‘Where is your father? Where is your father?’ over and over again. I got a very bad headache. I went outside and cried under a tree. I made myself calm down. I made myself stop crying, and my headache went away. But I have had migraines for years after that. These migraines stopped a few years ago, but since I received your letter, they have started again.”
      The story continues. “My older brother Klaus was taken with my mother. He was beaten badly by the British. My mother heard him scream in pain from the room next door. Just like any mother, she wanted to protect her son, so she told them where my father was.”
      Alexander assembled a team and headed to the barn in the night. Höss was awakened. He denied he was the kommandant. Certain he had his man, Alexander demanded to see his wedding ring. When Höss claimed it was stuck, Alexander threatened to cut his finger off until the kommandant passed the ring over. Inside was inscribed “Rudolf” and “Hedwig.”
      The kommandant was the first person at such a senior level to admit the extent of the slaughter at Auschwitz. He was handed over to the Americans, who made him testify at Nuremberg. Then Höss was passed to the Poles, who prosecuted him, then hanged him on a gallows next to the Auschwitz crematorium.
      Hedwig and the children scraped by. They stole coal from a train to heat their home. Shoeless, they tied rags around their feet. As a family connected to the Nazi regime, they were shunned. It was only when Klaus found a job in Stuttgart that the family’s fortunes improved.
      In the 1950s Brigitte managed to leave Germany and make a new life in Spain. She was a stunning young lady, with long blond hair, a slender figure and a “don’t mess with me” attitude. She worked as a model for three years with the up-and-coming Balenciaga fashion house. And she met an Irish American engineer working in Madrid for a Washington-based communications company.
      The couple married in 1961. They had a daughter and a son. His work took
       them to Liberia, then Greece, Iran and Vietnam.
      The engineer says Brigitte told him about her father and her life in Auschwitz while they were dating. “I was at first a little bit shocked,” he says. “But then as I discussed more and more with her, I realized that she was as much a victim as anybody else. She was just a child while this all happened. She went from having everything to having nothing.”
      He says they had an “unspoken and unwritten agreement” not to talk about her family background. He remembers telling her: “It was a terrible thing — let’s not carry it any further. Let’s get on with our lives, live happily and leave it all behind. It is not your responsibility. There is no reason to carry the guilt of your father.”
      In 1972 they moved to Washington. Brigitte’s husband took a senior job with a transportation company, and they bought a house in Georgetown. It was a chance for Brigitte to start over.
      Brigitte struggled — she didn’t know how to write a check, spoke little English and was without friends or family. After some searching, she found a part-time job in a fashion boutique.
      One day a short Jewish lady visited the boutique. She liked Brigitte’s style and asked her to come work in her fashion salon in the District.
      Soon after she was hired, Brigitte says, she got drunk with her manager and confessed that her father was Rudolf Höss. The manager told the store’s owner. The owner told Brigitte that she could stay, that she had not committed any crime herself. What Brigitte did not know, at least not until later, was that the store owner and her husband were Jewish and had fled Nazi Germany after the Kristallnacht attacks of 1938.
      Brigitte was thankful for being seen as a person, rather than her father’s daughter. She worked at the store for 35 years, serving prominent Washingtonians, including the wives of senators and congressmen.
      The store owner returned Brigitte’s loyalty and hard work by keeping her secret. With the exception of one other manager, none of the other staff knew the truth about Brigitte’s family history.
      After Brigitte retired a few years ago, the store owner called every month to see how she was doing. “She is very nice,” Brigitte says. Then about a year ago, she stopped calling. Brigitte knew the store owner had visited Israel and wondered if she had, after all the years, become angry. “People do change,” she said.
      That Rudolf Höss’s daughter lives in Northern Virginia is not the only family story kept secret. Starting in the 1960s, Hedwig visited her daughter in Washington every few years.
      By this time, Hedwig had moved to a small house near Stuttgart, where she lived with one of her daughters. Unlike other widows of German soldiers, she was not granted a state pension, nor did she receive any other income from the government.
      Although Hedwig had played a prominent role in Auschwitz, even appearing as a witness at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial in 1965, there were no travel restrictions on the spouses of Nazi war criminals. While in Washington, Hedwig spent her time watching the grandchildren while her daughter worked. They didn’t talk about the past.
      Hedwig’s last visit was in September 1989. She was 81 and frail. She was due to fly back to Germany but told her daughter it was too cold and she preferred to remain longer. After dinner on Sept. 15, Hedwig said she was tired and headed for bed. The next day Brigitte knocked on her mother’s door and, after no answer, went in. Hedwig had died in her sleep.
      Brigitte found a local crematorium to take care of the body. She didn’t want anyone to find her mother’s remains — least of all neo-Nazis who might pay homage — so she gave a modified version of her mother’s name to the cemetery administrator. She delayed the memorial service to allow family members from Germany to attend.
      At 11 a.m. on March 3, 1990, to coincide with her mother’s birthday, a short service was held in a small stone cloister in an interdenominational cemetery. Prayers were said, then the urn was interred.
      Hedwig’s final resting place was among the graves of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
      Jewish Women and children walk toward gas chambers in Auschwitz in May 1944. 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. “How can there be so many survivors if so many had been killed?” she asks.\\\Jewish Women and children walk toward gas chambers in Auschwitz in May 1944.
      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. “How can there be so many survivors if so many had been killed?” she asks. 
      Brigitte’s life is now full of doctors, hospitals and pills. She and her husband divorced in 1983. He has since married twice and lives in Florida.
      Her son lives with her. He knows about his grandfather but has not expressed much interest in looking into his family’s history. Her daughter has died. Brigitte is visited often by her grandchildren.
      Once a year she flies to Florida to spend time with her sister Annegret, who flies in from Germany. Klaus died in the 1980s in Australia. Her other brother, Hans Jürgen, and elder sister, Heidetraud, both live in Germany.
      None of the siblings talks about their childhood — it’s as if their history started in 1947, after Rudolf Höss was executed.
      Brigitte’s nephew, Rainer Höss, son of Hans Jürgen, is the one family member who has asked questions about the past. In 2009 I traveled with him to Auschwitz. At one point he turned to me and said matter-of-factly, “If I knew where my grandfather was buried, I would piss on his grave.”
      Brigitte kept her husband’s last name after they divorced. She doesn’t talk about the past to friends, has steered clear of other German families, and doesn’t talk about her background to her family.
      She has not spoken to her grandchildren about her father (though her ex-husband says he has given Höss’s autobiography to the older two). She doesn’t want to “upset them,” she says, and she is worried that they might tell people, which could put the family at risk. “I am still scared here in Washington,” she says. “There are a lot Jewish people, and they still hate the Germans. It never ends.”
      Yet, she thinks about it, about sharing her story with her family. “I will eventually, maybe when I read your book,” she tells me.
      Perhaps one consequence of keeping the past so private is that it remains insufficiently examined. 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.
      When I point out that her father confessed to being responsible for the death of more than a million Jews, she says the British “took it out of him with torture.”
      “And your father, how do you remember him?” I ask.
      “He was the nicest man in the world,” she says. “He was very good to us.” She remembers them eating together, playing in the garden, and reading the story of Hansel and Gretel.
      Brigitte is convinced that her father was a sensitive man and had guessed that he was involved with something bad. “I’m sure he was sad inside,” she recalls. “It is just a feeling. The way he was at home, the way he was with us, sometimes he looked sad when he came back from work.”
      Brigitte struggles to reconcile her father’s dual nature. “There must have been two sides to him. The one that I knew and then another. ...”
      When I ask how he could be the “nicest man in the world” if he was responsible for the deaths, she says: “He had to do it. His family was threatened. We were threatened if he didn’t. And he was one of many in the SS. There were others as well who would do it if he didn’t.”
      After a long interview, Brigitte shows me around her house. Upstairs, she points to a photograph above her bed.
      It’s her mother and father’s wedding photograph, taken in 1929. They look young, happy, carefree. She in a white frock, hair tied up; he in three-quarter-length trousers and light shirt.The 80-year-old Brigitte sleeps every night under the watchful eye of her beloved father, Rudolf Höss.
      Sometime afterward, I call the son of the salon owner. He tells me that the reason his mother had stopped calling Brigitte was that she had simply grown too old to make the calls. “My family holds Brigitte as close as we always have,” he says.
      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.”
      Thomas Harding is the author of “Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz” (Simon & Schuster Hardcover; September 2013). To comment on this story, e-mail wpmagazine@....
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