In a letter sent to the museum several months ago, titled "Rare items, Auschwitz, Commander Höss," the grandson writes in a businesslike manner: "The subject is several items from the inheritance of Rudolf Ferdinand Höss, the commander of Auschwitz: A massive fireproof case with official symbols – a gift from Himmler (the SS commander), weighing 50 kilograms; a knife for opening letters and files; slides from Auschwitz which have yet to be presented in public; letters from the captivity period in Krakow. I would appreciate a brief response. Sincerely, Reiner Höss."
The Yad Vashem management was shocked by the offer and rejected it out of hand. Museum officials expressed their disgust by the fact that the criminal's relative sought to make a profit from the memory of the Holocaust.
"This is where we must ask the obvious question: 'Have you killed and also gained a profit?'" said a Yad Vashem official.
Nonetheless, the museum made it clear to Höss' grandson, Reiner, that he may donate the original items to Yad Vashem in order to perpetuate the horrors of Nazism.
'I have cut all ties with my father'
Talking to Yedioth Ahronoth, 44-year-old Höss said that he came up with the idea to sell the items to Yad Vashem following a conversation with a friend, the grandson of Baldur von Schirach, who was the leader of the Hitler-Jugend Nazi youth movement.
"These items were in the family's possession," Höss said in a phone call. "We knew about them, and elements from outside of the family have known about them for a long time. There have been quite a few bodies which asked to purchase them from us, including famous media outlets like the Der Spiegel weekly and the Axel Springer publishing house.
"Following von Schirach's recommendation I thought it would be appropriate to sell the items to Yad Vashem. I don’t want these items to reach the wrong hands."
We asked Höss whether he would be willing to donate the items to Yad Vashem. "That's a good question," he replied. I can't make such a decision on my own. I am inclined to agree to donate the items, but I will have to consult the rest if the family. We want the items to reach a museum dealing with history."
Reiner Höss, a security officer working in a big American company, says he learned about his grandfather's identity and actions for the first time in school at the age of 12.
"I was completely shocked. A teacher of Czech descent gave me books to read, and I suddenly realized who my grandfather was. I returned home and asked my parents and my grandmother about it, and they confirmed it. Since then I have been interested in the issue. I tried to travel to Auschwitz several times, but they didn't let me join trips to the camp because of my last name. However, I have visited other concentration camps like Dachau."
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss was recruited to the SS in 1934 by Heinrich Himmler, one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany. Following a "training period" in the Dachau concentration camp, he was sent to Auschwitz in 1940 and was responsible for the establishment of a concentration camp in the area and for turning it into a death camp.
Four years later, he was personally responsible for the annihilation of 430,000 of Hungary's Jews within 56 days. For this "work" he received awards of excellence from the Third Reich. After the war, Höss managed to hide for a while under a false identity, but was eventually identified and extradited to the Polish government. He was sentenced to death and hanged in Auschwitz on April 16, 1947.
"I have a very clear stance about what took place in that period," Höss' grandson said. "I am far from that world view, and since my parents' divorce I have completely cut all ties with my father, Rudolf's son."