Monday, August 26, 2013

The Mask With Two Sides

 One of the most mind-boggling stories of the Holocaust is that of Rudolph Hoess, the Nazi commander who oversaw the construction and daily operations of the largest killing field ever created, the concentration camp Auschwitz. Personally coordinating the extermination of 2.5 million people in World War II, he was seemingly an even-tempered, happily married family man of Catholic faith. He enjoyed the semblance of an ordinary family life with his five children, in a grand house replete with a swimming pool, stables, and dog kennel (German shepherds of course). Literally right outside his lovely walled compound with a decorative see-through iron gate was the death camp. His villa had a view of the crematoria chimneys from the upper floors, and Hoess had a row of trees planted outside the compound walls, gratis the prisoners, that screened out the barbed wire walls of Auschwitz.

I can't fathom why someone of his stature would want to live so close to "work" when his children had to wash human ashes off the strawberries from their garden before ingesting them. Perhaps commuting was disagreeable to him...or he enjoyed a morning and evening stroll to and from his place of impassioned activity.

His wife sometimes expressed frustration that his workaholism kept him on the job more than she preferred, but all in all he was the loving husband and father (except when he cheated on his wife with a female prisoner, but never mind; when the affair was over, he sent her to the gas chamber). When Hoesss was captured and hung in 1946, his only regret was that he didn't spend more time with his family. This is his final letter before he himself turned into ashes.

11 April 1947
"You, my dear, good children!

Your daddy has to leave you now. For you, poor ones, there remains only your dear, good Mommy. May she remain with you for a long time yet. You do not understand yet what your good Mommy really means to you, and what a precious possession she is to you. The love and care of a mother is the most beautiful and valuable thing that exists on this earth. I realized this a long time ago, only when it was too late; and I have regretted it all my life.

To you, my dear children, I address therefore my last (beseeching) request: Never forget your dear good mother! She has constantly taken care of you with such sacrificing love. How much of the good things in life has she sacrificed for your sake. How she feared for you when you were ill and how painfully and untiringly did she nurse all of you. Only for your sake must she suffer now all of the bitter misery and poverty.

Don't ever forget this throughout your whole life. Help her now to carry her painful fate. Be loving and good to her. Help her as well as you can with your limited strength. In this manner pay her part of the thanks for the love and care she gave you during the days and nights.

Klaus, my dear boy! You are the oldest. You are now going out into the world. You have to now make your own way through life. You have good aptitudes. Use them! Keep your good heart. Become a person who lets himself be guided primarily by warmth and humanity. Learn to think and to judge for yourself, responsibly. Don't accept everything without criticism and as absolutely true. Learn from life.

The biggest mistake of my life was that I believed everything faithfully which came from the top, and I didn't dare to have the least bit of doubt about the truth of that which was presented to me. Walk through life with your eyes open. Don't become one-sided; examine the pros and cons in all matters. In all your undertakings, don't just let your mind speak, but listen above all to the voice in your heart.

Much, my dear boy, will not be understood by you as yet. But always remember my last advice. I wish you, my dear Klaus, all the luck in your life. Become a competent, straightforward person who has his heart in the right place.

Kindi and Püppi, you my big girls!

You are yet too young to learn the extent of the hard fate dished out to us. But you especially, my dear good girls, are specially obligated to stand at your poor unfortunate mother's side and with love assist her in every way you can. Surround her with all your childlike love from your heart and show her how much you love her ...

As fundamentally different as you two are in your character, you both ... have, however, soft and feeling hearts. Retain these throughout your later life. This is the most important thing. Only later will you understand that and will you remember my last words.

My Burling, you dear little guy!

Hang on to your happy child disposition. The cruel life will tear you, my dear boy, soon enough away from your child's world. I was happy to hear from your dear mother that you are progressing so well in school. Your dear father is unable to tell you anything more. You poor little guy have now only your dear good Mommy left who will care for you. Listen to her with love and kindness and so remain 'Daddy's dear Burling.

My dear Annemäusl

How little was I permitted to experience your dear little personality. Your dear good Mommy will have to take you, my dear Mäusl, for us into her arms and tell you of your daddy, and how very much he loved you. May you be for a long time Mommy's little ray of sun and continue to give her much joy. May you, with your sunny ways, help your poor dear Mommy through all the dreary hours.

Once more from my heart I ask you all, my dear good children, take to heart my last words. Think of them again and again.

Keep in loving memory, Your Dad." 


Is there anyone on earth who can explain this man's psyche? Or the mind of the supposedly normal Kansas City postman, married with children for 30 years but alternately the infamous serial killer that terrorized the city for decades?

The explanation that perpetrators can function like normal people because of "compartmentalization" is far too mild to understand their behaviors. We have seen this phenomena over and over, to varying degrees, in every culture on every continent since recorded history.

My final solution to this conundrum runs deep and might border on paranoia if not for a realistic apprisal: our subconscious carries within it all sorts of passions, prejudices and potential behaviors. With the right fertilizer, seeds will sprout that develop the positive qualities of human behavior such as empathy and compassion. With a more noxious brew, ill winds will sweep to the surface all sorts of twisted thoughts. The encouragement of opinion-makers turns these thoughts into actions and destinies are created, for better or for worse.

My own real power is a total honesty to look within myself and own the anger, fear, hatred and biases that surely are encoded in my genetic heritage, if not stimulated by direct life experiences. And to deal with them the way a bomb expert defuses a live grenade - carefully, deliberately, and with tools appropriate for the job.

A reporter once asked the Dalai Lama if he feared Chinese spies in his midst. He answered vigorously, something to the effect that he welcomes spies because he has nothing to hide. Then he added, "I even spy on myself! Always!"

Now that is a work ethic worthy of emulating.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Between the Frying Pan and the Fire

When the first inklings of a pandemic started brewing in late January, I was in Bodgaya, India, the place where the historical Buddha attai...