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Auschwitz, Virginia, and the Grace of Neighbors: A Memorable Sunday Read

The story ends on a leafy side street in northern Virginia, but it began with a killing machine in Auschwitz. The Washington Post magazine has a great Sunday read this week:

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.

Brigitte’s father was eventually caught. She grew up, married, moved to Washington. She found work in a fashion boutique. When the Jewish owners of the store discovered that one of their employees was the daughter of the commandant of Auschwitz, they let her keep her job and protected her secret… for decades.

This is how grace often works: good things quietly happen and people discover the wisdom and strength to refuse to let evil and death have the last word. Read the whole story, it’s well worth a look.

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  • Kavanna

    What an amazing story.

    The Polish victims of the Holocaust were, in the main, the educated classes, deliberately targeted by the Nazis: academics, writers, civil servants, officers, priests, and the like.

    The Russian victims were mainly prisoners of war, either worked to death as slaves or subjected to “medical experiments.”

    (By Polish and Russian, I am of course excluding Polish and Russian Jews, who were targeted for comprehensive extermination.)

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