Join today and you can easily save your favourite articles, join in the conversation and comment, plus select which news your want direct to your inbox. It was Rudolf HA¶ss who designed and built Auschwitz from an old army barracks in Poland to a killing machine capable of murdering 2000 people an hour. I discovered where she lived while doing research for Hanns and Rudolf, a book on how HA¶ss was captured after the war by my great-uncle, Hanns Alexander, a German Jew who had fled Berlin in the 1930s.
If the subject of the Holocaust comes up, she steers the conversation in another direction.
The family decorated their home with furniture and artwork stolen from prisoners as they were selected for the gas chambers.
Glenn Ford, Eleanor Powell and their son Peter are photographed by Edward Cronenweth in their home, 1946. Glenn Ford shows co-star Evelyn Keyes how to point a gun on the set of Flight Lieutenant, 1942.
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. Brigitte's mother described the place as "paradise": They had cooks, nannies, gardeners, chauffeurs, seamstresses, haircutters and cleaners, some of whom were prisoners.
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. As such, Brigitte's father was one of the biggest mass murderers in history.For nearly 40 years she has kept her past out of public view, unexamined, not even sharing her story with her closest family members. 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. She was a young girl caught in epic historic forces she could little understand, much less be responsible for.
Once the HA¶ss 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 HA¶ss and his family fled north.
It stays with me."According to SS personnel records Inge-Brigitt HA¶ss was born on August 18, 1933, on a farm near the Baltic Sea. They loved to visit the kennels to pet the German shepherds.Photographs show a pond in the garden and a large table for picnics. 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. The prisoners made giant toy aeroplanes for the boys, big enough for them to sit in and push around the garden. The kommandant took on the identity of a labourer and hid on a farm seven kilometres from the Danish border.
The HA¶ss family waited for the right moment to escape to South America.We sit in a small, dark den to the side of her house.


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.
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. These migraines stopped a few years ago, but since I received your letter, they have started again."The story continues.
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.
When HA¶ss 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. Then HA¶ss 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.
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. And she met an Irish American engineer working in Madrid for a Washington-based communications company.The couple married in 1961.
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.
She went from having everything to having nothing."He says they had an "unspoken and unwritten agreement" not to talk about her family background. 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.Soon after she was hired, Brigitte says, she got drunk with her manager and confessed that her father was Rudolf HA¶ss. 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. Brigitte knew the store owner had visited Israel and wondered if she had, after all the years, become angry.


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. She was due to fly back to Germany but told her daughter it was too cold and she preferred to remain longer. 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 am 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. He knows about his grandfather but has not expressed much interest in looking into his family's history.
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. 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 HA¶ss'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. 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. 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 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. He tells me that the reason his mother had stopped calling Brigitte was that she had simply grown too old to make the calls.



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