Ahead of the EU parliamentary elections, the youth wing of Sweden’s main pro-European party has reached out to an unlikely ally — the grandson of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess — for help in fending off the far-right.
At the behest of the Swedish Social Democratic (SSU) Youth League, Rainer Hoess, whose grandfather was executed for war crimes in 1947, has made a video appeal to voters to stay away from anti-democratic parties.
The video is part of the SSU’s campaign, “Never Forget. To Vote.”
In the short video, Mr Hoess, 48, says that, if the past is forgotten, “history will repeat itself. I fear that this is happening right now. All over Europe, far-right political parties are gaining ground and, if we do nothing, we have learned nothing.”
Mr Hoess has had no support from relatives in his effort to deal with the past, and has been accused of being interested solely in making money from his painful story. He vehemently denies this, and wants to put such charges behind him.
Mr Hoess told the JC that SSU president Gabriel Wikström had contacted him because of his 2013 book, The Commandant’s Legacy. Mr Wikström told him about problems with far-right groups in Sweden, “and I said, ‘We have the same problem in Germany.’”
In return for making the video, the SSU paid Mr Hoess’s air fare, room and board in Sweden. He said he has received more than 8,000 positive emails and twitters from viewers so far.
“They write that it is such a good thing that someone with your name and experience, with your knowledge, stands in front of such a campaign, to remind people what can happen when they don’t vote,” said Mr Hoess, who earns a living by speaking about his family history with school groups in Germany. He has four adult children and two grandchildren.
Mr Wikström said that his group, in planning its campaign, “realised that Europe is really facing one big threat, and that is from the neo-Nazis and right-wing extremist parties gaining power in many countries.”
The ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats are not expected to do well in the elections. But the video is intended for a wider audience, Mr Wikström explained, adding that it had been shown on French and Polish TV. “And here in Sweden it is a big topic, so it went very well.”
The video also seems to have given a boost to Mr Hoess, who has been dogged by accusations that he is merely self-serving. He admitted he had made a mistake some years ago by offering to sell his family photos and papers to Yad Vashem.
“I have said many times that I am sorry,” he said, explaining that he had asked the memorial’s affiliate in Berlin “if they were interested in the estate of Rudolf Hoess. But it was not to make money,” he insisted. “It was just to get the stuff out of my house. My children were asking me, ‘Daddy, what is it?’ It was a burden to have it here.”
If he had wanted to make money, he would have sold it to Nazi groups, “who would have paid a lot for it”, he added. Mr Hoess said he would place the materials in an academic institution in Munich, for use by researchers.