- Associated Press - Friday, July 25, 2014

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - A message that has spread like wildfire across Europe can easily translate to America.

Never Forget To Vote is a campaign for a Nazi-Free Europe, to stop a political party that uses violence to intimidate minorities from gaining a foothold in the European Union. The point of the campaign is to get the non-Nazi majority of people to the polls on election day.

The public face of that campaign is a man whose grandfather was commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II. Rainer Hoess has lived with the legacy of his grandfather Rudolf Hoess since he found out as a teenager that his ancestor participated in the largest mass extermination of humankind in history.

Hoess now speaks out against hate groups, especially the resurgence of Nazis in Europe, and this week he has been in Terre Haute visiting the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and its founder, Eva Kor, a child survivor of Auschwitz.

“Tolerance is a word I don’t use. I don’t like it,” Hoess told the Tribune-Star (http://bit.ly/1mMEGWx ) on Thursday.

That may sound ironic coming from a man who supports the rights of all people. But having tolerance for hate groups - allowing them to demonstrate and share their viewpoints - makes no sense to Hoess.

His family has dealt with the guilt of having a high-level Nazi as a patriarch. In fact, Hoess lost respect for his own father when the man who lived for part of his youth outside the concentration camp tried to explain that Rudolf Hoess was misunderstood, that history was wrong and that the commandant was only doing his duty. Hoess was convicted of war crimes and executed by hanging just a few years after the war ended.

In the years that followed the war, many Germans put their own spin on their family involvement in the war. Some hid their identities. Most simply refuse to talk about it. But Hoess said that current issues in the world - concerns about immigration and economic troubles - can be a springboard used by hate groups, such as the Nazis of World War II.

“Denial starts on the fringes,” Hoess said of how people today downplay the Holocaust and the reflections of hate seen today in the world. “People say it didn’t really happen. Immigration tends to ignite the fear in people, and that ignites other things. In a bad economy, people are a little more desperate.”

That can lead to finger-pointing at immigrants or racial and ethnic minorities as takers of jobs and freeloaders off the government, he said. Those were some of the arguments used against Jews in Europe to seize their property and assets, and to send millions to work camps and concentration camps where they were starved and killed.

As a grandson of Rudolf Hoess, Rainer was featured in the recent documentary “Hitler’s Children” as one of five family members of Nazi leaders of the Holocaust. The 50-year-old Hoess is also featured in the Nazi-free Europe advertising campaign that is available online at www.neverforgettovote.com.

Hoess has had a long journey in coming to grips with his grandfather’s actions. For years, his family name prevented him and his children from making trips to the concentration camp to see where the atrocities happened. But he was recently at Auschwitz when he saw a woman small in stature but big in forgiveness explaining her story to some German schoolchildren at the camp. That day, Hoess met Eva Kor, who as a child was ripped from her family and subjected along with her twin sister to medical experiments. She never saw her parents and other siblings again.

Kor now calls Rainer Hoess one of her grandchildren, and she was shocked but pleased a few days ago to learn that Hoess was coming to Terre Haute to see the CANDLES museum.

It was on July 4 at Auschwitz that Kor stood with Hoess and two others with Nazi ancestors “to remember, to teach and to act.”

A pledge for action signed that day states that the perpetrators of the Auschwitz war crimes rose to power because of bad economy and apathy.

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