Rudolf Höss

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Not to be confused with Rudolf Hess.
"Höss" redirects here. For the Roman Catholic saint, see Maria Crescentia Höss.
Rudolf Höss
Höss, Rudolf.jpg
Rudolf Höss in detention, c. 1945-46
Born Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss
(1901-11-25)25 November 1901
Died 16 April 1947(1947-04-16) (aged 45)
Cause of death
Execution by hanging
Nationality  German Empire
 Weimar Republic
 Nazi Germany
Other names
  • Rudolf Höß
  • Rudolf Hoess
  • Rudolf Hoeß
Occupation SS-Obersturmbannführer Collar Rank.svg SS-Obersturmbannführer
Employer 3rd SS Division Logo.svg SS-Totenkopfverbände
Organization  Schutzstaffel
Known for Commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, 4 May 1940 – 1 December 1943, 8 May 1944 – 18 January 1945
Political party
National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP; Nazi Party)
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Hedwig Hensel (m. 1929)
  • Ingebrigitt
  • Klaus
  • Hans-Rudolf (born 1937)
  • Heidetraut
  • Annegret
Parents Franz Xaver Höss and Lina Höss (née Speck)

Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (represented in German as Höß, also sometimes spelled Hoeß, or Hoess) (25 November 1901[1][2] – 16 April 1947) was an SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel). Höss joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and the SS in 1934. From 4 May 1940 to November 1943, and again from 8 May 1944 to 18 January 1945, he was the commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, where it is estimated that more than a million people were killed.[3][4] He was hanged in 1947 following a trial in Warsaw.

Early life[edit]

Höss was born in Baden-Baden into a strict Catholic family.[5] He lived with his mother Lina (née Speck) and father Franz Xaver Höss. Höss was the eldest of three children and the only son. He was baptised Rudolf Franz (or possibly Francis) Ferdinand on 11 December 1901. He was a lonely child with no playmates his own age until he entered elementary school; all of his companionship came from adults. He claimed in his autobiography that he was briefly abducted by Gypsies in his youth.[6] His father, a former army officer who served in German East Africa, ran a tea and coffee business; he brought his son up on strict religious principles and with military discipline, having decided that he would enter the priesthood. Höss grew up with an almost fanatical belief in the central role of "duty" in a moral life. During his early years, there was a constant emphasis on sin, guilt, and the need to do penance.

Höss began turning against religion in his early teens after an episode in which, he said, his priest broke the Seal of the Confessional by telling his father about an event at school that Höss had described during confession.[7] Soon afterward, Höss's father died and Höss began moving toward a military life.

When World War I broke out, Höss served briefly in a military hospital and then, at age 14, was admitted to his father's and grandfather's old regiment, the German Army's 21st Regiment of Dragoons. At age 15, he fought with the Ottoman Sixth Army at Baghdad, at Kut-el-Amara, and in Palestine.[8] While stationed in Turkey, he rose to the rank of Feldwebel (sergeant) and at 17 he was the youngest non-commissioned officer in the army. Wounded three times and a victim of malaria, he was awarded the Gallipoli Star, the Iron Cross first and second class, and other decorations. Höss also briefly commanded a cavalry unit.

After Germany's surrender, Höss completed his secondary education, following which he joined nationalist paramilitary groups that were forming in the post-war chaos, first the East Prussian Volunteer Corps and then the Freikorps Rossbach in the Baltic area, Silesia, and the Ruhr. Höss participated in guerrilla attacks against Polish people during the Silesian Uprisings, and against French occupation forces during the Occupation of the Ruhr.


Early Nazi service[edit]

Höss formally renounced his membership in the Catholic Church in 1922 and soon joined the Nazi Party (Party Member No. 3240) after hearing Hitler speak in Munich. A year later, on 31 May 1923, in Mecklenburg, Höss and members of the Freikorps beat local schoolteacher Walther Kadow to death on the wishes of the local farm supervisor, Martin Bormann, who later became Hitler's private secretary.[9] Kadow was believed to have tipped off the French occupational authorities that Höss' fellow Nazi, paramilitary soldier Albert Leo Schlageter, was carrying out sabotage operations against French supply lines. Schlageter was arrested and executed on 26 May 1923; soon afterwards Höss and several accomplices, including Martin Bormann, took their revenge on Kadow.[9]

In 1923, after one of the killers confessed to a local newspaper, Höss was arrested and tried as the ring leader. Although he later claimed that another man was actually in charge, Höss accepted the blame as the group's leader. He was convicted and sentenced (on 15[10] or 17 May 1924[11]) to 10 years in Brandenburg Penitentiary for the crime. Bormann received a one-year sentence.

Höss was released in July 1928 as part of a general amnesty and joined the völkisch Artamanen-Gesellschaft ("Artaman League") a nationalist back-to-the-land movement that promoted clean living and a farm-based lifestyle. On 17 August 1929, he married Hedwig Hensel (3 March 1908 – 1989), whom he met in the Artaman League. Between 1930 and 1943 they had five children: two sons (Klaus and Hans-Rudolf) and three daughters (Ingebrigitt, Heidetraut, and Annegret).[12][13]

Joining the SS[edit]

He was invited to become an SS man in 1934, and he accepted. "In June 1934 came Himmler's call to join the ranks of the active SS-Mann."[14] Höss first met Himmler in 1939. He came to admire Himmler so much that he considered whatever he said to be "gospel" and preferred to hang his picture rather than Hitler's in his office. That same year, Höss moved to the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units) and in December he was assigned to the Dachau concentration camp, where he held the post of Blockführer. Höss's mentor at Dachau was Theodor Eicke. Höss excelled in his duties and was recommended by his superiors for further responsibility and promotion. By the end of his four years at Dachau, he was serving as administrator of the property of prisoners.[15]

In his autobiography, Höss claimed that he disliked the corporal punishment carried out by camp guards on the prisoners, but when he saw his first execution it did not affect him as much; he could not explain why that was. He stated, "I was forced to be present, much as I disliked it. [...] Why did I have such an aversion to this form of punishment? With the best will in the world I am unable to answer this question."[citation needed]

In 1938, he was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) and was made adjutant to Hermann Baranowski in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He joined the Waffen-SS in 1939.

Auschwitz command[edit]

Appointment order of Rudolf Höss as Commander of Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Further information: Auschwitz concentration camp
SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss at Auschwitz.

On 1 May 1940, Höss was appointed commandant of a prison camp in western Poland, a territory Germany had incorporated into the province of Upper Silesia. The camp was built around an old Austro-Hungarian (and later Polish) army barracks near the town of Oświęcim; its German name was Auschwitz. Höss commanded the camp for three and a half years, during which he expanded the original facility into a sprawling complex known as Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Höss had been ordered "to create a transition camp for ten thousand prisoners from the existing complex of well-preserved buildings." and he went to Auschwitz determined "to do things differently" and develop a more efficient camp than those at Dachau and Sachsenhausen where he had previously served.[16] Höss lived at Auschwitz in a villa with his wife and five children.[17]

The earliest inmates at Auschwitz were Soviet prisoners-of-war and Polish prisoners, including peasants and intellectuals. At its peak, Auschwitz was three separate facilities: Auschwitz I; Auschwitz II-Birkenau; and Auschwitz III-Monowitz, including many satellite sub-camps, and was built on about 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) that had been cleared of all inhabitants.[15] Auschwitz I was the administrative centre for the complex; Auschwitz II Birkenau was the extermination camp, where most of the killing took place; and Auschwitz III Monowitz the slave labour camp for I.G. Farbenindustrie AG, and later other German industries .

In June 1941, according to Höss's trial testimony, he was summoned to Berlin for a meeting with Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler "to receive personal orders". Himmler told Höss that Hitler had given the order to exterminate Europe's Jews. Himmler had selected Auschwitz for this purpose, he said, "on account of its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site offered space for measures ensuring isolation". Himmler told Höss that he would be receiving all operational orders from Adolf Eichmann. Himmler described the project as a "secret Reich matter", meaning that "no one was allowed to speak about these matters with any person and that everyone promised upon his life to keep the utmost secrecy". Höss said he kept that secret until the end of 1942, when he told his wife about the camp's purpose.[15]

Höss began testing and perfecting mass killing techniques on 3 September 1941.[18] His experiments made Auschwitz the most efficiently murderous instrument of the Final Solution and the Holocaust's most potent symbol.[19] According to Höss, during standard camp operations, two to three trains carrying 2,000 prisoners each would arrive daily for periods of four to six weeks. The prisoners were unloaded in the Birkenau camp; those fit for labour were marched to barracks in either Birkenau or one of the Auschwitz camps, while those unsuitable for work were driven into the gas chambers. At first, small gassing bunkers were located deep in the woods, to avoid detection. Later, four large gas chambers and crematoria were constructed in Birkenau to make the killing more efficient and to handle the increasing rate of exterminations.[15]

Höss improved on the methods at Treblinka by building his gas chambers ten times larger, so that they could kill 2,000 people at once rather than 200:

Duping victims further improved efficiency over the Treblinka model:

Höss experimented with various gassing methods. According to Eichmann's 1961 trial testimony, Höss told him that he used cotton filters soaked in sulfuric acid in early killings. Höss later introduced hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid), produced from the pesticide Zyklon B, to the killing process, after his deputy Karl Fritzsch tested it on a group of Russian prisoners in 1941.[22] With Zyklon B, he said that it took 3–15 minutes for the victims to die and that "we knew when the people were dead because they stopped screaming".[21]

In his affidavit prepared for the Nuremberg trials, Höss asserted that local residents knew the camp's purpose:

After Auschwitz[edit]

After being replaced as the Auschwitz commander by Arthur Liebehenschel, on 10 November 1943, Höss assumed Liebehenschel's former position as the chairman of Amt D I in Amtsgruppe D of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA); he also was appointed deputy of the inspector of the concentration camps under Richard Glücks.

On 8 May 1944, Höss returned to Auschwitz to supervise operation Aktion Höss, in which 430,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to the camp and killed in 56 days[24] between May and July. Even Höss's expanded facility could not handle the huge number of victims' corpses, and the camp staff had to dispose of thousands of bodies by burning them in open pits.[25]

Capture, trial, and execution[edit]

In the last days of the war, Himmler advised Höss to disguise himself among German Navy personnel. He evaded arrest for nearly a year. When captured by British troops on 11 March 1946, he was disguised as a farmer and called himself Franz Lang. His wife, who feared that her son, Klaus, would be shipped off to the Soviet Union to be imprisoned or tortured, had told the British where he was. After being questioned and beaten (Höss' captors were well aware of his crimes), Höss confessed his real identity.[26] The British force that captured Höss was led by Hanns Alexander, a young Jewish man from Berlin who was forced to flee to England with his entire family during the rise of Nazi Germany.[27] Höss initially denied his identity until Alexander noticed his wedding ring and demanded to inspect it. Höss refused to remove it, claiming it was stuck. But when Alexander threatened to cut his finger off, Höss removed the ring. It had the names Rudolf and Hedwig inscribed inside.[28]

Rudolf Höss appeared at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on 15 April 1946 where he gave detailed testimony of his crimes. He was called as a defense witness by Ernst Kaltenbrunner's lawyer, Dr. Kauffman.[29][30] The transcript of Höss' testimony was later entered as evidence during the 4th Nuremberg Military Tribunal known as the Pohl Trial named for principal defendant SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl.[31] Affidavits that Rudolf Höss made while imprisoned in Nuremberg were also used at the Pohl and IG Farben trials.

Höss' affidavit made at Nuremberg on 5 April 1946 reads:

Since later estimates of the number who died are around one million, a substantially lower figure, it has been speculated that Höss exaggerated his estimate as a result of the beatings and threats to which he had been subjected shortly before he gave this affidavit.[4]

On 25 May 1946, he was handed over to Polish authorities and the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland tried him for murder. His trial lasted from 11 March to 29 March 1947. During his trial, when accused of murdering three and a half million people, Höss replied, "No. Only two and one half million—the rest died from disease and starvation."[33] Höss was sentenced to death by hanging on 2 April 1947. The sentence was carried out on 16 April next to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz I concentration camp. He was hanged on a short drop gallows constructed specifically for that purpose, at the location of the camp Gestapo. The message on the board that marks the site reads:

Höss wrote his autobiography while awaiting execution; it was published in 1958 as Kommandant in Auschwitz; autobiographische Aufzeichnungen[34] and later as Death Dealer: the Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz (among other editions).

After discussions with Höss during the Nuremberg trials at which he testified, the American military psychologist Gustave Gilbert wrote the following:

Executioner helping Höss to climb on a stool.
Höss on the gallows, immediately before his execution

Four days before he was executed, Höss acknowledged the enormity of his crimes in a message to the state prosecutor:

A replica of the gallows on which Höss was hanged
The location where Höss was hanged, with plaque

Shortly before his execution Höss returned to the Catholic Church. On April 10, 1947, he received the sacrament of penance from Fr. Władysław Lohn, S.J., provincial of the Polish Province of the Society of Jesus. On the next day the same priest administered to him Holy Communion as Viaticum.[36]

Handwritten confession[edit]

The original affidavit, signed by Rudolf Höss, is displayed in a glass case in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The photo displayed with the affidavit shows Hungarian Jewish women and children walking to one of the four gas chambers in the Birkenau death camp on May 26, 1944, carrying their hand baggage in sacks.

Military and party promotions[edit]

Höss's SS-ranks
Date Rank
20 September 1933 SS aspirant
1 April 1934 SS-Mann
20 April 1934 SS-Sturmmann
28 November 1934 SS-Unterscharführer
1 April 1935 SS-Scharführer
1 July 1935 SS-Oberscharführer
1 March 1936 SS-Hauptscharführer
13 September 1937 SS-Untersturmführer
11 September 1938 SS-Obersturmführer
9 November 1938 SS-Hauptsturmführer
30 January 1941 SS-Sturmbannführer
18 July 1942 SS-Obersturmbannführer

Other quotations[edit]


  1. ^ Harding, Thomas (September 2013). Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0 434 02236 6, p. 288, Note to Chapter One, [page] 11. 
  2. ^ Levy, Richard C. (2005). Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution (Two Vol. Set). ABC-CLIO. p. 324. ISBN 1-85109-439-3. 
  3. ^ Commandant of Auschwitz (2000), Appendix 1, p. 193.
  4. ^ a b Piper, Franciszek & Meyer, Fritjof. "Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz. Neue Erkentnisse durch neue Archivfunde", Osteuropa, 52, Jg., 5/2002, pp. 631–641, (review article).
  5. ^ The Catholic Church and the Holocaust: 1930-1965 by Michael Phayer; Indiana University Press, 2000; p 111
  6. ^ Rudolf Hess, Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hess (Phoenix, Phoenix Press, 2000) pp. 15-27
  7. ^ Levi, Rudolph Höss ; edited by Steven Paskuly ; translated by Andrew Pollinger ; foreword by Primo (1996). Death dealer : the memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz (1st Da Capo Press ed. ed.). New York: Da Capo Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-306-80698-3. 
  8. ^ Hilberg, Raul, Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1962), p. 575
  9. ^ a b Shira Schoenberg (1990's). "Martin Bormann". Retrieved 05/8/2011.  Check date values in: |date=, |accessdate= (help)
  10. ^ Rudolf Höss (1958). Kommandant in Auschwitz. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt. p. 37. 
  11. ^ Ludwig Pflücker, Jochanan Shelliem (2006). IAls Gefängnisarzt im Nürnberger Prozess: das Tagebuch des Dr. Ludwig Pflücker. Indianopolis: Jonas. p. 135. ISBN 3-89445-374-5. 
  12. ^ Höss, Rudolf; Broad, Pery; Kremer, Johann Paul; Bezwińska, Jadwiga; Czech, Danuta (1984). KL Auschwitz seen by the SS. New York: H. Fertig. p. 226. ISBN 0-86527-346-4. 
  13. ^ "Hitler's Children," BBC documentary
  14. ^ Rudolf Höss (1960). Commandant of Auschwitz: autobiography. World Pub. Co. p. 37. 
  15. ^ a b c d Testimony of Rudolf Höß at the Nuremberg Trials, available online at
  16. ^ a b Hughes, John Jay. "A Mass Murderer Repents: The Case of Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz". Archbishop Gerety Lecture at Seton Hall University, 25 March 1998.
  17. ^ BBC History of World War II. Auschwitz; Inside the Nazi State.
  18. ^ (First experimental gassing in Block 11) AUSCHWITZ: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (1989). p. 132. Pressac, Jean-Claude.
  19. ^ Commandant of Auschwitz (2000), pp. 106–157, and Appendix 1, pp. 183–200.
  20. ^ Gilbert (1995), pp. 249–50.
  21. ^ a b Hoess Affidavit for Nuremberg Trial at
  22. ^ Commandant of Auschwitz (2000), p. 146.
  23. ^ Modern History Sourcebook: Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz: Testimony at Nuremberg, 1946, August 1997
  24. ^ Jozef Boszko, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust vol. 2, p. 692
  25. ^ Wilkinson, Alec, "Picturing Auschwitz", The New Yorker, 17 March 2008, pp. 50–54.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding, review". The Telegraph. 9 September 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  28. ^ "Nazi hunter: Exploring the power of secrecy and silence". The Globe and Mail. 7 November 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  29. ^ Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 11. pp. 396–422. Monday, 15 April 1946:
  30. ^ Hoess, Rudolph. Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolph Hoess. Translated by Constantine FitzGibbon. The World Publishing Company, Ohio. 1959. p. 194
  31. ^ Kevin Jon Heller. The Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law. Oxford University Press. 2011. p.149:
  32. ^ Modern History Sourcebook: Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz: Testimony at Nuremberg, 1946.
  33. ^ Applebome, Peter (14 March 2007). "Veteran of the Nuremberg Trials Can't Forget Dialogue With Infamy". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 March 2007. 
  34. ^ WorldCat listing
  35. ^ Gilbert (1995), p. 260
  36. ^ Kat Hoess nawrócił się w Wadowicach.
  37. ^ Paskuly (1992), p. 142
  38. ^ Paskuly (1992), p. 189


External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Commandant of Auschwitz
4 May 1940 – November 1943
Succeeded by
SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel
Preceded by
SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel
Commandant of Auschwitz
8 May 1944 – 18 January 1945
Succeeded by