|Born||Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss
25 November 1901
|Died||16 April 1947
Auschwitz I, Poland
|Cause of death||Execution by hanging|
|Known for||First 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)|
|Children||5 (2 sons, 3 daughters)|
|Parents||Franz Xaver Höss and Lina Höss|
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (also spelled Höß, Hoeß, or Hoess) (25 November 1900 – 16 April 1947) was an SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel), and from 4 May 1940 to November 1943 was the commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, where it is estimated that more than a million people were murdered. Höss joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and the SS in 1934. He was hanged in 1947 following a trial in Warsaw.
Höss was born in Baden-Baden into a strict Catholic family, but later officially renounced his membership in the Catholic Church. 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 Ferdinand on 11 December 1901. In his early years, according to his autobiography, he was a lonely child with no playmates his own age until he entered elementary school, and all of his companionship came from adults. He claimed in his autobiography that he was briefly abducted by Gypsies in his youth. His father, a former army officer who served in German East Africa, ran a tea and coffee business; he brought up his son 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 own priest broke the Seal of the Confessional by telling his father about an event at school that Höss had described during confession. 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 the age of 14, was admitted to his father's and grandfather's old regiment, the German Army's 21st Regiment of Dragoons. At the age of fifteen, he fought with the Ottoman Sixth Army at Baghdad, at Kut-el-Amara, and in Palestine. While stationed in Turkey, he rose to the rank of Feldwebel (sergeant) and at the age of 17 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 served as commander of 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
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 suspected Communist Walther Kadow to death on the wishes of the local farm supervisor, Martin Bormann, who later became Hitler's private secretary. 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.
In 1923, after one of the killers gave the tale of the murder 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 said he accepted the blame as the group's leader. He was found guilty and sentenced (on 15 or 17 May 1924) 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. They had five children together, two sons and three daughters, born between 1930 and 1943: Ingebrigitt, Klaus, Hans-Rudolf (b. 1937), Heidetraut and Annegret.
Joining the SS
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." Höss first met Himmler in 1929. 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.
In his autobiography, Höss claimed that he disliked the corporal punishment carried out by the guards of the camps on the prisoners, but when he saw his first execution it did not affect him as much; he could not explain why that was.
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. Höss lived at Auschwitz in a villa together with his wife and five children.
The earliest inmates at Auschwitz were Polish prisoners, including peasants and intellectuals, and Soviet prisoners-of-war. 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 ha (20,000 acres) that had been cleared of all inhabitants. 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 for the physical extermination of 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 about the camp's purpose to one person: his wife.
After visiting Treblinka extermination camp to study its methods of human extermination, Höss, beginning on 3 September 1941, tested and perfected the techniques of mass killing that made Auschwitz the most efficiently murderous instrument of the Final Solution and the most potent symbol of the Holocaust. 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.
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. He commented,
|“||Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavoured to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realised our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated.||”|
Höss experimented with various methods of gassing. According to Eichmann's trial testimony in 1961, 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. 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".
Höss explained how 10,000 people were exterminated in one 24-hour period:
|“||Technically [it] wasn't so hard—it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers.... The killing itself took the least time. You could dispose of 2,000 head in half an hour, but it was the burning that took all the time. The killing was easy; you didn't even need guards to drive them into the chambers; they just went in expecting to take showers and, instead of water, we turned on poison gas. The whole thing went very quickly.||”|
Höss testified that Himmler visited the camp in 1942 and "watched in detail one processing from beginning to end". Eichmann, Höss said, visited the camp and observed its operations frequently.
|“||We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.||”|
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 the operation, known as Aktion Höss, by which 430,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to the camp and killed during 56 days between May and July of that year. Even Höss' 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. Miklós Nyiszli, during his time in the camp, witnessed many atrocities to which he refers in his book, Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account.
Capture, trial and execution
In the last days of the war, Höss was advised by Himmler to disguise himself among German Navy personnel. He evaded arrest for nearly a year. When he was captured by British troops—some of whom were Jews born in Germany—on 11 March 1946, he was disguised as a farmer and called himself Franz Lang. His wife had told the British where he could be found, fearing that her son, Klaus, would be shipped off to the Soviet Union, where she feared he would be imprisoned or be tortured. After being questioned, Höss confessed his real identity.
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 Dr. Kauffman, the lawyer of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. The transcript of Höss' testimony was later entered as evidence during the 4th Nuremberg Military Tribunal known as the Pohl Trial due to the principal defendant being SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl. Affidavits that Rudolf Höss had made whilst held prisoner in Nuremberg were also used at Pohl & IG Farben trials.
Höss' affidavit made at Nuremberg on 5 April 1946 reads:
|“||I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70% or 80% of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries. Included among the executed and burnt were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war (previously screened out of Prisoner of War cages by the Gestapo) who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews, and great numbers of citizens (mostly Jewish) from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.||”|
On 25 May 1946, he was handed over to Polish authorities and the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland tried him for murder. 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." Höss was sentenced to death by hanging on 2 April 1947. The sentence was carried out on 16 April immediately adjacent 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 now marks the site reads:
|“||This is where the camp Gestapo was located. Prisoners suspected of involvement in the camp's underground resistance movement or of preparing to escape were interrogated here. Many prisoners died as a result of being beaten or tortured. The first commandant of Auschwitz, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, who was tried and sentenced to death after the war by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal, was hanged here on 16 April 1947.||”|
Höss wrote his autobiography while awaiting execution; it was published in 1958 as Kommandant in Auschwitz; autobiographische Aufzeichnungen 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:
|“||In all of the discussions, Höss is quite matter-of-fact and apathetic, shows some belated interest in the enormity of his crime, but gives the impression that it never would have occurred to him if somebody hadn't asked him. There is too much apathy to leave any suggestion of remorse and even the prospect of hanging does not unduly stress him. One gets the general impression of a man who is intellectually normal, but with the schizoid apathy, insensitivity and lack of empathy that could hardly be more extreme in a frank psychotic.||”|
Four days before he was executed, Höss sent a message to the state prosecutor, including these comments:
|“||My conscience compels me to make the following declaration. In the solitude of my prison cell I have come to the bitter recognition that I have sinned gravely against humanity. As Commandant of Auschwitz I was responsible for carrying out part of the cruel plans of the 'Third Reich' for human destruction. In so doing I have inflicted terrible wounds on humanity. I caused unspeakable suffering for the Polish people in particular. I am to pay for this with my life. May the Lord God forgive one day what I have done.||”|
Military and party promotions
Dates of rank
- 20 September 1933SS aspirant –
- 1 April 1934SS-Mann –
- 20 April 1934SS-Sturmmann –
- 28 November 1934SS-Unterscharführer –
- 1 April 1935SS-Scharführer –
- 1 July 1935SS-Oberscharführer –
- 1 March 1936SS-Hauptscharführer –
- 13 September 1936SS-Untersturmführer –
- 11 September 1938SS-Obersturmführer –
- 9 November 1938SS-Hauptsturmführer –
- 30 January 1941SS-Sturmbannführer –
- 18 July 1942SS-Obersturmbannführer –
|“||I want to emphasize that I personally never hated the Jews. I considered them to be the enemy of our nation. However, that was precisely the reason to treat them the same way as the other prisoners. Besides, the feeling of hatred is not in me.||”|
|“||Since I was Commandant of the extermination camp Auschwitz I was totally responsible for everything that happened there, whether I knew about it or not. Most of the terrible and horrible things that took place there I learned only during this investigation and during the trial itself. I cannot describe how I was deceived, how my directives were twisted, and all the things they had carried out supposedly under my orders. I certainly hope that the guilty will not escape justice. It is tragic that, although I was by nature gentle, good-natured, and very helpful, I became the greatest destroyer of human beings who carried out every order to exterminate people no matter what.||”|
- 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.
- Levy, Richard C. (2005). Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution (Two Vol. Set). ABC-CLIO. p. 324. ISBN 1-85109-439-3.
- Commandant of Auschwitz (2000), Appendix 1, p. 193.
- 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).
- The Catholic Church and the Holocaust: 1930-1965 by Michael Phayer; Indiana University Press, 2000; p 111
- Rudolf Hess, Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hess (Phoenix, Phoenix Press, 2000) pp. 15-27
- 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.
- Hilberg, Raul, Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1962), p. 575
- Shira Schoenberg (1990's). "Martin Bormann". Retrieved 05/8/2011.
- Rudolf Höss (1958). Kommandant in Auschwitz. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt. p. 37.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Hitler's Children," BBC documentary
- Rudolf Höss (1960). Commandant of Auschwitz: autobiography. World Pub. Co. p. 37.
- Testimony of Rudolf Höß at the Nuremberg Trials, available online at http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/hoesstest.html
- 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. http://www.shu.edu/academics/theology/upload/mass-murderer-repents.pdf
- BBC History of World War II. Auschwitz; Inside the Nazi State.
- Hoess Affidavit for Nuremberg Trial at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1946Hoess.html
- (First experimental gassing in Block 11) AUSCHWITZ: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (1989). p. 132. Pressac, Jean-Claude.http://www.holocaust-history.org/auschwitz/pressac/technique-and-operation/pressac0132.shtml
- Commandant of Auschwitz (2000), pp. 106–157, and Appendix 1, pp. 183–200.
- Commandant of Auschwitz (2000), p. 146.
- Gilbert (1995), pp. 249–50.
- Modern History Sourcebook: Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz: Testimony at Nuremberg, 1946, August 1997
- Jozef Boszko, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust vol. 2, p. 692
- Wilkinson, Alec, "Picturing Auschwitz", The New Yorker, 17 March 2008, pp. 50–54.
- Nyiszli, Miklos (2011). Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. New York: Arcade Publishing.
- Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Volume 11. pp. 396–422. Monday, 15 April 1946: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/04-15-46.asp
- Hoess, Rudolph. Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolph Hoess. Translated by Constantine FitzGibbon. The World Publishing Company, Ohio. 1959. p. 194
- Kevin Jon Heller. The Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law. Oxford University Press. 2011. p.149: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=8ALHAwFfy44C&lpg=PA149&dq=%22is%20the%20best%20that%20can%20be%20done.%20We%20cannot%20produce%20this%20man.%22&pg=PA149#v=onepage&q=%22is%20the%20best%20that%20can%20be%20done.%20We%20cannot%20produce%20this%20man.%22&f=false
- Modern History Sourcebook: Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz: Testimony at Nuremberg, 1946. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1946Hoess.html
- Applebome, Peter (14 March 2007). "Veteran of the Nuremberg Trials Can't Forget Dialogue With Infamy". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 March 2007.
- WorldCat listing
- Gilbert (1995), p. 260
- Paskuly (1992), p. 142
- Paskuly (1992), p. 189
- Autobiography, edited by Steven Paskuly and translated by Andrew Pollinger: Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1992. ISBN 978-0-87975-714-4.
- Höß, Rudolf. Kommandant in Auschwitz; autobiographische Aufzeichnungen. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte. Quellen und Darstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte, Bd. 5. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1958. (German)
- Höss, Rudolf. Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess. (Constantine FitzGibbon, trans.) London: Phoenix Press, 2000. ISBN 1-84212-024-7. (A different translation of Kommandant in Auschwitz.)
- Gilbert, Gustave.  1995. Nuremberg Diary. USA: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80661-2.
- SS Personnel Service Record of Rudolf Höss, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland, US.
- Ravenswood, Linda, Frau Kommandant Hoess' Pink Cardigan, Rivets Literary Magazine, 2010.
- Harding, Thomas (September 8, 2013). "The Kommandant's Daughter". Washington Post Magazine. pp. 12–17.
- 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.
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- Jewish Virtual Library: Rudolf Höss
- Modern History Sourcebook: Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz: Testimony at Nuremberg, 1946
- "Rudolf Höss". World War II Holocaust Criminal. Find a Grave. February 7, 2005.