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   On April 16, 1947, Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoss--the Kommandant of the
   most infamous death camp--Auschwitz-Birkenau--was hanged after a
   lengthy trial in Warsaw, Poland, for "crimes committed against the
   Polish people." The gallows were erected just a few steps away from
   Auschwitz Crematoria I, the first gas chamber to use Cydon B gas.  By
   the judgment of history and by his own admission, Rudolf Hoss is the
   greatest mass murderer of all time.  He was the founder and driving
   force in the development of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex and the
   more than thirty subcamps of the sprawling Auschwitz complex.
   Hundreds of books and stories about camp life in Auschwitz have been
   written describing the prisoners' experiences, but only one SS
   officer wrote at length about the camp from the SS viewpoint.  These
   memoirs of Rudolf Hoss narrate the development and administration of
   the largest killing center ever created.  

   The memoirs, profiles, and letters of Kommandant Rudolf Hoss were
   written between October 1946 and April 1947 at the suggestion of Jan
   Sehn, the prosecuting attorney for the Polish War Crimes Commission
   in Warsaw.  Hoss wrote explanations of the camp regulations,
   described his impressions of various personalities with whom he
   dealt, and wrote at length about the implementation of the Final
   Solution.  The initial descriptions were written to help Hoss recall
   events that were brought up during his trial.  

   The translated documents that constitute Death Dealer, with the
   exception of the appendices, were written by Rudolf Hoss with pencil
   on low-grade paper.  When he completed a section, he wrote the month,
   the year, and his signature.  Often he would just sign his last
   name--Hoss, or just simply H.  He wrote on one side of each sheet of
   paper, then turned the sheet over and continued on the back,
   numbering only the first page, designating it as page 1.  Page 2
   would really indicate that there were four sides written about each
   topic.  The briefest account was a half page about the SS tattoos.
   The longest section is about his life, which consists of 114 sheets
   of paper, or 228 pages.  The penciled writings usually begin with
   sharp clarity, deteriorating to a flattened-out scrawl.  This tends
   to indicate that Hoss was not allowed to keep a knife to sharpen the

   From a careful review of the actual handwritten documents, one can
   deduce that Hoss reread what he wrote, because he added phrases
   between the written lines to help clarify what he was attempting to
   explain.  He also retraced a weakly written word or phrase with a
   newly sharpened pencil to make the words more legible.  In some
   cases, the aging of the paper has made the task of reading the
   penciled writings more difficult, but by no means impossible.  

   The archival assembly of Hoss's writings are twice numbered, once by
   Hoss himself at the top or upper-left-hand corners, such as -42-, and
   once again in the lower-right or lower-left corner, such as a 356
   circled in red pencil.  Mr.  Tadeusz Iwaszko, the original archivist
   from the very beginning of the Auschwitz Museum in 1948, stated that,
   "It was necessary to put the manuscript in an order to facilitate
   microfilming and photocopying.  Since the memoirs of Hoss's life were
   the most requested, they were placed first, even though it was the
   last section Hoss wrote." The section entitled "The Final Solution to
   the Jewish Question at KL Auschwitz" was placed second.  The
   personalities he described follow.  

   As Jan Sehn and Hoss became more comfortable with each other, Sehn
   asked Hoss to write about some of the people and try to recall some
   of the documents that had been destroyed when Auschwitz was being
   evacuated because of the approaching Soviet armies.  Sehn also asked
   Hoss to write about some of the people who were responsible for the
   major decisions concerning the founding and construction of
   Auschwitz-Birkenau, such as Himmler, Pohl, and Eicke.  The others
   were added as requested by Sehn.  Many have never been published
   anywhere before.  After Hoss had completed the anecdotal sections, he
   remarked to Sehn one day that there was nothing to do in his jail
   cell in Cracow.  This comment spurred Sehn to suggest that Hoss write
   about himself.  This section is often referred to by historians as
   the "Autobiography of Rudolf Hoss." Ho"ss's last writings are two
   letters to his wife and children and the request that his wedding
   ring be sent to his wife after his execution.  These have also never
   before been published in the United States and are presented in this
   book to provide the reader with a deeper look into Ho"ss the human
   being rather than Ho"ss the zealous Nazi who followed orders without

   Just after his capture in 1946, the British Security Police were able
   to extract a statement from Ho"ss by beating him and filling him with
   liquor.  Ho"ss states in his autobiography that he doesn't remember
   what was in that statement.  It does not differ in any great degree
   from the section entitled, "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question
   in KL Auschwitz." The later section, however, does contain more
   detail than the original forced statement to the British

   There are fanatical groups in the United States, France, and even
   Australia who call themselves "The Revisionist Historians." They
   actually propose that Ho"ss never wrote these documents--that they
   are a fraud.  They also state that even if the documents were written
   by Ho"ss, they were obviously done under duress from the "Communist
   authorities" in Poland.  

   The "research" and the conclusions of these "historians" are absolute
   rubbish.  The documents written in Poland, the personal interviews
   given to psychiatrist G.  Martin Gilbert during the Nuremberg trials,
   and Rudolf Ho"ss's blunt testimony during the trial itself are
   consistent with each other to such a degree that we can safely
   believe that the memoirs written in Poland are an elaboration of the
   Nuremberg testimony containing much more detail.  The documents in
   Death Dealer are consistent with other statements made by SS Corporal
   Pery Broad and the diary of SS Dr.  Kremer, who also were at
   Auschwitz, and with personal accounts by prison- ers in the essential
   facts.  They differ only when Hoss attempts to recall exact dates and
   numbers of prisoners.  They also differ when Ho"ss writes about his
   part in the Final Solution.  Ho"ss maintains that he was only
   following orders and being a good Nazi, and that he did this with no
   thought or regard to moral consequences because "Befehl ist
   Befehl"--" orders are orders," therefore, they must be followed.  It
   is only at the end of his autobiography, written almost two years
   after the war ended, that the moral implications of what Ho"ss did
   occurred to him and began to affect him consciously.  The two final
   letters to his wife and his children reveal the heavy burden of guilt
   that he was experiencing.  Where Ho"ss does consciously lie is in
   regard to his wife, Hedwig, and her knowledge of the mass killings,
   in order to protect her and their children from the inevitable
   postwar stigma and finger-pointing.  This is evident by examining the
   statements made to psychiatrist Gilbert in 1945 and his last
   statements in 1947.  Ho"ss revealed to Gilbert that one day at a
   party hosted at the Ho"ss villa, his wife overheard comments made by
   the Gauleiter of Silesia, Fritz Bracht, about the mass gassings
   occurring at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Later that evening in their
   bedroom, she questioned him about what she had heard.  Ho"ss told
   Gilbert that he answered his wife's questions.  He said that this was
   the only time he broke Himmler's order about absolute secrecy and
   discussed the Final Solution with anyone.  Only Ho"ss and his wife
   know what took place that evening and what the contents of the
   conversation were.  Thereafter, Frau Ho"ss refused to sleep in the
   same bed with her husband "and physical intimacy between the couple
   was rare.  They became emotionally estranged from each other." 

   Kommandant Ho"ss also pleads that he personally was unable to stop
   the brutality at Auschwitz-Birkenau because his staff officers often
   went against his orders.  The truth is that he did nothing to prevent
   it.  When SS Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Liebehenschel became
   Kommandant of Auschwitz after Ho"ss's promotion, he ordered all the
   SS and the Kapos in charge of prisoners to stop the random beatings.
   Some Kapos thought that he was joking and continued this practice.
   When Liebehenschel found out, he demoted them to ordinary prisoners
   and they were put in a work Kommando where they had to do physical
   labor.  The beatings at Auschwitz stopped.  Therefore, the truth is
   that Ho"ss allowed the beatings and the terror to continue because it
   served his purpose of maintaining camp discipline in the tradition
   of Theodore Eicke.  Although Ho"ss writes negatively about the
   punishments Eicke inflicted on the prisoners, he fails to mention
   that the camp regulations and punishments were formulated by Ho"ss
   himself.  He also fails to mention the executions of prisoners found
   after escaping, or the "Stehbunker," a punishment cell about three
   feet square in which prisoners could only stand or crouch and into
   which one to five prisoners were crammed with no food, no water, no
   light, and only the air that filtered through the cracks in the
   closed wooden door at floor level.  The reader need only compare what
   Ho"ss wrote to the chronology at the back of this book to see where
   Ho"ss tries to protect himself.  Ho"ss also hides the fact that he
   and his family never had to sacrifice their wants or needs because of
   the enormous treasure of food and clothing that the trainloads of
   Jews brought to Auschwitz.  In the midst of starvation, disease, and
   death the Ho"ss family had everything.  "Paradise" is what Frau Ho"ss
   called Auschwitz.  Even after her husband was promoted to Berlin,
   Frau Ho"ss stayed in her villa at Auschwitz.  

   Despite these and other omissions, the Ho"ss memoirs are remarkable
   in their graphic portrayal of many of the events at Auschwitz.
   Ho"ss's descriptions of the entire gassing procedure leave one
   shaking one's head and wondering how he could retell (and in many
   cases psychologically relive) these gruesome stories, especially
   since he was the cause of it all.  Ho"ss acknowledges his part and
   simply states, "History will mark me as the greatest mass murderer of
   all time." He never denies that he is, but simply attempts to report
   that, in spite of everything, "I still had a heart." 

   There is no doubt that from the very beginning of his capture Ho"ss
   realized that he would be executed.  He states this in his
   autobiography.  Therefore, no serious argument can be made that Ho"ss
   concocted the gassing stories to help the Allies find the major Nazi
   war criminals guilty, as some claim.  (Paskuly, 19-22)

                              Work Cited

Paskuly, Steven J., Ed. Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at
Auschwitz, by Rudolph Ho"ss. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1992

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