Archive/File: people/h/hoess.rudolf.ferdinand hoess.intro.01 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 pencil. 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 question. 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 interrogators. 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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