Rudolf Hoess and the Hungarian Jews


Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz

The first Commandant of Auschwitz was Rudolf Höss, aka Rudolf Hoess, who was given this assignment on May 1, 1940.

Höss was relieved of his duties as the Commandant of the Auschwitz complex at the end of November 1943 and promoted to a position in the Economic Administration Head Office (WHVA) in Oranienburg. His wife and five children continued to live in the Commandant's house, located outside the main camp, which is shown in the photo below.

House where Commandant Rudolf Hoess once lived at the main camp

On December 1, 1943, Höss was replaced by Arthur Liebehenschel, who became the new Commandant of the Auschwitz main camp only. When Höss was the Commandant, he was in charge of all three of the Auschwitz camps.

As the new Commandant of the Auschwitz main camp, Liebehenschel was much more lenient than Höss; he made many changes that improved the living conditions in the camp.

Höss wrote in his autobiography that he was given the choice of becoming the new commandant of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp or taking a senior position in the Economic Administration Head Office in Oranienburg, which was Liebehenschel's previous job. Höss chose the job in the Head Office in Oranienburg; this was the office which inspected all the concentration camps and gave permission for punishment of a prisoner after a report was submitted by the camp commandant.

Although Höss changed his testimony at his own trial in 1947 in Poland and stated that a total of around one million persons had been killed at Auschwitz, he had previously testified on April 15, 1946, as a defense witness for Ernst Kaltenbrunner at the Nuremberg IMT, that the numbers were far higher. In a signed affidavit which was entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT, Hoess confessed that 2.5 million persons had been exterminated, and 500,000 more had died from disease and starvation during the time that he was the Commandant between June 14, 1940 and December 1, 1943.

On May 8, 1944, Höss was brought back to Auschwitz to be the Commander of the SS men at Auschwitz and to supervise the gassing of the Hungarian Jews. According to Laurence Rees, in his book "Auschwitz, a New History," Höss was also given authority over the Commandants of the Auschwitz II and Auschwitz III camps when he came back in May 1944.

Arthur Liebehenschel was sent to the Majdanek death camp to be the new Commandant. The gassing of most of the Hungarian Jews did not take place until after Höss returned to Auschwitz and took charge of the Hungarian Action.

The first thing that Höss did, the next day after he arrived, was to order the construction of a branch railway line into the Birkenau camp so that the Hungarian Jews could be brought to within a few yards of the gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III. He also ordered that the crematory ovens in Krema V, which had broken down after two months, should be repaired and that five new burning pits should be dug.

Höss wrote the following in his autobiography, with regard to the deportation of the Hungarian Jews:

On Pohl's orders I made three visits to Budapest in order to obtain an estimate of the number of able-bodied Jews that might be expected. [...] Eichmann was completely obsessed with his mission and also convinced that this extermination action was necessary in order to preserve the German people in the future from the destructive intentions of the Jews. Eichmann was also a determined opponent of the idea of selecting from the transports Jews who were fit for work. He regarded it as a constant danger to his scheme for a "final solution'' because of the possibility of mass escapes or some other event occurring which would enable the Jews to survive.

Eichmann had apparently had a complete change of heart since his days of traveling to Palestine and studying Hebrew so that he could implement his plan to transport the Jews to their own Jewish state in Palestine.

In spite of Eichmann's disapproval, "tens of thousands of Jews were removed from Auschwitz for the armaments project," according to what Höss wrote in his autobiography.

Hoess complained about the selection process at Auschwitz, during which Jews who were not strong enough for work, in his opinion, were saved from the gas chamber. He wrote the following in his autobiography:

If Auschwitz had followed my constantly repeated advice, and had only selected the most healthy and vigorous Jews, then the camp would have produced a really useful labor force and one that would have lasted, although it is true that it would have been numerically smaller.

According to Höss:

The sick cluttered up the camps, depriving the able-bodied of food and living space and doing no work, and in fact their presence made many of those who could work incapable of it.

The first mass transport of over 6,000 Hungarian Jews was sent to Auschwitz in two trains on May 15, 1944; the trains arrived on May 16, 1944. According to Danuta Czech, who wrote several books about the history of Auschwitz, all the Jews on this transport were immediately gassed without going through a selection.

The photo below shows a group of Hungarian Jews who arrived on May 26, 1944. They are waiting in front of one of the clothing warehouses at Birkenau, directly across from the Sauna building where incoming prisoners were given a shower. The Krema IV gas chamber, which was disguised as a shower room, was near the Sauna.

Hungarian children waiting to be gassed

In the photo below, an SS man is directing a column of men to the left or the right. The two women in the foreground have just been sent in the direction of Krema III, only a few yards from the train tracks, where there was an underground gas chamber and crematory ovens. The gas chambers in Krema IV and Krema V, which were disguised as shower rooms, were on the northern side of the camp in the same direction. The Central Sauna where incoming prisoners were given a shower and registered was across the road from Krema IV. The prisoners did not know until the very last second whether they had entered a fake shower room that was really a gas chamber, or a real shower room.

Hungarian Jews undergoing selection in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Höss was arrested by the British Military Police near Flensburg in Schleswig-Holstein on March 11, 1946. In the photo below, he is shown while in custody.

Rudolf Hoess after his capture by the British

On April 5, 1945, Höss signed a sworn deposition, written in English, which was introduced as evidence at the Nuremberg IMT; he admitted to killing 2.5 million Jews in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, even before the deportation of the Hungarian Jews which added another 400,000 to the total.

The following quote is from his sworn affidavit entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT:

I have been constantly associated with the administration of concentration camps since 1934, serving at Dachau until 1938; then as Adjutant in Sachsenhausen from 1938 - 5/1/1940, when I was appointed Kommandant of Auschwitz. I commanded Auschwitz until 12/1/1943 and estimate that at least 2.5 million 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 million. This figure represents about 70-80% 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 burned 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.

Notice that Hoess includes "citizens" of Hungary in the prisoners who were gassed while he "commanded Auschwitz until 12/1/1943." The first two transports of Hungarian Jews did not arrive at Auschwitz-Birkenau until May 2, 1944. Nevertheless, when Hoess was asked, during cross examination by American prosecutor Col. Harlan Amen, if his affidavit was correct with regard to the statement above, he answered "Es stimmt." The English equivalent would be "That's correct."

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler on the left, Rudolf Hoess on the right

The following is a quote from the Judgment handed down at the Nuremberg IMT:

German missions were sent to such satellite countries as Hungary and Bulgaria, to arrange for the shipment of Jews to extermination camps and it is known that by the end of 1944, 400,000 Jews from Hungary had been murdered at Auschwitz. Evidence has also been given of the evacuation of 110,000 Jews from part of Romania for "liquidation." Adolf Eichmann, who had been put in charge of this programme by Hitler, has estimated that the policy pursued resulted in the killing of 6,000,000 Jews, of which 4,000,000 were killed in the extermination institutions.

Adolf Eichmann did not testify at the Nuremberg IMT. The Judgment at Nuremberg, with regard to the killing of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, was mostly based on hearsay testimony given in an affidavit, dated 26 November 1945, by former SS officer Wilhelm Höttl. Höttl stated that Adolf Eichmann, the head of the Jewish section of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), had told him in August 1944 that four million Jews had been killed in the extermination camps, and another two million had been killed by the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern front. After the German surrender in May 1945, Höttl had been recruited to work with American intelligence.

Rudolf Höss also mentioned in his sworn affidavit, entered into the proceedings at Nuremberg, that he had personally received an order from Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the SS general in charge of all the concentration camps, to exterminate the Jews who were deported to Auschwitz.

Höss wrote in his autobiography that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered the extermination of all the Jews in the summer of 1941, six months before the Final Solution was planned at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942.

The following quote is from the autobiography of Höss:

The sub-section (of RSHA) concerned with the Jews, controlled by Eichmann and Gunther, had no doubts about its objective. In accordance with the orders given by the Reichsführer SS in the summer of 1941, all Jews were to be exterminated. The Reich Security Head Office raised the strongest objections when the Reichsführer SS, on (Oswald) Pohl's suggestion, directed that the able-bodied Jews were to be sorted out from the rest.

In an appendix to his autobiography, written in January and February 1947 while he was in prison in Poland, there is a statement made by Höss at a later date and typewritten by someone else. The following is a quote from a typewritten statement taken from Höss:

In the summer of 1941, I cannot remember the exact date, I was suddenly summoned to the Reichsführer SS, directly by his adjutant's office. Contrary to his usual custom, Himmler received me without his adjutant being present and said in effect:

"The Führer has ordered that the Jewish question be solved once and for all and that we, the SS, are to implement that order. [...] I have now decided to entrust this task to you. [...] You will learn further details from Sturmbannführer Eichmann of the Reich Security Head Office who will call on you in the immediate future."


"The Jews are the sworn enemies of the German people and must be eradicated. Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed now during the war, without exception. If we cannot now obliterate the biological basis of Jewry, the Jews will one day destroy the German people."

In the typewritten statement, Höss went on to say that in the autumn of 1941, a secret order was given to transfer Russian political Commissars in the POW camps to the nearest concentration camp for liquidation. These prisoners were shot in the gravel pit near the clothing warehouses or at the black wall in the courtyard of Block 11 at the main Auschwitz camp.

Höss wrote the following regarding the first gassing at Auschwitz in September 1941:

When I was absent on duty, my representative, Hauptsturmführer Fritsch, on his own initiative, used gas for killing these Russian prisoners of war.

This was the first time that Zyklon-B was ever used by the Nazis for homicidal gassing.

The Auschwitz Museum currently maintains that approximately 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz of all causes, 90% of whom were Jews.

Rudolf Höss testified at his trial in 1947 before the Supreme National Tribunal in Warsaw that Adolf Eichmann had told him a number of times that 400,000 Hungarian Jews were exterminated at Auschwitz. Based on the testimony of members of the Sonderkommando who had removed the bodies from the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Tribunal found him guilty of the murder of 300,000 non-Jews who were registered and at least 2.5 million Jews who were brought to the camp for immediate extermination and were never registered.

For the gassing of the Hungarian Jews between May and July 1944, the gas chambers in Bunker 2, an old farm house near the Central Sauna building, had to be put into operation again, since the four large gas chambers in the crematoria at Birkenau did not have the capacity to handle up to 12,000 victims who were gassed each day during the height of the "Hungarian Action." The gas chamber in Krema I was no longer in use, and Bunker 1, another old farm house which was used for gassing in 1942, had been torn down.

According to the testimony of Henryk Tauber at the trial of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss in Poland, up to 5,000 corpses could be burned each day in Krema II and Krema III alone. As many as 3,000 corpses could be burned each day in Krema IV and Krema V. The old burning pits were re-excavated and five new burning pits, which were dug near Krema V, were used to dispose of the remaining 4,000 corpses produced by the gas chambers each day during the height of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews. Tauber was a member of the Sonderkommando unit which removed the bodies from the gas chambers and put them into the ovens. This information comes from a book entitled "Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp," published by the Auschwitz Museum in 1996.

The following information is also included in the book "Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp":

In the end, according to a letter from the Zentralbauletung der Waffen-SS und Polizei Auschwitz to Administrative Groups C of SS-WVHA of June 28, 1943, it was found that each crematorium had the following capacities in 24 hours: Crematorium I - 340 corpses, Crematorium II - 1440 corpses, Crematorium III - 1440 corpses, Crematorium IV - 768 corpses, Crematorium V - 768 corpses.

Altogether, the crematoria could burn a total of 4,756 corpses a day.

The Birkenau camp was built on marshy ground but prisoners in a punishment Kommando had been forced to dig a deep drainage ditch, called the Königsgraben, at the western end of the camp near where the burning pits were located.

According to the book "Nazi Death Camp," around 100 members of the Sonderkommando who worked in the gas chamber buildings at Birkenau were among the 60,000 prisoners who were marched out of the camp, under SS escort, on January 18, 1945 when the three Auschwitz camps were abandoned. The Nazis didn't anticipate that some of these Sonderkommando workers would survive and testify against them in war crimes trials after the war. Besides Tauber, there were two others, Szlama Dragon and Alter Feinsilber, aka Stanislaw Jankowski, who also testified about the gassing of the Jews at the trial of Rudolf Höss in Poland after the war. Three other members of the Sonderkommando, who were murdered after a few months on the job, had managed to hide their diaries, containing accounts of the gassing of prisoners at Birkenau, in containers which they buried in the ground to be discovered later by survivors.

Attempts to save the Hungarian Jews


Confessions and testimony of Rudolf Hoess

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This page was last updated on January 11, 2010