Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz

Rudolf Hoess on the right; Heinrich Himmler on the left

Rudolf Höss, aka Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau, was arrested by the British near Flensburg, Schleswig- Holstein, Germany on March 11, 1946. After he confessed, Hoess was turned over to the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland on May 25, 1946. Hoess was put on trial in 1947; he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. His execution took place at the main Auschwitz camp on April 16, 1947. Three months later, the former camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau officially became the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

Rudolf Hoess was captured by the Jewish Brigade

Flensburg was where Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had established himself in the last days of World War II; he had told his SS men "Save yourself, if you can."

While he awaited trial in Poland, Rudolf Hoess wrote his memoirs, which were later published in a book with the title "Death Dealer."

Hoess wrote the following in his memoirs:

I took the name Seamen Franz Lang and traveled with marching orders to the Navel Intelligence School on the Isle of Sylt. [...] The Naval Intelligence School was dismantled and transported to the internment area between the Kiel Canal and the Schlei River. [...] I was released very early and passed all the British checkpoints and through the employment office without any problems. I got a job on a farm near Flensburg as a laborer.

The British were able to find Rudolf Hoess, after he had been on the farm for eight months, because they contacted his family and threatened to turn his son over to the Soviet Union to be sent to Siberia unless they revealed his hiding place.

On page 179 of "Death Dealer," Hoess described his arrest and interrogation by the British.

The following quote is from the book entitled "Death Dealer," edited by Steven Paskuly and first published in 1992:

On March 11, 1946, at 11 p.m., I was arrested. My vial of poison had broken just two days before. The arrest was successful because I was frightened at being awakened out of a sound sleep. I assumed that it was a robbery because there were a lot of them occurring in the area.

I was treated terribly by the [British] Field Security Police. I was dragged to Heide and, of all places, to the same military barracks from which I had been released eight months before by the British. I do not know what was in the transcript, or what I said, even though I signed it, because they gave me liquor and beat me with a whip. It was too much even for me to bear. The whip was my own. By chance it had found its way into my wife's luggage. My horse had hardly ever been touched by it, much less the prisoners. Somehow one of the interrogators probably thought that I had constantly used it to whip the prisoners.

After a few days I was taken to Minden on the Weser River, which was the main interrogation center in the British zone. There they treated me even more roughly, especially the first British prosecutor, who was a major. The conditions in the jail reflected the attitude of the first prosecutor.

Surprisingly, after three weeks I was shaved, my hair was cut, and I was allowed to wash myself. My handcuffs had not been opened since my arrest. The next day, I was taken by car to Nuremberg together with a prisoner of war who had been brought over from London as a witness in Fritsche's defense. Compared to where I had been before, imprisonment with the IMT [International Military Tribunal] was like staying in a health spa.

Quoted below is the deposition signed by Rudolf Hoess after being forced to drink liquor and beaten with his own horse whip.

My comments are enclosed in brackets like this [...]


Deposition of Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss, alias Franz Lang, given while in British Captivity - written in English and signed by Höss:

I Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss, alias Franz Lang, hereby declare, after having been warned accordingly, that the following statement is true:

In 1933 I formed a squadron of horse SS on the farm Sallentin in Pommern [Pomerania]. I was detailed by the Party and by landowners to do this as I have been in the cavalry. My party number is 3240.

Himmler noticed me during an inspection of the SS in Stettin; we knew each other from the Bund der Artamanen, and he arranged that the administration of a Concentration Camp was given me.

I came to Dachau in November 1934 where, after additional military training, I was employed as a Blockführer in the Schutzhaftlager. Later on I did the job of a Rapportführer and Gefangenenigentumsverwalter.

When I came to Dachau I held the rank of Scharführer SS and was promoted, in 1935, SS Untersturmführer. In 1938 I was sent, as Adjutant, to the Camp Commandant of Sachsenhausen, Oberführer Baranowski.

In November 1938 I was made Schutzhaftlagerführer holding the rank of a SS- Hauptsturmführer until my transfer to Auschwitz on 1 May 1940.  

I was given the order by a higher authority, to transform the former Polish Artillery Barracks near Auschwitz into a quarantine camp for prisoners coming from Poland.

After Himmler inspected the camp in 1941, I received the order to enlarge the camp and to employ the prisoners in the, to be developed, agricultural district, and to drain the swamps and inundation area on the Weichsel [river].

Furthermore he ordered [me] to put 8 to 10,000 prisoners at the disposal of the building of the new Buna Works of the I.G. Farben [company]. At the same time he ordered the erection of a POW Camp, for 100,000 Russian prisoners, near Birkenau.

The number of prisoners grew daily in spite of my repeated interventions that billets were not sufficient, and further intakes were sent to me. Epidemic diseases were unavoidable because medical provisions were inadequate. The death rates rose accordingly, as prisoners were not buried, crematoriums had to be installed.  

In 1941 the first intakes of Jews came from Slovakia and Upper Silesia. People unfit to work were gassed in a room of the crematorium in accordance with an order which Himmler gave me personally.

I was ordered to see Himmler in Berlin in June 1941 and he told me, approximately, the following:

The Führer ordered the solution of the Jewish question in Europe. [Actually, Hermann Göring ordered Reinhard von Heydrich to hold a conference at Wannsee on January 20, 1942 to plan "the final solution of the Jewish question."] A few so called Vernichtungslager [extermination camps] are existing in the General Government [occupied Poland]: 

Belzec near Rawa Ruska Ost Polen [not in operation until March 1942]

Treblinka near Malkinia on the River Bug [not in operation until July 1942]

Wolzek near Lublin [no camp with that name ever existed]

The Buna Works [the Auschwitz III camp at Monowitz which was not opened until 1942]

These camps come under the Einsatzkommando of the Sicherheitspolizei under the leadership of high SIPO officers and guard companies. These camps were not very efficient and could not be enlarged. I visited the camp Treblinka in spring 1942 to inform myself about the conditions. [The Treblinka camp was not in operation until July 1942.] The following method was used in the process of extermination. Small chambers were used equipped with pipes to induce the exhaust gas from car engines.

This method was unreliable as the engines, coming from old captured transport vehicles and tanks, very often failed to work. Because of that, the intakes could not be dealt with according to the plan, which [was] meant to clear the Warsaw Ghetto.

According to the Camp Commandant of Treblinka, 80,000 people have been gassed in the course of half a year.

For the above mentioned reasons, Himmler declared the only possibility to extend this camp, in accordance with this plan, was Auschwitz, as it was a railway junction of four lines and, not being thickly populated, the camp area could be cut off completely. This is the reason why he decided to do the mass exterminations in Auschwitz and I had to make the preparations at once.

He wanted the exact plan in accordance with this instruction in four weeks. Furthermore he said this task is so difficult and important that he cannot order just anybody to do it and he had the intention to give this task to another high ranking SS officer but he did not consider it advisable to have two officers giving orders whilst on a construction job.  

I was then given the definite order to carry out the destruction of the intakes sent from RSHA [Reich Security Head Office]. I had to get in touch with SS Obersturmbannführer Eichmann of Amt 4 (Dienststelle) commanded by Gruppenführer Muller [Mueller] concerning the sequence of incoming transports.  

At the same time transports of Russian P.O.W. arrived from the area of the Gestapo Leitstelle Breslau, Troppau, and Kattowitz, who, by Himmler's written order to the local Gestapo leaders, had to be exterminated.

As the new crematoriums were only to be finished in late 1942 [Krema II was not finished until March 1943 and Krema III was not finished until April 1943], the prisoners had to be gassed in provisionally erected gas-chambers [the little red house and the little white house] and then had to be burned in pits. I am now going to explain the method of gassing.

The sick and people unfit to walk were taken there in lorries. In front of the farmhouses [little red house and little white house] everybody had to undress behind walls made from branches. On the door was a notice saying "Disinfectionsraum."

The Unterführer on duty had to tell the prisoners to watch their kit in order to find it again after having been deloused; this prevented disturbances.

When they were undressed, they went into the room according to size, 2 to 300 at a time. The doors were locked and one or two tins of zyklon B were thrown into the room through holes in the wall.  

It consisted of a rough substance of Prussic acid. It took, according to the weather 3 to 10 minutes. After half an hour the doors were opened and the bodies were taken out by the commando of prisoners, who were permanently employed there, and burned in pits. Before being cremated, gold teeth and rings were removed.

Firewood was stacked between the bodies and when approximately 100 bodies were in a pit, the wood was lighted with rags soaked in paraffin. When the fire had started properly, more bodies were thrown on to it.  

The fat which collected in the bottom of the pits was put into the fire with buckets to hasten the process of burning when it was raining. The burning took 6 to 7 hours.

The smell of the burned bodies was noticed in the camp even if the wind was blowing from the west. After the pits had been cleaned, the remaining ashes were broken up. This was done on a cement platter where prisoners pulverized the remaining bones with wooden hammers.  

The remains were loaded on lorries and taken to an out of the way place on the Weichsel and thrown into the river. After the erection of the new big crematorium, the following method was used. After the first two big crematoriums [Krema II and Krema III] were finished in 1942 (the other two were finished half a year later) mass transports from Belgium, France, Holland and Greece started. [The other two were Krema IV and Krema V]

The following method was used:

The transport trains ran alongside an especially built ramp [the Judenrampe] with three lines which was situated between the crematorium, store and camp Birkenau. The sorting out of the prisoners and the disposing of the luggage was done on the ramp.

Prisoners fit to work were taken to one of the various camps, prisoners to be exterminated were taken to one of the new crematoriums. There they first went to one of the big underground rooms to address [undress]. This room was equipped with benches and contraptions to hang up clothing and the prisoners were told by interpreters that they were brought here to have a bath and be deloused and to remember where they put their clothing.

Then they went on to the next room which was equipped with water pipes and showers to give the impression of a bath. Two Unterführers remained in the room until the last moment to prevent unrest.

Sometimes it happened that prisoners knew what was going to be done. Especially the transports from Belsen [Bergen-Belsen] knew, as they originated from the East, when the trains reached Upper Silesia, that they were most likely [being] taken to the place of extermination.

When transports from Belsen arrived, safety measures were strengthened and the transports were split up into smaller groups which we sent to different crematoriums to prevent riots. SS men formed a strong cordon and forced resisting prisoners into the gas-chamber. That happened very rarely as prisoners were set at ease by the measures we undertook.  

I remember one incident especially well.

One transport from Belsen arrived, approximately two-thirds, mostly men were in the gas- chamber, the remaining third was in the dressing room. When three or four armed SS Unterführers entered the dressing room to hasten the undressing, mutiny broke out.

The light cables were torn down, the SS men were overpowered, one of them stabbed and all of them were robbed of their weapons. As this room was in complete darkness, wild shooting started between the guard near the exit door and the prisoners inside.

When I arrived, I ordered the doors to be shut and I had the process of gassing the first party finished and then went into the room together with the guard carrying small searchlights, pushing the prisoners into a corner from where they were taken out singly into another room of the crematorium and shot, by my order, with small calibre weapons.  

It happened repeatedly that women hid their children underneath their clothing and did not take them into the gas chamber. The clothing was searched by the permanent commando of prisoners under the supervision of the SS and children who were found were sent into the gas-chamber.  

After half an hour, the electric air conditioner was started up and the bodies were taken up to the cremating stove by lift. The cremation of approximately 2,000 prisoners in five cremating stoves took approximately 12 hours.  

In Auschwitz [actually Birkenau] there were two plants [Krema II and Krema III]; each of them had five double stoves. Furthermore there were another two plants [Krema IV and Krema V], each having four bigger stoves and provisional plants [the two farm houses] as described above. The second provisional plant [actually, the first provisional plant, which was the little red house] had been destroyed. All clothing and property of prisoners was sorted out in the store by a commando of prisoners which was permanently employed there and was also billeted there.  

Valuables were sent monthly to the Reichsbank in Berlin. Clothing was sent to armament firms, after having been cleaned, for the use of forced labour and displaced persons. Gold from teeth was melted down and sent monthly to the medical department of the Waffen-SS. 

The man in charge was Sanitaetsfeldzeugmeister SS ­Gruppenführer Blumenreuter. I personally never shot anybody or beat anybody.

Owing to the mass intakes, the number of prisoners fit to work grew immensely. My protests to the RHSA to slow down the transports, which means to send fewer transports, was rejected every time. The reason given was the Reichsführer-SS [Heinrich Himmler] had given an order to speed up extermination and every SS Führer hampering same will be called to account.

Owing to the immense over populating of existing barracks and owing to the inadequate hygienic installations, epidemic diseases like spotted fever [typhoid], typhus, scarlet fever and diphtheria, broke out from time to time, especially in the camp Birkenau.  

Doctors came under the camp commandant from a military point of view. As far as medical decisions went, they had their own routine and came under the Chef des Sanitatswesens des WVHauptamtes Standartenführer Dr. Lolling, who again came under Reichsarzt Dr Gravitz.  

In one respect the above mentioned rule has been broken; local Gestapo leaders were given orders by RHSA to get in touch with me. Prisoners which were kept in concentration camps for the Gestapo and who have not been sentenced out of political reasons were allowed to be removed by any other means.

I received the names of the persons, personally, from the leader of the Gestapo and I passed them on again to the respective doctor for finishing off. This, usually was an injection of petrol. The doctor had orders to write an ordinary death certificate. Regarding the reason of the deaths, he could put any illness.

During the time as Commandant, we made the following experiments:

Professor Clauberg, chief of the Women's Hospital, Konigshutte, in Upper Silesia, made sterilization experiments. This was done as follows. He got in contact with the doctor of the women's camp to find him suitable persons.

They were put in a special ward of the hospital. Under a special x-ray screen, he gave them a syringe with a special liquid, which went through the womb into the ovary. This liquid, as he said, definitely blocked the ovary and caused an inflammation. After a few weeks, he gave them another injection which could tell him that the ovary was definitely blocked.

These experiments were made by order of the Reichsführer-SS [Heinrich Himmler].  

Signed: Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss

At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, Rudolf Hoess was called as a defense witness by Kurt Kauffmann, the lawyer for Ernst Kaltenbrunner, on April 15, 1946. This "opened the door" for an affidavit signed by Hoess to be entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT and gave the prosecution the opportunity to cross-examine Hoess on the witness stand on April 15, 1946.

The first confession signed by Hoess was labeled by the Allies as Nuremberg Document No-1210. It was an 8-page typewritten document written in German. Hoess wrote the date 14.3.1946 2:30 (March 14, 1946 2:30 a.m.) next to his signature. This date was three days after his capure on March 11, 1946. Hoess had been beaten half to death; alcohol had been poured down his throat, and he had been kept awake for three days and nights before he finally signed this confession at 2:30 in the morning.

A second affidavit signed by Rudolf Hoess on April 5, 1946 was labeled by the Allies at the Nuremberg IMT as document PS-3868. It was a typewritten document, about 2 and a quarter pages long, written in English. A second document, also labeled PS-3868, was purported to be the English translation of the original deposition given by Hoess in German. The second document was the one that was entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT.

During his cross-examination of Rudolf Hoess, American prosecutor Col. Harlan Amen quoted from the second affidavit which was alleged to be the English translation of a deposition given by Hoess in German. After reading each statement made by Hoess in his affidavit, Col Amen asked Hoess if this was what he had said and Hoess answered "Jawohl." [the English equivalent would be "Yes, indeed."]

Text of Affidavit signed by Kommandant Rudolf Höss on April 5, 1946, which was entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal:

I am forty six years old, and have been a member of the NSDAP [Nazi party] since 1922, a member of the SS since 1934, a member of the Waffen-SS since 1939. I was a member from 1 December 1934 of the SS Guard Unit, the so-called Deathshead Formation (Totenkopf Verband).

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. [There were no Jews from Hungary among the victims while Hoess was the Commandant from May 1, 1940 until December 1, 1943.] We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. [Hoess was brought back to Auschwitz-Birkenau on May 8, 1944 to supervise the gassing of the Hungarian Jews which had begun on May 2, 1944 when two trains filled with Hungarian Jews arrived at Birkenau.]

Mass executions by gassing commenced during the summer of 1941 and continued until Fall 1944. I personally supervised executions at Auschwitz until 12/1/1943 and know by reason of my continued duties in the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, WVHA, that these mass executions continued as stated above. All mass executions by gassing took place under the direct order, supervision, and responsibility of RSHA. I received all orders for carrying out these mass executions directly from RSHA.

The "Final Solution" of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in 6/1941. At that time, there were already in the General Government three other extermination camps: Belzek [sic], Treblinka and Wolzek [probably Sobibor]. These camps were under the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD. I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. [The extermination camps at Belzec, Treblinka and Wolzek (Sobibor) were not in existence until 1942.]

The camp commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one-half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used [carbon] monoxide gas, and I did not think that his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, I used Zyklon B, which was a crystallized prussic acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from 3-15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special Kommandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.

Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chamber to accommodate 2000 people at one time whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: We had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work.

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 endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized 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. 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.

We received from time to time special prisoners from the local Gestapo office. The SS doctors killed such prisoners by injections of benzene. Doctors had orders to write ordinary death certificates and could put down any reason at all for the cause of death.

From time to time we conducted medical experiments on women inmates, including sterilization and experiments relating to cancer. Most of the people who died under these experiments had been already condemned to death by the Gestapo.

I understand English as it is written above. The above statements are true; this declaration is made by me voluntarily and without compulsion; after reading over the statement I have signed and executed the same at Nuremberg, Germany, on the 4/5/1946. - Rudolf Hoess

Background of Rudolf Hoess

In 1923, Rudolf Höss [Hoess] was involved in the political murder of Walter Kadow, who was alleged to have betrayed Nazi party member Leo Schlageter to the French occupation authorities. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. One of his accomplices was Martin Bormann, Hitler's future deputy, who subsequently protected him at a later stage in his career.

Höss was released under the Amnesty Law of 14 July 1928, after having served less than half of his sentence, and for the next six years, he worked as a farmer in Brandenburg and Pomerania in various service groups. 

In 1934, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler invited Höss to join the SS and, in June of the same year, he was posted to the concentration camp at Dachau, as a block overseer.

Höss was transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1938, where he was promoted to SS Captain and given the job of Adjutant to the Commandant. Two years later, Höss was appointed the first Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp on 1 May 1940. Höss held this position until 1 December 1943 when he was replaced by Arthur Liebehenschel, who became the new Commandant of Auschwitz I.

Höss visited Chelmno in September 1942 and he also visited the Treblinka death camp; in Lublin, he met Odilo Globocnik, who was in charge of the "Aktion Reinhard" program.

In November 1943, Höss was made the head of the number one branch of Amstgruppe D of the WVHA, later becoming the deputy of Richard Glücks, the Inspector ­ General of Concentration Camps. Höss returned to Auschwitz on 8 May 1944 to oversee the extermination of the Hungarian Jews.

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