Hoess – “A True Pioneer”

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Hoess – “A True Pioneer”

HOESS, RUDOLF FRANZ (1900-1947)… In 1934 he was attached to the SS at Dachau … 1940 given rank of SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer in command at the Auschwitz camp. [He] was responsible for the execution of more than 2.5 million inmates, not counting a half million who were allowed to starve to death. He performed his job so well that he was commended in a 1944 SS report that called him “a true pioneer in this area because of his new ideas and educational methods.” He was sentenced to death at Warsaw and was executed several days later at Auschwitz.

“…He joined the Nazi party in 1922 and, in the next year, was implicated in the murder of a school teacher. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he was release in a general amnesty in 1928, into the arms, as it were, of Adolf Hitler. He was trained in apprenticeship positions at Dachau and Sachenhausen and, in 1940, having amply demonstrated his loyalty, he was given the commandant’s post at Auschwitz. He managed its murder machine until December 1943, when his record earned him appointment as chief of the Central Administration for Camps.

As the inevitability of the German defeat became clear even to the Nazi elite, the concern to escape retributive punishment that overwhelmed the Nazis in the other camps took priority at Auschwitz too. It was imperative to destroy all implicating evidence and simultaneously kill off as many inmates as possible. The rest were to be shipped to camps that had not yet been endangered by the Allied sweep. As early as November 1944, the gas chambers that had choked out the lives of millions were closed and blown up. Incriminating documents were shredded and burned. In his autobiography, written later in prison, Hoess described how, having been promoted to an office in Berlin, he had tried to get back to Auschwitz to help supervise the transport of the Jews. Thwarted, or perhaps realizing the folly of moving toward the Russians, Hoess joined in the exodus toward the Schleswig-Holstein border of Denmark on the northwest. He wrote: `It was a gruesome journey, from one clump of trees to the next, as the enemy’s low flying planes continually machine-gunned the escape route.’ The roads were clogged with dying prisoners, disoriented civilians, and deflated SS warriors and soldiers. En route, the villages were pillaged for food; but the civilian inhabitants, fully aware that they could expect no quarter from the Russians, had already turned tail, loaded down with whatever they could carry. When the news was flashed that the Fuehrer himself had committed suicide, all discipline collapsed.

Hoess was captured in May 1945, along with several hundred thousand Germans and collaborators. He escaped early recognition and took work on a farm near Flensburg, but was rearrested by the British some months later. He had carried, as did all high-ranking Nazis, a poison phial, but claimed it had been broken, and so he was denied the honorable exit of suicide.Hoess was a key witness in Nuremberg at the trial of one of his chiefs, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was to be convicted and executed in October 1946. He also testified at the trial of the tycoons of I.G. Farben, Germany’s leading industrial firm, indicted for their slave labor activities during the war. In may he was delivered to the Poles, who had been waiting impatiently to deal with him.

Hoess’s incarceration lasted almost a year. He used this enforced leisure to write a rambling autobiography in which, though he denied responsibility for many crimes attributed to him, he damned himself out of his own mouth. He claimed to have been a `cog in the wheel of the great extermination machine created by the Third Reich.’ Occasionally in the narrative there were expressions of astonishment at the mild treatment he experienced from his captors and at the fairness of his judges, `though they were nearly all Jews.’

There was also recognition that his acts were not benevolent, as when he described the gassing of nine hundred Russians with Zyklon B. `It made me uncomfortable: I shuddered.’

Hoess took pride in his exemplary family life, the devotion to his children and his pets. He recalled, wistfully, how he had been obliged to tear himself away from a Christmas gathering to attend to duties at the gas chambers. The daily death quota then was still a mere 1,500, but he was eager to make sure it was met. When one of his lieutenants was condemned to death for his part in the Auschwitz murders, Hoess and his family lamented: `Such a compassionate man, too. When his pet canary died, he tenderly put the body in a small box, covered it with a rose, and buried it under a rose bush in the garden.’

The evidence given at Hoess’s trial repeated, in good measure, what he had written. He described, with the dispassion of a robot, how he had gradually stepped up executions, beginning with a few hundred a day and then, as methods were perfected, rising to 1,200. By mid-1942, facilities had been sufficiently enlarged to dispatch 1,500 people over a twenty-four-hour period for the smaller ovens, and up to 2,500 for the larger ones. By 1943, when the Hungarian Jews were shipped in, a new daily peak of 12,000 was achieved. Hoess described the final routines of the extermination process. These were assigned to squads of Jewish prisoners, the Sonderkommandos. They marched the victims to the gas chambers, helped to undress them, removed the corpses after the gassing, extracted gold from their teeth and rings from their fingers, searched the orifices of their bodies for hidden jewelry, cut off the hair of the women, and then carted the bodies to the crematoria. Usually after several weeks of such service they were executed, first because they were Jews but also so that they would not be witnesses if ever testimony were required. One of the survivors, Dora Klein, who served as a nurse, wrote 1I had a feeling that I was in a place which was half hell and half lunatic asylum.'”Hoess was tried in Warsaw, in March of 1947, and condemned to death. He was hanged on April 7.

Hoess, Rudolf. Commandant of Auschwitz: Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess. p. 190

Ibid., p. 24

ibid., p. 25Extracted from “THE REDEMPTION OF THE UNWANTED”, Abram L. Sachar (New York: St. Martin’s/Marek, 1983..

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