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On 16 April 1947, Rudolf Höss, the founder and commandant of the Auschwitz extermination camp, was executed

The gallows where Rudolf Höss was executed on April 16, 1947
The gallows where Rudolf Höss was executed on April 16, 1947
On 16 April 1947, few minutes after 10 a.m. Rudolf Höss, the founder and the first commandant of the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp was executed. The gallows was built on the remains of the former camp Gestapo offices, next to former crematorium building and near the former building of the commandant's office at the Auschwitz I site.

Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (25 November 1901 – 16 April 1947) was SS-Obersturmbannführer and the longest-serving commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp in World War II. He tested and carried into effect various methods to accelerate Hitler's plan to systematically exterminate the Jewish population of Nazi-occupied Europe, known as the Final Solution. Höss introduced pesticide Zyklon B containing hydrogen cyanide to the killing process, thereby allowing soldiers at Auschwitz to murder 2,000 people every hour. He created the largest installation for the continuous annihilation of human beings ever known.

Höss joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and the SS in 1934. From 4 May 1940 to November 1943, and again from 8 May 1944 to 18 January 1945, he was in charge of Auschwitz where more than a million people were killed before the defeat of Germany. He was hanged in 1947 following a trial in Warsaw.

Höss became an SS man on 1 April 1934, on Himmler's effective call-to-action, and joined the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units) in the same year. He came to admire Himmler so much that he considered whatever he said to be the "gospel" and preferred to display his picture in his office rather than that of Hitler.

Höss was assigned to the Dachau concentration camp in December 1934, where he held the post of Blockführer. In 1938, Höss was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) and was made adjutant to Hermann Baranowski in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He joined the Waffen-SS wing of the SS in 1939 after the invasion of Poland. Höss excelled in his duties and was recommended by his superiors for further responsibility and promotion. By the end of his tour of duty there, he was serving as administrator of the property of prisoners.

On 1 May 1940, Höss was appointed commandant of a prison camp in western Poland, a territory Germany had incorporated into the province of Upper Silesia. The camp was built around an old Austro-Hungarian (and later Polish) army barracks near the town of Oświęcim; its German name was Auschwitz. Höss commanded the camp for three and a half years, during which he expanded the original facility into a sprawling complex known as Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Höss had been ordered "to create a transition camp for ten thousand prisoners from the existing complex of well-preserved buildings." and he went to Auschwitz determined "to do things differently" and develop a more efficient camp than those at Dachau and Sachsenhausen where he had previously served. Höss lived at Auschwitz in a villa with his wife and five children.

Rudolf Höss on the gallows
Rudolf Höss on the gallows
In June 1941, according to Höss's trial testimony, he was summoned to Berlin for a meeting with Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler "to receive personal orders". Himmler told Höss that Hitler had given the order for the final solution of the Jewish question. According to Höss, Himmler had selected Auschwitz for the extermination of Europe's Jews, "on account of its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site offered space for measures ensuring isolation". Himmler described the project as a "secret Reich matter" and told Höss not to speak about it with SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks, head of the Nazi camp system run by the SS-Totenkopfverbände. Höss said that "no one was allowed to speak about these matters with any person and that everyone promised upon his life to keep the utmost secrecy". He only told his wife about the camp's purpose at the end of 1942 since she already knew about it from Fritz Bracht. Himmler told Höss that he would be receiving all operational orders from Adolf Eichmann who arrived at the camp 4 weeks later.

Höss began testing and perfecting mass killing techniques on 3 September 1941. His experiments made Auschwitz the most efficiently murderous instrument of the Final Solution and the Holocaust's most potent symbol. According to Höss, during standard camp operations, two to three trains carrying 2,000 prisoners each would arrive daily for periods of four to six weeks. The prisoners were unloaded in the Birkenau camp; those fit for labour were marched to barracks in either Birkenau or one of the Auschwitz camps, while those unsuitable for work were driven into the gas chambers. At first, small gassing bunkers were located deep in the woods, to avoid detection. Later, four large gas chambers and crematoria were constructed in Birkenau to make the killing more efficient and to handle the increasing rate of exterminations.

Höss experimented with various gassing methods. According to Eichmann's 1961 trial testimony, Höss told him that he used cotton filters soaked in sulfuric acid in early killings. Höss later introduced hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid), produced from the pesticide Zyklon B, to the killing process, after his deputy Karl Fritzsch tested it on a group of Russian prisoners in 1941. With Zyklon B, he said that it took 3–15 minutes for the victims to die and that "we knew when the people were dead because they stopped screaming".


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