|11 March 1946 - British troops captured Rudolf Höss, SS-Obersturmbannführer|
and commandant of the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.
Rudolf Höss (25 November 1901 – 16 April 1947) was a Nazi German SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) 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 SS 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.
After Germany's surrender in November 1918, Höss completed his secondary education and soon joined the emerging nationalist paramilitary groups.
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. His mentor at Dachau was Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke.
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.
The earliest inmates at Auschwitz were Soviet prisoners-of-war and Polish prisoners, including peasants and intellectuals.
Some 700 arrived in June 1940 and were told they would not survive more than 3 months.
At its peak, Auschwitz was three separate facilities: Auschwitz I; Auschwitz II-Birkenau; and Auschwitz III-Monowitz, including many satellite sub-camps, and was built on about 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) that had been cleared of all inhabitants. Auschwitz I was the administrative centre for the complex; Auschwitz II Birkenau was the extermination camp, where most of the killing took place; and Auschwitz III Monowitz the slave labour camp for I.G. Farbenindustrie AG, and later other German industries .
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".
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".
After being replaced as the Auschwitz commander by Arthur Liebehenschel, on 10 November 1943, Höss assumed Liebehenschel's former position as the chairman of Amt D I in Amtsgruppe D of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA); he also was appointed deputy of the inspector of the concentration camps under Richard Glücks.
On 8 May 1944, Höss returned to Auschwitz to supervise operation Aktion Höss, in which 430,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to the camp and killed in 56 days between May and July.
Even Höss's expanded facility could not handle the huge number of victims' corpses, and the camp staff had to dispose of thousands of bodies by burning them in open pits.
In the last days of the war, Himmler advised Höss to disguise himself among German Navy personnel. He evaded arrest for nearly a year. When captured by British troops on 11 March 1946 in Gottrupel, he was disguised as a gardener and called himself Franz Lang.
|Rudolf Höss walking to the gallows next to the crematorium in the|
Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau in Poland.
Höss initially denied his identity until Alexander noticed his wedding ring and demanded to inspect it. Höss refused to remove it, claiming it was stuck. But when Alexander threatened to cut his finger off, Höss removed the ring. It had the names Rudolf and Hedwig inscribed inside.
After being questioned and beaten with axe handles by the soldiers, Höss confessed his real identity.
Rudolf Höss appeared at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on 15 April 1946 where he gave a detailed testimony of his crimes. He was called as a defense witness by Ernst Kaltenbrunner's lawyer, Dr. Kauffman.
The transcript of Höss' testimony was later entered as evidence during the 4th Nuremberg Military Tribunal known as the Pohl Trial named for principal defendant SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl.
Affidavits that Rudolf Höss made while imprisoned in Nuremberg were also used at the Pohl and IG Farben trials.
In his affidavit made at Nuremberg on 5 April 1946 Höss stated:
I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total of about 3,000,000 dead. This figure represents about 70% or 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 burnt 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.
Trial and execution
On 25 May 1946, he was handed over to Polish authorities and the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland tried him for murder. His trial lasted from 11 to 29 March 1947.
During his trial, when accused of murdering three and a half million people, Höss replied, "No. Only two and one half million—the rest died from disease and starvation."
Höss was sentenced to death by hanging on 2 April 1947.
The sentence was carried out on 16 April next to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz I concentration camp.
He was hanged on a short drop gallows constructed specifically for that purpose, at the location of the camp's Gestapo.
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