6.1.4 - Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (1900 - 1947)
Höss joined the SS in 1933.
In 1934 he was attached to the SS at Dachau, and became Rapport-führer in 1935.
On August 1, 1938, he was adjutant of Sachsenhausen concentration camp until his appointment as Kommandant of to the newly-built camp at Auschwitz early 1940, located nearby the provincial Polish town of Oshwiecim in Galacia.
In May 1941, the SS commander Heinrich Himmler told Höss that Hitler had given orders "for the final solution of the Jewish question. I have chosen the Auschwitz camp for this purpose". Höss converted Auschwitz into an extermination camp and installed gas chambers and crematoria.
Auschwitz became the killing centre where the largest numbers of European Jews were killed. After an experimental gassing there in September 1941 of 850 malnourished and ill prisoners, mass murder became a daily routine. By mid 1942, mass gassing of Jews using Zyklon-B began at Auschwitz , where extermination was conducted on an industrial scale with 2.5 million persons eventually killed through gassing, starvation, disease, shooting, and burning.
Adolf Eichmann, in his Prison Memoirs written shortly before his execution for crimes against humanity, recounts how he was assigned in early 1942 to visit the Auschwitz death camp and report back to superiors on the killing of Jews. Methods were still crude, but represented a gruesome foretaste of the factory-style gas chambers and crematoria that were to follow.
"Höss, the Kommandant, told me that he used sulfuric acid to kill. Round cotton wool filters were soaked with this poison and thrown into the rooms where the Jews were assembled. The poison was instantly fatal. He burned the corpses on an iron grill, in the open air. He led me to a shallow ditch where a large number of corpses had just been burned."
Rudolf Höss found that gassing by carbon monoxide, the recommended method, was inefficient and introduced the cyanide gas Zyklon B. He later recalled:
"The gassing was carried out in the detention cells of Block 11. Proctected by a gas mask, I watched the killing myself. In the crowded cells, death came instantaneously the moment the Zyklon B was thrown in. A short, almost smothered cry, and it was all over... I must even admit that this gassing set my mind at rest, for the mass extermination of the Jews was to start soon, and at that time neither Eichmann nor I was certain as to how these mass killings were to be carried out. It would be by gas, but we did not know which gas and how it was to be used. Now we had the gas, and we had established a procedure."
In late 1943 Rudolf Höss was appointed chief inspector of the concentration camps and worked hard to improve the "efficiency" of the other extermination centres. 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.'
Rudolf Höss fled at the approach of the Red Army and went into hiding in Germany under the name Franz Lang. He was arrested by Allied military police in 1946, handed over to the Polish authorities, who tried him in 1947. He was sentenced to death, and returned to Auschwitz to be hanged on the one-person gallows outside the entrance to the gas chamber.
Rudolf Höss related before his execution how he often felt weak-kneed at having to push hundreds of screaming, pleading children into the gas chambers:
"I did, however, always feel ashamed of this weakness of mine after I talked to Adolf Eichmann. He explained to me that it was especially the children who have to be killed first, because where was the logic in killing a generation of older people and leaving alive a generation of young people who can be possible avengers of their parents and can constitute a new biological cell for the reemerging of this people."
Counting corpses with the cool dedication of a trained bookkeeper, he went home each night to the loving embrace of his own family. An affectionate husband who kissed his wife morning and night, and tucked his children into bed.
Watching millions of innocent human beings dissolve in the gas chambers, burning in the crematoriums, and their teeth melting into gold bars, Höss wrote poetry about the beauty of Auschwitz.
And when he had an affair with an Auschwitz prisoner, he extricated himself by sending the prisoner to the gas chamber.
A full account of the treatment of gay men in the camps is available in Rudolph Höss's Commandant of Auschwitz.
Rudolf Höss defined "genuine homosexuals... [by their] soft and girlish affectations and fastidiousness, their sickly sweet manner of speech, and their altogether too affectionate deportment toward their fellows". These "genuine homosexuals" were considered incorrigible and held in special barracks, while many non-effeminate homosexuals were released. Höss, incidentally, had at one time been a close friend of Edmund Heines, the procurer of boys for Roehm's pederastic orgies.
Höss did not quite approve the practice of the whippings, but "could not figure out" what else to do with the Strichjungen - the hustlers and most "obvious" gay men who were rounded up in the city streets and shipped to the camps: "A constant stream of reports about their activity began to flow from every block. Punishment had no effect whatever."
In every camp in which he served - Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz, and Ravensbruck - Höss says there were "many" homosexuals.
"I found the habits and mentality of the various kinds of homosexuala and the study of their psyches under prison conditions, extemely instructive."
When Höss was transferred to Sachsenhausen, he found there were even more homosexuals. He regarded it as an "epidemic" and had them all placed in one block, under a commander who "knew how to deal with them." They were forced to carry out the most difficult work in the camp: pushing metal rollers for paving, working in the clay pit of the Klinker Brickworks. Höss says:
"It was hard work, and each of them had to complete a definite amount of work each day. They were exposed to all kinds of weather, summer and winter, since a stipulated number of truckloads had to be filled daily."
Quotas were regularly raised; men who collapsed were dragged away - often not to be seen again. The alleged idea behind the hard work was to make them "normal". This was supplemented by primitive aversion therapy and medical experimentation having little to do with so-called "cures."
Gay men were given the opportunity to undergo "renunciation tests" under Himmler's orders, but even if the gay men "passed" the test and succeeded in being aroused by the prostitutes provided for them, they were not released. Few of the men gave up their homosexuality. Höss reports:
"Whenever they found an opportunity, they would fall into one another's arms."
And "knowing they would never be set free," they suffered additional psychological stress. Their work became even harder, and they died like flies.
Höss observed that many gay men in his camps formed deep and lasting relationships:
"Should one of these lose his "friend" through sickness, or perhaps death, then the end could at once be foreseen. Many would commit suicide. To such natures, in such circumstances, the "friend" meant everything. There were many instances of "friends" committing suicide together."
But on the whole, many of the men with the pink triangles- especially the Strichjungen and the most swishy gays - did not give up without a struggle. As Höss coldly remarks:
"It was often not easy to drive them to the gas chambers."
It is very clear from Höss' accounts that homosexuals constituted a significant proportion of the inmates: his comments imply that there were nearly as many homosexuals in Dachau as there were Jews, which would have been about 12% of the prison population in 1936. This does not include those homosexuals who arrived at the camps by train and proceeded directly into the gas chambers, nor does it include the SS gay men who were brought to the camps and "shot while attempting to escape."
Excerpts from Höss' signed testimony given at the Post-War Nuremberg War Crime trials:
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss, being first duly sworn, depose and say as follows:
"I am forty-six years old, and have been a member of the NSDAPI 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. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.
"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, Treblinka and Wolzek. 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 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 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 benzine. 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 Höss."