Monday, September 16, 2013

Rudolf Hoss at Nuremberg by Thomas Harding

This testimony is the only audio-visual record of Rudolf Hoss. As he answered the questions put to him by the prosecutor, Rudolf spoke in a high-pitched, nasal voice.

Colonel Amen: You signed that affidavit voluntarily, Witness?

Rudolf: Jawohl

Colonel Amen: And the affidavit is true in all respects?

Rudolf: Jawohl.

The prosecutor then read a section that described Rudolf’s career in the SS, working as a camp guard in Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz and then Amtsgruppe D. He looked up from his papers, pausing for effect, and then read out the most shocking part of Rudolf’s confession:

“I commanded Aushwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least two and a half 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 three million.”

There was total silence in the court, as Amen briskly read on. Sitting in two rows at the center of the courtroom, the twenty-three defendants looked gloomily on.  The prosecutors knew that they had finally found their trump card. The reporters crowded onto the visitors’ gallery took notes. The four judges stared down from their elevated benches, grateful that the clarity of this testimony would help them deliver a definitive result at the end of the trial.

Colonel Amen: “This figure represents about 70 or 80 percent of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries,; including among the executed and burned were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included 100,000 German Jews, and a great number of citizens, mostly Jewish, from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,00 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.” That is all true, Witness?

Rudolf: Jawohl. It is.

Colonel Amen: “ I personally supervised executions at Auschwitz until 1 December 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.” Are those statements true and correct, Witness?

Rudolf: Jawohl. They are.

Once his cross-examination was concluded, Rudold removed his heavy black earphones, set them on the edge of the witness stand, and stepped back to a row of chairs to the rear of the courtroom. A few minutes later the proceedings were adjourned and Rudolf was escorted back to his prison cell.

Rudolf’s testimony was reported around the world. The New York Times described it as “the crushing climax to the case.” In Britain, the Times went further. It said of Hoss’s signed testimony: “Its dreadful implications must surpass any document ever penned.”

It was also clear to everyone in the courtroom that Rudolf’s testimony would have a profound impact on the proceedings, including the defendants themselves. At lunch in the prisoners’ canteen, Hans Frank, the former governor general of occupied Poland, told the psychologist Gustave Gilbert, “That was the low point of the entire trial – to hear a man say out of his mouth that he had exterminated two and a half million people in cold blood. That is something people will talk about for a thousand years.” Herman Goring also shared that he had been shocked by Rudolf’s confession, saying that it was only because Rudolf was from southern Germany that he had been able to commit such crimes – crimes of which a Prussian, such as himself, would never have been capable.

The next day, Frank took the stand and for the first time confessed his role in the atrocities. To the direct question: “Did you ever participate in the destruction of the Jews? He replied: “I say yes. And the reason I say yes is because I have been burdened by guilt for the five months of this trial, and particularly burdened by the statement made by Rudolf Hoss.”

Finally, the major war criminals had begum to admit their guilt.

For Hanns Alexander, who captured Rudolf Hoss, the anger he felt in 1945 as an investigator of War Crimes for the British Army always remained : “The number of murderers I had to dismiss made me sick. They made fools out of us. You know, the Russians were more efficient. When they heard such stories they found the accused and shot them. We could not do it, We did not do it.” But the war for him was never a topic for discussion.. “I would not talk to children about it because they should not be brought up to hate. I, however, am full of hatred.”

Rudolf Hoss was hanged at Auschwitz on April 16, 1947.

1 comment:

  1. Except for one statement made to Hanns Alexander on the evening of his capture Rudolf maintained that the only person he had ever killed himself was Walter Kadow, back in the 1920s. Later, he acknowledged supervising the murder of two and half million people, but never to killing with his own hand.