Little Bits of History

Death and More Death

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 11, 2014
Rudolf Höss

Rudolf Höss

March 11, 1946: Rudolf Höss is arrested. Rudolf was born in 1901 in Baden-Baden, Germany. His father had been an army officer but now ran a tea and coffee business. The family was staunchly Catholic and Rudolf’s father was steering his eldest child and only son into the priesthood. As a teen, Rudolf was left fatherless and began drifting toward military life. His early upbringing had instilled a sense of duty and a moral life. When World War I broke out, Rudolf was only 14 but still served in a military hospital and soon after was admitted to his father’s and grandfather’s old regiment. At the age of 15 he was serving with the German Army’s 21st Regiment of Dragoons in Baghdad and in Palestine. He was a sergeant by the age of 17, the youngest non-commissioned officer in the army.

After the war ended, Rudolf completed his secondary education and then joined nationalist paramilitary groups and participated in guerrilla attacks against the Polish and the French. In 1922 he denounced the Catholic Church and soon thereafter joined the Nazi Party (Party Member # 3240). Martin Bormann (later Hitler’s private secretary) asked Rudolf and members of the Freikorps to beat up a local schoolteacher, Walther Kadow, who was believed to have betrayed a local to the French authorities. Kadow died of the beating and eventually Rudolf was sentences to ten years in prison but served only four years (Bormann received a one year sentence).

After his release from prison he married Hedwig Hensel. He was invited to join the SS in 1934 and accepted. He had met Himmler before and was happy to join the ranks of SS Mann. In December, Rudolf was assigned to Dachau where he was Blockfuhrer and was said to excel in his duties. He did so well he was promoted to the commandant of Auschwitz. He was commander there for three and a half years. During that time, he killed about 2,000,000 people. After his departure, he was called back to help supervise the killing of 430,000 Hungarian Jews in just 56 days.

When the war was ending, Höss was warned to flee and evaded capture for almost a year. He was under an alias and disguised as a farmer. His wife had given information leading to his arrest in order to protect her children. He was brought to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on April 15, 1946 and gave detailed descriptions of his crimes. This testimony was used against other Nazi members. On May 25, 1946 he was handed over to Polish authorities and tried for murder. He was sentenced to death on April 2, 1947 and was hanged on April 16 from a short drop gallows placed immediately adjacent to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz death camp.

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 dead of about 3,000,000. – Rudolf Höss

Technically [it] wasn’t so hard—it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers…. The killing itself took the least time. You could dispose of 2,000 head in half an hour, but it was the burning that took all the time.  – Rudolf Höss

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. – Rudolf Höss

In all of the discussions, Höss is quite matter-of-fact and apathetic, shows some belated interest in the enormity of his crime, but gives the impression that it never would have occurred to him if somebody hadn’t asked him. – Gustave Gilbert, American military psychologist

Also on this day: Freedom of the Press? – In 1702, England got its first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant.
Great Sheffield Flood – In 1864, the South Yorkshire, England region was flooded after a dam failed.
LAX – In 1882, the Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association was formed.
Roxy Theater – In 1927, the Roxy Theater opened in New York City.

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