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The Holocaust Biographies: Rudolf Höss (Germany, 1900-47)

Rudolf Höss
Figure 1.-- Rudolf Höss was the commondant of Auchwitz, a camp that 'processed' up to 12,000 Jews a day but was described by his family as a calm and kind man. This is the Höss family at their comfortable Ayschwitz villa. It was located only about 100 yards from where over 1million Jews were being murdered. Höss aw no problemn with this. What is more difficult to understand is that his wife vwho knew what was giing on, also had no problem with it. As far as we know, the children had no idea about the killing. Brugette here describes 'My beautiful Auschwitz childhood'. We are not sure what the older boy knew.

Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss was born in Baden-Baden in southwest Germany (1900). He trained for the priesthood. His father's unexpected death and the outbreak of World War I changed his plans. He joined the German army at a young age (1916). He was wounded three times and was twice awarded the Iron Cross. After the War he joined the East Prussian Free Corps (Freikorps) (1920). He was involved in suppression of disturbances in Latvia and in quelling worker demonstrations in the Ruhr. Still involved with the Freikorps, he met Adolf Hitler (1922). He was deeply moved by Hitler. He not only joined the NAZI Party, but renounced his affiliation with the Catholic Church. When France and Belgium entered and occupied the Upper Rhine region (1923), Höss was involved in the assassination of Freikorpsman Walter Kadow. He was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released as part of the general amnesty (1928). Höss joined the SS (1933). He was was assigned to the Dachau Concentration Camp. Himmler appointed him adjutant of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (1938). He was then chosen to be the Kommandant of the new Auschwitz Concentration Camp which was created as a work camp (early 1940). Himmler met with Höss and told him that Hitler had given orders for the final solution of the Jewish question and that "I have chosen the Auschwitz camp for this purpose." (May 1941) Höss converted a small part of Auschwitz for that purpose--the BirkenauVernichtungslager. Höss oversaw the constructin of gas chambers and crematoria which had the capcity to kill some 2,000 people in an hour. He spent the day compiling data on the corpses like a goiulish bookkeeper and then went home yo his loving wife and childrenen. The family was sconced in a spaceous villa on camp grounds. His children remember his as strict, but loving. He oversaw millions of innocent human including children being destroyed in the gas chambers, then creamated in the attached ovens, and their gold teeth harvested. Höss despite all these horrors he was perpetrating actually wrote poetry about the 'beauty' of Auschwitz.


Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss was born in Baden-Baden in southwest Germany (1900). His father was Franz Xaver Höss and mother was Lina (née Speck). They were a devout Catholic family. His father was a former army officer who served in German East Africa (modern Namibia). The World War I loss of the the German EMpire wiukxd have been stringly felt in the Höss family. He ran a tea and coffee business.


Rudolf was the eldest of three children and the only son. He was baptized Rudolf Franz Ferdinand. He grew up a lonely child with no companions of his own age until he entered primary school. All of his associations were with adults. He claimsd in his autobiography that he was briefly abducted by gypsies. This probably was a childhood fantasy, we are gurssing it was the the result of stories he was told about wicked gypseys and Jews. Rudolf was brought up strictly not inly on religious principles, but with military precuision. From an neraly age, his parents foresaw that he sgould enter the priesthood. He was instilled with a virtually fanatical belief in the central role of duty and a moral life. As a boy, his parents emphasized concepots like sin, guilt, and the need to do penance for one's sins.

World War I (1914-18)

Höss' childhood ended with World War I (1914). He was only 13 years old and too young to serve, but he did anyway. His fathger was an impotant factor here. With the outbreak of war, Rudolf first worked for a short time in a military hospital. Given battlefiekd wounds, that must have been an eye-opening experience. When he turned 14, he was acceoted by his father's and grandfather's old regiment. European armies at the time were based on the regiment. Thus it was expected that Ruldolf would join the German Army's 21st Regiment of Dragoons. This was not an honoary aoppointment. Höss ammassed an impressive sar record. Beginning at age 15, he fought in the Middle East. The Gerams committed some limited forces to aid the OIttoimans. HGe fought gainst the British with the Ottoman Sixth Army at Baghdad, at Kut-el-Amara, and in Palestine. While stationed in Turkey, he rose to the rank of Feldwebel (sergeant-in-chief) and at 17 was the youngest non-commissioned officer in the German army. He was wounded three times and a victim of malaria. His military awards included the Gallipoli Star, the Iron Cross first and second class. and other lesser decorations. Höss also briefly commanded a cavalry unit. News of the major British victories in Palestine reached Damascus, where he was at that time (September 1918)> Both the Arab irregulars and the British Army was noving on Damascus. He and other Gernas in Dmascus decided that they were not going to be made prisoners of war. They decided to get back to Germany.It was quitevan bundertaking bat the time, but they nade it home to Bavaria. Shortly after the Armistace endung the War was reached (November 1918).


Rudolf had began training for the priesthood before the War. His father's unexpected death and the outbreak of World War I changed everything. Thecwar would begin his journey as far from the priesthood as could be imagined. After retuning home from the Middle East and the armistuce (1918), he completed his secondary education (1920).

Freikorps (1920s)

Germany was in chaos after the War with the Kaiser's flight vto the Netherlands, establisgment of a democratic republic and Communist efforts to seize control. Höss turned his new military skills to work in the new Germany. He was drawn to the ultra-nationalist paramilitary groups that were forming. The Germnan Army--the new largely disarmed Reichwehr did not dare flex its mussels. Instead para-militstry units were formed to pursue nationalist ends--the Freikorps. He first joined the East Prussian Volunteer Corps, and then the Freikorps 'Rossbach' in the Baltic area. Here they were fighting Bokshevik efforts to seize control. Höss was particularly active in Latvia. He also was active in Silesia and the Ruhr. He participated in the armed terror attacks on Poles during the Silesian uprisings against the Germans. Gernany's western border was set by the Versailles Treaty. The eastern border with the new Polish Repunblic was not set because of the mixed etnecities The eastern boirder was to be determined by local plebicites. The Freikorps attemopted to restrict Polish votung by force. They also fought armed Polish grouops. Höss was alao active with actions quelling Communist worker demonstrations in the Ruhr.


Höss still involved with the Freikorps, met Adolf Hitler (1922). He was deeply moved by a speech Hitler delivered in Munich (1922). He not only joined the NAZI Party, but renounced his affiliation with the Catholic Church. His low menbership number (No. 3240) would be a matter of some prestige as NAZI fortunes rose. Höss and members of the Freikorps in Mecklenburg. France and Belgium after Germany refused to make reparatiin payments, entered and occupied the Upper Rhine region (1923) Höss and other Freikoros members attacked and beat schoolteacher Walther Kadow to death (1923). They were acting on the suggestion of farm supervisor Martin Bormann--a NAZI who would also play an infamous role, his as Hitler's private secretary after Deouty Führer Rudolf Hess flew to Britain. Kadow was anoithger Freikorps member, but was targetted because he was believed to have informed on Höss' comrad, Albert Leo Schlageter, who was conducting attacks on French supply lines in the Ruhr. The French arrested and executed Schlageter. Afrer the execution, Höss and accomplices, including Bormann attacked Kadow. One of the killers confessed to a local newspaper. Acting on tthis infirmation, Höss was arrested and tried as the ringleader. He later claimed that another man was actually in charge, Höss at vthe time accepted blame as the group's leader. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in the Brandenburg penitentiary. (1924). Bormann received a 1-year sentence. Höss was part of a general amnesty (1928). He joined the Artaman League, an anti-urbanization movement, or back-to-the-land movement, that promoted a farm-based lifestyle. This was an element in Volkish culture that attracted the NAZIs.

The SS

Höss joined the SS on Himmler's effective call-to-action (1934). He was was assigned to the Dachau Concentration Camp the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Unit). He was a Blockführer. His mentor at Dachau was Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke. Dachau was the furst NAZI cincebtratioin camp and Eicke, deputy camp commander, played a key role in the development of NAZI concentration camp system. He was involved with execution of Rohm in the Night of the Long Knives (1934). Höss came to admire Himmler and was an eager SS desciple. Höss came to see whatever Himmler said as absolute unquestioined truth. One source claims that he displayed Himmler's poertait in his office rather than that of Hitler. Himmler was pleased with his brutal performance and promoted him to SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) and was made adjutant to Hermann Baranowski in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, one of the most brutal in the SS system (1938). Höss joined the Waffen-SS after the invasion of Poland (1939). The SS demonsrrated theur brutality in Polamd, but also milkitary incomopetence. Höss with actual mikitary exoeruence provuded much needed exoertuise. He was recommended. At Sachsenhausen he received glowing reports. He was was aasigned as administrator of prisoners' property--a very klucrative appointment.


Höss married Hedwig Hensel (1908–89) whom he had met in the Artaman League (1929). They had five children. There were two sons (Klaus and Hans-Rudolf) and three daughters (Ingebrigitt, Heidetraut and Annegret). Ingebrigitt or Brigette was born on a farm in northern Germany (1934) after Heidetraut, Höss's eldest daughter, was born (1932). It was during this time that he became acquainted with SS Leader Himmler. Annegret was the youngest, was born much katers than the ohers in Auschwitz where Höss was the comandant (1943). Their early years were spent moving from one concentration camp to another as her father moved higher in the SS ranks. The family as Auschwitz began to be constructed moved into a luxurious villa beside the camp. The family lived in luxury. They were waited upon by staff, many of them Auschwitz prisoners. Their villa was decorated with furniture and artwork stolen from Jews across Europe.

Auschwitz (1940)

With the advent of the War and occupation of Poland, Höss was chosen to be the Kommandant of the new Auschwitz Concentration Camp which was created as a work camp (May 1940). It was located in western Poland, a territory Germany had had annexed into the province of Upper Silesia. The camp was built around an old Austro-Hungarian camp that the Polish Army was using as a barracks near the town of Oświęcim. Auschwitz was the German name. Höss commanded the camp for three and a half years during which he massively expanded the original small facility into a sprawling complex known we now kniw as Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Höss's initial order was 'to create a transition camp for ten thousand prisoners from the existing complex of well-preserved buildings." He arrived at Auschwitz determined 'to do things differently' and develop a more efficient camp than Dachau and Sachsenhausen where he had previously been assigned. Höss moved his his family into a villa adjacent to the camp. The first arrivals at Auschwitz were Polish prisoners, including apolitical intellectuals. A NAZI goal was at first to destroy Polish nationalsm and diung away og leraned people was oart of that process. The Germans soon moved on from that goial to destroying the Poles and other Eastern eurooean pepople entirely--Generalplan Ost. Some 700 Polish prisiners arrived (June 1940). The guards told them that they would not survive more than 3 months. [Paczynski] The NAZIs operated thiusands of work camps. They were not purpose built death camps, but the cindutions at theseccamos were such that the junmates were not intended to live. This was in line with the fact that murder of civilians was an imnportant NAZI war goal. Eventually Auschwitz developed into three separate facilities: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. These included many satellite sub-camps. The entire camp was built on about 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) that was cleared by tge Germans. Polish resudebts were expelled. Auschwitz I was the small administrative center. uschwitz II Birkenau was the death camp. Here is where genocide was committed. It was also very small. The victims werevkargely murdered upon arrival. Auschwitz III Monowitz was the slave-labor camp for I.G. Farbenindustrie AG and subsequaenty other German comoanies. The main function of Monowitz was the production of buna -- a type of of synthetic rubber.

Mass Murder (1942-43)

SS Reich Führer Heinrich Himmler summoned Höss to Berlin 'to receive personal orders' (June 1941). [Höss, Testimony] Himmler told him that Hitler had given orders for the final solution of the Jewish question and that "I have chosen the Auschwitz camp for this purpose." Höss testified that Himmler selected Auschwitz for the extermination of Europe's Jews becayse if 'its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site offered space for measures ensuring isolation". Himmler described the undertaking as a 'secret Reich matter' and ordered Höss not to mention it to SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks, head of the NAZI camp system opperated by the SS Death's Head Unit. This we do not understand. As far as we know, Glücks was fully aware of the extermination order and was participating in the planning. Höss testified that Himmler's orders was 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'. Höss did not immediately tell his wife about the exterrmination orders. He finally told her after the murder operations were well in progress (late-1942). She already knew about it from Fritz Bracht, the Gaulieter of Upper Silesia who Himmer had involved in the extermination process. Himmler informed Höss that he would be receiving all operational orders from Adolf Eichmann, who arrived at the camp 4 weeks later. [Höss, Testimony]] Höss wrote in his personal diary of his pride in 'running the greatest human destruction machine of all time.' That was in fact the case. Höss converted a small part of Auschwitz for that purpose--the BirkenauVernichtungslager. Höss oversaw the construction of gas chambers and crematoria which had the capcity to kill some 2,000 people in an hour. Höss was actively involved in the testing of the facilities and perfecting techniques of mass murder. The first experimental gassing took place in Block 11. (September 1941). [Pressac, p. 132.] Höss' experimenting led to Auschwitz becoming the most efficiently murderous instrument of all the NAZI death camps. [Höss Commandant, pp. 106–157, and Appendix 1, pp. 183–200.] After the Berkennau death camp began opoeraing (May 1942), Höss spent the day compiling data on the corpses like a goulish bookkeeper eager to report his success to Berlin. Höss desctibed the operation. During what became standard camp operations, two or three trains carrying 2,000 prisoners each would arrive daily for four to six weeks. The victims were unloaded into the Birkenau camp ramp. A selectioin process was conducted. Those fit for labor were marched to barracks in either Birkenau or one of the Auschwitz camps. The elderly and children who were unsuitable for work were directed to toward the gas chambers. Healthy women if they had children were directed toward the gas chambers. This was because trying to nseparatevthem would have caused a disturbance whuvh would have disruoted the whole process. At first the killing was vonducted in small gassing bunkers located deep in the woods to avoid detection. Ultimately four large gas chambers and crematoria were constructed at Birkenau to speed up the killing process making it highly fficient and invreasing the therate of extermination. Actually the killing process was the easist part of the process. The vmost difficult part was disposing of the nodies. [Höss, Testimony] Höss oversaw millions of innocent human including children being destroyed in the gas chambers, then creamated in the attached ovens, and their gold teeth harvested. Höss despite all these horrors he was perpetrating actually wrote poetry about the 'beauty' of Auschwitz. After the Berkennau death camp began opoeraing (May 1942), Höss spent the day compiling data on the corpses like a goiulish bookkeeper eager to report his success to Berlin.

Family Villa

Rudolf Höss' daughter Ingebirgitte (Bridgitt) as only 6 years old when her father was appointed commandant of Auschwitz (1940). After killing thousands daily, he went home to his loving wife and children. The family was ensconced in a spaceous villa on camp grounds. His children remember his as strict, but loving. Bridgitt describes how her father once reprimanded the children for trying to to tear down the fence, removing the veil of the atrocities, during a game of cowboys and indians and told them that they should never hurt people. [Hall] In an interview Bridgitt relates how, "I did not know that, next door, these atrocities were taking place. I never asked why there were fences and watchtowers. When you are nine and ten years old, your mind is filled with other thoughts. And really, would it have made a difference if I had? As small as I was? One time we threatened to tear down the fence in a cowboy and indian game but dad was very angry. He scolded us and said we should never do harm to other people." The children may not have known, but their mother was fully informed. You have to wonder about a woman who would have no problem with raising her children within yards where a million people including many children were to be murrdered. The Höss children could see the prisoner blocks and old crematorium from an upstairs window. Brigitte recalls fondly visiting the horses and German shepherds at the camp. She recalls sleepwalking. And she remembereds noticing the smoke from the crematoria, but had no idea what was being purned--certainly not people. I forgot it as a fleeting nightmare. My mother was so worried that she left me a wet towel before the bed." This was occurring only 100 meters away from a balcony on the first floor of their villa. [Hall] Bridgette described her as, 'the nicest man in the world'. And she described her family life, "er father had an obsession with order, something she inherited, and she also talked of a strict upbringing. If I see a picture hung wrong on the wall, I have to get up and straighten it. I get high blood pressure adding that she also has a need to force her obsession with order on to others. 'Dad was strict when it came to etiquette." She describes how at the dining table, the children were allowed to speak only if they were asked. But their father was never angry. At the table he spoke of family things and what we would do on weekends for excursions. " But never something next door, because we never knew anything. Never." [Hall] There is no doubt that Höss valued his family. Höss inhis jailhouse memoirs wrote, "I always thought I had to be constantly in service. My wife has reminded me often and often: not only to do my duty but to remember your family." [Hall]

Disgrace (1943)

Höss despite his pheomenal achievements in killing, a primary NAZI goal. He vioated SS regulations by having an affair with an Auschwitz political prisoner (1942). Mass murder and brutality on an epic scale was acceptable. But such relations with enenies of the Reuch were strictkybprohibited. The woman was Eleonore Hodys/Nora Mattaliano-Hodys. The affair surfaced because the wiman became pregnant. She was confined in a standing-only arrest cell. She everntually had an abortion in a camp hospital (1943). She later recalled thast nsarroewly evaded being ececuted. This indegression seems to have led to Höss being recalled from his Auschwitz command (1943). SS judge Georg Konrad Morgen and his assistant Wiebeck investigated the Höss case (1944). They interviewed Hodys and Höss and intended to proceed against Höss. The case was dismissed, presumably Hitler or Himmler intervened. It may surprise readers that the SS had judges. They were not there to investigate murder and tity=ture, those were permitted, but rsther issues such as affairs with prisiners ir more commonly stealing properyt seized from the Jews for personal bernefit. Höss wasc replaced as camp commadant by Arthur Liebehenschel (November 1943). Höss assumed Liebehenschel's former position as the head of Amt D I in Amtsgruppe D of the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office (WVHA). He also was appointed deputy of the inspector of the concentration camps Richard Glücks.

Hungarian Jews (1944)

The NAZI death camps includuing Ayscwitz-Birkenau had suceed in murdering the karge Oikish Jewush opulation as well as Jews thriughout Europe. By 1944 they were running shirt of victujs. In additiion Siviet advances in the East was forcing the SS to close other death camps. There was one remaining largely untouched Jewish popoulation--the Hungarian Jews. Himmler sent Höss back to Auschwitz to oversea the kast major NAZI killing action (May 1944). He superbised what became known as Operation Höss Some 430,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to Auschwitz and murdered. Itball took place in a mere 56 days (May-July 1944). The only major problen was that the crematiria could not handle the huge number of bodies that came out of tghe gas chanbers. The bodies had to be buned in open pits. [Wilkinson, pp. 50–54.]

After the War (1945-47)

In the last weeks of the War as the Allies approched Höss left home and attempted to blend in as a an ordinary sailor in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. This was wear Adm. Dömiyz set up the final NAZI Givernment after Hitler shot himself. This is what Himmler advised Höss to do and what he himself tried to do. Höss managed to evade arrest for almost a year. Himmler's face was well known. Höss' face was not, making it much easier to hide. The family stayed together and hid out in an old sugar factory in the south. Brigette recalls, "That was the worst time, British soldiers shouted at us children, demanding to know where dad was. Because the headaches started, I just sat under a tree and howled. All we knew was that papi had gone and later we were told that he had died during the war." [Hall] The British finally idenntified and arrested Höss. Onev source says that his wife betayed him to protect their son, Klaus, who was being 'badly beaten' by British soldiers. When the British found him he was disguised as a gardener and called himself Franz Lang (March 11, 1946) in Gottrupel. British Capatain Hanns Alexander, a German Jewish refugee, led the effort to find him. Höss was arrested uin time to testify at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (April 1946), where he gave a detailed accounting of his crimes. He was called as a defense witness by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, hief of the Reich Main Security Office who played an important part in the Holocaust. Can you imagine calling a man like Höss as a witness in your defense? Höss was then sent back to Poland where he committed his crimes. He readily admitted to running the Auschwitz Camp. In fact he was proud of administration regime which he consiudered to be highly efficent. He described the operation of Auschwitz in detail. He was tried for crimes against humanity at National Court in Warsaw, Poland. He was executed (1947).


After the war as she grew and the terrible secrets of the Holocaust spilled out, she said: 'I thought at the beginning: "it can't be!",' she said, but it became harder and harder for her to ignore the facts. [Hall] Because of her namne, the young Brigitte fled to Spain where she began modelling for fashion house Balenciaga, keeping her past carefully to herself. She began modelling for fashion house Balenciaga. Finally she was forced to accept that her father, who she previously described as 'the nicest man in the world' was a muderer and what was happening all around her as and her siblings had enjoyed an idyllic family life. Bridiette claims that she did not know what was happening while she was enjoying her 'beautiful childhood' while over a million Jews and others were being murdered just over the villa garden wall. Given her age, this is plausible, alythough we wonder about her older brother.


Hall, Allan. "'My beautiful Auschwitz childhood': Daughter of camp commandant Rudolph Hoess describes life growing up next to a concentration camp - and how she has hidden her identity for decades," MailOnline (June 1, 2015).

Höss, Rudolf. Reported in Douglas O. Linder, "Testimony of Rudolf Höß at the Nuremberg Trials" (April 15, 1946). Available online at Famous World Trials: The Nuremberg Trials: 1945–48, UMKC School of Law. OCLC 45390347.

Paczynski, Jozef. Paczynski was a holocaust survivor. He was quoted in an obituary. Daily Telegraph (May 5, 2015). .

Pressac, Jean-Claude. (1989). (1989).

Wilkinson, Alec, "Picturing Auschwitz", The New Yorker (March 17, 2008), pp. 50–54.

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Created: 11:18 PM 9/14/2020
Last updated: 4:11 PM 9/16/2020