Hoess's description of the Himmler-Eichmann sequence of orders, consultations and inspection visits is fairly consistent from 14 March 1946 through to his memoirs. Consistent that is in being chronologically confused between 1941 and 1942. There was an obvious mindlock there since the same chronological inconsistencies keep on recurring. One might have thought the Poles would have prodded him to make a correction, especially concerning when Treblinka was operational. But the mistake remains the same.
It is not simply a matter of confusion between 1941 and 1942, but of an attempt to make it appear that the whole exterminatory process at Auschwitz using Zyklon-B was initiated by an order received from Berlin.
It is entirely possible that Hoess sought to highlight a firm order from above to cover his ass. That should be accepted from the outset. Ohlendorf, after all, did exactly the same thing with the Pretszch Einsatzgruppen 'Hitler order' conspiracy, and was even able to orchestrate coordinated testimonies. The difference between Hoess and Ohlendorf's situations is the latter had some feeble hope of using 'only obeying orders' to avoid the gallows. Hoess was never under any such illusions.
Nonetheless, Hoess was an archetypal SS man committed to absolute obedience, and emphasised repeatedly that not obeying the order to exterminate Jews would never have occurred to him. Thus, it should be accepted that he did receive such an order. The question is when.
Gilbert's characterisation of Hoess was that he was not a liar, in contrast to many of the defendants at Nuremberg, especially Kaltenbrunner, while the contrast between Hoess's statements which are very matter-of-fact, and Eichmann's, which contain much avoidance of responsibility, is striking.
The course of events given by Hoess in his statement made to Judge Sehn in November 1946 is in summary as follows:
- In summer 1941, Himmler gives Hoess the order to construct an extermination facility at Auschwitz, which is to be the centre of extermination of European Jewry.
It is also possible, as Van Pelt/Dwork have suggested, that Hoess did meet Himmler in the summer of 1941, but that this concerned the function of Auschwitz as a transit camp in relation to the Generalplan Ost. This would mean that Hoess confabulated the highlighting of Auschwitz as a massive centre of expansion with a later decision.
I am not at all convinced by this hypothesis, but mention it as an example of a plausible hypothesis that can be advanced; since, after all, Himmler's attention was drawn to the eastern camps at this time (June-July 1941) and this coincided with the establishment of Majdanek as well as the working out of the Generalplan Ost, as well as undeniable moves by the RSHA to enact warning-orders relating to the Final Solution (1941 summer variant).
That there is confabulation in Hoess's testimonies is undeniable. The question is how much, and whether the tangle of confabulation can be unknotted.
- A few months later, Eichmann comes to Auschwitz to discuss the details of the extermination action. Eichmann informs Hoess that the methods used in the existing extermination facilities in the East will not be suitable, and a new gas will have to be found. They select two peasant houses outside the camp to be the sites for the future gas-chambers. Eichmann leaves, promising to find a suitable gas.
More possible confabulation. The selection of two peasant houses for the 'Bunkers' is quite likely to have occurred during Kammler's visit which resited the planned crematoria from Auschwitz to Birkenau on February 27 1942. It could also have dated from Kammler's earlier site inspection of October 2 1941. Thus Hoess could easily have confused Kammler for Eichmann. Kammler's visit, as well as the dating of the siting of the Bunkers, must be taken into consideration here.
- Soviet POWs begin to arrive at Auschwitz for execution. Initially the executions are by shooting, but then Hoess' deputy, Fritzsch, experiments with gassing with Zyklon-B.
This is one of the few elements that can be substantively confirmed from independent evidence other than Hoess's say-so.
- Hoess attends a meeting in October 1941 held by Eichmann to plan the forthcoming program of deportations of Jews to Auschwitz. He tells Eichmann about the experiments with Zyklon-B, and they both agree that this is the gas to be used for the extermination of Jews.
The above course of events contains a number of anomalies. If Eichmann came to Auschwitz sometime in the summer or early autumn of 1941, then he could not have referred to exisitng extermination facilities in the East, since they were not established until early 1942. Furthermore, the use of mobile gas-chambers did not begin in the East until fairly late in 1941.
Eichmann's own testimonies have to be taken into account here. Hoess claimed a June/summer 1941 order from Himmler. Eichmann claimed a September-October 1941 order from Heydrich. After
Eichmann received this order, he began an inspection tour taking him to most of the killing sites. This encompassed Belzec, Chelmno, Minsk but also Auschwitz, by his own admission.
On the other hand, the planning meeting of October 1941, at which Hoess supposedly told Eichmann about the experiments with Zyklon-B and the decision to use it was supposedly made, actually took place in October 1942, when the deportation were already underway and Zyklon-B had been used homicidally for almost a year. In fact, in his interrogations in Nuremberg by US Intelligence officers, Hoess gave the correct date for the meeting as 1942; but by the time of his November 1946 statement to Judge Sehn the date had been switched to 1941.
Source? Which interrogation? There were quite a few, so saying "Nuremberg" is vague.
The best way to eliminate the possibilities are to identify all the known RSHA planning meetings, with or without other agencies' involvement.
I consider it as a given that there were many planning meetings chaired by Eichmann in the autumn of 1941, at the very least relating to the organisation of the deportation of Reich Jews, but also in preparation for Wannsee.
The anomalies cannot be resolved by assuming that all the processes described Hoess actually took place in 1942 rather than 1941, ie that the initial order from Himmler was given in about July 1942, when the selection of incoming transports for work or gassing actually began.
Can or cannot be resolved?
The likelihood is that some of what Himmler ordered in July 1942 was confabulated to other occasions.
However, a "Himmler order" in June or July 1942 is simply implausibly late, as Auschwitz killed off at least 26,000 people using gas by the end of June.
If that was the case, and Eichmann came to Auschwitz in the late summer of 1942 to discuss the extermination program with Hoess, then of course he could have talked about existing extermination facilities in the East and the use of gas-vans, since both were in place by that date. Furthermore, Hoess could well have attended the planning meeting some months after Eichmann's initial visit, since that meeting did in fact take place in October 1942.
It is only in relation to Himmler's summons that the "existing extermination facilities" are mentioned, and this is obvious confabulation with a later discussion.
The discussion in Hoess's account ('The Final Solution') mentions only gas vans and the euthanasia facilities, and the lack of availability of other means in relation to Eichmann'
s first meeting with Hoess at Auschwitz. That would tend to place the meeting some time in the autumn of 1941 or at the latest, very early 1942. It could equally well be something discussed by Kammler.
However, it is impossible that Eichmann on his initial visit could have talked about the need to find a suitable gas, since by the late summer of 1942 the homicidal use of Zyklon-B was already well established.
Indeed. More confabulation and superimposition of what may well have been several meetings.
It is also impossible that between Eichmann's initial visit to Auschwitz and the planning meeting of October 1942 that the experiments with Zyklon-B had been carried out, that Hoess told Eichmann about the experiments at the planning meeting, and that Hoess and Eichmann then decided on the use of Zyklon-B for the extermination of Jews, because the experiments had been carried out in 1941 and the homicidal use of Zyklon-B had been underway for almost a year by the time of the meeting.
Whereas it is quite possible that Eichmann did indeed visit Auschwitz at some point between October 1941 and March 1942 (approximately), and learn of the wondrous new methods.
It is also impossible that on a visit to Auschwitz by Eichmann in late summer 1942 that he and Hoess could have selected the two peasant houses as the sites for future gas-chambers, since Bunker 1 had been in use since early 1942, and Bunker 2 came into operation in about May of that year, ie both well before Himmler is supposed to have given the extermination order to Hoess under this scenario.
Indeed. He could have selected the peasant houses with Kammler, indeed that is entirely more likely, and then confabulated Eichmann into the process since Eichmann was undoubtedly associated in his brain with the imperative "Jewish deportations and killing them".
Remember that it is also possible to argue on the basis of a close textual analysis that Hoess confabulated the visit of Himmler in July 1942 with the later visit of Pohl in September 1942, confusing many key details.
It is obvious that Hoess is conflating two different stories about the origin of the homicidal use of Zyklon-B. One is the true story, ie that it was initially used experimentally on the initiative of the camp staff, as a method of killing the Soviet POWs sent to Auschwitz for summary execution, and as an alternative to the previous method of shooting, and that the gassing methodology established in those experiments was then used on another group of persons sent to Auschwitz for elimination, namely Jews from the Schmelt labour camps in East Upper Silesia who were no longer usable for labour.
No different, incidentally, to the equally true story that carbon monoxide was used to gas psychiatric patients before it was applied on Polish Jews.
The other is a false story, namely that the use of Zyklon-B was contingent upon an order received from Berlin to establish Auschwitz as the centre for the extermination of European Jewry, and the resulting need for Hoess and Eichmann, the two executors of the program, to find a suitable methodology.
In seeking to conflate the two stories, Hoess took events which he remembered happening, and sought to fit them into the conflated story in such a way that they would form a progressive narrative. As a result, he got himself caught up in all sorts of chronological impossibilities.
Conflation and confabulation undoubtedly occurred. The question is whether there was in fact a separate story going on, concerning the deportation of the Jews from the Reich and Western Europe, which existed entirely separately from the decision to use specific killing methods.
It is this separate strand where Eichmann's visits to Auschwitz come into play. Eichmann himself admitted to visiting the camp, so it must have been for a reason. In this entire time-period, Himmler and Eichmann were together planning the Final Solution, and soon enough organised the onrush of transports beginning in July 1942 to Auschwitz.
In fact, the homicidal use of Zyklon-B was initiated quite separately from the program of sending Jews to Auschwitz, and indeed occurred before the start of the latter. The first order to send Jews to Auschwitz for labour was given by Himmler at the end of January 1942, at a time when the use of Zyklon-B to kill Soviet POWs and sick Jews from the Schmelt camps had already begun. The first group of Jews to arrive at Auschwitz pursuant to Himmler's order of January 1942 was from Slovakia, and began arriving from the end of March 1942 onward; this group was followed by Jews from France. These incoming groups of Jews were not subjected to selection, but were all used for labour; the selection of incoming transports did not begin until July 1942.
Thus, there was at first no connection at all between the process of beginning to use Zyklon-B homicidally and that of beginning to send Jews to Auschwitz for labour; both processes were separate, existed side by side for a number of months, and were only combined in a systematic way from July 1942 onward.
This latter remark is untrue, and ignores substantial other evidence of the same kind as Hoess's, not to mention the simple facts of deportation planning.
That West European Jews were to be deported en masse was clear to many within the SS (especially in Holland and France) as well as some outside, before the end of 1941. The Wannsee protocol spoke of combing Europe from west to east. Planning was underway before the end of 1941 and changed through the first months of 1942.
The questions that IV B 4 and the RSHA (Heydrich) as well as Himmler had to deal with concerned timing and destinations. These officials had to juggle the deportations of Reich Jews, Polish Jews from the incorporated territories, Polish Jews from the Generalgouvernement, West European Jews, and Jews from the successor states to the Habsburg Empire and other south-east European countries. ALL were slated for eventual deportation and subsequent death as of the Wannsee protocol, and this deportation scheme absolutely required planning and build-up of infrastructure. Vague notions of simply sending everyone to the Russian Northeast were nice as rhetorical chimerae, but impractical.
Given the changing circumstances of the deportation planning as the organisers improvised the best solutions to these problems, it is unsurprising that attention latched onto Auschwitz. The question is whether this attention fell before Wannsee, as Hoess's account would suggest, or after Wannsee.
Thus, Hoess' tale about searching for a suitable gas for the purpose of implementing an order to establish Auschwitz as the centre for the extermination of European Jewry, and eventually stumbling on Zyklon-B. turns out to be a load of old cobblers.
On the contrary, Hoess is clearly wrong because of confabulating certain elements - or even inventing some, e.g. whether he ever was summoned to see Himmler in private is completely unproven.
That doesn't mean it is a "load of old cobblers", because Hoess was clearly right that some kind of direction was given, as the results speak for themselves.
By why did Hoess construct this chronologically impossible account, combining true and false elements?
One possibility is that his interrogators were firmly convinced that the homicidal use of Zyklon-B was dictated by a centrally ordered and planned extermination program, and did not want to hear anything different. Thus, Hoess was compelled to construct the story about receiving the order from Himmler and then, together with Eichmann, searching for a means to implement the program, and to try to weave the true story about the use of Zyklon-B into that construct.
The problem with this is that the order to exterminate Jews at Auschwitz had to come from above. Hoess didn't just "accidentally" create a chaos in which first 10s of 1000s of Upper Silesia Jews were gassed.
A parallel "local initiative" along the lines of Chelmno and the Warthegau is also unlikely, since if there were two local initiatives under way - as there were by the spring of 1942 - then they clearly weren't local any more.
It is noteworthy that Hoess gave a different version of the receipt of the extermination order in a different statement he prepared for Judge Sehn, this one with the title "My Meetings with Himmler". In that statement he describes Himmler making an inspection tour to Auschwitz in July 1942, during which Hoess complains about the congestion caused by the arrival of so many Jews; Himmler then orders him to create space by killing all the Gypsies in the camp and all the Jews unfit for labour.
The problem with the above account is that in July 1942 there was no Gypsy Camp in Auschwitz; the Gypsies did not begin to arrive until the beginning of 1943.
Hoess is most probably recounting an event dating from the early summer of 1944, at the beginning of the Hungarian deportation, when the camp really was becoming overcrowded. The order to destroy the Gypsy Camp was in fact given by Himmler at that time, and the desruction was implemented at the beginning of August, for the purpose of creating more space for the Hungarian Jews selected for labour.
Why Hoess falsely dated an event that most probably occurred in 1944 to Himmler's visit to Auschwitz in July 1942 is unknown. It may be because his interrogators could not accept that an extermination order could have been given as late as the summer of 1944, or that there had perhaps been a series of partial extermination orders rather than an all-encompassing one given at an early stage, in mid-1941
The gypsy camp remark is another example of Hoess's confabulation of dates and possibly also personalities.
Here one should add that Hoess repeatedly gets the years wrong, eg he claims on several occasions that the IKL was incorporated into the WVHA in 1941, which is impossible, since the WVHA was not established until 1942.
It makes much more sense, regarding Hoess's memoirs, to examine the elements that *can* be confirmed from outside sources, and to see where he might be erring.
A great many elements of Hoess's narrative account are interpolated from a later date or confabulated into his chronology. He is demonstrably wrong also on some dates, while others are intriguing if correct.
- the dating of a putative meeting with Himmler cannot have been before September 1941, if
Eichmann was to have met Hoess "shortly afterwards", since Eichmann would need to have been also indoctrinated into the secret plan, and his own account suggests September 1941 as well. The putative meeting cannot have been later than the end of October 1941, because Hoess identifies Eichmann as Sturmbannfuehrer, not Obersturmbannfuehrer.
- Eichmann himself highlighted the autumn of 1941 as the date when he received a parallel order from Heydrich regarding the Final Solution. It makes no sense to conclude that Eichmann was in the dark while Hoess was in the clear. Thus, IF - big if - Hoess was in fact summoned to see Himmler, then this cannot have been before around September 1941.
That would place much of what is described in very close sequence, indeed it would entangle it with the timing of the first gassings at Auschwitz, the decisions to expand the KZ there using Soviet POW labour, meetings between Himmler and Pohl, Hoess's absence from at least one of the Block 11 gassings 'on duty' (mentioned repeatedly), Eichmann's visit to Belzec (see Browning's discussions of whether the leaves had turned brown or not), and the like.
Himmler was indeed in Berlin on various occasions in September 1941. We also know from Hoess's own testimony that he was absent, likely in September 1941, at least once.
Let's look at some of the specific remarks.
- "existing extermination facilities in the east"
These were not yet established in 1941. In my view this remark was uttered in 1942 by someone and confabulated backwards into Hoess's account. It obviously fits with that new constellation. It also fits with the minimum two meetings Hoess claims to have had with Himmler (in 1941 and then in the July 1942 visit), so that elements he ascribed to one meeting might well have been confabulated to the other meeting.
- "You will learn further details from Sturmbannfuehrer Eichmann of the RSHA who will call on you in the immediate future".
Hoess either had an excellent memory for people's promotions or he had indeed encountered Eichmann as a Stubaf, before Eichmann's promotion to Obersturmbannfuehrer on November 9, 1941.
- "On receiving these grave instructions, I returned forthwith to Auschwitz, without reporting to my superior at Oranienburg"
If the meeting happened, quite probable, since at this time, Gluecks was increasingly ineffective. Kammler was not Hoess's superior and was the coming man in the future WVHA. As it later turns out, Kammler visited Auschwitz more often than did Gluecks.
-"Shortly afterwards Eichmann came to Auschwitz and disclosed to me the plans for the operations as they affected the various countries concerned. I cannot remember the exact order in which they were to take place. First was to come the eastern part of Upper Silesia and the neighbouring parts of Polish territory under German rule"
This statement is intriguing, because it suggests that Auschwitz may have originally been intended for not just Ostoberschlesien but also for perhaps the Warthegau and for the Krakau district of the Generalgouvernement.
In the event, the neighbouring Distrikt Krakau was evacuated to Belzec while in 1943, about 25,000 were deported westwards to Auschwitz, where most were killed immediately on arrival.
A connection with the Warthegau is also worth conjecturing, since again in 1943, Auschwitz was the destination for about 10,000 Jews deported from the Warthegau. Also, Himmler's remark to Uebelhoer that the Jews deported to the Lodz ghetto were to be deported "further to the east" in the following year could just as easily be read as meaning Auschwitz - which was to the east of the Warthegau - as any other chimerical destination in the Northeast of Russia or wherever. The connection between the arrival of the Reich Jews and the decision to begin reducing the Polish Jewish population of the Warthegau is well-known. The same dynamic occurred in Minsk at the same time. Thus, instead of waiting for killing facilities that as yet did not really exist in Auschwitz, the Warthegau authorities and SS began killing operations locally. This also ties in with the demonstrable reluctance to begin systematic murder of Reich Jews until such time as the political leadership and civil service had been initiated during December 1941-January 1942.
The interpretation that originally, Auschwitz was to have fulfilled a greater role in the extermination of Polish Jews conforms to the function of Auschwitz concerning Poles. Lodz was after all a frequent dispatcher of Polish political prisoners to Auschwitz, as indeed was the entire Generalgouvernement.
This interpretation would mean that the Chelmno initiative was local competition with the much larger complex struggling to establish itself to the east, and also allow for the uncertainties concerning Globocnik's schemes. As of October 1941, Globocnik was still working out his plans. This would help date the putative Eichmann-Hoess meeting to the start of October.
- "then, depending on the situation, simultaneously Jews from Germany and Czechoslovakia, and finally the Jews from the West: France, Belgium and Holland. He also told me the approximate numbers of transports that might be expected, but I can no longer remember these"
This could well be interpolated and confabulated from a later discussion, but the references to Reich Jews could support the Lodz ghetto interpretation just mentioned. The intention to use Auschwitz as the destination for Jews from Western Europe seems to have existed almost all along.
-"Eichmann told me about the method of killing people with exhaust gases in lorries, which had previously been used in the east"
Contrary to assumptions this need not refer to the 2nd generation gas vans which were still yet to be fielded in the east as of circa October 1941, but to the 1st generation gas vans used by Sonderkommando Lange already in 1940 to eliminate psychiatric patients. Indeed the reference here may also be regarded as further conjectural support for the Lodz interpretation mentioned above.
CORRECTION: this reference must indeed refer to the 2nd generation gas vans because the 1st generation used bottled gas and not exhaust gas.
-"But there was no question of being able to use this for these mass transports that were due to arrive in Auschwitz"
Again, the phrasing could be used to point to a later meeting, because of the 'due to arrive' making it sound more imminent.
However, the discussion here rejecting gas vans as a means suggests that Eichmann did not believe that they could be made to work for mass killings, which was disproven shortly thereafter at Chelmno. Thus, if this discussion between Hoess and Eichmann took place, it did so before he visited Chelmno in December 1941-January 1942.
CORRECTION: this doesn't seem as likely based on the mention of 'exhaust gases'. Eichmann visited Chelmno in ca. January 1942, so that it is quite possible this statement reflected merely the capacity of gas vans, and could therefore have been interpolated from a later Eichmann meeting.
Eichmann's own interrogations are equally confused, but highlight the following vague sequence:
- informed "two or three months" after the start of the Russian campaign by Heydrich, and ordered to visit Globocnik in Lublin; inspected a camp, possibly an early incarnation of Belzec or an experimental location; Browning argues this was exceedingly early on.
- 25.10.41: was in the know enough to mention the 'Brackschen Hilfsmittel' in conferences with the Ostministerium.This can only reflect back onto the Globocnik inspection or other contacts in Berlin.
- some time after 7.12.41, likely in January 1942: inspected Chelmno
- visited Minsk in March 1942; Eichmann always mentioned Chelmno before Minsk, and there were only two actions there in the relevant time frame, the likeliest is 2-3 March 1942, and there is corroborating material, i.e. the concern for the fate of Theresienstadt-qualified Jews deported by accident to Minsk.
- visited Treblinka in action, i.e. after 23 July 1942; as indeed Hoess visited Treblinka in action after this date
- admitted that on some occasion, he visited Auschwitz, and saw a selection of a recently arrived transport for what seems to be the Bunkers, where there were burning corpses, details which would place the visit well after September 1942, when the open-air cremations began.
Eichmann's memory was equally as for-shit as Hoess's. Eichmann recalled flying to Kiev in October 1941 with Mueller to meet Himmler. In fact, a meeting between all three can be firmly dated to 11 August 1942. That is in fact the only meeting between Eichmann and Himmler recorded in the Dienstkalender.
Eichmann would appear to have denied that he met Hoess in 1941 or early 1942, but this can be ascribed as much to Eichmann defending himself as Hoess being misleading or pleasing his interrogators. BOTH men had every motive in the world to ascribe the worst to the other one. Indeed this was very much Eichmann's take on Hoess.
Back to the putative autumn 1941 Hoess-Eichmann meeting at Auschwitz
- "Killing with showers of carbon monoxide while bathing, as was done with mental patients in some places in the Reich, would necessitate too many buildings and it was also very doubtful whether the supply of gas for such a vast number of people would be available. We left the matter unresolved. Eichmann decided to try and find a gas which was in ready supply and which would not entail special installations for its use, and to inform me when he had done so"
The timing of this suggests again the autumn of 1941. The T4 program in its 14 f 13 incarnation was almost certainly known to Hoess from the transport in July 1941 to Sonnenstein, which however he does not mention anywhere.
Eichmann knew by 25 October 1941 at the very latest of the "Brackschen Hilfsmittel' and had also visited a Lublin area site where experimental gassings with CO were being undertaken. Following Browning's interpretation, this would be around this same time. Eichmann would in fact have probably just seen the very first experiments and come away unconvinced, because these probably used bottled gas as with the T4 program.
However, Eichmann telling Hoess about gas vans and euthanasia could equally have been Kammler or someone else informing Hoess about these methods. Let's not rule out confabulation again.
- "We inspected the area in order to choose a likely spot. We decided that a peasant farmstead situated in the north-west corner of what later became the third building sector [BIII] at Birkenau would be the most suitab;e. It was isolated and screened by woods and hedges, and it was also not far from the railway. The bodies could be placed in long, deep pits in the nearby meadows. We had not at that time thought of burning the corpses. We calculated that after gas-proofing the premises then available, it would be possible to kill about 800 people simultaneously with a suitable gas. These figures were borne out later in practice."
Eichmann helping Hoess pick out the 'bunkers' sounds much more like something done with Kammler in early 1942, perhaps on February 27. Also, the experiences with Block 11 and with Krema I were available by then, so that I suspect confabulation here. How would you pick out a putative "gas chamber" without having adopted a particular gas?
This is not to say that when Eichmann first met Hoess, that Hoess did not have a clear idea of what methods to use. He may simply not have made the association between the Block 11 experiments and the forthcoming task. Or the "uncertainties" over the gas to be used could be simple confusion, or the product of his misdating.
- "Eichmann could not then give me the starting date for the operation because everything was still in the preliminary stages and the Reichsfuehrer SS had not yet issued the necessary orders"
the statement sounds like a genuine memory from a putative Hoess-Eichmann meeting in the autumn or winter of 1941 to discuss the planning.
- "Eichmann returned to Berlin to report our conversation to the Reichsfuehrer-SS"
this obviously ends the description of possible visit #1 by Eichmann to Auschwitz. It is however most likely Eichmann reported to Heydrich or Mueller on this.
- " a few days later I sent to the Reichsfuehrer SS by courier a detailed location plan and description of the installation. I have never received an acknowledgement or a decision on my report"
this sounds entirely genuine, either in relation to the 'bunkers', in which case there are two visits being confabulated so far; or in relation to Hoess sending plans of the KGL Auschwitz expansion to Berlin, something which has some documentary trace, and can be dated to October 1941.
On 21-22 October 1941, Topf visited to discuss siting the new crematorium and the first design emerged shortly thereafter. However this was sited at the Auschwitz Stammlager, and was most probably not yet fully converted to a homicidal purpose, though Michael Thad Allen thinks otherwise. The resiting of the 2nd crematorium can be precisely dated from February 27 1942 during Kammler's visit. That is why I believe Hoess may have confabulated some elements of this narrative, confusing Kammler for Eichmann.
It is remotely possible that Eichmann helped Hoess pick out the future 'bunkers' on a visit to Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941, and that these were sent together with the KGL plans to Himmler, while the KGL plans alone were sent via normal channels (Bischoff to Kammler), and an original plan showing the 'Bunkers' was then destroyed along with other documentation in the relevant file.
The dating of the KGL expansion plans are firmly in October 1941, with a first plan for the Birkenau site drawn up on October 7, 1941, a second plan on October 14, 1941, with a railway line included between the quarantine camp and so-called 'Lager I'. By November 1, 1941, The projected size was 125,000 Soviet POWs.
However, let's backtrack over the POW issue here.
Himmler first makes a note about the Soviet POWs into KZs for labour purposes on September 16, 1941, noting "100.000 Russen Uebernahme in Kz". This number corresponds with the OKW order of 25 September 1941 decreeing the transfer of 100,000 Soviet POWs to SS control in Lublin.
However, before then, Himmler noted in conversations with Gluecks and Grawitz on 22.9.41 the sum of "200.000 Kriegsgefangenenuebernahme in Kz". The same day, Kammler ordered the construction of the KL Lublin to take in immediately 5000 and later 50,000 POWs. On 26 September 1941 Kammler ordered the construction of a KGL at Auschwitz with 50,000 POWs. The next day he refined the Majdanek order to another KGL with 50.000 POWs.
Let us backtrack to another infamous Hoess statement:
- "The intention of the Reichsfuehrer SS was that Auschwitz should become one immense prison-cum-munitions centre. What he said during his visit in March of 1941 made this perfectly plain. The camp for 100,000 prisoners of war, the enlargement of the old camp to hold 30,000 prisoners, the earmarking of 10,000 prisoners for the synthetic rubber factory, all this emphasised his point. But the numbers envisage were at this time something entirely new in the history of concentration camps"
The date is simply wrong. Hoess was obviously confusing and confabulating two separate decisions; the first to expand the Stammlager to 30,000 prisoners with the earmarking of 10,000 for Monowitz - a decision definitely
taken in March 1941, and showing up in the plans to build up the Stammlager of June 1941, shortly after Kammler's appointment. The second decision was for a camp of 100,000 POWs. That was taken clearly at the end of September 1941.
Hoess makes the same error right from his first interrogation on March 14 1946:
- "Nachdem Himmler 1941 das Lager besichtigte erhielt ich den Befehl das Lager als grosses KL fuer den Osten auszubauen insbesonderes die Haeftlinge in der groesstmoeglichst auszubauenden Landwirtschaft einzusetzen und damit das ganzes Sumpf und Ueberschwemmungsgebiet an der Weichsel nutzbar zu machen. Weiteres befahl er ca 8-10.000 Haeftlinge fuer den Bau d. neuen Buna-Werkes der IG Farben bereitzustellen."
All this undoubtedly happened and can be proven from documents
- "Gleichzeitig befahl er auf dem Gelande Birkenau ein Kriegsgefangenenlager fuer ca 100.000 Russische Gefangene zu errichten."
The problem is that outside of the 25.9.41 OKW order there is no evidence that there would be more than 100,000 or so POWs made available for *any* KZ. Thus the plans for construction always rested on a chimera.
The question is whether Himmler, Pohl and Kammler were aware of this or if they were using the designation of KGL as a means of sourcing construction supplies. The conventional functionalist interpretation zeroes in on the 25 January 1942 Himmler order to Gluecks stating that 'no more Soviet POWs are to be expected and that therefore 150,000 Jews will be used'.
This may well be right, because there are elements of Hoess's testimony suggesting that the initial plan for the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz was that they would be killed instantly, on which more below.
The confabulation of Himmler's visit in March 1941 with an actual decision, passed down in document form by Kammler, taken in late September 1941 to build a POW camp of 100,000 capacity, is striking.
In my view, it is quite likely that Hoess confabulated several orders from Himmler made at different times. He brought forward an order from September 1941 to March 1941 regarding the expansion of the POW camp, and invented a June/summer 1941 meeting which may well have been later if it took place at all. It is just as plausible to suggest Hoess met Himmler circa September 1941 and was informed of two things, the decision to expand the camp into a KGL using Soviet POWs, and the decision to involve Auschwitz in the Final Solution. This would mean that Soviet POWs were to construct a camp inside which Jews were to be murdered, by means as yet not quite clear.
This is supported to some extent by the confabulation of the Soviet POWs' gassing in the autumn of 1941, since there were two separate streams of Soviet POWs arriving at Auschwitz, one under 14 f 14/Einsatzbefehl Nr 8, and one in the wake of the order to build up the 'KGL'.
The June 1941 date for the "Himmler meeting" actually reflects the draft plans for the expansion of the POW camp, and coincides with the appointment of Kammler, one of whose first orders was to plan the 30,000 size of the expanded Stammlager.
Kammler undertook a site inspection on October 2, 1941, to size up the new KGL site. So that there was *someone* from Berlin visiting in early October is absolutely 100% certain. This could of course possibly explain some of the confabulations with Eichmann.
What is interesting is how Hoess expresses himself in his first interrogation concerning the infamous Himmler order/meeting.
- "1941 kam die ersten Judeneinlieferungen aus der Slowakei und dem Oberschlesichen Gebiet. Die nichtarbeitsfaehigen wurden im Vorraum des Krematoriums vergast auf einem Befehl Himmlers den er mir persoenlich gab."
The confusions here are interesting. Obviously 1941 means 1942 since Hoess juxtaposes Slovakia with Upper Silesia. He also has Krematorium I in mind, which was indeed sporadically used and may well have been used to select small fractions of two transports from Slovakia in May-June 1942.
-"Ich wurde nach Berlin im Juni 1941 zu Himmler befohlen wo er dem Sinne nach ungefahr folgendes sagte. Der Fuehrer hat die Loesung der Judenfrage in Europa befohlen."
[interpolation of Aktion Reinhard camps follows]
- "Aus allen oben angefuehrten Gruenden erklaerte mir Himmler die einzige Moeglichkeit diese Anlagen so auszubauen wie es den Gesamtplanen entsprach waren in Auschwitz da erstens als Bahnnotenpunkt von 4 durchgehenden Bahnen und auch Bevolkerungsarm das eigentliche Lagergebiet absperrbar sei. Aus diesen Grunden habe er sich entschlossen die Massenvernichtung nach Auschwitz zu verlegen und ich hatte sofort mit den Durchfuehrungsmassnahmen zu beginnen. In 4 Wochen wunsche er genaueste Bauplane die diesen Richtlinien entsprechen."
The mention of "exact construction plans" tends towards an autumn 1941 meeting. It could also refer to the July 1942 meeting, and relate to the new crematoria, BUT the statement then follows with a discussion of the provisional Bunkers, which were set up before the Himmler visit, and before June 1942.
"..... Ich erhielt somit die klare Anweisung die Vernichtung der vom RSHA eingelieferten Transporte durchzufuehren. Uber die Reihenfolge der eingelaufenen Transporte hatte ich mich dem SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Eichmann von Amt 4 (Dienststelle befehlight von Gruppenfuehrer Mueller) in Verbindung zu setzen."
This statement promotes Eichmann to his post-November 1941 final rank. The tendency here in the sequence is to identify the 'deliveries of Jews' first, then a Himmler order, then contacting Eichmann, establishing construction plans, which could possibly be 1942, thus also explaining the 'existing extermination camps' reference, thus moving the whole thing to 1942 as many are wont to do.
- "Zur gleichen Zeit kam auch Transporte von russischen Kriegsgefangenem aus den Gebieten der Gestapoleitstelle Breslau Troppau und Kattowitz die auf Befehl Himmlers schriftliche Anweisungen der zustandigen Gestapoleiters in Auschwitz vernichtet werden mussten"
This shows again a close association in Hoess's mind between the date of the Himmler meeting/order and the arrival of Soviet POWs. Large-scale transports did not arrive until September 1941.
Back to the November 1946 account 'the Final Solution':
- "at the end of November  a conference was held in Eichmann's Berlin office, attended by the entire Jewish section, to which I, too, was summoned"
Whether Hoess attended a meeting "at the end of November"  in IV B 4 is to be determined. Such a dating would place it smack in the preparations for the Wannsee conference, which was originally scheduled for early December. Heydrich's letters went out on November 29, 1941. I regard it as highly likely that a preparatory meeting was arranged within the RSHA, and quite possible that someone like Hoess was invited along.
This is one of the very few references to RSHA-IKL coordination, and there *had* to be some.
- "Eichmann's representatives in the various countries reported on the current stage of the operation and the difficulties encountered in executing it, such as the housing of the prisonmers, the provison of trains for the transports and the planning of timetables, etc"
This obviously sounds much more like an autumn of 1942 review conference dealing with the ongoing deportations already under way, a conference which it is entirely plausible that Hoess, the man dealing with the prisoners on the receiving end, might have attended.
What would be helpful is if there was any form of corroboration as to whether any of "Eichmann's representatives in the various countries" or his direct IV B 4 subordinates such as Guenther or Suhr, confirm such a meeting in November 1941, or whether once again, Hoess has confabulated two different meetings together, one in late 1941 involving a narrower circle perhaps of IV B 4 Berliners only, and a later one, from the autumn of 1942, involving the expanded circle of Judenreferenten.
- "I could not find out when a start was to be made, and Eichmann had not yet discovered a suitable kind of gas"
The first part of the statement conforms to the indecision at the end of 1941, as well as in the early months of 1942, as to what kind of scatter pattern was to be adopted for the deportations.
The second part ties back in with the earlier remarks about the uncertainty of means. It is less convincing and probably confabulated out of Hoess's date confusion.
- "In the autumn of 1941 a secret order was issued instructing the Gestapo to weed out the Russian Politruks"
In actual fact, this order had been issued on July 17, 1941, thus demonstrating Hoess was really not very good way with dates.
Again, see the above use of 'at the same time' in his original statement, juxtaposing the Himmler meeting with the arrival of Soviet POWs demonstrably under 14 f 14/Einsatzbefehl Nr 8.
- "When I was absent on duty my representative, Hauptsturmfuehrer Fritzsch, on his own initiative..."
This statement is repeated in his February 1947 autobiography,
- "during Eichmann's next visit I told him about this use of Cyclon B and we decided to employ it for the mass extermination operation"
If one follows the accepted dating of the Fritzsch gassing experiments as falling in September 1941, then had Hoess met Eichmann at any time after pretty much the first week of September, then he could have told Eichmann about Zyklon B as a killing means straight away
Pressac's dating to December 1941 is highly unlikely, but would fit Hoess's account better. The problem is Pressac's dating lacks much other corroboration, whereas the September 1941 dating is highly corroborated and the most probable dating.
Moreover, a meeting with Eichmann in late November means that the visit would have been in December 1941 or even January 1942, and thus this element is clearly too confused to be useable.
In my view, there was never any real uncertainty about the means, but Hoess assumed there must have been because he had it in his head he had met Himmler earlier in 1941, and knew the gassing experiments came in the autumn of 1941.
- "the killing by Cyclon B gas of the Russian prisoners of war transported to Auschwitz was continued, but no longer in Block 11, since after the gassing the whole building has to be ventilated for at least two days. The mortuary of the crematorium next to the hospital block was therefore used as a gassing room, after the door had been made gasproof and some holes had been pierced in the ceiling through which the gas could be discharged. I can however only recall one transport consisting of nine hundred Russian prisoners being gassed there and I remember that it took several days to cremate their corpses. Russians were not gassed in the peasant farmstead which had now been converted for the extermination of the Jews."
ZBL documents show work being done on various aspects of Krematorium I's ventilation system between September 25 and October 13, 1941.
- "I cannot say on what date the extermination of the Jews began. Probably it was in September 1941"
An obvious confabulation with the likely date of the first gassing of Soviet POWs.
- "but it may not have been until January 1942. The Jews from Upper Silesia were the first to be dealt with."
The rest of this passage segues into a generic description of the handling of an arriving transport and as such, likely confabulates later details, but it suggests that Bunker 1 was possibly active earlier than the "official" date of March 1942
The Kalendarium claims that February 15, 1942, marked the first transport of Jews from Beuthen. Maxmilian Grabner spoke of smaller transports of Jews rendered unfit for work being gassed in the winter of 1941-2. For considerable periods of time, work was underway on parts of Krema I.
However, dating a gassing at the Bunker before March would support the Eichmann-helped-pick-the-bunker-out interpretation instead of the Kammler-helped-pick-the-bunker-out interpretation. I like the latter better because picking out the site of the bunker is the kind of thing Kammler would do.
- "The Jews were made to undress near the bunker"
Hoess does not describe an undressing barracks in this description of the very earliest gassings.
- "During the spring of 1942 the actions were comparatibely small, but the transports increased in the summer, and we were compelled to construct a further extermination building. The peasant farmstead west of the future site of crematoria III and IV was selected and made ready. Two huts near Bunker I and three near Bunker II were erected, in which the victims undressed"
The 'official' dating of the beginnings of gassings in the 'bunkers' are March 1942 (Bunker 1) and June 1942 (Bunker 2). These tie in with a possible decision made during Kammler's visit on February 27, 1942, but Hoess's wording suggests Bunker 1 may have been active before March.
The undressing barracks were those designated as 'Baracken fuer Sonderbehandlung' on repeated itemisations of the various Auschwitz-Birkenau Bauwerke. There were indeed five listed on several itemisations. Other witnesses also record five undressing barracks in all, eg. Szlama Dragon.
- "originally all the Jews transported to Auschwitz on the authority of Eichmann's office were, in accordance with orders of the Reichsfuehrer SS, to be destroyed without exception. This also applied to the Jews from Upper Silesia, but upon the arrival of the first transports of German Jews, the order was given that all those who were able-bodied, whether men or women, were to be segregated and employed on war work. This happened before the construction of the women's camp, since the need for a women's camp in Auschwitz only arose as a result of this order".
This statement is to my mind highly significant. The documented intented purpose of the Auschwitz site from late September 1941 was as a POW camp for 100,000 prisoners. Yet Hoess also discusses his involvement with the Final Solution at this same time. At no time after January 1942 was there ever an intention to kill all deported Jews immediately. Both the Wannsee protocol as well as the 25 January 1942 order indicate a firm intention to use Jewish forced labour. The Wannsee protocol is however utterly silent on the fate of Jews unfit for labour. Conclusion: they were to be killed.
Here we have Hoess stating that the original intention
was to destroy all Jews immediately. This is an entirely plausible assumption for the autumn of 1941 if viewed on the grand scale of what the 'Final Solution' was intended to be. Every indication concerning the fundamental decision (Grundsatzentscheidung
, to use Gerlach's term) concerning the Final Solution made in 1941 by Hitler suggests that Hitler conceived of the Final Solution in manichean terms, as something that was all-or-nothing. All
Jews would have to die. In practice, such a decision had to be moderated.
The impact of the December 1941 defeat before Moscow and the reorientation of the war economy meant that economic factors assumed a greater importance, and thus the selection principle was firmly established by at the latest, Wannsee, whose protocol admits no other reading but that the Nazis intended to use the able-bodied for labour and would murder the unfit, whose fate was strikingly left silent at this time. Wannsee relativises the famous 25 January 1942 order to bring 150,000 Jews for labour purposes into the KZs; it identifies this initial wave of transports as among the fit for work, whereas the overall intention of the RSHA was to exterminate the unfit. This required establishing facilities capable of doing this, which is why the labourers led off first to some extent.
In the case of Auschwitz, this then resulted in the well-known paradox that the first transports from Slovakia and Western Europe were brought in as labourers, in order to build up the camp site, only from July 1942 onwards did this then change over into the firm selection principle. However, before July 1942, a wave of deportations from Upper Silesia had all perished in the 'bunkers', and selections inside the camp had begun to some extent. The scale of the Ostoberschlesien spring wave is given as up to 26,000 Jews during May and June 1942, which is comparable with Sobibor in the same period.
The dating of the change of order to before the establishment of the Frauenlager dates this to before March 26, 1942. That is entirely consistent with several other sources showing that the grand scheme of the Endloesung would henceforth first kill off the unfit, and then decimate the able bodied until they too would eventually disappear. These sources include:
- the Mueller RSHA order to the BdS Ostland excluding able-bodied Jews between 16 and 32 from Sonderbehandlung
- Wisliceny's claim to have seen an order from Himmler to Heydrich in April 1942, making the same general statement
- the evolving practices in the Lublin district, beginning in March 1942, which saw a selection for labour on the spot, documented in Hoefle's meeting with the local Lublin governorate officials circa mid-March 1942
- generically, the relevant references in the Goebbels diary entry of March 27, 1942
The first transports of Slovak and French Jews arrived on March 26 and March 30 1942 respectively, and were clearly operating under the rubric of this fundamental modification which fell some time in between January and March 1942; they were fit for work, and would be initially spared in order to provide the labour to build up the camp.
The initial wave of Slovak and French transports amounted to just 17,000 labourers before the end of June 1942, of which 1400 were transferred from Majdanek (including, for example, Rudolf Vrba), so that they were greatly outweighed by the simultaneous deportation of up to 26,000 Upper Silesian Jews directly to their deaths. Two of the Slovak transports before the end of June 1942 were also subjected to selections.
Thus, the synthesis of July 1942 (the almost continuous selections from July 4 onwards) represented simply the merging of two parallel streams that were already under way.