Cracow statement of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess

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Cracow statement of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess

Postby David Thompson » 11 Jun 2004 02:11

SS-Obersturmbannfűhrer Rudolf Hoess served as commandant of concentration camp (Konzentrationslager - KL) Auschwitz between 1940 and 1943. Hoess was captured by the British, testified at the International Military Tribunal proceedings at Nuernberg, and was then extradited to Poland. While awaiting his war crimes trial, Hoess gave this statement at Cracow in Nov 1946. The text is taken from Steven Paskuly's biography of Hoess, Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz, trans. Andrew Dollinger, Prometheus Books, Buffalo (NY): 1992, pp. 27-47. Here is part 1 of 2:


The Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Concentration Camp Auschwitz

In the summer of 1941, I am unable to recall the exact date, I was suddenly ordered by Himmler's adjutant to report directly to the Reichsführer SS[1] in Berlin. Contrary to his usual custom, his adjutant was not in the room. Himmler greeted me with the following: "The Führer has ordered the Final Solution of the Jewish question. We the SS have to carry out this order. The existing extermination sites in the East[2] are not in a position to carry out these intended operations on a large scale. I have, therefore, chosen Auschwitz for this purpose. First of all, because of the advantageous transport facilities, and secondly, because it allows this area to be easily isolated and disguised. I had first thought of choosing a higher-ranking SS officer for this job so as to avoid any difficulties with someone who doesn't have the competence to deal with such a difficult assignment. You now have to carry out this assignment. It is to remain between the two of us. It is a hard and difficult job which requires your complete commitment, regardless of the difficulties which may arise. You will learn the further

[1] In the German text Höss almost always referred to Heinrich Himmler by his title rather than his name. Himmler had the title of Reichsführer der SS, the highest rank in the SS, which was abbreviated to RFSS. It would be equivalent to field marshal, or a five-star general in the U.S. Army.
[2] Himmler was most likely referring to the special squads (called Einsatzgruppen) who were killing civilians in the Soviet Union, since there were no extermination centers in the East per se, in the Soviet Union. KL Auschwitz as Seen by the SS, Panstwowe Muzeum w Oswiecimiu (KL–PMO), 1978, p. 108. Contrary to what Richard Breitman contends in The Architect of Genocide, 1991, Höss is not incorrect that it was 1941 that Himmler gave him the order to prepare for the Final Solution. The evidence that Breitman dismisses is monumental: the experimental gassings in Auschwitz in September 1941; the gassings at Majdanek by Globocnik in December 1941; the reference in the Wannsee Conference minutes to a "solution" having been found for those unable to work; and the first transport of Silesian Jews gassed in January 1942. These and hundreds of other pieces of evidence are overlooked by Breitman. Simply put, Breitman is wrong in his conclusion that it was not until the summer of 1942 that Höss received the order from Himmler.


details through Major [Adolf] Eichmann of the RSHA [Reich Security Headquarters], who will soon visit you. The administrative departments involved will be notified by me at the appropriate time. You are sworn to the strictest silence regarding this order. Not even your superiors are allowed to know about this. After your meeting with Eichmann I want you to immediately send me the plans of the intended installations.

"The Jews are the eternal enemies of the German people and must be exterminated. All the Jews within our reach must be annihilated during this war. If we do not succeed in destroying the biological foundation of Jewry now, then one day the Jews will destroy the German people."

After receiving this far-reaching order, I returned to Auschwitz immediately without reporting to my superiors at Oranienburg.

A short time after that Eichmann came to see me at Auschwitz. He revealed the secret plans of the police roundups in the individual countries. I cannot recall the exact sequence anymore. The Jews in eastern Upper Silesia were to be first, then the neighboring areas of the General Gouvernement [the southern part of Poland]. At the same time and according to their location, the Jews from Germany and Czechoslovakia, and finally from the West, France, Belgium, and Holland, were to be sent to Auschwitz. He also mentioned to me the approximate numbers anticipated to be transported, but I don't recall the exact figures. We further discussed how the mass annihilation was to be carried out. Only gas was suitable since killing by shooting the huge numbers expected would be absolutely impossible and would also be a tremendous strain on the SS soldiers who would have to carry out the order as far as the women and children were concerned.

Eichmann told me about the killings by engine exhaust gas in the gas vans[3] and how they had been used in the East up until now. But this method was not suitable in view of the expected mass transports to Auschwitz. We also discussed killing by carbon monoxide through the shower heads in the shower rooms, but this would also create a problem because too many intricate installations would be needed. The killing of the mentally ill was carried out in various places in Germany using this method.[4] But


[3] The gas vans or trucks were first used in March 1940 in Warthegau to kill mental patients. There were two types of vans: one that could hold eighty to one hundred people, and one that could hold about 150 people. The bodies of the trucks were built with narrow, tongue-in-groove boards with sheet metal on the inside. The exhaust gas from the engine ran to an inlet in the floor inside the van. The inlet was protected by perforated sheet iron to prevent the victims from blocking the entry of the gas. KL-PMO, p. 109.
[4] It was not only the mental patients, but also the crippled, invalids, and the chronically ill who were selected. A transport of 575 prisoners was escorted by Duty Officer Hössler to the mental hospital in Sonnenstein, where they were gassed in a bathhouse with carbon monoxide through the showers. KL-PMO, p. 109.


the production of such great quantities of gas for such large numbers of people would be a problem.

We didn't reach any decision about this. Eichmann wanted to find a gas that was easy to produce and one that would require no special installations; he then would report back to me.[5] We drove around the Auschwitz area to locate a suitable place. We thought the farmhouse at the northwest corner of Birkenau near planned Section III would be suitable.[6] The house had been abandoned, and it was hidden from view by the surrounding trees and bushes and not too far from the railroad.

The bodies could be buried in long, deep pits in the nearby meadows. We didn't think about burning them at this time. We calculated that in the space available in the farmhouse [later called Bunker I], approximately eight hundred people could be killed using a suitable gas after the building was made airtight. We later found this to be the actual capacity. Eichmann was unable to tell me the precise starting time of the operation because everything was still being planned, and Himmler had not yet given the order to begin.

Eichmann returned to Berlin to report our meeting to Himmler. Several days later I sent a courier to Himmler with a detailed layout and an exact description of the designed installations. I never received a reply or a decision. Later on, Eichmann told me that Himmler agreed with my plan. At the end of November there was an official conference in Eichmann's Berlin office about the overall Jewish operation to which I was also invited. Eichmann's deputies reported the status of the police actions in the individual countries and about the difficulties that interfered with the execution of these operations: how those who were arrested were housed, the preparation of the transport trains, scheduling difficulties, and so on. I was not yet able to find out when the operation would begin. Eichmann still had not found a suitable gas.[7]

In the fall of 1941 a special secret order was issued to the POW camps by which the Russian politruks, commissars, and other political functionaries were selected by the Gestapo and moved to the nearest concentration camp to be killed. Small transports of this kind were continuously arriving at Auschwitz. They were shot in the gravel pits at the Monopol Factory or in the courtyard of Block 11. While I was away on camp-related business, Captain Fritzsch, on his own initiative, employed a gas for the killing of

[5] Judging from Höss's memoirs, the visit must have been before September 3, 1941, since the first mass murders with Cyclon B was on this date. KL-PMO, p. 110.
[6] This was later called Bunker I, although Höss refers to it with other designations. It was the red farmhouse of Josef Wichaj and Rydzon, who were deported by the Nazis. KL-PMO, p. 110. Höss uses the German word for abandoned to describe the empty farmhouse.
[7] This was probably at the beginning of September 1941 because in his memoirs Höss states, "During Eichmann's next visit I told him about the use of Cyclon B and we decided to use it for the mass extermination, operations." KL-PMO, p. 111.


these Russian POWs. He crammed the Russians into the individual cells in the basement [of Block 11] and while using gasmasks he threw the Cyclon B gas into the cells, thereby causing their immediate death.[8] The gas called Cyclon B was supplied by the firm of Tesch and Stabenow and was used constantly for insect and rodent control. We always had a large supply of gas canisters available. At first only the employees of the firm of Tesch and Stabenow handled this poison gas, a prussic acid preparation, under the strictest safety measures. Later on some members of the Medical Corps[9] were trained at the firm to carry out disinfection procedures, and it was these medics who then carried out disinfection and pest control. During Eichmann's next visit I reported all this to him, about how the Cyclon B was used, and we decided that for the future mass annihilations we would use this gas.

The killing of the above-mentioned Russian POWs using Cyclon B was continued, but no longer in Block 11 because it took at least two days to air out the building.

We therefore used the morgue of the crematory as the gassing facility.[10] The doors were made airtight, and we knocked some holes in the ceiling through which we could throw in the gas crystals.

But I remember only one transport of nine hundred Russian POWs who were gassed there. It took several days to burn their bodies.

No Russians were ever gassed in the above-mentioned farmhouse


[8] The first attempt to kill people with Cyclon B gas at Auschwitz occurred in the basement of Block 11 on September 3, 1941. On September 2, 1941, Camp Commander (Lagerfuehrer) SS Captain Karl Fritzsch selected nine prisoners to remain in the block out of the nineteen who were put into the cells in Block 11 the previous day. The next day the ten prisoners and some other prisoners were sent back to Block 11 and ordered to remove the beds from Block 11. On September 3, 1941, the Medical Corps was told by the SS to bring 250 sick prisoners from the hospital blocks and put them into the cells (bunkers) of Block 11. Afterwards some six hundred Soviet POWs were forced into the basement. The basement windows were covered up with earth. The SS men poured in the Cyclon B and closed the doors. On September 4, 1941, Duty Officer Palitzsch, wearing a gas mask, opened the doors and saw that some of the prisoners were still alive. More Cyclon B was thrown in and the doors were again closed. On the next evening, September 5, twenty prisoners from the penal colony were taken from Block 5 along with the sanitation orderlies from the hospital block and told that they would be doing some special work, which they were not supposed to discuss with anyone, under pain of death. The prisoners were given gas masks and told to go into the basement of Block 11 and bring the bodies out into the courtyard between Blocks 10 and 11. They removed the military uniforms. The corpses were left in their underwear. Moving the bodies by wagons to the crematory lasted late into the night. KL—PMO, p. 92.
[9] The Medical Corps in Auschwitz consisted of SS who were basically just sanitation orderlies. When the process of gassing became more sophisticated and disguised, the Medical Corps used trucks with Red Cross markings to bring the Cyclon B gas to the large crematories at Birkenau.
[10] Höss means Crematory 1 at Auschwitz itself. This is the only crematory left undestroyed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. It is located just across the road from the SS hospital building.


[Bunker I], which now had been prepared for the extermination of the Jews.

I am unable to recall when the destruction of the Jews began—probably in September 1941, or perhaps not until January 1942.[11] At first we dealt with the Jews from Upper Silesia. These Jews were arrested by the Gestapo from Katowice and transported via the Auschwitz-Dziediez railroad and unloaded there. As far as I can recall, these transports never numbered more than a thousand persons.

A detachment of SS from the camp took charge of them at the railroad ramp, and the officer in charge marched them to the bunker [I] in two groups. This is what we called the extermination installation.

Their luggage remained on the ramp and was later brought between the DAW [German Armaments Works][12] and the railroad station.

The Jews had to undress at the bunker and were told that they would have to 'go into the delousing rooms. All of the rooms—there were five of them—were filled at the same time. The airtight doors were screwed tight, and the contents of the gas crystal canisters emptied into the rooms through special hatches.

After half an hour the doors were opened and the bodies were pulled out. Each room had two doors.

They were then moved using small carts on special tracks to the ditches. The clothing was brought by trucks to the sorting place. All of the work was done by a special contingent of Jews [the Sonderkommando]. They had to help those who were about to die with the undressing, the filling up of the bunkers, the clearing of the bunkers, removal of the bodies, as well as digging the mass graves and, finally, covering the graves with earth. These Jews were housed separately from the other prisoners and, according to Eichmann's orders,[13] they themselves were to be killed after each large extermination action.

After the first transports Eichmann brought an order from Himmler


[11] The first mass murder of Jews brought from Upper Silesia took place in January 1942. Bunker I (the farmhouse) at Birkenau had already been prepared for the transports. The bodies were buried in a common grave in a nearby meadow. From the History of Auschwitz, 1967, PMO, p. 191.
[12] DAW is the acronym for Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke, SS arms factories using prisoners from Auschwitz.
[13] It is unlikely that Eichmann could or would give such orders since he was not in charge of the camps. The camp Kommandants were not answerable to Eichmann, but only to Himmler and Camp Administration and Supply (Pohl and Maurer). Eichmann stated to Israeli interrogators after his capture that he was never in a position to give such orders. He claimed that Höss lied in his memoirs about his role in the Final Solution. Throughout his trial in Israel, which began April 11, 1961, Eichmann maintained that his department was only in charge of rounding up the Jews in the various areas in Europe and coordinating the transportation to the death camps. Jochen von Lang, Eichmann Interrogated 1983.


which specified that the gold teeth[14] were to be pulled from the mouths of the bodies, and the hair was to be cut from the dead women.[15] This work was also carried out by special groups of Jews. Supervising the extermination at that time was the camp commander [Captain Hans Aumeier] or the duty officer [Master Sergeant Gerhard Palitzsch].

The sick who could not be brought to the gassing rooms were simply killed with small-caliber weapons by shooting them in the back of the neck. An SS doctor also had to be present. The gas was administered by trained medics.

During the spring of 1942 we were still dealing with small police actions. But during the summer the transports became more numerous and we were forced to build another extermination site. The farm area west of Crematories IV and V,[16] which were built later, was chosen and prepared. Five barracks were built, two near Bunker I and three near Bunker II. Bunker II was the larger one. It held about 1,200 people. As late as the summer of 1942 the bodies were still buried in mass graves. Not until the end of the summer of 1942 did we start burning them. At first we put two thousand bodies on a large pile of wood. Then we opened up the mass graves and burned the new bodies on top of the old ones from the earlier burials. At first we poured waste oil over the bodies. Later on we used methanol. The burning went on continuously—all day and all night. By the end of November all the mass graves were cleared. The number of buried bodies in the mass graves was 107,000. This number contains not only the first Jewish transports which were gassed when we started the burnings, but also the bodies of the prisoners who died in the main Auschwitz camp during the winter of 1941-42 because the crematory was out of order. The prisoners who died at Birkenau [Auschwitz II] are included in that number.

During his visit in the summer of 1942, Himmler very carefully observed the entire process of annihilation. He began with the unloading at the ramps

[14] After the gassings members of the Sonderkommando pulled the gold teeth from the victims. The gold was melted down into ingots, at first by SS, later by dentists. After Crematory IIl was built, a special laboratory was constructed to melt the gold. The gold ingots were sent to the SS Sanitation Head Office. KL-PMO, p. 114.
[15] The female victims of the gas chambers had their hair cut off. The hair was then dried, in the upper floors of the crematories, packed in bags, and sent to Germany to be processed, where it was used in the production of felt and haircloth. KL-PMO, p. 114.
[16] Höss used a different system to number the gas chambers, which he labeled only crematories. Höss counts the four gas chambers in Birkenau as numbers Ito IV. The Auschwitz Museum counts all the gas chambers as follows: number I was the building across from the SS hospital in Auschwitz itself; numbers II through V were in Birkenau; the red farmhouse and the white farmhouse are called Bunkers I and II by Höss respectively. Altogether there were seven buildings used for the Final Solution. The numbering used by Höss has been changed in the text to facilitate the reader's understanding.


and completed the inspection as Bunker II was being cleared of the bodies. At that time there were no open-pit burnings. He did not complain about anything, but he didn't say anything about it either. Accompanying him were District Leader Bracht and SS General Schmauser. Shortly after Himmler's visit, SS Colonel Blobel from Eichmann's office arrived and brought Himmler's order, which stated that all the mass graves were to be opened and all the bodies cremated. It further stated that all the ashes were to be disposed of in such a way that later on there would be no way to determine the number of those cremated.

Blobel had already conducted various experiments in Kulmhof [Chelmno],[17] which tried to burn the bodies in various ways. He was ordered by Eichmann to show me the installations. I drove with Hössler to Chelmno for an inspection.[18] Blobel had different auxiliary ovens built and used wood and leftover gasoline for the burnings. He also tried using dynamite to blow up the corpses, but he had very little success with this method. After the bones were ground up into dust in the bone mills, the ashes were scattered in nearby wooded areas.

SS Colonel Blobel had a standing order to find the location of all mass graves in the Eastern Sector and to eliminate them. His staff was working under a disguised designation called 1005.[19] The actual work was done by a unit of Jews who were shot after completing their jobs. Concentration Camp Auschwitz had to constantly supply Jews for the 1005 unit.


[17] Because of the shifting borders throughout history many cities and towns in Poland were named and renamed in German by the Prussian and the Austrian and, of course, the Polish governments. The Nazis also renamed many Polish cities to make them sound German. Oswiecim is the real name of the town the Germans called Auschwitz. Where possible the editor has used the current Polish names to aid the reader in determining the location of these cities.
[18] Höss left on September 16, 1940, with Lieutenants Hössler and Dejaco from the SS garrison of Auschwitz. KL-PMO, p. 116.
[19] Höss has confused the dates here. This occurred much later. The word Kommando was coined by the SS to refer to any work detail. The 1005 Kommando was called the "Death Brigade." Its job was to dig up the mass graves in the Lwow area and burn them to destroy any trace of the murders committed. KL-PMO, p. 116.Himmler ordered all mass graves dug up and the corpses burned because of the discovery of seven mass graves containing the bodies of 4,143 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest in the Soviet Union six miles west of Smolensk. It was determined by thirteen forensic specialists that the murders had been committed no later than the beginning of the spring of 1940. The fact that the Soviet Union was not invaded until June 22, 1941, and that the German army only reached the Smolensk area in August 1941 indicates that it was the Soviets who murdered the Polish officers. With the exception of a Bulgarian, none of the forensic specialists changed his 1943 signed declarations after the war. A signed declaration dated May 22, 1945, by an American colonel named van Vliet, who was a prisoner of war in Germany, declared, "The bodies wore winter uniforms. The boots and clothing were in excellent condition and showed no signs of wear." Van Vliet's conclusion was that if the Poles were killed by the Germans the clothes and boots would have shown at least two years wear. The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of World War II, 1972, pp. 1416-25.


During my visit to Chelmno I also saw the airtight trucks used to kill prisoners with carbon monoxide gas [exhaust gas from the truck engine]. The officer in charge of that unit, however, described this method as unreliable. The gas supply was erratic and often not enough to kill. I could not learn how many bodies were in the mass graves at Chelmno, or how many had already been cremated.

Blobel had a fairly accurate knowledge of the number of mass graves in the eastern districts, but he was sworn to the greatest secrecy in the matter.

Originally, all the Jews transported to Auschwitz by the authority of Eichmann's office were to be destroyed without exception, according to Himmler's orders. This also applied to the Jews from Upper Silesia.[20] But during the arrival of the first transports of German Jews, the order was given that all able-bodied men and women. were to be separated and put to work in the arms factories.

This occurred before the construction of the women's camp,[21] since the need for a women's camp in Auschwitz only arose as a result of this order.

Because of the steadily growing arms industry, which was developing extensively in the camps, and also because of the recent use of prisoners in the arms factories outside the camps, a serious shortage of prisoners suddenly made its impact on us. This was something new because before this Kommandants had to think of ways to keep their prisoners occupied.

The Jews, however, were only to be employed in the Auschwitz camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau was to become a Jewish camp exclusively. Prisoners of all other nationalities were to be transferred to other camps. This order was never completely carried out, and later Jews even worked in the arms factories outside the camp because of a shortage of workers.

The selection of the able-bodied Jews was supposed to be made by SS doctors, but it often happened that officers of the protective custody camp and of the Labor Department themselves selected the prisoners with-out my knowledge or even my approval. This was the cause of constant friction between the SS doctors and the officers in the Labor Department. Differing opinions developed among the officers in Auschwitz and were further inflamed by the contradictory interpretations of Himmler's orders by the headquarters in Berlin. For security reasons the Gestapo headquarters had the greatest interest in the destruction of as many Jews as possible.


[20] The first transports of Jews from Upper Silesia arrived in January 1942. KL-PMO, p. 117.
[21] Höss is mistaken here, since the women's camp in Birkenau, section B Ia, was from as early as August 1942. The first transports from concentration camps in Germany did not arrive until October 1942. The transports of civilian Jews from Germany proper did not begin until February 1943. KL-PMO, p. 117.


The Reichsartz [medical section] SS established the policy of selection and believed that only Jews who were completely fit and able to work should be selected. The weak, the old, and those who were relatively healthy would soon become incapable of work, which would cause a further deterioration in the general standard and an unnecessary increase in the hospital accommodations, requiring further medical personnel and medicines, and all for no purpose, since they would all be killed in the end.

The Economic Administration Headquarters [Pohl and Maurer] was only interested in gathering the largest possible labor force to be employed in the arms factories, regardless of the fact that these people would later become incapable of working. This conflict of interest was further sharpened by the immensely increased demands for prisoner labor made by the Ministry of Supply and the Todt Organization [ministry of armaments]. Himmler was always promising both of these departments numbers which could never be supplied. [Colonel] Maurer was in the difficult position of being able to only partially fulfill the insistent demands of the departments referred to and therefore was perpetually harassing the labor office to provide him with the greatest possible number of workers.

It was impossible to get Himmler to make a definite decision on this matter.

I believed that only the strong and healthy Jews should be selected to work.

The sorting process went as follows: The railway cars were unloaded one after another. After depositing their baggage, the Jews had to individually pass in front of an SS doctor, who decided on their physical fitness as they marched past him. Those who were considered able-bodied were immediately escorted into the camp in small groups.

On average in all transports between 25 and 30 percent were found fit for work, but this figure fluctuated considerably. The figure for Greek Jews, for example, was only 15 percent, while there were transports from Slovakia with a fitness rate of 100 percent 22 Jewish doctors and administrative personnel were taken into the camp without exception.

It became apparent during the first cremations in the open air that in the long run it would not be possible to continue in that manner. During bad weather or when a strong wind was blowing, the stench of burning flesh was carried for many miles and caused the entire area to talk about the burning of Jews, despite official counter-propaganda. It is true that all members of the SS detailed for the extermination were bound to secrecy,

[22] In spite of the sound physical condition of the Slovakian Jews, of the 3,243 Jews sent to the camp, only 227 were still alive on August 15, 1942. KL—PMO, p. 120. (See appendix II for more details.)
Last edited by David Thompson on 11 Jun 2004 02:21, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby David Thompson » 11 Jun 2004 02:17

Part 2:


but even the most severe punishment was unable to stop their love of gossip.

The antiaircraft defenses protested against the fires because they could be seen from great distances at night. Nevertheless, the buntings had to continue, even at night, unless further transports were to be refused. The schedule of individual operations which was set at a conference of the Ministry of Communications had to be rigidly adhered to in order to avoid congestion and confusion with military rail transports. It was for these reasons that the energetic planning and construction of the two large crematories [II and III] and the building of the two smaller crematories [IV and V] were completed in 1943.23 Another crematory was planned which would have exceeded the others in size, but it was never completed because in the fall of 1944 Himmler called an immediate halt to the extermination of the Jews.[24]

The two large crematories were built in the winter of 1942-43 and brought into service in the spring of 1943. Each had five ovens with three doors [retorts] per oven and could cremate about two thousand bodies in less than twenty-four hours. Technical difficulties made it impossible to increase the capacity. Attempts to do this caused severe damage to the installations and on several occasions they were unable to function.

Crematories [II and III] both had underground undressing rooms and underground gas chambers in which the air could be completely ventilated. The bodies were taken to the ovens on the floor above by an elevator. The [two] gas chambers could hold three thousand people, but this number was never achieved, since the individual transports were never that large.

The two smaller crematories [IV and V] were capable of burning about 1,500 bodies in twenty-four hours, according to the calculations made by the construction company called Topf of Erfurt. Because of the wartime shortage of materials, the builders were forced to economize during the construction of Crematories [IV and V]. They were built above ground and the ovens were not as solidly constructed. It soon became apparent, however, that the poor construction of these two ovens, each with four retorts, did not meet the requirements. Crematory [IV] failed completely after a short time and later was not used at all.[25] Crematory [V] had to

[23] The dates given by Höss are incorrect. Of the two large gas chambers, Crematory II was completed on March 31, 1943, Crematory III on June 25, 1943. The two smaller gas chamber crematories, IV and V, were completed on March 22, 1943, and April 4, 1943, respectively. KL-PMO, p. 121.
[24] According to evidence provided by SS Colonel Kurt Becher, Himmler made this decision on November 26, 1944. KL-PMO, p. 122.[25] Höss fails to mention that a revolt by the Sonderkommando erupted on October 9, 1944, resulting in the complete destruction of Crematory IV. PMO.
Filip Müller states in Auschwitz Inferno, 1979, p. 155, that the revolt of the Sonderkommando in Crematory IV took place on October 7, 1944.


be repeatedly shut down, since after its fires had been burning for four to six weeks the ovens or the chimneys burned out. The gassed bodies were mostly burned in pits behind Crematory [V].

The provisional building [the red farmhouse] was demolished when work began on building section [B] III in Birkenau.

[Gas Chamber] II [the white farmhouse], later designated Bunker V, was used up until the last and was also kept as a standby when breakdowns occurred in Crematories [II or IIl]. When larger numbers of transports were received, the gassing was carried out by day in Crematory V, while Crematories I to IV were used for the transports that arrived during the night. There was no limit to the number of bodies that could be burned at [the white farmhouse] as long as the cremations could be carried out both day and night 26 Because of enemy air raids, no further cremations were allowed during the night after 1944. The highest total figure of people gassed and cremated in twenty-four hours was slightly more than nine thousand. This figure was reached in the summer of 1944, during the action in Hungary,[27] using all the installations except Crematory [IV].

On that day five trains arrived because of delays on the rail lines, instead of three, as was expected, and in addition the railroad cars were more crowded than usual.

The crematories were built at the end of the two main roads in the Birkenau camp. First of all, this was done so as not to increase the area of the camp and with it all the safety precautions required, and secondly, so that they would not be too far from the camp since there were plans to use the gas chambers and undressing rooms as bathhouses when the extermination program was completed.

The buildings were to be screened from view by a wall or hedges, but lack of material prevented this from being done. As a temporary measure, all extermination buildings were hidden under camouflage nets.

The three railway tracks between Sectors [B] I and [B] II in Birkenau were supposed to be rebuilt as a railroad station with a roof. The railroad was to be extended to Crematories [IV] and [V], so that the unloading process would also be hidden from the eyes of unauthorized people. Again


[26] Höss means here that the gassing could go on continuously because the open-pit burning was not limited as were the ovens.[27] This was also called Aktion Höss because although Höss was now the deputy inspector of concentration camps, with his office in Oranienburg, Himmler ordered him back to Auschwitz to oversee the destruction of the Hungarian Jews. He arrived on May 8, 1944, and assumed the duties of the Kommandant of the garrison and began preparing the installations at Birkenau to efficiently murder the Hungarian Jews. Crematory V was made operational again, five burning pits were dug near the crematory, Bunker II was reactivated because it had not been in recent use, a hut (small barracks) for undressing was also built, and the railway ramp with a three-track siding was constructed in Birkenau. KL–PMO, p. 123.


the shortage of materials prevented this plan from being completed.

Because of Himmler's increasing insistence about the employment of prisoners in the arms factories, [SS General] Pohl found himself compelled to resort to using Jews who had become unfit for work. The order was given that if the Jews could be made fit and employable within six weeks, they were to be given special care and food.[28] Until then all Jews who had become unable to work were gassed with the next transport or killed by injection if they happened to be in the infirmary. As far as Auschwitz-Birkenau was concerned, this order was sheer idiocy.

We lacked everything. There were practically no medical supplies. The housing was such that there was scarcely even room for the most seriously ill. The food was completely insufficient, and every month the Ministry of Food cut the amount of supplies still further. But all protests were useless, and every effort had to be made to carry out the order.

The results of the overcrowding of the healthy prisoners could no longer be avoided. The general standard of health was lowered, and diseases spread like a forest fire. As a result of this order the death rate shot up and general living conditions deteriorated tremendously. I do not believe that a single sick Jew was ever made fit again to work in the arms factories.

Jews who were taken to the camp by order of Eichmann's office—RSHA IV B4—were designated as "Transport-Juden." The reports that announced the arrival had the following notice: "This transport is to be included in the given orders and is subject to special treatment [Sonderbehandlung — SB]." The Jews previous to this, i.e., before the orders for extermination were issued, were labeled "Schutzhaft" [protective custody], or Jews who belonged to one of the other categories of prisoners.[29]

During my earlier interrogations I gave the number of 2.5 million Jews[30] who arrived at Auschwitz to be exterminated. This figure was given to me by Eichmann, who had given this figure to my superior, SS General Glücks, when Eichmann was ordered to make a report to Himmler shortly before Berlin was surrounded. Eichmann and his deputy, Günther, were the only ones who had the necessary information to calculate the total number of Jews annihilated. According to the orders given by Himmler, all information concerning the number of victims involved was to be burned


[28] These orders were issued as late as December 9 and 14, 1944, when the exterminations had already been interrupted because of the deteriorating German front lines and the growing need for workers in the arms factories. KL-PMO, p. 124.
[29] This paragraph was omitted in the German and previous English editions.
[30] According to the Auschwitz Museum there is no exact number of the victims in Auschwitz-Birkenau and its more than thirty subcamps. The Soviet government has stated that the total number of victims is near four million, while the Auschwitz Museum, under the auspices of the Polish government, officially states the four million figure. Museum historians privately estimate that there were between 2.8 and 3.5 million victims.


after each action at Auschwitz.

As head of Department D I, I personally destroyed every bit of evidence which could be found in my office. The other department heads did the same.

According to Eichmann, Himmler and Gestapo Headquarters had also destroyed all their files.

Only his personal notes contained this information. It is possible that because of the negligence of some departments a few isolated documents, teleprinter messages, or wireless messages remain undestroyed, but they could not give enough information to make a calculation.

I myself never knew the total number, and I have nothing to help me arrive at an estimate.

I can only remember the figures involved in the larger actions, which were repeated to me by Eichmann or his deputies.

From Upper Silesia and the General Gouvernement 250,000
Germany and Theresienstadt 100,000
Holland 95,000
Belgium 20,000
France 110,000
Greece 65,000
Hungary 400,000
Slovakia 90,000 [Total 1,130,000][31]

I can no longer remember the figures for the smaller actions, but they were insignificant by comparison with the numbers given above.[32]

I regard a total of 2.5 million as far too high. Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive capabilities.

Figures given by former prisoners are figments of their imagination and have no foundation in fact.
Action Reinhardt was the code name given to the collecting, sorting, and use of all articles acquired as the result of the transports of the Jews and their extermination.

Any member of the SS who laid his hands on this Jewish property was punished with death on Himmler's order. Personal property valued in the millions was seized.


[31] The totaled number is provided by the editor, not Höss. (See appendix II for more
detailed information.)
[32] Höss fails to mention the following countries from which Jews were transported: Austria, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, the Soviet Union, Trieste, the Ukraine (in Russia), and Italy. KL-PMO, p. 128. These were by no means small actions.


An immense amount of property was stolen by members of the SS, the police, also by the prisoners, civilian workers, and by railway personnel.
A great deal of this still lies hidden and buried in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp area.

When the Jewish transports arrived and were unloaded, their luggage was left on the platform until the Jews had been taken to the extermination buildings or into the camp. During the early days all luggage would then be brought by a transport Kommando to the sorting office called Canada I,[33] where it would be sorted and disinfected. The clothing of those who had been gassed in Bunkers I and II, or in Crematories II to V, was also brought to the sorting office.

By 1942 Canada I could no longer keep up with the sorting even though new huts and sheds were constantly being added and the prisoners were sorting day and night. Although the number of prisoners employed was constantly increased and several trucks [often as many as twenty] were loaded daily with the sorted items, the piles of unsorted luggage kept on growing. So in 1942 the construction of the Canada II warehouse was begun at the west end of Sector II in Birkenau [B IIg]. Construction was also begun on the extermination buildings and a bathhouse for new arrivals.[34]

Thirty newly built barracks were crammed to capacity right after their completion, while mountains of unsorted items piled up outside between the buildings.[35] In spite of the enlarged sorting Kommandos, it was impossible to complete the job during the course of the individual actions, which always lasted from four to six weeks. It was only during the longer intervals that some semblance of order was achieved.

Clothing and footwear were examined for hidden valuables, although hastily in view of the quantities involved. They were then stored or handed over to the camp to supplement the inmates' clothing. Later on they were also sent to other camps. A considerable part of the clothing was passed to welfare organizations for resettlers and then later to victims of air raids. Large, important arms factories received considerable quantities of these


[33] There were two Canadas. Canada I was near the Auschwitz camp, Canada II was located outside the barracks area across from the sauna and shower building on the west side of the Birkenau camp. The term Canada was coined by the prisoners because the nation of Canada meant wealth and prosperity.
[34] This building was used as a shower and sauna. This was not for the comfort of the prisoners but more to keep the spread of disease under control, since the typhus epidemic in 1942 resulted in thousands of prisoners and even some SS dying.
[35] Canada II consisted of thirty-five barracks. On January 23, 1945, five days before the liberation of the camp by the Soviet army, the SS set fire to thirty storehouses crammed full with the property of the murdered millions. The barracks burned for several days. In six of the partially destroyed barracks 1,185,345 men's suits and women's outfits, 43,255 pairs of shoes, 13,694 carpets, and huge quantities of hairbrushes, shaving brushes, and other articles used in everyday life were also found. KL-PMO, p. 129.


stored items for their foreign workers.

Blankets and mattresses, etc., were also sent to the welfare organizations. When the camp itself required these articles they were kept to complete the inventory, but other camps also received large shipments.

Valuables were taken over by a special section of the camp command and sorted by experts. A similar procedure was followed with the money that was found.

The jewelry was usually of great value, especially when its Jewish owners came from the West. Among these items could be found precious stones worth thousands of dollars; priceless gold and platinum watches set with diamonds; rings, earrings, and necklaces which were quite rare. Money from all countries amounted in the thousands of dollars. Often tens of thousands of dollars, mostly in thousand-dollar bills, were found on individuals. They used every possible hiding place: their clothing, their luggage, and even their bodies.

When the sorting process that followed each major operation had been completed, the valuables and money were packed into trucks and taken to the Economic Administration Headquarters office in Berlin and then finally to the Reichsbank, where a special department dealt exclusively with items taken during the actions against the Jews. On one occasion Eichmann told me that the jewelry and currency were sold in Switzerland, and that the entire Swiss jewelry market was dominated by these sales.

Ordinary watches by the thousands were sent to Sachsenhausen. A large watchmaker's shop had been set up there which employed hundreds of prisoners and was directly administered by Department D II [Colonel Maurer]. The watches were sorted and repaired in the workshop. The majority of these watches were later sent for use by SS and regular army troops at the front lines.

The gold taken from the teeth was melted into bars by the dentists in the SS hospital and sent monthly to the Sanitary Office Headquarters.

Precious stones of great value were also found hidden in the teeth that had fillings.

The hair cut from the women prisoners was sent to a firm in Bavaria to be used for the war effort.

Unusable clothing was sent for salvage; likewise shoes and boots were taken apart and reused as much as possible. What was left over was made into leather dust.

The treasures brought in by the Jews gave rise to unavoidable difficulties in the camp itself. The newly arriving treasure was demoralizing for the SS, who were not always strong enough to resist the temptation of these valuables which lay within such easy reach. Not even the death penalty or a severe prison sentence was enough to stop them.


The arrival of these Jews with their wealth offered undreamed-of opportunities to the other prisoners.[36] Most of the escapes that occurred were probably connected with these circumstances. With the help of this easily acquired money, watches, rings, etc., anything could be arranged with the SS guard troops or civilian workers. Alcohol, tobacco, food, false papers, guns, and ammunition were all in a day's work. In Birkenau the male prisoners obtained access to the women's camp during the night by bribing some of the female guards. This kind of thing naturally affected the discipline of the entire camp. Those who had valuables could get better jobs for themselves and were able to buy the good will of the Kapos and block elders, and even arrange for a lengthy stay in the hospital, where they would be given the best food. Not even the strictest supervision could change this state of affairs. Jewish gold was a catastrophe for the camp.

As far as I know, in addition to Auschwitz, the other extermination centers for Jews were as follows:

Chelmno near Litzmannstadt. . . . Engine exhaust gas
Treblinka on the Bug Engine exhaust gas
Sobibor near Lublin Engine exhaust gas
Belzec near Lemberg Engine exhaust gas
Lublin [Majdanek] Cyclon B[37]

I personally have seen only Chelmno and Treblinka. Chelmno was no longer being used, but I saw the entire operation at Treblinka.

Treblinka was built directly near the railroad tracks and had several chambers capable of holding hundreds of people. The Jews went straight into the gas chambers without undressing by way of a platform which was level with the railroad cars. An engine room equipped with various types of engines taken from large trucks and tanks had been built next to the gas chambers. These were started up and the exhaust gases were


[36] Only a very small percentage of the prisoners had access to the wealth in Canada. However, many items were smuggled out, despite the searches by the SS, to help other prisoners with medicine and also to buy favors from the guards. It was not uncommon to pay the SS guards in order to gain passage to the women's camp or even into areas off limits to certain prisoners. Prisoners such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and locksmiths were able to move between the barbed wire areas under the pretext of having to repair something. This is how messages and "organized" property spread throughout the camp. The word "organize" in camp terminology meant to steal or take for one's own use. The SS themselves were in a far better position to "organize" money and jewelry since no prisoner would dare tell another SS.
[37] The Majdanek concentration camp near Lublin was first built for POWs in the fall of 1941. By April 1942 Jews were being transported there to be killed. The first installation for mass extermination using Cyclon B began in May and June 1942. The total number of people murdered at Majdanek was over 360,000. About 25 percent of these were killed in the gas chambers. KL-PMO, p. 132.


fed by pipes into the gas chambers, thereby killing the people inside. The process was continued for more than a half an hour until everything was silent inside the rooms. In an hour's time, the gas chambers were opened and the bodies were taken out, undressed, and burned on a frame made from metal railroad tracks.

The fires were fed with wood, and the bodies were sprayed every once in a while with used oil.

During my visit everyone who was gassed was dead. But I was told that the performance of the engines was not always consistent, so that the exhaust gases were often not strong enough to kill everyone in the chambers. Many of them were only unconscious and had to be finished off by shooting them. I had heard the same story in Chelmno, and I was also told by Eichmann that these problems had occurred in other places.

Another problem which arose in Chelmno was that the Jews sometimes broke through the sides of the trucks and attempted to escape.

Experience had shown that the prussic acid called Cyclon B caused death with far greater speed and certainty, especially if the rooms were kept dry and airtight with the people packed closely together, and provided they were fitted with as large a number of intake vents as possible. So far as Auschwitz is concerned, I have never known or heard of a single person being found alive when the gas chambers were opened half an hour after the gas had been poured in.[38]

The extermination process in Auschwitz took place as follows: Jews selected for gassing were taken as quietly as possible to the crematories. The men were already separated from the women. In the undressing chamber, prisoners of the Sonderkommandos, who were specially chosen for this purpose, would tell them in their own language that they were going to be bathed and deloused, and that they must leave their clothing neatly together, and, above all, remember where they put them, so that they would be able to find them again quickly after the delousing. The Sonderkommando had the greatest interest in seeing that the operation proceeded smoothly and quickly.[39] After undressing, the Jews went into the gas cham-


[38] Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian prisoner who worked as Mengele's assistant and had access to the gas chamber areas, relates a story of a teenage girl who miraculously survived the gassing process. Unconscious, yet still alive, she was revived and fed; then came the question of what to do with her. SS Master Sergeant Mussfeld happened by and discovered Nyiszli and the Sonderkommando occupied with helping the girl to full consciousness. After a discussion with Nyiszli as to what to do with the girl, Mussfeld carried her to the furnace room hallway where another SS soldier shot her to death. Miklos Nyiszli, Auschwitz, 1960, PP. 88-96.
[39] Although the Sonderkommando were themselves killed off after a period of time, enough veterans of different Kommandos survived because they were transferred from one to the other. They knew very well from past experiences that to try to inform the victims would only lead to a bloody end. Many did try to whisper to the victims what lay ahead, but were looked at in total disbelief. Although there were some riots during the undressing they only added to the horror because the SS would beat or shoot to death anyone who showed the slightest indication that they might cause problems. Besides, how brave can one be when one is naked and the oppressor is clothed and armed? The psychology of the undressing phase helped to cow the groups of people. Massed together in their nakedness, clinging to their children or parents, they were in no position to revolt.


ber, which was furnished with showers and water pipes and gave a realistic impression of a bathhouse.

The women went in first with their children, followed by the men, who were always fewer in number. This part of the operation nearly always went smoothly since the Sonderkommando would always calm those who showed any anxiety or perhaps even had some clue as to their fate. As an additional precaution, the Sonderkommando and an SS soldier always stayed in the chamber until the very last moment.

The door would be screwed shut and the waiting disinfection squads would immediately pour the gas [crystals] into the vents in the ceiling of the gas chamber down an air shaft which went to the floor. This ensured the rapid distribution of the gas. The process could be observed through the peep hole in the door. Those who were standing next to the air shaft were killed immediately. I can state that about one-third died immediately. The remainder staggered about and began to scream and struggle for air. The screaming, however, soon changed to gasping and in a few moments everyone lay still. After twenty minutes at the most no movement could be detected. The time required for the gas to take effect varied according to weather conditions and depended on whether it was damp or dry, cold or warm. It also depended on the quality of the gas, which was never exactly the same, and on the composition of the transports, which might contain a high proportion of healthy Jews, or the old and sick, or children. The victims became unconscious after a few minutes, according to the distance from the air shaft. Those who screamed and those who were old, sick, or weak, or the small children died quicker than those who were healthy or young.

The door was opened a half an hour after the gas was thrown in and the ventilation system was turned on. Work was immediately started to remove the corpses. There was no noticeable change in the bodies and no sign of convulsions or discoloration. Only after the bodies had been left lying for some time—several hours—did the usual death stains appear where they were laid. Seldom did it occur that they were soiled with feces. There were no signs of wounds of any kind. The faces were not contorted.

The Sonderkommando now set about removing the gold teeth and cutting the hair from the women.

After this, the bodies were taken up by an elevator and laid in front of the ovens, which had meanwhile been


fired up. Depending on the size of the bodies, up to three corpses could be put in through one oven door at the same time. The time required for cremation also depended on the number of bodies in each retort, but on average it took twenty minutes. As previously stated, Crematories II and III could cremate two thousand bodies in twenty-four hours, but a higher number was not possible without causing damage to the installations.

Crematories IV and V should have been able to cremate 1,500 bodies in twenty-four hours, but as far as I know this figure was never reached.[40]

During the period when the fires were kept continuously burning with-out a break, the ashes fell through the grates and were constantly removed and crushed to powder. The ashes were taken by trucks to the Vistula [River], where they immediately dissolved and drifted away. The ashes taken from the burning pits near Bunker II and from Crematory V were handled in the same way.

The process of destruction in Bunkers I and II was exactly the same as in the crematories, except that the effects of the weather on the operation were more noticeable.

The entire operation of the extermination process was performed by the Jewish Sonderkommando.

They carried out their gruesome task with a dumb indifference. Their one goal was to finish the work as quickly as possible so that they could have a longer period of time to search the clothing of the gassed victims for something to eat or smoke. Although they were well-fed and given many additional allowances, they could often be seen shifting corpses with one hand while they chewed on something they were holding in the other. Even when they were doing the most revolting work of digging out and burning the corpses buried in the mass graves, they never stopped eating.
Even the cremation of their close relatives failed to shake them.[41]

When I went to Budapest in the summer of 1943 and called on Eichmann, he told me about the future actions which had been planned for

[40] According to expert evidence by Dr. Roman Dawidowski, professor at the Academy of Mining and Metallurgy in Cracow, the average number of bodies cremated within twenty-four hours in the thirty ovens of the two largest crematories was about five thousand. The figure of three thousand could be reached in smaller Crematories IV and V. This total allows for a break of three hours in every twenty-four-hour period to allow for deslagging the generators and because of other, smaller stoppages caused by the constant use. Similar numbers were given as evidence by eyewitness Sonderkommando members, namely Henryk Tauber and Alter Feinsilber, and also by Stanislaw Kankowski. KL-PMO, p. 134.
[41] According to eyewitness accounts by Filip Müller and others who worked in the Sonderkommando and as revealed in the film Shoah, the men who worked were not without feelings. Müller describes how they were initially beaten by their SS overseers or Kapos if they allowed emotion to affect their work. Oftentimes, at the end of the day, Kaddish was said for those who were exterminated. As one prisoner stated, "You could get used to anything after a while in Auschwitz, except the gnawing hunger."


the Jews.

During that period there were a little more than 200,000 Jews from the Carpathian Ukraine who were detained there and housed in some brickworks while awaiting transport to Auschwitz.

According to the estimate from the Hungarian police who had carried out the arrests, Eichmann expected to receive about three million Jews from Hungary.

The arrests and transportation should have been completed by 1943, but because of the Hungarian government's political difficulties, the date was always being postponed.[42]

In particular the Hungarian army, or rather the senior officers, were opposed to the extradition of these people and gave most of the Jewish men a refuge in the labor companies of the front line divisions, thus keeping them out of the grasp of the police.

When in the fall of 1944 an action was started in Budapest itself, only old and sick Jewish men remained.

Altogether there were probably not more than half a million Jews transported out of Hungary.

The next country on the list was Rumania. According to the reports from his representative in Bucharest, Eichmann expected to get about four million Jews from there.

Negotiations with the Rumanian authorities, however, were likely to be difficult. The anti-Semitic elements wanted the extermination of the Jews to be carried out in their own country. There had already been serious anti-Jewish rioting, and Jews who were caught had been thrown into the deep and isolated ravines of the Carpathian Mountains and killed. A section of the government, however, was in favor of transporting unwanted Jews to Germany.

In the meantime, Bulgaria was to follow with an estimated 2.5 million Jews. The authorities were agreeable to transporting the Jews, but they wanted to wait for the results of the negotiations with Rumania.

In addition, Mussolini was supposed to have promised the extradition of the Italian Jews and those from the Italian-occupied part of Greece, although not even an estimate had been made of their numbers. However,

[42] The "political difficulties" that Höss refers to is the Hungarian government's refusal to allow the SS to transport the Hungarian Jews out of Hungary. There were Hungarian Nazis who attempted to aid the SS, but by and large there was a lack of cooperation. In addition, Admiral Miklos Horthy was already attempting to sue for a separate peace with the Allies, forcing Hitler to act quickly and occupy Hungary still further with German troops. Tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews were saved from Auschwitz by the heroic efforts of Raoul Wallenberg and others, including many Hungarians, such as Tibor Baranski, now given the title of Righteous Gentile, as related by Harvey Rosenfeld in Raoul Wallenberg—Angel of Rescue (Prometheus Books), 1982.


the Vatican, the royal family, and consequently all those opposed to Mussolini wanted to prevent these Jews from being surrendered no matter what the cost.

Eichmann did not count on getting these Jews.

Finally there was Spain. Influential circles were approached by German representatives concerning the question of getting rid of the Jews. But Franco and his followers were against it. Eichmann had little faith in being able to arrange for their extradition.

The course taken by the war destroyed these plans and saved the lives of millions of Jews [43]

Cracow, November 1946 [signed] Rudolf Höss

43. The millions that Höss refers to are contradicted by the official minutes of the infamous Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942. (See appendix III.)

michael mills
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Postby michael mills » 12 Jun 2004 16:46

Note this statement made by Hoess:

Action Reinhardt was the code name given to the collecting, sorting, and use of all articles acquired as the result of the transports of the Jews and their extermination.

It indicates that "Aktion Reinhardt" was in operation at Auschwitz also.

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