Rudolf Höss

Commandant of Auschwitz

Rudolf Höss

Rudolf Höss was born in Baden –Baden on 25 November 1900, the son of pious Catholic parents. His father, a shopkeeper who wanted his son to become a Roman Catholic priest, was dogmatic, overpowering influence in his early life.

After his father’s death, the fifteen- year old Rudolf Höss secretly joined the army, serving on the Turkish front and becoming at seventeen the youngest NCO in the German forces, as well as receiving the Iron Cross – First and Second Class – for bravery.

One year after the end of the Great War in 1919 he joined the East Prussian Volunteer Corps for Protection of the Frontier and became a member of the Rossbach Freikorps, taking part in battles in the Baltic region, the Ruhr and Upper Silesia.

In 1923 he was involved in a brutal political murder of Walter Kadow, who was alleged to have betrayed Nazi proto-martyr Leo Schlageter to the French occupation authorities, one of his accomplices was Martin Bormann, who subsequently protected him at a later stage in his career – for which he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.


He was released under the Amnesty Law of 14 July 1928, having served less than half his sentence, and for the next six years worked on the land in Brandenburg and Pomerania, in various service groups.  In 1934 Himmler invited him to join the active SS and, in June of the same year, he was posted to the protective custody camp at Dachau, as a block overseer.

Transferred to Sachenhausen concentration camp in 1938 and promoted to SS Captain two years later Höss was appointed as the first Commandant at Auschwitz concentration camp on 1 May 1940.

Hungarian Jews arrive at Birkenau

Höss held this position until 1 December 1943 and during these three and a half years at Auschwitz, Höss proved himself the ideal type of the passionless, disinterested mass murder, the quiet bureaucrat who rarely, if ever, personally attended selections for the gas chamber or mass executions.

To all appearances Höss was a kindly, unselfish, introverted family man and animal lover, a perfectionist who took great pride in his work, noting in his memoirs that “by the will of the Reichsfuhrer –SS, Auschwitz became the greatest human extermination centre of all time.”

It was Höss, the perfect example of the conscientious, self-disciplined, petty –bourgeois, automaton whose golden rule was “Only one thing is valid – orders, “ who ensured the smooth functioning of the extermination system at Auschwitz, treating mass murder as a purely administrative procedure.

What concerned Höss was not the indescribable suffering of his victims, but rather the practical difficulties of carrying out his assignment with maximum efficiency, questions involving the precise adherence to timetables, the size of transports, the types of oven and methods of gassing.

He took pride in being the first to utilise successfully the gassing agent “Zyklon B” – the squeamish Höss, who could not bear shootings and bloodshed found gas to be infinitely more rational, bloodless and hygienic.

Auschwitz after liberation (burying the dead)

Höss sense of duty, his absolute submission to authority, his conscientious adherence to the SS motto – “Believe! Obey! Fight!” immunized him to any emotion except that of self-pity.

Höss wrote after his capture that “he regarded this compulsion to obey orders and to surrender all personal independence as a hallmark of his own morality and bourgeois decency. “Even while I was carrying out the task of extermination I lived a normal life and so on.”

So efficiently did Höss carry out his duties at Auschwitz that approximately two and a half million inmates were liquidated and in 1944 he was commended to his superiors as “a true pioneer in this field, thanks to new ideas and new methods of education”

Höss visited Chelmno in September 1942 to study cremation techniques and he also visited Treblinka death camp, he met Odilo Globocnik the SSPF Lublin, who was in charge of the “Aktion Reinhard” murder programme, Höss regarded Globocnik as “a pompous busybody whose object was to put himself in the foreground and to describe his fanciful plans as though they had to a large extent already been put into practice.”


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