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Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (in English commonly Hoess or Höss or rarely Hoess; November 25, 1900 - April 16, 1947) was an SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt. Colonel) and from May 4, 1940 to November 1943 was commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, where an estimated 1.1-1.6 million people were killed.
Early life and World War I
Höss was born on November 25, 1900 in Baden-Baden into a strict Catholic family. Despite his father's wishes that he become a priest, he voluntarily joined the German Army's 21st Regiment of Dragoons and was sent to fight in Turkey, Iraq and Palestine during World War I. While stationed in Turkey he rose to the rank of Feldwebel and at the age of 17 was the youngest NCO in the Army and holder of the Iron Cross first and second class, among other medals. Höss also briefly served as commander of a cavalry unit.
After the end of the war, Höss became a fighter for the East Prussian Volunteer Corps and then the Freikorps Rossbach. Höss participated in terrorist actions against French occupation forces in the Ruhr as well as against the Poles in the struggle for Silesia.
In 1929 he married Hedwig Hensel. They had five children together.
Nazi Party and the SS
Höss joined the NSDAP in 1922 (Party Member #3240), and was sentenced to ten years in Brandenburg penitentiary in 1924 after his involvement in the murder of Walther Kadow, the alleged betrayer of proto-Nazi martyr Albert Leo Schlageter; his accomplice Martin Bormann received a mere one year in prison. Höss was pardoned in 1928 again following a general amnesty and joined the völkisch Artamanen-Gesellschaft ("Artaman Society") in 1929, where he met Heinrich Himmler.
In 1934 at Himmler's request Höss joined the SS. During the mid 1930s, Höss served in several Concentration Camp positions and was a member of the SS-Totenkopfverbände ("Death's Head Unit"). He began as an ordinary SS guard, then was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was given the office of "Blockführer" ("block leader") in 1935. Due to his experience of being in prison himself, Höss excelled in his duties and was recognized by his superiors for further responsibility and promotion.
In 1938 he received a promotion to SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) and became an adjutant to Hermann Baranowski in the Sachsenhausen camp. After joining the Waffen-SS in 1939, he became the commandant of Auschwitz in 1940 until he was ordered back in late 1943. During his time at Auschwitz, Höss organized and streamlined the techniques of mass murder which would allow the Nazis to implement the Final Solution. He was the first to introduce Zyklon B after his deputy Karl Fritzsch tested it on some Russian prisoners in 1941.
After being replaced as the Auschwitz commander by Arthur Liebehenschel on December 1, 1943, Höss assumed Liebehenschel's former position as the chairman of Amt D I in Amtsgruppe D of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA); he also was appointed deputy of WVHA leader Richard Glücks.
On May 8, 1944, however, Höss returned to supervise Aktion Höss in which 430,000 Hungarian Jews are killed.
Career in the SS
Dates of rank
Höss was captured on March 11, 1946. He was disguised as a farmer. Supposedly his wife had revealed his whereabouts, and upon capture Höss confessed his real identity.
During the Nuremberg trials, he appeared as a witness in the trials of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Oswald Pohl, and the IG Farben corporation. On May 25, 1946, he was handed over to Poland, put on trial for murder, and sentenced to death by hanging on April 2, 1947. The sentence was carried out on April 16 immediately adjacent to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz I concentration camp. He was hanged on specially constructed gallows which previously was the location of the camp Gestapo, as seen in the pictures to the right. The message on the board reads:
"This is where the camp Gestapo was located. Prisoners suspected of involvement in the camp's underground resistance movement or of preparing to escape were interrogated here. Many prisoners died as a result of being beaten or tortured.
"The first commandant of Auschwitz, SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Höss, who was tried and sentenced to death after the war by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal, was hanged here on 16 April 1947."
During the Nuremberg trial he stated:
In his autobiography, which was published in 1958 as Rudolf Höss: Kommandant in Auschwitz and later as Death Dealer: the Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz, he portrayed himself as having grown up with a "strong sense of duty" and avowed himself as a follower of the "high virtue of military obedience".
Höss appears as a character in the BBC television series Auschwitz: The Nazis and the "Final Solution" (2005) portrayed by Horst-Günter Marx, and in the Canadian miniseries Nuremberg (2002) portrayed by Colm Feore. He was also briefly portrayed in the film Schindler's List (1993) as the SS officer at Auschwitz bribed by Schindler with a pouch of diamonds. He is the main character (as Rudolf Lang) in the biographical novel La mort est mon métier (Death is My Trade, 1952) by French writer Robert Merle based on Höss's autobiography and his testimonies at Nuremberg. The novel La mort est mon métier was made into a German film called Aus einem deutschen Leben ("(Excerpts) from a German life") in 1977, starring Götz George as Franz Lang, which was the false name Höss had used while hiding as a farmer.
Kurt Vonnegut briefly references Höss in Mother Night. One of the prison guards who stands watch over Howard W. Campbell, Jr., claims to have been present at the hanging of Höss, indeed to have buckled the thick leather straps around his legs.
In the 1982 film adaptation of William Styron's 1979 novel Sophie's Choice, Höss is portrayed during his time as commandant of Auschwitz by the German actor Günther Maria Halmer (although Styron's main character during the Auschwitz scenes ("Sophie") is herself fictional, the camp and its conditions were painstakingly researched to facilitate an accurate representation of the conditions inside). Six years later Halmer reprised the role for a totally different production, this time for television, based on the work of another American author, Herman Wouk. The 1988 television mini-series adaptation of Wouk's 1978 novel War and Remembrance, which itself was the sequel to the very popular 1983 television mini-series adaptation of the 1971 Wouk novel The Winds of War, includes Höss as portrayed again by Halmer, though the earlier 1983 mini-series contained neither Höss's character nor Halmer's work since it primarily dealt with the pre-war period in America.
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