The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes

8. The Confessions of Rudolf Höß

 

Höß WAS SEIZED on March 13, 1946, on a farm in the British Zone where he had spent the past several months as a common laborer.282 His affidavits deserve particular attention: for many years historians have been content to merely quote extracts from Höß' affidavits, usually the one from April 5, 1946, as proof of the mass gassings.283 The popularity of this affidavit, also known as PS-3868, is directly related to the fact that it is the only thorough narrative concerning Auschwitz made by Höß that was entered into the trial record at the IMT. In later writings, Höß would claim that he had been severely beaten in the early period of his confinement,284 and later revelations, largely developed by Robert Faurisson, indicate that he was systematically tortured, largely by sleep deprivation.285

These factors probably explain the incoherence of his very first affidavit of March 16, 1946, which betrays a British influence in its many references to Belsen. The most interesting of these concerns a legend concerning 1,800 Belsen inmates who were sent to Auschwitz, a particularly venerable Holocaust story.286

The April 5, 1946 affidavit is the one most frequently quoted and the one which makes the various gas extermination claims with some semblance of order.287 The claims may be summarized:

  1. Mass gassings began in the summer of 1941 and continued until fall 1944.

  2. 2,500,000 were gassed, another 500,000 died from other means for a total of 3 million.

  3. Höß left Auschwitz in December of 1943, but he kept informed.

  4. The "Final Solution" meant the complete extermination of Jews in Europe.

  5. Höß was ordered to establish extermination facilities in Auschwitz in June, of 1941, on direct orders from Himmler.

  6. Höß visited Belzec, Treblinka, and Wolzek, where carbon monoxide was used.

  7. Höß decided to use Zyklon B.

  8. "We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped."

  9. Gas chambers could hold 2,000 people at a time.

  10. Children were invariably exterminated and mothers tried to hide their children.

  11. The exterminations were secret, but

  12. The stench from the burnings informed everyone for miles around that exterminations were going on.

Offhand, the affidavit seems impressive and authoritative. But on closer analysis it is clear that the document contributes absolutely nothing to what was already known as a "fact of common knowledge" at the time.288 Indeed, it seems remarkable that nearly all prior commentators on Höß fail to recognize the significance of the fact that by the time of his capture the gassing narrative had achieved almost finished form at the bar of the International Military Tribunal.289

In detail: that the exterminations were directly ordered by Himmler simply repeats the unsubstantiated assertion found the Höttl affidavit of 1945.290 The idea that the exterminations went back to 1941, and that the Final Solution was a code word for the extermination of the Jews, goes back to the Nuremberg testimony of Dieter Wisliceny given in January, 1946.291 The emphasis on the fate of the children reflects the testimonies of Shmegelovskaya and Vaillant-Couturier in January and February.292 The reference to the stench of the burnings is, as we shall see, a hoary exaggeration that goes back to rumors of the euthanasia campaign in 1941. The claimed number of victims for Höß' tenure -- 2.5 million gassed and 0.5 million dead by other means -- is traceable to the confession of Grabner the previous September. Both reflect the calculations of the Soviet Special Commission on Auschwitz, which claimed 4 million for the entire period of the camp's operation, which, if it came to 3 million by the end of 1943, implied approximately 1 million in 1944. It is also interesting to note that the range of victims -- 2.5 to 3 million -- as well as other details, coincides with the testimony of Pery Broad at the Tesch and Stabenow trial in Hamburg just weeks before.293 On the other hand, there was no "Wolzek" camp, and none of the three camps Höß claimed to have inspected existed in 1941.

In short, the April 5, 1946 Höß affidavit is simply a confirmation of what was already known.294 What it contributes is not new, and where it is new it is clearly wrong. It provides no elaboration or explanation for any of the claims which it repeats, in fact, most of Höß' testimony at Nuremberg, ten days later, consisted of making statements that failed to confirm the contents of the affidavit.295 After his testimony on behalf of Kaltenbrunner, his cross-examination by the prosecution consisted merely of nodding or answering "yes" as his affidavit was read into the record.296 The affidavit is ultimately an extension and confirmation of the Canonical Holocaust as represented by the Soviet Special Commission on Auschwitz. As such it is practically valueless from a historiographical point of view.

Within a few weeks, Höß was transferred to Poland, where he was put on trial.297 A number of affidavits were prepared in November, 1946, and these, stitched together with some other materials he composed during and after his trial, have frequently been issued as his "autobiography." It is frequently stated -- erroneously -- that these memoirs were composed in their entirety after his death sentence, so that he would have had no reason to lie or shade the truth.298 This is not accurate. Höß was not condemned to death until December 27, 1946, a month after deposing his only extensive narrative of gassing while in Polish custody299 (and which explicitly contradicted the affidavits of March 16 and April 5, recorded in British and American custody respectively, which leads one to the inference that his British, American and Polish interrogators all had different expectations in their questioning.) Furthermore, his death sentence was not confirmed by the Polish People's Court until April 2, 1947, just two weeks before his death, and two months after his memoirs had been penciled.300 In addition, there is simply no material or documentary support for the claims made either here or in his various affidavits. Finally, the memoirs are a model of incoherence and contradiction, containing a number of demonstrable untruths, as for example the reference to the secret files recording the "several millions" of Germans who were killed in the Anglo-American bombing campaign.301 Nevertheless the memoirs remain the most frequently cited "official" source for the reality of the gassing claim, although what actually happens is that their mere existence is used to give retroactive authority to the problematic April 5, 1946 affidavit.

Notes

  1. Höß, Rudolf, Death Dealer, Paskuly, ed., Da Capo, NY:1996. This is the standard translation of Höß' writings available in English. The German original, Kommandant in Auschwitz: Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen des Rudolf Höß, edited by Martin Broszat, Deutsche Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich:1998, is slightly truncated but includes valuable annotations.
  2. For example, on the subject of the Final Solution in Poland, Norman Davies simply transcribes the entire 5 April 1946 affidavit in his God's Playground, vol. 2, Oxford UP, New York: 1982.  
  3. Höß, Rudolf, Death Dealer, p. 179f
  4. First developed by Robert Faurisson, "How the British Obtained the Confessions of Rudolf Hoess" in JHR, vo. 7, Number 4 (Winter 1986-87), also corroboration in Irving, Nuremberg, pp. 240-246, and the relevant footnotes.
  5. quoted in part in Klee, Ernst, u.a., Hrsg., "Schöne Zeiten", pp. 242-245, The Bergen refugees who ended up at Auschwitz are also described by Gilbert, op. cit. and Czech, op. cit.. The story appears to have emerged into the mainstream sometime at the beginning of 1944. The basic feature of the tale is a riot in the undressing room, which requires the "half gassing" of those already in the gas chamber. Another element of the tale, left out of Höß' account, is the woman who tempts the German soldier, acquires his weapon and shoots him, which sparks the riot. Stäglich covers this element of the story in detail, the woman is variously described, op. cit.  xxxxx
  6. Other affidavits from this period include an affidavit for American psychologist G.[ustave] M.[ahler] Gilbert admitting to the gassing of 2.5 million, and the death of another .5 million, etc. The March 16, 1946 affidavit (NO-1310), as well as other affidavits under American auspices (NI-034, NI-036) have never been published but can be obtained from mimeographs in large document centers in the United States. Irving remarks, Nuremberg, that the transcripts of Höß' interrogations are not yet complete, op. cit., loc. cit., and almost unique among historians has gone to the trouble of actually reading the interrogation transcripts. Many of these, at least those conducted by the Americans, are located on microfilm M 1270, roll 7, at the National Archives, and Irving's notes may be found on his Internet website at http://www.fpp.co.uk/
  7. A reference to the London Charter, Article 21. As to the "authority" and "reliability" of such affidavits the reader is directed in particular to NI-036, which consists of a lengthy and leading interrogation of Höß in German, followed by the English language affidavit that grew out of the session. A comparison of the two is highly instructive.
  8. For example, Faurisson, "How the British ÷" goes directly from the German surrender of 8 May 1945 to Höß' capture, preferring to stress the Jewish identity of those he identifies as being instrumental in the construction of what he calls "The Auschwitz Myth."
  9. Irving, Nuremberg, pp. 236ff
  10. Harris, op. cit.
  11. cf. Harris, op. cit. These women were the two main witnesses to what transpired at Auschwitz, Vaillant-Couturier's testimony was admittedly hearsay. They were not cross-examined.
  12. For Grabner, cf. "Schöne Zeiten", loc. cit., and above. For Broad, see Trial of Tesch, Weinbacher, & Drohsinn, Public Records Office, London.
  13. that is, bearing in mind the results of the Soviet Special Commissions, and the elaboration of same by the Allied prosecutions to that point in time. Thus, for example, there is no reference to euthanasia, the public exposition of that connection would await Konrad Morgen's affidavits and testimony at Nuremberg three months later. On the other hand, the euthanasia connection does appear in Höß' recollections written in November, 1946, that is, after the connection had become public knowledge. See Death Dealer, p. 28.
  14. Porter, Nuremberg, discusses this in detail.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Broszat, ed., Kommandant, pp. 8-10
  17. Höß, Rudolf, Death Dealer, compare Paskuly's comments in the Forward, p. 22
  18. Broszat, op. cit., loc. cit.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Höß, Rudolf, Death Dealer, p. 171, and, inter alia, compare his final letters to wife and children.

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