Rudolf Hoess [in German; Höß] was the Auschwitz commandant whose "confessions" have "proven" that Hitler gassed six million Jews (or five million, the figure usually used at Nuremberg). His best-known "confession" is the one quoted by William L. Shirer on pages 968-969 of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
This document, Document 3868-PS, should be seen in its context. The ex-parte written "statement" or affidavit was a principal prosecutor's tool in the witchcraft trials of the Middle Ages, only to disappear for several centuries, then reappear in Communist show trials and war crimes trials.
These documents violate many standard rules of legal procedure, such as the rule against asking leading questions, the rule against prior consistent statements, the right to confront and cross-examine one's accuser, and the privilege against self-incrimination. Nor would the "evidence" in war crime trials be admissable in a court martial. Even in 1946, the introduction of depositions by the prosecution in capital cases before a court martial was forbidden by Article 25 of the US Articles of War. Article 38 required the use of standard Federal rules of evidence.
At Nuremberg, there was never the slightest pretense that Hoess wrote this document. If that had been the case, it would not state, "I understand English as it is written above", but rather, "I have written this statement myself". In the minor trials (Hadamar, Natzweiler, etc.) it is common to find confessions written entirely in the handwriting of the interrogator, in English, with a final statement in the prisoners handwriting, in German, stating that these are his statements and that he is satisfied with the translation into English!
Another formula occurs on page 57 of the Hadamar volume of Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe's book, War Crimes Trials, "I certify that the above has been read to me in German, my native tongue" (in English).
The pretense was that the prisoner was interrogated through an interpreter in question and answer form, after which the questions were deleted, and the answers were run together in the form of an affidavit, usually written by a different person from the interrogator who conducted the questioning.
At Belsen, for example, every affidavit was written by one officer, Major
Smallwood. In this trial, a combination Auschwitz-Belsen trial, the
court-appointed British and free Polish defense team demolished the prosecution
case - including the "selections for mass gassings" - but were
overruled on the grounds that involuntary statements and oral and written
hearsay were admissable, "not to convict the innocent, but to convict
(Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, Vol. II. (This thin volume must be read in its entirety.))
After the affidavit was prepared by the officer who did nothing but write affidavits, it was presented in its finished form to the prisoner for signature. If it was not signed, it was introduced into evidence anyway. Objections went to "weight", in the jargon of war crimes proceedings, rather than to "admissibility".
An example of an unsigned affidavit by Rudolf Hoess is Document NO-4498-B. The B means that this document is a "translation" with typewritten signature of an "original" document, Document NO-4498-A, written in Polish, and allegedly signed by Hoess. There is also a Document NO-4498-C, in English.
Affidavits A and C are not attached to Affidavit B, the "true copy".
Document 3868-PS, quoted by Shirer, was signed in English, 3 times, but not in the "translation" into German. The document contains a minor change initialled by Hoess, with a small "h", and an entire sentence written entirely in the interrogator's handwriting (compare capital "W"s) not initialled by Hoss. The initial, of course, is there to "prove" that he has "read and corrected" the document. The content of this handwritten sentence is refuted elsewhere (XXI 529).
When the affidavit was presented to the prisoner, it was sometimes corrected extensively, leading to two or more versions of the same document. In these cases, the longer ones are "quoted", and the shorter ones are "lost". An example of this practice is Document 948-949, the affidavit of Dr. Wilhelm Jager (See Albert Speer.) Jager testified that he signed 3 or 4 copies of the same document, a much shorter one. The shorter one was originally presented against the elder Krupp, before charges against him were dropped. In this document, the longer one, the translation into English is dated prior to the signature date on the "original". Jager's court appearance was an unmitigated disaster, but that is forgotten (XV 264-283).
If the affiant appeared to testify, he invariably contradicted the affidavit, but contradictions are ignored. Other affidavit signers whose court appearances were catastrophic include General Westhoff, who contradicted his unsworn "statement" 27 times (XI 155-189); and a "germ warfare witness", Schreiber (XXI 547-562); Paul Schmidt's affidavit (Schmidt was Hitler's interpreter), Document 3308-PS - presented to him for signature when he was too sick to read it carefully - was partially repudiated by him (X 222), but used in evidence against Von Neurath, despite Schmidt's repudiation (XVI 381; XVII 40-41). Ernst Sauckel signed an affidavit written prior to his arrival at Nuremberg (XV 68) and signed under duress (his wife and 10 children were to be handed over to the Poles or Russians).
Since the affiants almost never (if ever) wrote their own "statements", it is common to find identical or nearly identical phrases or even entire paragraphs occurring in different documents, even when they have been prepared on different days by supposedly different people; for example, affidavits 3 and 5 of Blaskovitz and Halder (Exhibits 536-US and 537-US); Documents USSR-471 and USSR-472 and 473; and Documents USSR-264 and 272 (human soap affidavits).
Other affidavits signed by Hoess include Document NO-1210, in which the English was written first, with extensive interpolations, additions and corrections, including 2 different first drafts of page 4, and 2 different first drafts of page 5, then translated into German and signed by Hoess. That is, the "translation" is the "original", and the "original" is the "translation". Document 749(b)D was "translated orally" into German from English for Hoess prior to signature. The signature is faint to the point of illegibility, indicating possible ill health, fatigue or torture. The torture has been described by Rupert Butler in Legions of Death (Hamlyn Paperbacks)
The "confession" quoted by Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe on April Fool's Day, April 1, 1946, in which Hoess "confessed" to killing 4 million Jews (X 389), instead of the usual 2.5 million of April 5, 1946, has either never existed or has gotten "lost".
It is not true that Hoess's court appearance at Nuremberg consisted chiefly of assenting to his affidavit; this is true only of his cross-examination by Col. John Amen of the U.S. Army. Instead, Hoess appeared to testify, and, as usual, contradicted his affidavit and himself as much as possible (XI 396-422).
For example, where the affidavit states (XI 416) "we knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped", (a crudely obvious toxicological impossibility), his oral testimony claims (XI 401, in response to grossly improper leading questions posed by Kaltenbrunner's "defense attorney"), that the people became unconscious; leaving unsolved the problem of just how he knew when they were, in fact, dead. He forgot to mention that killing insects with Zyklon took two days, a fact he mentioned elsewhere (Document NI-036, p. 3, German text, answer to Question 25, and Kommandant in Auschwitz, p. 155).
With such a slow-acting poison, the people would suffocate first.
Hoess claimed that the order to kill the Jews of Europe was given orally (XI 398), but that orders to keep the killings secret were given in writing (XI 400). He claimed that persons were cremated in pits at Auschwitz, a notorious swamp (XI 420), and that gold teeth were melted down on the spot (XI 417), but an evacuation of the concentration camps to avoid capture would have led to unnecessary deaths (XI 407), and, almost, that there was no killing program at all! This is worth quoting:
"Until the outbreak of war in 1939, the situation in the camps regarding feeding, accomodation, and treatment of detainees, was the same as in any other prison or penitentiary in the Reich. The detainees were treated strictly, yes, but methodical beatings or ill-treatment were out of the question. The Reichsfuhrer gave frequent warnings that every SS man who laid violent hands on a detainee would be punished; and quite often SS men who did ill-treat detainees were punished. Feeding and accomodation at that time were in every respect put on the same basis as that of other prisoners under legal administration. The accomodation in the camps during those years was still normal because the mass influxes at the outbreak of and during the war had as yet not taken place. When the war started and when mass deliveries of political detainees arrived, and, later on, when detainees, who were members of resistence movements, arrived from the occupied territories, the construction of buildings and the extensions of the camps could no longer keep up with the number of detainees who arrived. During the first years of the war this problem could still be overcome by improvising measures; but, later, due to the exigencies of the war, this was no longer possible, since there were practically no building materials any longer at our disposal" -
(Note: the bodies are supposed to have been burnt using wood for fuel.)
- "This led to a situation where detainees in the camps no longer had sufficient powers of resistence against the ensuing plagues and epidemics . . . the aim wasn't to have as many dead as possible or to destroy as many detainees as possible. The Reichsfuhrer was constantly concerned with the problems of engaging all forces possible in the armament industry . . . These so-called ill-treatments and torturing in concentration camps, stories of which were spread everywhere amongst the people, and particularly by detainees who were liberated by the occupying armies, were not, as assumed, inflicted methodically, but by individual leaders, sub-leaders, and men who laid violent hands on them . . . If in any way such a matter was brought to my notice, the perpetrator was, of course, immediately relieved of his post or transferred somewhere else. So that, even if he wasn't punished because there wasn't evidence to prove his guilt, he was taken away and given another position . . .
The catastrophic situation at the end of the war was due to the fact that as a result of the destruction of railways and of the continuous bombings of the industrial works, it was no longer possible to properly care for these masses, for example, at Auschwitz, with its 140,000 detainees. Improvised measures, truck columns, and everything else tried by the commandants to improve the situation, were of little or no avail. The number of sick became immense. There were next to no medical supplies; plagues raged everywhere. Detainees who were capable of work were used continuously by order of the Reichsfuhrer, even half-sick people had to be used wherever possible in industry. As a result, every bit of space in the concentration camps which could possibly be used for lodging was filled with sick and dying detainees . . .
At the end of the war, there were still thirteen concentration camps. All the other points which are marked here on the map means so-called labour camps attached to the armament factories situated there . . .
If any ill-treatment of detainees by guards occurred - I myself have never observed any - then this was possible only to a very small degree, since all officers in charge of the camps took care that as few SS men as possible had immediate contact with the inmates, because in the course of the years the guard personnel had deteriorated to such an extent that the former standards could no longer be maintained . . .
We had thousands of guards who could hardly speak German, who came from all leading countries of the world as volunteers and joined these units; or we had elder men, between 50 and 60, who lacked all interest in their work, so that a camp commandant had to take care continuously that these men fulfilled even the lowest requirements of their duties. Furthermore, it is obvious that there were elements among them who would ill-treat detainees, but this ill-treatment was never tolerated. Furthermore, it was impossible to have these masses of people working or when in the camp directed by SS men, so that everywhere detainees had to be engaged to give instructions to the detainees and set them to work, and who almost exclusively had the administration of the inner camp in their hands. Of course, a great deal of ill-treatment occured which couldn't be avoided, because at night there was hardly any member of the SS in the camps. Only in specific cases were the SS men allowed to enter the camp, so that the detainees were more or less exposed to the detainee supervisors.
Question (by defense attorney for Kaltenbrunner, Dr. Kaufmann):
You have already mentioned regulations which existed for the guards, but there was also a standing order in all the camps. In this camp order there were laid down the punishments for detainees who violated the camp rules. What punishments were these?
First of all, transfer to a "penal company" (Strafkompanie), that is to say, harder work, and their accomodation restricted; next, detention in the cell block, detention in a dark cell; and in very serious cases, chaining or strapping. Punishment by 'strapping' (anbinden) was prohibited in the year 1942 or 1943, I can't say exactly when, by the Reichsfuhrer. Then there was the punishment of standing to attention during a long period at the entrance to the camp (strafstehen), and finally punishment by beating. However, this punishment of beating could not be decreed by any commandant independently. He could apply for it.
-Oral testimony of Rudolf Hoess, 15 April 1946 (XI 403-411)
Hoess's motivation appears to have been to protect his wife and 3 children, and to save the lives of others by testifying that only 60 people knew of the mass killings. Hoess attempted to save Kaltenbrunner by implicating Eichmann and Pohl, who had not yet been apprehended. (For a similar case, see Heisig's affidavit implicating Raeder, XIII 460-461).
Hoess appeared as a "defense witness", and his cross-examination by the prosecution was cut short by the prosecution itself (XI 418-419). Perhaps they were afraid he would spill the beans. Hoess's famous "autobiography" Kommandant in Auschwitz, probably prepared in question and answer from through interrogation like a gigantic "affidavit", then written up to be copied in his handwriting, is not much better. In this book, German text, cremation fires were visible for miles (p. 159). Everyone in the area knew of the exterminations (p. 159) the victims knew they were going to be gassed (pp. 110, 111, 125), but it was possible to fool them (pp. 123-124; Document 3868-PS), and his family never knew a thing (pp. 129-130). Hoess was a chronic drunkard who "confessed" these things when he had been drinking (p. 95) or was being tortured (p. 145).
It is not true that, according to p. 126 of this text, bodies were removed from gas chambers by Kapos eating and smoking and/or not wearing gas masks; the text does not say that.
The Polish "translation" of this book, published prior to the publication of the German "original text", seems to agree with the German text, except that place names and dates are missing. The uncut, unexpurgated complete writings of Rudolf Hoess(?) (in Polish) are available through international library loan (Wspomnienia Rudolfa Hoessa, Komendanta Obozu Oswiecimskiego).
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