The Worker

The Liberation of Auschwitz and the Execution of its commander, Rudolf Hoss

Photo: Rudolf Höss is led to the noose next to the former gas chamber in camp Auschwitz I. Oświęcim (Auschwitz), Poland, 16 April 1947.

Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, is hanged next to the crematorium at the camp, 1947

Rudolf Hoess on the gallows, immediately before his execution, 1947.

Rudolf Hoess (Rudolf Höss) was the architect and commandant of the largest killing center ever created, the death camp Auschwitz, whose name has come to symbolize humanity’s ultimate descent into evil.

On 1 May 1940, Hoess was appointed commandant of a prison camp in western Poland. The camp was built around an old Austro-Hungarian (and later Polish) army barracks near the town of Oswiecim; its German name was Auschwitz. Hoess commanded the camp for three and a half years, during which he expanded the original facility into a sprawling complex known as Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

After visiting Treblinka’s extermination camp to study its methods of human extermination, Hoess, beginning on 3 September 1941, tested and perfected the techniques of mass killing that made Auschwitz the most efficiently murderous instrument of the Final Solution.

He improved on the methods at Treblinka by building his gas chambers ten times larger, so that they could kill 2,000 people at once rather than 200.

He commented: “still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process”.

Hoess experimented with various methods of gassing. According to Eichmann’s trial testimony in 1961, Hoess told him that he used cotton filters soaked in sulfuric acid in early killings.

He later introduced hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid), produced from the pesticide Zyklon B. With Zyklon B, he said that it took 3–15 minutes for the victims to die and that “we knew when the people were dead because they stopped screaming”.

In the last days of the war, Hoess was advised by Himmler to disguise himself among German Navy personnel. He evaded arrest for nearly a year.

When he was captured by British troops on 11 March 1946, he was disguised as a farmer and called himself Franz Lang. His wife had told the British where he could be found, fearing that her son, Klaus, would be shipped off to the Soviet Union, where she feared he would be imprisoned. After being questioned and beaten (Hoess’s captors were well aware of his crimes), Hoess confessed his real identity.

Hoess during the trial (left), during the execution by hanging (right).

During his trial in Poland, while never denying that he had committed crimes, he contended that he had only been following orders. He had no illusions about the fate that awaited him.

To the end, Hoess contended that, at the most, a million and a half people had died at Auschwitz, not 5 or 6 million. At the end of the trial, he requested the court’s permission to send his wedding ring to his wife. Hoess was sentenced to death by hanging on 2 April 1947.

The sentence was carried out on 16 April immediately adjacent to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz I concentration camp. The gallows were constructed specifically for that purpose, at the location of the camp Gestapo.

Rudolf Hoess was led out punctually at 10 a.m. He was calm. With energetic steps, almost strutting, he walked along the main camp street. Since his hands were handcuffed behind his back, the executioners had to help him climb onto the stool placed above the trapdoor. A priest, whose presence had been requested by the condemned man, approached the gallows.

A prosecutor read out the sentence. The hangman placed the noose on Hoess’s neck, and Hoess adjusted it with a movement of his head.

When the hangman pulled the stool from under the former commandant, his body struck the trapdoor, which opened, leaving Hoess hanging. The priest began to recite the prayer for the dying. It was 10:08 a.m. A physician pronounced Hoess dead at 10:21. His remains were probably cremated.

How Rudolf Hoess was captured

The British force that captured Hoess was led by Hanns Alexander, a young Jewish man from Berlin who was forced to flee to England with his entire family during the rise of Nazi Germany.

At first, Hoess denied his identity, until Alexander noticed his wedding ring and demanded that he remove it from his finger so that Alexander could examine it.

Hoess refused, saying that it was stuck until Alexander threatened to cut off his finger. Hoess handed over the ring, which Alexander soon discovered contained the names Rudolf and Hedwig inscribed on the inside.

After discussions with Hoess during the Nuremberg trials at which he testified, the American military psychologist Gustave Gilbert wrote the following: “In all of the discussions, Höss is quite matter-of-fact and apathetic, shows some belated interest in the enormity of his crime, but gives the impression that it never would have occurred to him if somebody hadn’t asked him.

There is too much apathy to leave any suggestion of remorse and even the prospect of hanging does not unduly stress him. One gets the general impression of a man who is intellectually normal, but with the schizoid apathy, insensitivity and lack of empathy that could hardly be more extreme in a frank psychotic“.

The photos of the execution were taken Stanisław Dąbrowiecki, a press photographer, on April 16, 1947. They were kept for several decades in socialist Poland. The negatives were stored in a safe at the Justice Ministry, but disappeared at some unknown time. Only 11 prints remain.

US Friends of the Soviet People has produced this post in conjunction with Professor Barry Lituchy’s presentation for the Peoples School for Marxist-Leninist Studies presentation on January 30, 2024.

US Friends of the Soviet People is dedicated to supporting struggles to restore socialism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. USFSP is the US affiliate to the International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with the Soviet People. The International Council carries on the traditions of the “Hands Off Russia” committees that were established internationally in 1918 to help protect the young Soviet Republics from foreign intervention. The aim of all Friends of the Soviet People is international cooperation in building socialism and solidarity with the anti-imperialist forces of the world who are struggling against US Imperialism — the main enemy of humanity. USFSP acts as a unifying force to help consolidate and coordinate the anti-imperialist forces of the world with the ongoing movement to restore the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as socialist states. We act as a unifying front, but are not a forum for ideological debates. The people of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe themselves will choose their paths toward socialism.

US Friends of the Soviet People – US Friends of the Soviet People is dedicated to supporting struggles to restore socialism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union

The Peoples School for Marxist-Leninist Studies is part of a long line of American communist party sponsored schools, such as the Workers Schools, the Jefferson School of Social Science, the Center for Marxist Education and the Peoples School for Marxist Studies. We were founded in 2016, and have come a long way from classes on conference calls to professional weekly virtual classes, and will continue striving to bring Marxist-Leninist education to the masses. The classes cost nothing and the knowledge is worth everything!

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