Rudolf Höss: Tortured Into Making His Confessions
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (1901-1947) was the first of three successive commandants of Auschwitz, and later head of all the German concentration camps during World War II. Lt. Commander Whitney Harris, an American prosecutor at Nuremberg who spent three days interrogating Höss, described Höss as a “plain, little man” who reminded him of a “grocery clerk.” Harris commented that, in appearance, Höss did not impress him as someone who murdered or could murder a million people.
Höss has also been described by other people as one of the greatest mass murderers in world history. Steven J. Paskuly, for example, writes: “By the judgment of history and by his own admission, Rudolf Höss is the greatest mass murderer of all time.” On March 17, 1946, an article in the New York Times called Höss “probably the greatest individual killer in the history of the world.”
This article examines the life of Rudolf Höss, and whether he deserves to be called one of the greatest mass murderers in world history.
Rudolf Höss was born in southwest Germany to a devout Catholic family in a wooded valley on the outskirts of Baden-Baden. His family moved to a larger house in the suburbs of Mannheim when Höss was six years old. Höss’s father, who had served as an officer with the German army in Africa, told Höss captivating stories about his military career in Africa. However, Höss was more attracted to becoming a missionary than a soldier fighting in foreign lands.
Höss learned about the traditions and principles of the Catholic Church from his father. His father took Höss to various holy sites in Switzerland and France, and swore an oath that his son would become a priest. Höss’s education was planned with the sole purpose of preparing him for a religious life. However, the death of Höss’s father allowed the 12-year-old Höss to forge his own path sooner than he might otherwise have been allowed.
A year after World War I broke out, Höss received permission from his mother to join the Red Cross as an auxiliary. Höss spent as much time as he could working in the Red Cross hospital, distributing tobacco, food and drink to the injured. Although he was horrified by the terrible traumas of modern warfare, Höss was nonetheless impressed by the wounded soldiers’ bravery. Höss became resolute in his desire to fight for his country.
In the summer of 1916, when he was just 14 years old, Höss left home, telling his mother that he intended to visit his grandparents. He contacted a local captain as soon as he was outside the city limits. Lying about his age, Höss enlisted in the German army.
After only two weeks of training, Höss and his regiment set off toward the Middle East to provide reinforcement to Turkish troops battling the British for control of the southeastern part of the Ottoman Empire. Höss experienced combat and discovered that he could kill, efficiently and quickly, in the heat of battle. Höss’s regiment was next deployed to Palestine, where the battles were partly about destabilizing British control of the Suez Canal, and partly about capturing the venerated biblical cities.
Höss was wounded on three separate occasions in the coming months. However, none of these injuries prevented his participation in continued military action. For his wartime service, Höss was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class by the German government, the Iron Half Moon First Class by the Ottoman Empire for his efforts in Iraq and Palestine, and the Baden Service Medal by the city of Baden-Baden. The war had transformed Höss from an innocent young schoolboy into a toughened soldier. Höss was a fully grown man by the end of the war.
Höss’s mother died while he was away at war. Höss made a decision not to become a Catholic priest, and instead left Mannheim to join the Freikorps in East Prussia. The Freikorps were volunteer units of German soldiers used to protect German borders and settle internal political disputes. Höss belonged to the Freikorps Rossbach unit, which helped fight the spread of Communism and secure land for Germany on the Baltic Sea.
Höss was associated with the Freikorps until 1921. At that time, he became an apprentice agriculturist on an estate in Silesia and Schleswig-Holstein. Höss made a complete break with the Catholic Church in 1922, and, later that year, he attended a reunion of Freikorps Rossbach volunteers in Munich, where he heard Adolf Hitler speak for the first time. Höss was so impressed with Hitler that he immediately joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), as member 3,240.
Höss got into legal trouble when he helped avenge the death of Freikorps leader Lt. Albert Leo Schlageter. Schlageter had blown up a bridge in response to a French invasion of the Ruhr, was tried and convicted by a French military court and, on May 26, 1923, executed by a French firing squad. Höss and other former Freikorps members soon abducted and murdered Walter Kadow, a former Freikorps soldier who they believed had betrayed Schlageter. While not admitting to any part he played in Kadow’s murder, Höss said he was in complete agreement with Kadow’s execution.
Within a few days, one of the participants told the story of Kadow’s murder to a newspaper. Höss was arrested for participation in Kadow’s murder on June 28, 1923, and was tried and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on March 15, 1924. He was transferred from Leipzig to a Prussian prison at Bradenburg. Although he otherwise would have qualified for early release, Höss, as a political prisoner, was told that he must serve his entire sentence. Fortunately, an unlikely arrangement allowed Höss to be set free on July 14, 1928, after serving over five years of his 10-year sentence.
Upon his release from prison, Höss contacted the Artaman League, an agrarian movement which he described as a “community of young people of both sexes who had the interests of their country at heart.” Within the Artaman League, Höss met his future wife, Hedwig Hensel, with whom he had five children. Höss during this time also became further acquainted with his future boss, Heinrich Himmler, who he had first met while in the Freikorps.
Despite the hardships, Höss enjoyed the extended hours and physical toil involved in being a farmer. Höss’s supervisor suggested that they establish an SS stable on their Pomeranian farm. Since one had to belong to the SS to manage an SS stable, Höss applied for SS membership. Höss’s application was accepted seven months after submission; he was allotted SS number 193616. As part of his induction, Höss had to swear allegiance to the SS, to SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and, most importantly, he had to swear an oath of silence.
Himmler told Höss in 1934 that it was time for him to become a soldier again. He suggested that Höss be trained as a supervisor in the political prisoner camp at Dachau. After long consideration and much doubt, Höss accepted Himmler’s offer and moved to Dachau. Höss was rapidly promoted at Dachau, becoming a company commander, or “block leader” after a year, and then later a second lieutenant. By 1938, Höss had proved to be an efficient and hard worker, and he was ready for his next promotion.
On August 1, 1938, four years after his arrival at Dachau, Höss was transferred to the Sachsenhausen camp, where he became adjutant to the camp’s Commandant. For Höss, Sachsenhausen was a good place to be noticed by his superiors and to climb the political ladder. Working in Sachsenhausen enabled Höss to travel frequently to Berlin, where he could meet up with old Freikorps friends, and learn more about the inner workings of the National Socialist Party. As the camp’s new adjutant, he also came into contact with the Gestapo and the SS administration in charge of the concentration camps.
Richard Glücks, the head of the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, in April 1940 told Höss that Himmler wanted Höss to set up a new camp in Upper Silesia near the small town of Auschwitz. Höss accepted the offer. Höss at last had the opportunity to manage things on his own terms, to work hard, and to prove himself capable of running a large camp. Five other SS men and 30 Sachsenhausen internees were sent with Höss to begin work on the camp.
Höss’s assignment was not an easy one. Höss wrote:
In the shortest possible time, I was supposed to create a transition camp for 10,000 prisoners from the existing complex of well-preserved buildings. The buildings were filthy and teemed with lice, fleas, and other bugs, and as far as sanitation was concerned, practically nothing was available…It is much easier to establish a new camp than it is to take an unsuitable group of buildings and barracks without major remodeling and quickly create a useful concentration camp as I was originally ordered.
Höss was not only dismayed by the camp’s condition, but also by the lack of support from Berlin. His repeated requests to Richard Glücks for additional men were ignored. After a while, Höss resolved that he would do everything himself. Höss had to perform such tasks as driving hundreds of miles to the Polish border to purchase kettles for the kitchens, or traveling to western Czechoslovakia to buy bed frames and straw sacks. By the autumn of 1940, the construction of the Auschwitz main camp was complete.
On March 1, 1941, Himmler visited Auschwitz to inspect the camp and talk to Höss about his future plans. Himmler told Höss that he was to build a new camp which would be known as Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, and would be capable of housing over 100,000 prisoners. Himmler also said he wanted to build a synthetic rubber plant near Birkenau for IG Farben, which would be staffed by an additional 10,000 prisoners. Himmler said that the expansion of the camp must be accelerated by every available means.
Höss found the construction of Birkenau to be an enormously difficult task. He wrote:
The emphasis that Himmler put on the ruthless, quickest possible acceleration of the construction, while at the same time ignoring the existing and anticipated difficulties and abuses which I doubted could be eliminated, caught my attention even then…Now all this responsibility fell on my shoulders. From nothing and with nothing, I, together with my “coworkers,” had to build an enormous enterprise in the quickest possible manner without any significant help from above because of the conditions at the time.
Last War Years
On December 1, 1943, Höss was transferred to Sachsenhausen, where he started his new job as chief of Amtsgruppe D1 (First Division of Department D) of the Concentration Camp Inspectorate. He was now responsible for overseeing the operations of all of the German concentration camps. Höss spent the first few weeks of 1944 on a grand tour of the camps, becoming increasingly disturbed by what he saw. The camps were overcrowded and lacked basic sanitation, prisoners were forced to work long hours in extremely harsh conditions, and food and water were often inadequate.
Höss set about issuing a set of orders to improve the efficiency of the camps when he returned to Berlin. He was ordered to return back to Auschwitz in May 1944 to make the camp ready for the arrival of the Hungarian Jews. Höss conducted an inventory of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps and ordered major repairs be taken to the crematoria and other facilities. At the end of the month, Höss was recalled to Berlin to resume his job as chief of Amtsgruppe D1.
Höss continued to visit the camps under his purview during the latter half of 1944. In regard to Bergen-Belsen, where conditions had once been fairly reasonable, Höss wrote:
The camp presented a hopeless picture. The prisoner barracks and even the guard barracks were as totally run down as the work buildings. Sanitation conditions were much worse than at Auschwitz. As far as construction was concerned, nothing much could be done anymore, since it was the end of 1944…The conditions were so bad that even I have to describe them as horrible, even though I had gotten used to quite a bit at Auschwitz.
Höss made his last visit to Bergen-Belsen in the middle of March 1945. With a population of 50,000—many times the camp’s capacity—Bergen-Belsen had reached a point of total horror. Typhus and other infectious diseases had spread rapidly, starvation was prevalent, and thousands of corpses were left unburied. Höss and Oswald Pohl were totally shaken when they saw the state the camp was in.
In April 1945, with the Red Army closing on Berlin and American and British troops already in Germany, it was clear to Höss and his colleagues that the war was coming to an end. Their plan was to head north towards the Baltic Sea, and then northwest towards the Danish border, where they would be far removed from the military storm fast enveloping central Germany. Höss was shocked when Himmler said in early May that the fight was over, and it was time for all of them to take on false identities. A few days later, Höss met a submarine commander in Flensburg who handed him the papers of Franz Lang, a junior seaman who had recently died.
The British after the war attempted unsuccessfully for many months to find Höss. Frustrated by their inability to locate Höss, the British decided to intimidate his wife and their five children. On March 7, 1945, Jewish British Cpt. Howard Harvey Alexander arrested Höss’s wife Hedwig and interrogated her in a prison cell, but she refused to reveal her husband’s hiding place. Alexander then interrogated Höss’s children, all minors (3 to 16 years old), who had been left behind alone on their farm. Not getting the answers he wanted, Alexander jailed them as well. Hedwig, however, still would not talk.
Since their tactics of imprisonment and intimidation had failed, the British soldiers decided to use a new approach. A noisy old steam train was driven past the rear of the prison. Alexander burst into Hedwig’s cell and informed her that this train was about to take her son to Siberia, and that she would never see him again. Waiting a few moments to let his message sink in, Alexander told Hedwig that she could prevent her son’s deportation if she told him where her husband was living and under what alias. Alexander left Hedwig sitting on her cot with a piece of paper and a pencil. When Alexander returned 10 minutes later, Hedwig had written a note with Höss’s location and his alias.
A group of about 25 men were sent the night of March 11, 1946 to arrest Höss. Many of them were German Jews such as Alexander. Some had kept their original names, such as Kuditsch and Wiener; others had taken on British-sounding names, like Roberts, Cresswell and Shiffers. There were also English-born soldiers from Jewish families, such as Bernard Clarke and Karl Abrahams. Virtually all of these men were enraged and eager to take out their revenge on Höss.
In 1983, the anti-National Socialist book Legions of Death by Rupert Butler documented that Sgt. Bernard Clarke and other British officers tortured Rudolf Höss into making his confession. The torture of Höss was exceptionally brutal. Neither Bernard Clarke nor Rupert Butler finds anything wrong or immoral in the torture of Höss. Neither of them seems to understand the importance of their revelations. Bernard Clarke and Rupert Butler prove that Höss’s confession was obtained by torture.
Moritz von Schirmeister, a former associate of Joseph Goebbels, confirmed that Höss’s confession was obtained by torture. At Nuremberg, von Schirmeister sat in the backseat of a car together with Höss, with whom he could speak freely during transit. He remembered Höss’s following statement:
“On the things he is accused of, he told me: ‘Certainly, I signed a statement that I killed two and a half million Jews. But I could just as well have said that it was five million Jews. There are certain methods by which any confession can be obtained, whether it is true or not.’”
British Pvt. Ken Jones confirmed that the British used sleep deprivation to break Höss. Jones stated:
We sat in the cell with him, night and day, armed with axe handles. Our job was to prod him every time he fell asleep to help break down his resistance. When Höss was taken out for exercise, he was made to wear only jeans and a thin cotton shirt in the bitter cold. After three days and nights without sleep, Höss finally broke down and made a full confession to the authorities.
The International Military Tribunal (IMT) began on November 20, 1945, four months before Höss’s arrest. Whitney Harris, a young American prosecutor at the IMT, was desperate to find a high-ranking German willing to confirm what had taken place in the concentration camps. At Harris’s request, the manacled Höss was transported 300 miles south to Nuremberg.
On April 1, 1946, Höss was taken to a small office to be interviewed by Harris. The three weeks in British captivity had taken their toll on Höss. Höss’s eyes were bloodshot, his cheeks were unshaven and gaunt, and his frame appeared to be fragile. Expecting to meet a larger man, someone who exuded power and brutality, Harris instead observed that Höss was a shrunken man.
While Höss waited in his cell to be called as a witness, he was visited by psychologist Dr. Gustave Gilbert, a New Yorker born to Jewish-Austrian immigrants. Gilbert wrote about Höss:
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 distress 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.
Dr. Gilbert later wrote after Höss’s testimony at the IMT: “He gave his testimony in the same matter-of-fact, apathetic manner as he had related it to me in his cell.” Maj. Leon Goldensohn, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, also remarked that “Höss looked blank and apathetic.” It is this author’s opinion that Höss’s “schizoid apathy” and “apathetic manner” were caused by his brutal torture by British soldiers. Höss was not usually described as apathetic before he was tortured.
On April 15, 1946, Höss appeared in court at the IMT. Ernst Kaltenbrunner’s defense lawyer, Dr. Kurt Kauffmann, asked Höss a series of questions designed to prove that Kaltenbrunner had never visited Auschwitz. Höss affirmed that Kaltenbrunner had never visited Auschwitz, and that Kaltenbrunner didn’t ordered the execution of Jews at this camp.
U.S. prosecutor Col. John Amen next started reading from an affidavit Höss had signed in front of Whitney Harris on April 5, 1946. Höss’s testimony at the IMT was probably the most important and striking evidence presented there of a German extermination program. Höss in his testimony said that more than two and a half million people were exterminated in the Auschwitz gas chambers, and that another 500,000 inmates had died there of other causes. No defender of the Holocaust story today accepts these inflated figures, and other key portions of Höss’s testimony at the IMT are widely acknowledged to be untrue.
Höss’s testimony, however, was reported around the world. A New York Times article described it as the “crushing climax to the case.” The Times in Britain said of Höss’s signed testimony: “Its dreadful implications must surpass any document ever penned.” Höss was regarded as the star prosecution witness at the IMT, and his testimony has become the framework for the official Holocaust story.
While Höss was appearing as a witness at Nuremberg, the Polish government sent word that they intended to try Höss for crimes committed in their country. Höss was eventually transported to a tiny basement cell in a prison on the outskirts of Krakow. Dr. Jan Sehn, the leading investigator in the Polish war crimes trials, asked Höss to write about Auschwitz’s operations and many other war-related matters. Sehn eventually persuaded Höss to write his memoirs. Höss was also interrogated 13 times and fully answered all questions.
Höss’s trial began March 11, 1947, before the Supreme National Tribunal of Poland in Warsaw. Dr. Tadeusz Cyprian, the lead prosecutor, presented statements from a large number of camp inmates to prove Höss’s guilt. By contrast, neither Höss nor his attorneys introduced any witnesses, relying entirely on the witnesses put forward by the prosecution. As he had done at Nuremberg, Höss remained stoic, answering all questions in a brief, precise manner, without emotions. Similar to Dr. Gustave Gilbert and Dr. Leon Goldensohn at Nuremberg, both Dr. Shen and Dr. Cyprian described Höss as being apathetic.
Höss’s trial ended on March 29, 1947. As expected, on April 2, 1947, Höss was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Höss was hanged on April 16, 1947, in front of the old crematorium at the Auschwitz main camp.
In his well-researched book Commandant of Auschwitz, Carlo Mattogno documents that all of Höss’s statements about the so-called Holocaust are wrong, contradictory and absurd. Mattogno writes that Höss’s chronology of events is also fictitious, as are the events (such as gassings) he wove into them. Mattogno asks how can Höss’s fabrications be explained?
While Höss’s first confession was extracted by torture, the same cannot be said of the many depositions he made during the subsequent final 13 months of his life. So why did Höss make so many false confessions? Certainly, fear for his family’s safety was a factor in Höss’s repeated false statements. Also, in this author’s opinion, Höss was a thoroughly broken man. This is indicated by the numerous comments from psychologists about his “schizoid apathy.”
Carlo Mattogno provides a good explanation why Höss repeatedly lied about Auschwitz:
To sum up, from his first interrogation, which he had signed without even knowing the contents, the British interrogators imposed upon Höss by way of torture the Auschwitz narrative outlined during the Belsen Trial, and Höss subsequently stuck to this version due to the well-founded fear of retaliation against his family, who remained hostages of the British occupational authorities. His broken psyche made him uniquely subservient to his inquisitors, who induced him to make ever increasing “confessions” along with the growing amount of holocaust “information” they fed him, but at the same time this prevented him from keeping control over the enormous mountain of lies he was piling up—much of which he probably did not even remember—because of the enormous amounts of contradictions they contain, as well as the many absurdities which are the most telling hallmarks of his lies.
Initially, Höss was a coerced liar, but then he found a taste for the grandiloquent lie.
 Primomo, John W., Architect of Death at Auschwitz: A Biography of Rudolf Höss, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2020, pp. 1, 157, 198.
 Ibid., p. 1.
 Höss, Rudolf, Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Commandant of Auschwitz, Steven Paskuly (editor), Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 1996, p. 19
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, p. 250.
 Ibid., pp. 5-8.
 Ibid., pp. 8-10.
 Ibid., p. 11.
 Ibid., pp. 12-15.
 Ibid., pp. 15-16.
 Primomo, John W., Architect of Death at Auschwitz: A Biography of Rudolf Höss, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2020, pp. 33-34.
 Ibid., p.35.
 Ibid., pp. 35-37.
 Ibid., pp. 37-38.
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, pp. 59-61.
 Ibid., pp. 61-69.
 Ibid., pp. 69-70.
 Ibid., pp. 96-97.
 Primomo, John W., Architect of Death at Auschwitz: A Biography of Rudolf Höss, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2020, p. 49.
 Höss, Rudolf, Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Commandant of Auschwitz, Steven Paskuly (editor), Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 1996, p. 118.
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, pp. 98-99.
 Ibid., pp. 108-110.
 Höss, Rudolf, Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Commandant of Auschwitz, Steven Paskuly (editor), Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 1996, p. 125.
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, pp. 159-162.
 Ibid., pp. 164-165.
 Höss, Rudolf, Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Commandant of Auschwitz, Steven Paskuly (editor), Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 1996, pp. 169-170.
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, pp. 168-169.
 Ibid., pp. 196-200.
 Mattogno, Carlo, Commandant of Auschwitz: Rudolf Höss, His Torture and His Forced Confessions, Uckfield, UK: Castle Hill Publishers, 2017, p. 18.
 Ibid., pp. 18-19.
 Ibid., p. 19.
 Faurisson, Robert, “How the British Obtained the Confessions of Rudolf Höss,” The Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 4, Winter 1986-87, pp. 392-399.
 Mattogno, Carlo, Commandant of Auschwitz: Rudolf Höss, His Torture and His Forced Confessions, Uckfield, UK: Castle Hill Publishers, 2017, p. 16.
 Ibid., pp. 16-17.
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, pp. 248-251.
 Ibid., p. 252.
 Gilbert, Gustave M., Nuremberg Diary, New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1947, p. 260.
 Ibid., p. 264.
 Mattogno, Carlo, Commandant of Auschwitz: Rudolf Höss, His Torture and His Forced Confessions, Uckfield, UK: Castle Hill Publishers, 2017, pp. 119, 329.
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, p. 257.
 Taylor, Telford, The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992, p. 363.
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, pp. 259-260.
 Butz, Arthur R., The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry, Newport Beach, CA: Institute for Historical Review, ninth printing, 1992, p. 101.
 Harding, Thomas, Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013, pp. 262-267.
 Primomo, John W., Architect of Death at Auschwitz: A Biography of Rudolf Höss, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2020, p. 163.
 Ibid., pp. 166-167, 187.
 Ibid., pp. 167, 196.
 Mattogno, Carlo, Commandant of Auschwitz: Rudolf Höss, His Torture and His Forced Confessions, Uckfield, UK: Castle Hill Publishers, 2017, p. 325.
 Ibid., p. 329.