Birthday: November 25, 1901
Died At Age: 45
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Baden-Baden, Grand Duchy of Baden, German Empire
Famous as: Nazi War Criminal
Height: 1.73 m
Spouse/Ex-: Hedwig Hensel (m. 1929)
father: Franz Xaver Höss
mother: Lina Speck
children: Annegret Höss, Hans-Rudolf Höss, Heidetraut Höss, Ingebrigitt Höss, Klaus Höss
Died on: April 16, 1947
place of death: Oświęcim (Auschwitz), Poland
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss was a German Schutzstaffel official and war criminal. During the Nazi era, he was appointed commandant of Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp, serving longer than any other of its commandants. He experimented with and used various methods to expedite “Final Solution”, which was Hitler’s plan to systematically wipe out the Jewish population of Nazi-occupied Europe. On the suggestion of one of his subordinates, Karl Fritzsch, he began using pesticide Zyklon B containing hydrogen cyanide as the killing agent. Originally from Baden-Baden, Höss was raised by his father with a near-fanatical adherence to the central role of duty in the moral life. In 1922, he became a member of the Nazi Party. He joined the SS in 1934. He ran Auschwitz from May 1940 to November 1943 and again from May 1944 to January 1945. Before the German defeat in World War II, he oversaw the killings of over a million people. He was apprehended by British forces in March 1946 and subsequently tried and sentenced to death. His execution was carried out in April 1947. While he was imprisoned, Höss authored his memoir, ‘Commandant of Auschwitz: The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess’.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on November 25, 1901, Baden-Baden, Grand Duchy of Baden, German Empire, Höss (also spelt Höß, Hoeß or Hoess) was the eldest of the three children of Lina (née Speck) and Franz Xaver Höss. He had two younger sisters.
Baptized Rudolf Franz Ferdinand on December 11, 1901, he was raised by his father, a former army officer who was once stationed in German East Africa, with strict religious principles and military discipline.
On August 17, 1929, Höss exchanged wedding vows with Hedwig Hensel. They had five children: Klaus Höss (born February 6, 1930), Heidetraud Höss (April 9, 1932), Inge-Brigitt Höss (August 18, 1933), Hans-Juergen Höss (May 1937), and Annegret Höss (November 7, 1943).
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Initial Military Career
At the advent of World War I, Höss worked at a military hospital for a short period. At the age of 14, he joined the German Army's 21st Regiment of Dragoons, with which his father and grandfather had served before him.
He took part in combat with the Ottoman Sixth Army at Baghdad, at Kut-el-Amara, and in Palestine. Progressing swiftly through the ranks, he became the Feldwebel (sergeant-in-chief). He suffered three injuries and contracted malaria and received the Gallipoli Star, the Iron Cross first and second class and other decorations.
Following the armistice, he and a few others did not want to become prisoners of war and travelled through Romania before reaching home in Bavaria.
Becoming a Nazi
After he returned from the war, Höss finished his secondary education and enlisted in several emerging nationalist paramilitary groups, including the East Prussian Volunteer Corps and the Freikorps. In 1922, after listening to a speech by Adolf Hitler, he became a member of the Nazi Party.
On May 31, 1923, following the instructions of farm supervisor Martin Bormann, who later served as Hitler's private secretary, Höss and other Freikorps members beat local schoolteacher Walther Kadow to death in Mecklenburg.
Kadow was accused of informing the French occupational authorities that Nazi Party members were conducting sabotage operations against French supply lines. Höss was later caught and sentenced to ten years in prison in May 1924.
As part of a general amnesty, Höss was freed in July 1928. He then became a member of the Artaman League, a movement that advocated against urbanization. At some point after he got married, he met Heinrich Himmler.
Career in the Schutzstaffel
On April 1, 1934, Höss, following Himmler's effective call-to-action, became a member of Schutzstaffel and later began working with the SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units). He was deeply influenced by Himmler, whose words were “gospel” to him. He even had a picture of him, and not that of Hitler’s, in his office.
In December 1934, Höss was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. In 1938, he was made SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain) and joined the Sachsenhausen concentration camp as adjutant to Hermann Baranowski.
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He became part of the Waffen-SS in 1939, following the invasion of Poland. He proved himself to be an extremely competent officer and was endorsed by several of his superiors for promotion and more responsibilities.
On May 1, 1940, Höss received the appointment as the commandant of Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp in western Poland. During his first tenure there, he served for three and a half years and constantly added new structures to turn the original smaller facility into a spread-out complex that came to be known as Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
His initial orders were to set up a transition camp that could house ten thousand prisoners. He accepted the appointment believing that he could make Auschwitz a more efficiently-run camp than Dachau and Sachsenhausen. While he was serving there, he resided in the camp in a villa with his wife and five children.
Initially, the inmates who were placed in Auschwitz were either Soviet prisoners-of-war or Polish prisoners, including peasants and intellectuals. At one point, the facility had three divisions: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Auschwitz III-Monowitz.
In June 1941, Höss travelled to Berlin to meet Himmler, who informed him that Hitler had issued the command for the “Final Solution” of the Jewish question.
He later revealed that Auschwitz, for its size and easy access by rail, was picked by Himmler for the extermination of Europe’s Jews. He was also informed by Himmler that he would receive orders from Adolf Eichmann.
On September 3, 1941, he started experimenting and improving mass killing techniques. Because of his tests, Auschwitz became the most efficiently murderous instrument of the “Final Solution” and the Holocaust's most potent symbol.
After experimenting with several substances, he was advised to use pesticide Zyklon B containing hydrogen cyanide by a subordinate named Karl Fritzsch, who had previously tested the substance on Russian prisoners. According to Höss, the victims died between three to 15 minutes after Zyklon B was administered to them.
In 1942, Höss was involved in an affair with Eleonore Hodys (or Nora Mattaliano-Hodys), who was imprisoned in Auschwitz for political reasons. She got pregnant and in 1943, had an abortion. The affair might have caused Höss’ removal from the Auschwitz command in 1943. He was briefly investigated before the case against him was dropped.
Höss was substituted by Arthur Liebehenschel at Auschwitz, while he was made the head of Amt D I in Amtsgruppe D of the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office (WVHA), Liebehenschel’s previous position.
He was reassigned to Auschwitz on May 8, 1944, and oversaw Operation Höss, in which 430,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in the span of 56 days.
Capture, Trial & Execution
As the war was coming to an end, Höss managed to evade the Allied forces for nearly a year. It was his wife who told his whereabouts to British soldiers in order to save her son, Klaus, who was being thrashed by the soldiers.
Höss was caught on March 11, 1946, in Gottrupel (Germany). At the time, he was pretending to be a gardener named Franz Lang. There were Jewish soldiers in the group that arrested him, and they beat him with axe handles.
Höss delivered a comprehensive statement at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on April 15, 1946. Accused of killing three and a half million people, he stated that they had killed “only two and one half million—the rest died from disease and starvation”. Later, in an essay, he revised that number to 1.13 million.
Höss was prosecuted by the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland. He was found guilty and received the death sentence on April 2, 1947. His hanging took place on 16 April in Oświęcim (Auschwitz), Poland.