Scrapbookpages Blog

September 26, 2011

Franz Hoessler, the Commander of the women’s camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:23 am

Franz Hoessler is shown in a British documentary film

The photo above is a still shot of Franz Hoessler (Hössler) who was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was abandoned on January 18, 1945.  From December 1943 to January 1945, Hoessler had been the Commander of the women’s camp at Birkenau, where he worked with Dr. Josef Mengele, who was the women’s doctor at Birkenau.

In the photo above, Franz Hoessler is standing in front of a truck loaded with corpses of prisoners who died from typhus at Bergen-Belsen after the camp was voluntarily turned over to the British on April 15, 1945 by Heinrich Himmler.  Hoessler was one of the 80 SS men and women on the staff at Belsen who volunteered to stay behind and assist the British.  Twenty of these SS staff members died after they were deliberately exposed to typhus.

Hoessler was one of twelve SS men and women, who were put on trial by the British in The Belsen Trial in 1945, and charged with crimes committed at both Belsen and Auschwitz. He was convicted of war crimes committed at Birkenau, including his alleged participation in the selection of prisoners to be gassed.

During the trial, Hoessler testified that he had been in charge of staffing the brothel, in the main Auschwitz camp, with volunteers from the women’s camp at Birkenau.  He testified that Dr. Mengele had examined the volunteers and selected those who were free from disease.  Franz Hoessler was hanged on December 13, 1945 for crimes committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The English title of the film, which features Hoessler, was “Bergen-Belsen for Example.” This is obviously a translation of the German title “Bergen-Belsen zum Beispiel.” Zum Beispiel is a German expression which means “for example” but it is used more often and in more different ways than our English expression.

I had the opportunity to see this film at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site in 2002. The movie opens with scenes of the Belsen prisoners greeting the British soldiers as they enter the concentration camp on April 15, 1945. The prisoners look remarkably healthy, considering the ordeal that they had been through, and everyone is happy and smiling. Then a British soldier, who says that his name is Arthur Bushnell, explains that when the British soldiers first arrived, they got a “false impression” because at first, they didn’t see any dead bodies or emaciated prisoners. All the inmates who rushed up to greet them appeared to be healthy and well-fed. Bushnell said that there had been 400 German guards in the camp, and that half of them were there when the British arrived, but he didn’t explain why all of them had not run away to avoid being captured and put on trial as war criminals.

The Bergen-Belsen camp had been voluntarily turned over to the British with the agreement that the SS guards would stay on in the camp to maintain order and help with the work of cleaning up the camp. Nothing was said about what would happen to the guards, but it was implied in the negotiations that the German guards would be treated with respect and not arrested as war criminals. The documentary does not mention that the camp was formally surrendered to the British after both sides had negotiated an agreement. The film leads viewers to believe that the British captured the camp and surprised half of the guards who hadn’t had a chance to escape. According to Eberhard Kolb of the Memorial Site Committee, there were only 80 guards who remained in the camp, 50 men and 30 women. The photographs taken by the British after the liberation show that this number is probably correct.

In the film, Franz Hoessler begins his speech in front of the microphone by saying that he is 33 years old. He seems to be a very mild-mannered man, who is completely humiliated by being forced to speak in this manner. He is wearing his SS uniform, but it has been stripped of all insignia. The narrator of the film then says that most of the guards had escaped before the British arrived, implying that the British had captured the camp and surprised the remaining guards before they had had a chance to escape. At this point, the film says that 200 of the 400 guards had stayed in the camp, but there is no mention of why only 45 were put on trial. If only 80 guards volunteered to stay behind in the camp, and 45 were put on trial, this means that the 35 remaining guards probably died from typhus or were killed by the inmates or killed by the British soldiers.

The film was produced by Jurgen Coreleis, according to the credits at the end. I was completely and totally appalled by this disingenuous propaganda film that was being shown to 14-year-old German students 60 years after the war.  I was the only person at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site who was watching the film in English.  I saw the film in a private room on a TV set.  The German students watched it in German in a large theater, after which there was a discussion of what they had seen.

After World War II ended, staff members from all the concentration camps were put on trial by the Allies under the concept of co-responsibility for everything that had happened in the camps, even if they were not personally responsible for committing a war crime.

Josef Kramer, the Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and 44 other Belsen staff members were brought before a British Military Tribunal on September 17, 1945 at Lüneburg, a city that is a few miles north of the former concentration camp. Kramer had formerly been at Auschwitz-Birkenau and he was charged with crimes allegedly committed at both Belsen and Birkenau.

Bergen-Belsen was the only camp which came under the control of the British Army; the British Occupation did not have jurisdiction over any of the war criminals who worked in the other camps.

The charges brought by the British against the defendants at The Belsen Trial differed from the charges brought by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, against the camp personnel of Dachau, Buchenwald and other camps, in that the Belsen defendants were charged with murdering specific individuals who were listed by name in the charge sheet.

At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal and at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, the war criminals were charged with participating in a “common plan” and there were also specific charges, but none of the defendants at Nuremberg were charged with the murder of a specific individual. The British accused the defendants in The Belsen Trial of being “together concerned as parties to specific crimes,” but they also brought specific charges for the murder of inmates who were named, as well as others who were unnamed.

The charges at The Belsen Trial included two counts: crimes at Belsen and crimes at Auschwitz.  Count Two (crimes at Auschwitz) is quoted below:

Count Two:

At Auschwitz, Poland, between 1 October 1942 and 30 April 1945, when members of the staff at Auschwitz Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the persons interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of Rachella Silberstein (a Polish national), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, and physical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particularly to Eva Gryka and Hanka Rosenwayg (both Polish nationals) and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.

Under the new “common plan” or “common design” concept of co-responsibility for war crimes, Franz Hoessler was guilty of crimes allegedly committed at Auschwitz, including crimes that he did not personally commit.

In the Belsen Trial, the war criminals were defended by British military lawyers.  Major Winwood was the attorney assigned to defend Hoessler and the other SS men who had worked at Auschwitz.  He argued that orders regarding the gassing of prisoners at Auschwitz came, not from Josef Kramer as the Commandant of Birkenau, but from the Commandant of Auschwitz main camp.

Major Winwood argued that there was a political department at the Auschwitz main camp which was responsible for incoming transports and there was evidence that a member of this department was always present at the selections of the incoming transports.

The political department was the organization responsible within the Auschwitz camp, under the Camp Commandant of Auschwitz, for bringing internees into the camp and for their ultimate disposal.  Major Winwood argued that: “Over this disposal,  Josef Kramer had no authority, and his real position should be compared with that of a Commanding Officer of a transit camp, whose responsibility was confined to the administration of the people inside the camp until a posting order was received.”

Dr. Klein, Dr. Bendel and Franz Hoessler were also included in this argument by Major Winwood.  In spite of this defense, all were convicted and hanged.

According to the Wikipedia entry for Franz Hoessler, he was born in 1906, so he would have been 39 in 1945.  Why did he say in the documentary film that he was 33 years old?  Hoessler appeared to be a broken man.  Was he trying to get sympathy by cutting 6 years off his age?

Wikipedia has the following information about Hoessler:

Hössler was also responsible for the gassing of 1,600 Belgian Jews in October 1942. The incident was described in the diary of Johann Kremer, a former SS physician.

In 1943, Hössler was transferred to the women’s camp of Auschwitz and he was instructed to supervise the gassings.

At the Belsen Trial, Hössler was found guilty of crimes against humanity and of perpetrating the Holocaust.

Crimes against Humanity?  I don’t think so.

The authority for charging the defeated Germans with war crimes came from the London Agreement, signed after the war on August 8, 1945, by the four winning countries: Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the USA.

In December 1945,  Allied Control Council Law No. 10 was created; this law allowed the charge of “crimes against humanity,”  which was introduced in the indictment of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg.  Allied military tribunals could not try German nationals for murdering their fellow citizens. International law restricted the Allies to prosecuting only crimes committed against their own service personnel and civilian nationals, and those of their allies, in the territories that they held.

The Allies did not have the authority to try German nationals on charges of Crimes against Humanity, which was a new concept that did not exist before the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal began. This new law, which was one of the four categories of crimes described by Allied Control Council Law No. 10, was enacted after the end of World War II. It covered brutalities, cruelties, tortures, atrocities and other inhumane acts, including the murder of six million Jews in the Nazi camps. Some of the top-level war criminals at the Nuremberg IMT were charged with Crimes against Humanity, but this charge was not used in the proceedings against the concentration camp personnel who were tried by British and American military tribunals.

Under the Allied concept of participating in a “common plan” to commit war crimes, it was not necessary for a Nazi or a member of the SS to have committed an atrocity themselves; all were automatically guilty under the concept of co-responsibility for any atrocity that might have occurred.  I don’t know if Franz Hoessel was personally responsible for gassing anyone or not.  Under the Allied concept of justice, it didn’t matter.  He was there — so he was guilty of anything that happened at the camp.


  1. Caption below photo of German soldier with massive head wound found here:

    “Dead German soldiers at Dachau. Exact location unknown. They are wearing Tarnjacke, camouflage uniforms, of Waffen-SS combat troops. The head wound on the man in foreground appears to have been made by a US .45 caliber pistol. It looks as if he saw the bullet coming and shielded his eyes. According to Edwin F. Gorak, who took this photo on April 30, 1945, “the way the bodies were piled up seems to indicate they were slain simultaneously, as by machine gun fire.” (Courtesy of Edwin F. Gorak, 158th Field Artillery)”

    He’s laying with a pile of bodies the photographer thought looked like they were machine gunned yet this man was shot with a .45? Were other German POWs shot by US liberators at Dachau? Were prisoners given guns?

    Comment by who+dares+wings — September 27, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

  2. The photographs in Hansen’s book are intriguing and curious. Two worth mentioning because they are misleading are the ones on pages 271 and 322-323. Hansen recounts Dr. Blaha’s testimony of providing skins from the morgue for saddles, riding britches, gloves, house slippers and handbags and murdering prisoners to fill orders for skulls and skeletons. “Some skulls were preserved at Dachau, some not,” is the caption under the photo on page 271 of a dead soldier with the top of his head blown off. The suggestion is that this is photo evidence of Nazi depravity, but it’s actually a photo of the aftermath of the US Army massacre of the surrendered German POWs who were lined up against a wall at Dachau and machine gunned by Capt. Jack Busyhead. Hansen writes that Hitler’s told Spear, “If a camp is threatened, clear it out.” And when Speer said, “We don’t have enough trucks,” Hitler ordered, “Then march everyone out. If that doesn’t work, kill the prisoners and bury them.” This unsourced command is illustrated on the following two pages with before and after photos of a pit shooting in Romania. The caption reads, “After the Romanian prisoners have been shot, a Nazi officer tromps across them, instructing his soldiers to make sure all are dead.” It’s obvious “The Nazi officer” standing on the bodies in the pit and the soldiers behind him are in the wrong uniforms. The Germans camp system didn’t extend into Romania and the Romanians themselves never had one so Hansen (or more likely the editor/ghostwriter his wife and daughters sought out) is being disingenuous. Hansen died before he finished his manuscript.

    Comment by who+dares+wings — September 27, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    • Now that you mentioned that his manuscript was never finished, I recall where I read it. Hansen’s manuscript was sent to me by someone who was in the process of editing another manuscript written by an American veteran of World War II and wanted me to read the vet’s manuscript for possible errors. I spent a lot of time pointing out the numerous errors in the vet’s proposed manuscript and then never heard from this person again. I tried to contact this person, but his e-mail address had changed. The proposed book was never published. I had given suggestions on how the book should be organized to make it more readable. I practically wrote a book from the manuscript that was sent to me; the hours that I spent on this turned out to be a complete waste of time. I learned later that the manuscript was then sent to another person, who also pointed out the numerous errors. However, as a result of this, I did get to read Hansen’s manuscript and I noticed that it also contained numerous errors. The photographs were not included with the Hansen manuscript. Even though I thought that Hansen’s manuscript was full of lies, I used quotes from it on my website.

      The photo of the dead soldier with his head blown off is a not a photo from the massacre in which Bushyhead was involved. It is a photo taken on the grounds of the Dachau prison enclosure. The massacre took place at a wall inside the SS training camp.

      Comment by furtherglory — September 27, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  3. I ran across a copy of Witness to Barbarism by Horace R. Hansen who was a chief US Army prosecutor at the Dachau trials. In the appendix there’s photo of him late in his life taken in 1984 with chief trial judge Col. William D. Denson. Between the two of them, if memory serves, they convicted and hung just about everyone they tried. I think the number of capital convictions was over a hundred. The thing about Horace Hanson’s book is that he apparently believed all of the preposterous propaganda about the camps that he heard from eyewitnesses, read in Stars and Stripes and saw in newsreels manipulated by C.D. Jackson and others attached to the OSS and Sir Bruce Lockhart’s Political Warfare Executive in London. I say “apparently” because, of course, there’s no mention of exacting confessions out of the defendants by threats or torture, or of witnesses who went on to make a careers out of testifying at the Polish and German trials.

    Comment by who+dares+wings — September 26, 2011 @ 11:07 am

    • I read Hansen’s book years ago and quoted from the book on my scrapbookpages website.

      Here are the quotes, copied from my website:

      Horace R. Hansen, the author of the book entitled “Witness to Barbarism,” wrote the following about the demeanor of the accused on the opening day of the trial:

      “The 40 defendants are a surly, defiant lot; they sit stiffly in four stepped-up rows of chairs, their defense lawyers, headed by Colonel Bates, at a large table in front of them. Each defendant is asked in turn by the court whether he understands the charges and is ready for trial. Each says “yes,” pleading “not guilty” in a firm voice. When asked their nationality, they shout “Deutsch!” with obvious pride.”

      The following quote is from the book entitled “Witness to Barbarism,” written by a member of the prosecution staff at Dachau:

      “Denson has drawn the indictment alleging violations of the Rules of Land Warfare – namely, the killings, beatings, torture, starvation, and other abuses from January 1, 1942, to April 29, 1945, when the Americans liberated Dachau. He says the worst offense was the starvation of prisoners through embezzlement. The administration of each camp received a check by mail from the Himmler headquarters in Berlin, the amount depending on the number of prisoners. But they bought as little food as possible for prisoners, pocketing the remainder of the funds.”

      The following quote is from “Witness to Barbarism,” written by Horace R. Hansen, one of the prosecutors at Dachau:

      “For each day of the trial, we issue 300 tickets to civilians in different towns near Dachau. American personnel trucks will pick them up. They will receive a warm lunch and be returned to their homes about 5:30 P.M. Signs to this effect are posted in each town.

      The tickets go quickly. The German civilians who attend the trial see each prisoner point out his torturer, according to a defendant number (1 to 40) hung on his chest. This is the first time that most of the spectators hear the truth. American soldiers who dress as locals and speak in the local dialect give us before-and-after reactions of the civilians. Before distributing tickets for each town, two soldiers listen to groups of civilians, who usually say, in effect: “Those Americans on the radio are lying about what went on in the Dachau camp.” The two then return to the town to listen again, after the civilians have heard some of the testimony. This time they say, “It was terrible what went on in that camp.”

      From the accumulation of evidence, we know that German civilians living near main camps or subcamps occasionally saw the gaunt, ill-clad prisoners being marched along roads toward nearby factories. At times, a civilian close to a main camp caught the stench from a tall chimney and perhaps deduced cremation. The civilians certainly knew the prisoners were foreigners working against their will. But the only information the civilians received from the controlled media was that the workers were common criminals or enemies of the Reich.”


      From my reading of his book, I deduced that he was very biased and ill-informed.

      Comment by furtherglory — September 26, 2011 @ 11:51 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: