Scrapbookpages Blog

February 27, 2012

Has the gallows, on which Rudolf Hoess was hanged at Auschwitz, been moved?

I’ve been reading more here about the recent trip to Auschwitz made by British students on a Holocaust Education Trust tour.  I was intrigued by the following information in the article written by Mike Pyle, a reporter who accompanied the students on the trip:

We stood outside the house of Rudolf Hoss, (sic) effectively the manager of the camp, where he lived with his family just a few hundred yards from Block 11.

Outside it stands the gallows he was hanged from in 1947. Our HET educator for the day, Nicole Sarsby, challenged us to think of how this man was able to bring up his family in such circumstances.

The name of the first Commandant of Auschwitz was Rudolf Hoess. (In German the name is spelled Höß or Höss.) Hoess was an officer in the SS; he had received his training at Dachau and had then been assigned to the Sachsenhausen camp before becoming the Commandant of Auschwitz in May 1940.  You can read here about the numerous statements made by Rudolf Hoess in which he confessed that millions of Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.

The house where Rudolf Hoess lived is shown in the two photos below.

The rear of the house where Rudolf Hoess lived with his family at Auschwitz

The front of the house where Rudolf Hoess lived at Auschwitz

The house where Rudolf Hoess formerly lived with his wife and children is now occupied by new residents.  I took the photo above in October 2005.  I wonder what the current residents think about the hundreds of British students parading past their home, gawking at the reconstruction of the gallows where Rudolf Hoess was hanged.  Note that I took the photo from across the street, so as not to invade the privacy of the current occupants.

The article written by Mike Pyle mentions that the house where Rudolf Hoess lived was “just a few hundred yards from Block 11.”  The photo below, which I took in September 1998, shows Block 11.

Block 11 was the prison block at the Auschwitz main camp

The rear of Block 11 faces the street where Hoess lived

When I visited Auschwitz in 2005, a reconstructed model of the gallows on which Rudolf Hoess was hung, was located near the gas chamber building in the main Auschwitz camp.

Reconstructed gallows near the gas chamber building in Auschwitz main camp

The photo above shows the reconstructed gallows on which Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged on April 16, 1947. The steps on the far right in the photo are the original steps of the building which housed the Political Department (Gestapo branch office). One can see the outline of where the building once stood. The reconstructed gallows stands on the spot where the Political Department building used to be.

The small hole in the ground with an arched covering over it, located next to the street, is a one-man air raid shelter for an SS guard to jump into, in case there was no time to make it into the air raid shelter in the former gas chamber. There are several of these shelters scattered around the Auschwitz I camp. During air raids the prisoners would take cover in the basements of the barracks buildings.

The Auschwitz complex was targeted by the Allies, not because the Jews were being gassed there, but because the factories near the camp were extremely important to the German war effort. In 1944,  the Auschwitz main camp received a direct hit from Allied bombs and one of the barracks buildings was damaged.

Close-up of the reconstructed gallows

I’m confused.  Has the reconstructed gallows now been moved from this spot?  Was it moved because tourists are now shuffled through the gas chamber from the other side of the building, not from the door on the side where the reconstructed gallows was located when I visited the camp in 1998?  The photo below shows the door into the gas chamber building that was constructed when the gas chamber was converted into an air raid shelter.  When I visited Auschwitz in 1998, I was told that this was the door through which the victims entered the gas chamber. At that time, tour guides were still telling visitors that the gas chamber was original, not a reconstruction done by the Soviet Union.  The door shown in the photo below was not there when the gas chamber was in operation.

Visitors to Auschwitz in 1998 were told that this was the door into the gas chamber

Here is another quote from the article about the student trip to Auschwitz:

Our day started, after an early flight into Krakow, in the nearby town of Oswiecim. The Nazis chose to build Auschwitz there because it had one of the largest Jewish populations in the country – 68 per cent of the population, around 7,000 people.

Wait a minute! The Nazis chose to build the Auschwitz camp in Oswiecim because there were already 7,000 Jews there and they would not have to transport them to another place?  I don’t think so.

Before the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Oswiecim was a town with a population 12,000, of which 7,000 residents were Jewish. The Jews, who had lived for over 500 years in the town, which they called Oshpitzin, were evacuated by the Nazis to three different ghettos in 1941, but eventually ended up back at Auschwitz, where most of them perished in the Auschwitz II death camp.

The plan to establish a concentration camp at Auschwitz was first announced by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler on April 27, 1940.  Konzentrationslager Auschwitz, the main camp, was originally opened on June 14, 1940, as just another concentration camp, in the former Polish military garrison in Zazole, a district of the town of Auschwitz. Thirty German criminals, who were prisoners in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, were brought to Auschwitz in May 1940 to convert the garrison into a prison camp. Throughout its existence, the Nazis called Auschwitz a concentration camp, not an extermination camp or Vernichtungslager. The term “extermination camp” was coined by the Allies and initially, it applied to all the Nazi camps.

At first, the Auschwitz main camp, known as the Stammlager, was only a camp for Polish political prisoners, including some Jews, and German common criminals, who assisted the Nazis in supervising the other prisoners. The first transport to the Auschwitz concentration camp consisted of 728 Polish inmates of the Gestapo prison at Tarnow. They were mostly university students, including a few Jews, who had joined the Polish Resistance. The Polish Army never surrendered to the Germans and no Armistice was ever signed. The Poles continued to fight during World War II, but as insurgents or illegal combatants, not as soldiers on the battlefield. When captured, the Polish resistance fighters were sent to Auschwitz or other concentration camps such as Buchenwald and Dachau.

Hoess was relieved of his duties as Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 and sent to Oranienburg to replace Arthur Liebehenschel as the Senior Director of WVHA, the SS Economic Department. On December 1, 1944, Liebehenschel became the new Commandant of Auschwitz, but only the Auschwitz I camp, not the whole Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.

Hoess was fired because he was allegedly having an affair with a woman prisoner in Block 11 at the Auschwitz I camp. The woman, Eleanore Hodys, told her story to the American liberators at Dachau and it was included in a book entitled Dachau Liberated, The Official Report by The U.S. Seventh Army. In the book, she was identified only as E.H.

Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS judge who was assigned to investigate corruption in the Auschwitz camp, allegedly learned of the affair and fired Hoess from his position as Commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Hoess returned to Auschwitz in April 1944 to supervise the gassing of the Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau.  He was the one who ordered that the train tracks be extended inside the Birkenau camp, right up to the gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III.

Railroad tracks were extended into Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in 1944

I have deduced that the British students are given the standard spiel of misinformation about Auschwitz, including all the common mistakes included in the Holocaust story.  They are probably told that Rudolf Hoess was put on trial at Nuremberg and that he confessed.  I doubt that the students are told that Hoess was tortured by the British until he confessed.

Photo of Rudolf Hoess after he was captured by the Jewish Brigade

Rudolf Höss was arrested by the British near Flensburg, Schleswig- Holstein, Germany on March 11, 1946. He was turned over to the Supreme National Tribunal in Poland on May 25, 1946 and was put on trial in 1947. He was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Three months after he was hanged at the main Auschwitz camp, the former camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau officially became the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

The British were able to find Rudolf Hoess, after he had been hiding on a farm for eight months, because they contacted his family and threatened to turn his son over to the Soviet Union to be sent to Siberia unless they revealed his hiding place.

The following quote is from page 179 of the book entitled “Death Dealer,”  allegedly written by Rudolf Hoess and edited by Steven Paskuly; it was first published in 1992:

On March 11, 1946, at 11 p.m., I was arrested. My vial of poison had broken just two days before. The arrest was successful because I was frightened at being awakened out of a sound sleep. I assumed that it was a robbery because there were a lot of them occurring in the area.

I was treated terribly by the [British] Field Security Police. I was dragged to Heide and, of all places, to the same military barracks from which I had been released eight months before by the British. I do not know what was in the transcript, or what I said, even though I signed it, because they gave me liquor and beat me with a whip. It was too much even for me to bear. The whip was my own. By chance it had found its way into my wife’s luggage. My horse had hardly ever been touched by it, much less the prisoners. Somehow one of the interrogators probably thought that I had constantly used it to whip the prisoners.

After a few days I was taken to Minden on the Weser River, which was the main interrogation center in the British zone. There they treated me even more roughly, especially the first British prosecutor, who was a major. The conditions in the jail reflected the attitude of the first prosecutor.

Surprisingly, after three weeks I was shaved, my hair was cut, and I was allowed to wash myself. My handcuffs had not been opened since my arrest. The next day, I was taken by car to Nuremberg together with a prisoner of war who had been brought over from London as a witness in Fritsche’s defense. Compared to where I had been before, imprisonment with the IMT [International Military Tribunal] was like staying in a health spa.

At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, Rudolf Hoess was called as a defense witness by Kurt Kauffmann, the lawyer for Ernst Kaltenbrunner, on April 15, 1946. This “opened the door” for an affidavit signed by Hoess to be entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT and gave the prosecution the opportunity to cross-examine Hoess on the witness stand on April 15, 1946.

The first confession signed by Hoess was labeled by the Allies as Nuremberg Document No-1210. It was an 8-page typewritten document written in German. Hoess wrote the date 14.3.1946 2:30 (March 14, 1946 2:30 a.m.) next to his signature. This date was three days after his capture on March 11, 1946. Hoess had been beaten half to death; alcohol had been poured down his throat, and he had been kept awake for three days and nights before he finally signed this confession at 2:30 in the morning.

A second affidavit signed by Rudolf Hoess on April 5, 1946 was labeled by the Allies at the Nuremberg IMT as document PS-3868. It was a typewritten document, about 2 and a quarter pages long, written in English. A second document, also labeled PS-3868, was purported to be the English translation of the original deposition given by Hoess in German. The second document was the one that was entered into the proceedings of the Nuremberg IMT.

During his cross-examination of Rudolf Hoess, American prosecutor Col. Harlan Amen quoted from the second affidavit which was alleged to be the English translation of a deposition given by Hoess in German. After reading each statement made by Hoess in his affidavit, Col Amen asked Hoess if this was what he had said and Hoess answered “Jawohl.” [the English equivalent would be “Yes, indeed.”]

A copy of one of the confessions given by Hoess, after he was tortured half to death, is displayed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The photo shows Jews walking to the gas chamber, carrying their bundles.

The confession of Rudolf Hoess displayed at the USHMM