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September 15, 2013

Why did Rudolf Hoess confess? The British “took it out of him with torture” says his 80-year-old daughter

Thomas Harding is the author of “Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz” (Simon & Schuster; September 2013). Harding discovered that his great-uncle Hanns Alexander had been a Nazi hunter at his eulogy in 2006. The revelation set Harding off on his own search. For six years, the journalist (a British and U.S. citizen) researched archives and interviewed survivors for this book. Harding lives in Hampshire, England, and until recently co-owned the WV Observer in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. (Quoted from the Washington Post.)

Heinrich Himmler on the left and Rudolf Hoess on the right

Heinrich Himmler on the left and Rudolf Hoess on the right

How proud Thomas Harding must have been when he learned that his great-uncle had participated in the torture of Rudolf Hoess, the man whose confession proves that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.  How happy he must have been to discover that Brigitte Hoess, the daughter of the man, who gassed 2,000 Jews per day at Auschwitz, was still alive.

Harding tracked down the daughter of Rudolf Hoess, who is now living in America, and obtained an interview with her. Sadly, the daughter of mass-murderer Rudolf Hoess told Harding that “her father was the nicest man in the world” and that he was a “sensitive man.”  She told Harding that her father “had to do it.”

Mass-murderer Rudolf Hoess appears to be afraid of the nice British soldier

Mass-murderer Rudolf Hoess appears to be afraid of the nice British soldier

This quote is from an article, recently written by Thomas Harding, in the Washington Post, which you can read in full in The Japan Times:

I discovered where [Brigitte Hoess] lived while doing research for “Hanns and Rudolf,” a book on how Hoss was captured after the war by my great-uncle, Hanns Alexander, a German Jew who had fled Berlin in the 1930s. It took three years to find her. She would be interviewed only on the condition that neither her married name be revealed nor any details that would disclose her identity.

[…]

[Brigitte Hoess] is more willing to talk about when the British captured her father. One cold evening in March 1946, Hanns Alexander, my great-uncle — a German-born Jew but by then a British captain — banged on the family’s door.

“I remember when they came to our house to ask questions,” she says, her voice tight. “I was sitting on the table with my sister. I was about 13 years old. The British soldiers were screaming: ‘Where is your father? Where is your father?’ over and over again.

[…]

The story continues. “My older brother Klaus was taken with my mother. He was beaten badly by the British. My mother heard him scream in pain from the room next door. Just like any mother, she wanted to protect her son, so she told them where my father was.”

Alexander assembled a team and headed to the barn in the night. Hoss was awakened. He denied he was the commandant. Certain he had his man, Alexander demanded to see his wedding ring. When Hoss claimed it was stuck, Alexander threatened to cut his finger off until the commandant passed the ring over. Inside was inscribed “Rudolf” and “Hedwig.”

The commandant was the first person at such a senior level to admit the extent of the slaughter at Auschwitz. He was handed over to the Americans, who made him testify [as a defense witness for Ernst Kaltenbrunner] at Nuremberg. Then Hoss was passed to the Poles, who prosecuted him, then hanged him on a gallows next to the Auschwitz crematorium.

[…]

[Brigitte Hoess] does not deny that atrocities took place or that Jews and others were murdered in the camps, but she questions that millions were killed. “How can there be so many survivors if so many had been killed?” she asks.

When I point out that her father confessed to being responsible for the death of more than a million Jews, she says the British “took it out of him with torture.”

I had always thought it was Bernard Clarke, who was the British hero that got Rudolf Hoess to confess to the gassing of prisoners at Auschwitz.

This quote gives some of the details of the torture of Rudolf Hoess by Bernard Clarke:

Clarke yelled: “What is your name?”

With each answer of “Franz Lang,” Clarke’s hand crashed into the face of his prisoner. The fourth time that happened, Hoess broke and admitted who he was.

The admission suddenly unleashed the loathing of the Jewish sargeants in the arresting party whose parents had died in Auschwitz following an order signed by Hoess.

The prisoner was torn from the top bunk, the pyjamas ripped from his body. He was then dragged naked to one of the slaughter tables, where it seemed to Clarke the blows and screams were endless.

Eventually, the Medical Officer urged the Captain: “Call them off, unless you want to take back a corpse.”

A blanket was thrown over Hoess and he was dragged to Clarke’s car, where the sargeant poured a substantial slug of whiskey down his throat. Then Hoess tried to sleep.

Clarke thrust his service stick under the man’s eyelids and ordered in German: “Keep your pig eyes open, you swine.”

For the first time Hoess trotted out his oft-repeated justification: “I took my orders from Himmler. I am a soldier in the same way as you are a soldier and we had to obey orders.”

The party arrived back at Heide around three in the morning. The snow was swirling still, but the blanket was torn from Hoess and he was made to walk completely nude through the prison yard to his cell.

So it is that Bernard Clarke reveals: “It took three days to get a coherent statement out of [Hoess]” This admission was corroborated by Mr. Ken Jones in an article in the Wrexham Leader (October 17, 1986)

Strangely, Hoess was allowed to write his version of how he was tortured.  Bernard Clarke was apparently very proud of his torture sessions and he wanted Hoess to tell the world about it in his own words.

This quote is from this website:

Here are the words Hoess uses to describe, in succession, his arrest by the British; his signing of the document that would become NO-1210; his transfer to Minden-on-the-Weser, where the treatment he underwent was worse yet; his stay at the Nuremberg tribunal’s prison; and, finally, his extradition to Poland.

I was arrested on 11 March 1946 [at 11 pm].

My phial of poison had been broken two days before.

When I was aroused from sleep, I thought at first I was being attacked by robbers, for many robberies were taking place at that time. That was how they managed to arrest me. I was maltreated by the Field Security Police.

I was taken to Heide where I was put in those very barracks from which I had been released by the British eight months earlier.

At my first interrogation, evidence was obtained by beating me. I do not know what is in the record, although I signed it. Alcohol and the whip were too much for me. The whip was my own, which by chance had got into my wife’s luggage. It had hardly ever touched my horse, far less the prisoners. Nevertheless, one of my interrogators was convinced that I had perpetually used it for flogging the prisoners.

After some days I was taken to Minden-on-the-Weser, the main interrogation centre in the British Zone. There I received further rough treatment at the hands of the English public prosecutor, a major.

The conditions in the prison accorded with this behaviour.

After three weeks, to my surprise, I was shaved and had my hair cut and I was allowed to wash. My handcuffs had not previously been removed since my arrest.

On the next day I was taken by lorry to Nuremberg, together with a prisoner of war who had been brought over from London as a witness in Fritzsche’s defence. My imprisonment by the International Military Tribunal was a rest-cure compared to what I had been through before. I was accommodated in the same building as the principal accused, and every day we were visited by representatives for all the Allied nations. I was always pointed out as an especially interesting animal.

I was in Nuremberg because Kaltenbrunner’s counsel had demanded me as a witness for his defense. I have never been able to grasp, and it is still not clear to me, how I of all people could have helped to exonerate Kaltenbrunner. Although the conditions in prison were, in every respect, good — I read whenever I had the time, and there was a well stocked library available — the interrogations were extremely unpleasant, not so much physically, but far more because of their strong psychological effect. I cannot really blame the interrogators — they were all Jews.

Rudolf Hoess was hanged on this gallows, next to the gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp

Rudolf Hoess was hanged on this gallows, next to the Krema I gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp

Gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp, near the gallows where Hoess was hanged

Gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp, near the gallows where Hoess was hanged

In 19 countries in the world today, if you dispute the confession of Rudolf Hoess, obtained by torture, you could go to prison for five years.  Why would anyone lie under torture?  Just because Hoess confessed to the gassing of the Jews after three days of torture doesn’t mean that the Holocaust didn’t happen.

Fragments — The fake memoirs of Binjamin Wilkomirski

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 11:36 am

A reader of my blog made a comment in which he or she linked to an essay by Tammy Cairns that was published on the reader’s blog. The essay is entitled  An examination of the key problems posed to historians examining memoirs in response to the Wilkomirski Controversy (by Tammy Cairns)

I was asked by the person, who made the comment, to give my opinion.  My opinion is that this is a long and boring article, which says virtually nothing.  I learned almost nothing from this article.  The article also needs some proof-reading, as there are a couple of mistakes in grammar.

I don’t think that there was that much of a controversy about Wilkomirski’s book.  When it was learned that the book was a complete fake, the publicity about this hoax only contributed to the book’s success.  It is my impression that Wilkomirski was almost immediately exonerated; his book was classified as fiction, and it continued to sell millions of copies.  Teachers continued to assign this book to be read by their students.

There is another book entitled The Wilkomirski Affair A Study in Biographical Truth which you can read about in this quote from amazon.com:

This is the definitive report on Fragments, Binjamin Wilkomirski’s invented “memoir” of a childhood spent in concentration camps, which created international turmoil.

In 1995 Fragments, a memoir by a Swiss musician named Binjamin Wilkomirski, was published in Germany. Hailed by critics, who compared it with the masterpieces of Primo Levi and Anne Frank, the book received major prizes and was translated into nine languages. The English-language edition was published by Schocken in 1996. In Fragments, Wilkomirski described in heart-wrenching detail how as a small child he survived internment in Majdanek and Birkenau and was eventually smuggled into Switzerland at the war’s end.

But three years after the book was first published, articles began to appear that questioned its authenticity and the author’s claim that he was a Holocaust survivor. Stefan Maechler, a Swiss historian and expert on anti-Semitism and Switzerland’s treatment of refugees during and after World War II, was commissioned on behalf of the publishers of Fragments to conduct a full investigation into Wilkomirski’s life. Maechler was given unrestricted access to hundreds of government and personal documents, interviewed eyewitnesses and family members in seven countries, and discovered facts that completely refute Wilkomirski’s book.

The Maechler report has implications far beyond the tragic story of one individual’s deluded life. It explores our feelings about survivor literature and the impact these works can have on our remembrance of the Holocaust.

It is the quality of the writing in the book Fragments that has caused it to become a best-seller, not the tiny bit of information about the “death camps” that is contained in the book.  Fragments is in the same class as Elie Wiesel’s book Night and Tadeusz Borowski’s writing about Auschwitz. It is the style of writing that is important, not the content.

One thing in the article by Tammy Cairns did catch my eye:

Wilkomirski’s memoir in particular has had similarities drawn with The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski

I purchased a copy of The Painted Bird in 1998, after I returned from a trip to Poland, during which I had toured the Majdanek “death camp” and the Auschwitz-Birkenau “death camp.”  I tried to read this book, but could not finish it.

On my 1998 trip to Poland, I had been accompanied by a private tour guide.  One day, while we were eating lunch, I asked my Polish guide if people in Poland had ever heard of Ted Kaczinski, the infamous Unabomber.  She thought that I had said the name Kosinski and she immediately informed me that Jerzy Kosinski, the author of The Painted Bird was reviled in Poland because his book was full of lies.  She also told me that the name Kosinski is a very common name in Poland, but Ted the Unabomber was unknown in Poland.

In 1998, after I returned from Poland, I also purchased a copy of Wilkominski’s book Fragments.  It was the paperback edition that was first published in 1997.  Shortly after I had finished reading the book, I began to read in the news that the book had been discovered to be a fake memoir.

I had become suspicious of the book while I was reading it.   On page 111 in the book, Wilkomirski had written:  “…the voices get louder and more excited as we pass the fence, go through the gate, and out into the open country.”

Old photo shows the gate into the Majdanek camp

Old photo shows the gate into the Majdanek camp

“into the open country”?  No, no. The Majdanek camp, which I had just visited, is right on a major road that goes through the city of Lublin.  But then I thought: “Maybe the camp was not located inside the city of Lublin when it was in operation.”  I found the old photo above, which shows that the gate of the Majdanek camp might have led “out into the open country.”

In reading the book Fragments, before I knew that it was a fake memoir, I was also suspicious because Wilkomirski claimed that he was sent from the Majdanek death camp to the Auschwitz death camp.  That doesn’t make any sense. In fact, Tammy Cairns also picked up on this obvious mistake, when she wrote:

In hindsight, the mere fact that this young child was able to survive Nazi camps Majdanek and Auschwitz, and the constant selection processes in place is enough to raise questions.

As everyone knows, children under the age of 15 were immediately selected for the gas chamber.  Majdanek had 5 gas chambers, which have now been downgraded to 2, because so many people made fun of the so-called gas chambers, but that’s another story.

However, there were a few child survivors of Auschwitz, as shown in the photo below.

Child survivors walking out of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in January 1945

Child survivors walking out of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in January 1945

When I visited Majdanek in 1998, the entrance was through a low gate with a wooden frame and barbed wire; it looked like the gate into a cow pasture. Immediately to my right, as I entered the camp, through the wooden gate, I saw the familiar curved concrete posts and barbed wire which typically surrounded the Nazi concentration camps. In front of this fence was a small parking area for tour buses and a visitor’s center, which was like a tiny museum.  The Memorial Site might have been upgraded by now, as the Holocaust story has become more popular and there are more visitors to the former camps.

Monument at Majdanek Memorial Site

Monument to Struggle and Martyrdom at Majdanek Memorial Site

When visitors to the Majankek Memorial Site see this gigantic monument, near the city street which passes the camp, it is like being hit between the eyes with a sledge hammer. It is like suddenly coming upon Stonehenge is the middle of a city. The museum guidebook says that “this Monument to Struggle and Martyrdom has a manifold symbolic meaning. It can mean tragedy, but also be an expression of hope and victory.”

The view of the monument in the picture above was taken a few feet from the street; the former Majdanek camp is in the distance. You can see the round dome of the Mausoleum, in the background on the left, at the end of the road called the Road of Homage in English. Both the Mausoleum and the Monument were designed by Wiktor Tolkin and were set up in 1969.

The Road of Homage was called the “black path” when the Majdanek camp was in operation. According to a guidebook, which I purchased at the Memorial Site, the path was paved with broken tombstones from Jewish cemeteries, just like the road at the Plaszow camp which was shown in the movie Schindler’s List.  But I digress.

This quote is from the article by Tammy Cairns:

Wilkomirski had his own personal library of over two thousand books and memoirs telling the stories of the Holocaust.

Over time, these books and his own personal memories seem to have become muddled, especially once he started therapy on his ‘repressed memories’. This blurring between collective memory and actual memory has long provided historians with difficulties in accessing the truth. It is in these gray areas that the use of diaries and the immediacy they offer can provide a deeper insight into how these experiences were lived and felt during contemporary conditions. This does not necessarily take away the validity of memoirs but instead can add to the understanding of them and the context in which they were written.  […]

…. the use of memoirs is not enough to confirm an event has happened. Instead, they can explain how an event shaped and affected the people involved but further proof and evidence will always need to be sought to confirm what officially happened. 

Wilkomirski’s book is still assigned to students in America, as a piece of literature, but not as a true account of the Holocaust.