There has been some discussion, in the comments section on my blog, about Rudolf Hoess, the first Commandant of the Auschwitz main concentration camp. Rudolf Hoess is sometimes confused with Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess. Hoess is the English spelling of the German name Höß or Höss.
Some people pronounce the name as Hess. The correct pronunciation of the name depends on what part of Germany you are from. In Germany, I have heard some people pronounce the name as “hearse”.
Hoess was an officer in Hitler’s elite army called the SS; he had received his training at Dachau and had then been assigned to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp before becoming the Commandant of Auschwitz in May 1940.
After the war, Hoess was hunted down and arrested by the Jewish Brigade in the British Army.
Hoes testified as a defense witness for Ernst Kaltenbrunner at the Nuremberg IMT. Kaltenbrunner had been charged with committing Crimes Against Humanity but Hoess testified that Kaltenbrunner didn’t know about the gassing of the Jews since he had never visited Auschwitz, which Hoess freely admitted was a death camp.
Hoess was later extradited to Poland to stand trial himself. He was convicted and subsequently hanged on April 16, 1947 in front of the Gestapo building at Auschwitz which is right next to the Krema I gas chamber in the main camp.
Hoess was the one who put the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign over the gate into the main Auschwitz camp. Translated into English, the words mean “Work will set you free.” In his autobiography, Hoess explained that this expression means that work liberates one in the spiritual sense, not that the prisoners literally had a chance of being released if they worked hard.
However, according to Franciszek Piper, the former director of the Auschwitz Museum, the camp records show that around 1,500 prisoners were actually released from the Auschwitz main camp.
Hoess was eventually relieved of his duties as Commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex 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 allegedly having an affair with a woman prisoner in Block 11 at the Auschwitz I camp. The woman, identified only as E.H., 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.”
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.
The daughter of Arthur Liebehenschel wrote in a book entitled “My father, the Auschwitz commandant,” published in 2009, that her father was demoted and sent to Auschwitz in 1944 because he had left his wife for another woman who was friendly with Jews.
According to Danuta Czech, who wrote a book entitled “The History of KL Auschwitz,” which was published in 1967, the administration of the three camps that comprised the vast Auschwitz complex was divided among three different Commandants on November 22, 1943.
The original Auschwitz I camp was put under the command of Liebehenschel while Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was placed under the command of SS Major Fritz Hartjenstein, who was later transferred to Natzweiler and then to Ravensbrück. SS 2nd Lt. Hans Schwarzhuber was put in charge of the men’s camp at Birkenau and SS 2nd Lt. Franz Hössler was put in charge of the woman’s camp.
Hans Schwarzhuber, who was transferred to Ravensbrück on January 12, 1945, was put on trial in a British military court at Hamburg after the war. Schwarzhuber confessed that prisoners were gassed at Ravensbrück and at Birkenau. He was convicted of war crimes and executed on May 3, 1947.
Franz Hössler (sometimes spelled Hoessler) was later transferred to Bergen-Belsen where he stayed behind to assist the British when the camp was voluntarily turned over to them on April 15, 1945. Hössler was put on trial by the British in the Belsen trial in 1945. He was convicted of war crimes committed at Birkenau and was hanged on December 13, 1945.