The testimony of Rudolf Hoess, Auschwitz commandant (1946)

The testimony of Rudolf Hoess, commander of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination complex. He offered this statement at the Nuremberg war crimes hearings in 1946:

I, Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess, being first duly sworn, depose and say as follows:

“I am 46 years old and have been a member of the NSDAP since 1922; a member of the SS since 1934; a member of the Waffen­-SS since 1939. From December 1934 I was a member of the SS Camps Guard Unit, the Totenkopf Verband.

I have been constantly associated with the administration of concentration camps since 1934, serving at Dachau until 1938; then as Adjutant in Sachsenhausen from 1938 to May 1940, when I was appointed Commandant of Auschwitz.

I commanded Auschwitz until December 1943 and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, while at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000.

This figure represents about 70 or 80 per cent of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labour in the concentration camp industries.

Included among the executed and burnt were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men.

The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews and great numbers of citizens (mostly Jewish) from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.

Mass executions by gassing commenced during the summer 1941 and continued until fall 1944. I personally supervised executions at Auschwitz until December 1943. I know by reason of my continued duties in the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps that these mass executions continued after this date.

All mass executions by gassing took place under the direct order, supervision and responsibility of RSHA [the SS Reich Security Head Office]. I received all orders for carrying out these mass executions directly from RSHA.

The Final Solution of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. l was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time there were already in the general government [Nazi-occupied Europe] three other extermination camps: Belzec, Treblinka and Wolzek. These camps were overseen by the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD.

I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The Camp Commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of half a year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas and I did not think that his methods were very efficient.

As a result, when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz, l used Zyklon B, which was a crystallized prussic acid which we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from three to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber, depending upon climatic conditions.

We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one ­half-hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed, our special commandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.

Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chambers to accommodate 2,000 people at one time, whereas at Treblinka their ten gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each.

The way we selected our victims was as follows: we had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since, by reason of their age, they were unable to work.

Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka, the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz, we endeavoured to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently, women would hide their children under the clothes – but of course, when we found them, we would send the children in to be exterminated.

We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course, the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.

We received from time to time special prisoners from the local Gestapo office. The SS doctors killed such prisoners by injections of benzine. Doctors had orders to write ordinary death certificates and could put down any reason at all for the cause of death. From time to time we conducted medical experiments on women inmates, including sterilization and experiments relating to cancer. Most of the people who died under these experiments had been already condemned to death by the Gestapo.

Rudolf Mildner was the chief of the Gestapo at Kattowicz and as such was head of the political department at Auschwitz which conducted third-degree methods of interrogation from approximately March 1941 until September 1943. He frequently sent prisoners to Auschwitz for incarceration or execution. He visited Auschwitz on several occasions.

The Gestapo Court, the SS Standgericht, which tried persons accused of various crimes, such as escapees, etc., frequently met within Auschwitz, and Mildner often attended the trial of such persons, who usually were executed in Auschwitz following their sentence. l showed Mildner throughout the extermination plant at Auschwitz and he was directly interested in it since he had to send the Jews from his territory for execution at Auschwitz.

I understand English as it is written above. The above statements are true; this declaration is made by me voluntarily and without compulsion. After reading over the statement, I have signed and executed the same at Nurnberg, Germany on the fifth day of April 1946.”

Rudolf Hoess