The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
We can no longer consider Hoess to be a common criminal or assassin. He had admittedly participated in the night of 31st May it, on the orders of Martin Bormann and with five companions from the from the “Freikorps Rossbach” [Bernard Jurisch, Georg Pfeiffer, Emil Weimeyer, Karl Zabel, and Robert Zenz], in administering a thrashing to a former schoolteacher, Walter Kadow, suspected [without proof] of having delivered Albert Leo Schlageter, one of Hoess' old comrades, to the French, who shot him. The punishment degenerated into an execution. Jurisch denounced the collective murder and Hoess, who had nevertheless returned to the scene of the crime with Zabel to give the body a summary burial, was condemned to ten years' imprisonment. This crime “frais et joyeux"* [Les crimes politiques en Allemagne E J Gumbel, NRF, Paris, 1931 page 149] found its raison d'être in the exacerbated patriotism of the time. Hoess' function at Auschwitz was that of executioner in the legal sense of the term, performing the most sordid job in a racist totalitarian regime. He did the dirty work for high ups incapable of contemplating the actual materialization the actual of their mad orders. InCommandant of Auschwitz, pages 173 4, Hoess writes:
“The Reichsführer SS sent various high ranking Party leaders and SS officers to Auschwitz so that they might see for themselves the process of extermination of the Jews, They were all deeply impressed by what they saw. Some who had previously spoken most loudly about the necessity for this extermination fell silent once they had actually seen the “final solution of the Jewish problem”. I was repeatedly asked how I and my men could go on watching these operations, and how we were able to stand it… This was one job that nobody envied me.”
Hoess was fully responsible for what he did. In 1945, the majority of people thought that that a man who had committed such acts was a monster. But since 1974 it has been scientifically proved that over half of the human race is capable of doing the same. The American social psychologist Stanley Milgram has demonstrated by experiment, as related in his book Submission to Authority that 60% of normal individuals are potential Hoesses or Eichmanns and the percentage increases when they live in an “authoritarian” environment. The only significant exception to this was a young woman of 31 who refused to continue the experiment as soon as she felt that the guinea-pig was endangered by her acts, this despite the by organizer’s emphatic orders to her to continue the experiment. Her refusal was explained by the fact that she was of German origin, and had spent her youth under the Hitler regime and considered that she had seen “too many atrocities” She was in fact “vaccinated” and very sensitive to the limits of what constituted a reasonable order.

The Nazi regime was a totalitarian regime based on racism. The victim, the Jew, was so reviled as from 1933, that his extermination, the logical consequence of this denigration, was only natural, and could be actually carried our in a country made propitious for this action. The other Europeans were vaguely aware of the fate awaiting the Jews, but for their own intellectual comfort they refrained from asking themselves the simple question of what was the real fate implied by the complete “rejection” of the Jews. This book should enable them, forty years after the event, to visualize the environment and way the in which the extermination process worked, hitherto known only to a few “initiated” officials of the Third Reich.

Hoess was hanged because he organized and actively participated in countless gassings that had killed between 1 million and 1.5 million people. He claimed that he wanted by using this method to avoid unnecessary suffering of people that he considered, because of the conditions brought about by the war, were doomed in advance. He stated as much in Commandant of Auschwitz, page 178:
“Tens of thousands of Jews were moved from Auschwitz… but this was only a question of out of the frying pan and into the fire… there was the heavy work to which the prisoners were unaccustomed and the ever diminishing scale of rations. The prisoners would have been spared a great deal of misery if they had been taken straight into the gas chambers at Auschwitz.”
In Hoess' mind, gassing was a gentle and humane death.
[Photographs 21 to 25 show Rudolf Hoess during the last year of his life. They meet our need to know what the “technician of gentle death by gassing” looked like. Apart from the people directly concerned, former deportees, Jews or otherwise, their families and certain historians, few people know his face. Just before his execution [Photo 25] Hoess seems to have reached a state of total inner peace. He appeared calm. This surprising result is to be attributed, in my opinion, to Hoess' religious inclination and the intelligent attitude if the Polish Judge Jan Sehn.]
Translator’s note:
* “frais et joyeux” — fresh and joyous, crime committed with a good conscience by several people in a joyous atmosphere.

Photo 26
Photo 26:
[PMO neg. no. 21023/1]
The Polish judge Jan SEHN [1] showing a British delegation around Birkenau in May 1945. The visitors included the Dean of Canterbury, Dr H Johnson [2], and Father J D Eye of Oxford [3] (Source: Auschwitz. Hitler extermination camp.” Interpress, Warsaw 197). The photograph was taken in one of the two “closed” yards between huts 11 and 13 which contained a wash hut in B.IId or “Mannerlager / men’s camp”. Jan Sehn is explaining the punishment of beating, administered on a specially constructed horse, The “legal minimum” was 10 strokes on the bare buttocks. Hut 11 was enclosed because it housed the prisoners of the punishment kommando.

Photo 27
Photo 27:
[PMO file BW 30/28, page 73]
(PMO microfilm 1256)
Tagesbericht. Einäscherungsanlage [EÄA] 4 [Krematorium IV]. [In their daily work reports and time sheets the employees of Riedel & Son mixed up the “usual” designations, the official ones and their own when referring to Krematorium IV and V, so that the former may be alternately referred to as EÄA 3 or EÄA 4 or Kr 3, and the latter as EÄA 5 or Kr 4 or Kr 5!]

In this report for 28h February 1943 concerning Krematorium IV, item 5 reads:

“Gas[s]dicthenfenster versetzen / fit gas-tight shutters.”