Wednesday 4 January 2023

The memoir of Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz


The strongest argument against holocaust revisionists is: what happened to millions of Jews who had been living in European countries before they were invaded by Germany? 

There is a lot more evidence, of course, including the memoir (here) of Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, written at the suggestion of Jan Sehn, the prosecuting attorney for the Polish War Crimes Commission in Warsaw. 

Primo Levi said of it
'This book [is] filled with evil, and this evil is narrated with a disturbing bureaucratic obtuseness; it has no literary quality, and reading it is agony. Furthermore, despite his efforts at defending himself, the author comes across as what he is: a coarse, stupid, arrogant, long-winded scoundrel, who sometimes blatantly lies. Yet this autobiography of the Commandant of Auschwitz is one of the most instructive books ever published...'
Hoess's memoir is partly corroborated by many other sources. Some eyewitness accounts of Auschwitz are problematic but Susanne Knittel, who teaches Comparative Literature at Utrecht University, has said, 
'...his memoir is generally considered as one of the more reliable sources of Holocaust scholarship, ironically enough due to the same meticulous nature that made him such a ruthless Commandant.'

There are plenty of places on the internet where revisionists argue about the numbers of Jews killed by Germans in the war or that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz. 

Mainstream historians do not usually confront the revisionists' arguments, for fear of lending them respectability. 

This made sense before the internet but much less sense now. 

People who do confront the revisionists on the internet tend not to be historians and it sometimes shows.

John Zimmermann is not a historian, he was or is a humble professor of accounting at Nevada University, Las Vegas, but he wrote an interesting refutation of revisionist arguments about the memoirs.

I found it on what seems a useful site:

Hoess was captured in 1946 after a year on the run, was a witness at Nuremberg and testified in an affidavit that 'at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total of about 3,000,000 dead.'

This caused a worldwide sensation and brought Auschwitz and the gas chambers to the attention of the world.

In fact, we now know that the figures were not correct and his testimony at Nuremberg can be ignored. 

They were obtained under torture by a British sergeant.

Hoess was then remanded in the custody of the Poles, who tried and hanged him.

In Polish captivity he wrote his memoirs in which
 he said that his statement at Nuremberg was made under torture. 

Revisionists argue that Hoess was tortured again by the Poles to write the memoirs, but there is absolutely no evidence for this. 

Had he been acting under duress, he presumably would not have mentioned that he had been tortured by the British and given false testimony at Nuremberg. 

This is an excerpt from the memoir.

'The original order of 1941 to annihilate all the Jews stated, "All Jews without exception are to be destroyed." It was later changed by Himmler so that those able to work were to be used in the arms factories. This made Auschwitz the assembly point for the Jews to a degree never before known.

'The Jews who were imprisoned during the 1930s could still count on the fact that someday they might be released again, which made being in prison psychologically much easier. But for the Jews in Auschwitz, there was no such hope. They knew without exception that they were sentenced to death, and that they would stay alive only as long as they worked. The majority also had no hope or expectation that their sad fate would be changed. They were fatalists.'

He said this about the death toll at Auschwitz.

'I myself never knew the total number, and I have nothing to help me arrive at an estimate.

'I can only remember the figures involved in the larger actions, which were repeated to me by Eichmann or his deputies.

'From Upper Silesia and the General Gouvernement 250,000

'Germany and Theresienstadt 100,000

'Holland 95,000

'Belgium 20,000

'France 110,000

'Greece 65,000

'Hungary 400,000

'Slovakia 90,000 [Total 1,130,000]

'I can no longer remember the figures for the smaller actions, but they were insignificant by comparison with the numbers given above. I regard a total of 2.5 million as far too high. Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive capabilities.'

Hoess admits that he never knew the total number and these figures are not completely accurate. 

Compare his figures with the estimates of historians Gerald Fleming and Yehuda Bauer for the total numbers of Jews killed by by the Germans here.

Fritjof Meyer, the former editor of Der Spiegel, pointed out that the published version of Hoess's memoir omits these words, which immediately follow the list I quoted above. 

"Romania was designated as the next country. From there, Eichmann was expecting approximately 4 million Jews, according to the indications of his commissaries ...At the same time, or meanwhile, Bulgaria, with an estimated 2 million Jews was to follow." 

Such an omission by the editor, Martin Broszat, is not what we expect from an historian. Hoess's memory or his sources' memory was badly at fault here. Romania had less than a tenth of that number of Jews in total and Bulgaria a fiftieth. 

David Irving and other revisionists make much of this but these mistakes do not seem to me to invalidate the rest of the list or the memoir as a whole.

Since the opening of the Soviet archives we now know much more about what happened in the USSR. A lot more Jews were shot than was known.

Timothy Snyder, whom I admire as a historian (but not as the man who predicted that Donald Trump would try to instal a dictatorship) thinks about 5.7 million Jews were murdered by the Germans and their allies, roughly half in the camps and half shot or otherwise killed in the open air in the east.

'The very reasons that we know something about Auschwitz warp our understanding of the Holocaust: we know about Auschwitz because there were survivors, and there were survivors because Auschwitz was a labor camp as well as a death factory. These survivors were largely West European Jews, because Auschwitz is where West European Jews were usually sent. After World War II, West European Jewish survivors were free to write and publish as they liked, whereas East European Jewish survivors, if caught behind the iron curtain, could not. In the West, memoirs of the Holocaust could (although very slowly) enter into historical writing and public consciousness.

'This form of survivors’ history, of which the works of Primo Levi are the most famous example, only inadequately captures the reality of the mass killing. The Diary of Anne Frank concerns assimilated European Jewish communities, the Dutch and German, whose tragedy, though horrible, was a very small part of the Holocaust. By 1943 and 1944, when most of the killing of West European Jews took place, the Holocaust was in considerable measure complete. Two thirds of the Jews who would be killed during the war were already dead by the end of 1942. The main victims, the Polish and Soviet Jews, had been killed by bullets fired over death pits or by carbon monoxide from internal combustion engines pumped into gas chambers at Treblinka, Bełzec, and Sobibór in occupied Poland.'
Millions of Jews were murdered by the Germans and their allies. Even well-known revisionists like David Irving and Mark Weber now agree on this and agree that very many of them were killed gas chambers 

Millions of civilians were killed by the Germans in various ways. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum 1.8 million Polish gentile civilians were killed, but other sources say 2.6 or 2.8 million, in addition to up to 3 million Polish Jews. 

Between 4.5 and 10 million Soviet citizens, including Jews. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum the number is 7 million but the Soviet numbers are not known very accurately. 

Somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 million Soviet prisoners of war died, mostly from starvation, perhaps the cruellest death of all. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum says the number is 3 million.

Interestingly the Kaiser had said in 1914 that the 90,000 Russian prisoners captured at Tannenberg 'should be left to starve'.

1 comment:

  1. The National Socialists devoted great resources to the extermination of the Jews - compared to what they gained (a few gold fillings and so on) it makes no sense. Evil people sometimes have intelligence - "first win the war, then kill off populations you do not like" - the National Socialists combined evil with stupidity (wasting trains and other resources on their "final solution" - resources that could have helped them win the war). As for Himmler - he kept going on about how he could be a great military commander, but when he was given a command he had a breakdown and had to go off to a sanatorium. He should have stuck to folk dancing.