Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hoess as seen by Gustav Gilbert: Part 1

Source: Nuremberg Diary by Gustav Gilbert pages 149-153

Comment: Gustave Gilbert talks to Hoess a few times in mid April, given by date.  Interest lies in Goering's reaction.  Also interest in Kaltenbrunner's distance from his defence lawyer, who seems to be the driving force to have Hoess testify.  Possible relevant commentary here: http://littlegreyrabbit.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/rudolf-hoess-on-aktion-reinhard-camps-did-he-have-a-clue-about-what-he-was-saying/

April 9
Colonel Hoess of Auschwitz
Hoess's Cell:  Examined Rudolf Hoess, 46, commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, who has recently been captured, in anticipation of Kaltenbrunner's defence.
After completing his test, we discussed briefly his activity as the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp from May, 1940 to December, 1943, which camp was the central extermination camp for Jews.  He readily confirmed that approximately 2.5 million Jews had been extermination under his direction.  The exterminations began in the summer of 1941.  In compliance with Goering's scepticism, I asked Hoess how it was technically possible to exterminate 2.5 million people.  "Technically?" he asked.  "That wasn't so hard - it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers."  In answer to my rather naive questions as to how many people could be done away in an hour, etc., he explained that one must figure it on a daily 24 hour period.  He explained that there were actually 6 extermination chambers.  The 2 big ones could accommodate as many as 2000 in each and the 4 smaller ones up to 1500 making a total capacity of 10,000 a day.  I tried to work out how this was done, but he corrected me.  "No, you don't work it right.  The killing itself took the least time.  You could dispose of 2,000 head in a half-hour, but it was the burning that took all the time.  The killing itself was easy; you didn't even need guards to drive them into the chambers; they just went in expecting to take showers and, instead of water, we turned on poison gas.  The whole thing went very quickly."  He related all this in a quiet, apathetic, matter-of-fact tone of voice.
I was interested in finding out how the order had actually been given and what his reactions were.  He related it as follows:  "In the summer of 1941, Himmer called for me and explained: "The Fuehrer has ordered the Endloesung [final solution] of the Jewish question - and we have to carry out this task.  For reasons of transportation and isolation, I have picked Auschwitz for this.  You now have the hard job of carrying this out.'  As a reason for this he said that it would have to be done at this time, because if it was not done now, then the Jew would later exterminate the German people - or words to that effect.  For this reason one had to ignore all human considerations and consider only the task - or words to that effect."  I asked him whether he didn't express any opinion on the subject or show any reluctance.  "I had nothing to say; I could only say Jawohl!  In fact, it was exceptional that he called me to give me any explanation.  He could have sent me an order and I would have had to execute it just the same.  We could only execute orders without any further consideration.  That is how it was.  He often demanded impossible things, which could not be done under normal circumstances, but, once given the order, one set about doing it with his entire energy and often did things that seem impossible.  For example, the building of the dam on the Weichsel River in Auschwitz which I estimated would require three years; he gave us one year in which to finish it and we did."
I asked him whether he didn't think he would hang for murder as soon as he started it.  "No, never."
"When did it first occur to you then that you would probably be brought to trial and hanged?'
"At the time of the collapse - when the Fuehrer died."
LUNCH HOUR: Goering had said he wanted to know how it was technically possible to murder 2.5 million Jews.  I explained it to him during the lunch hour, just as Hoess explained to me this morning: each of the gas chambers could accommodate up to 1,500 or 2,000 persons; the killing was easy but the burning of bodies took all the time and manpower.  Goering felt extremely uncomfortable at the realisation that it was no longer possible to deny the extent of the mass murders on the basis of the technical incredibility of the numbers.  He wanted to know just how the order was given.  I told him that Himmler had given it to him directly as a Fuehrerbefehl (order from the Fuehrer).
"He is just another German being loyal to the Fuehrer," I commented.
"Oh, but that has nothing to do with loyalty - he could just as easily have asked for some other job - or something," Goering speculated.  "Of course, somebody else would have done it anyway."
"What about killing the man who ordered the mass murder?" I asked.
"Oh, that is easily said, but you cannot do that sort of thing.  What kind of a system would that be if anybody could kill the commanding officer if he didn't like his orders?  You have got to have obedience in a military system."
[......]   "Ach, what the American-controlled newspapers print now does not mean a damn."
Kaltenbrunner's Defence
April 11
"But what about the mass murders?"
"That is just it.  I can prove that I had nothing to do with it.  Neither gave the orders nor executed them.  You have no idea how secret these things were kept even from me."
"But that is because of newspaper propaganda.  I told you when I saw the newspaper headline 'GAS CHAMBER EXPERT CAPTURED' and an American lieutenant explained it to me, I was pale with amazement.  How could they say such things about me? - I told you I was only in charge of the Intelligence Service from 1943 on......"
[....] I asked him whether he was going to bring Hoess as a witness.  He said he was not sure; it depended on whether the attorney felt it would help his case and could throw light on the whole issue.  He said that his attorney, Dr Kauffmann was a very conscientious man and had hauled him over the coals much more mercilessly than even the prosecution might be expected to.  He seemed rather afraid of the forthright direct examination that he expected from his attorney.  He said that Dr. Kauffmann didn't understand his case very well (apparently covering the fact that his attorney was not very happy about his propose evasive defence.)

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