The Commandant

The Commandant

A Monologue
Rudolf Höss

The Commandant

This guy is an efficient worker, would be good if he worked for the postal service. Unfortunately, he’s a German and he’s the first commandant of Auschwitz concentrate camp. That kind of efficiency is very bad for humanity when he’s in charge of the largest Nazi German extermination camp.

From this shortened version of his autobiography, edited by Jürg Amann, one can’t be sure if he’s pure evil or that he hated the Jews. But you can be sure that he thrive in efficiency the way he goes on about the technicality of mass extermination.

The killing itself took the least time. You could dispose of 2,000 head in half an hour, but it was the burning that took all the time.

Höss explained how 10,000 people were exterminated in one 24-hour period:
Technically [it] wasn’t so hard—it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers…. The killing itself took the least time. You could dispose of 2,000 head in half an hour, but it was the burning that took all the time. The killing 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.

It was not until serveral hours later that the doors were opened and the room aired out. THere for the first time I saw the gassed bodies in mass. But I must admit openly that the gassing had a calming effect on me, since in the near future the mass annihilation of the Jews was to begin. Up to this point it was not clear to me, nor to Eichmann, how the killing of the expected masses was to be done. Pershap by gas? But how, and what kind of gas? Now we had discovered the gas and the procedure.

He spoke of the mass killing in such a cold matter-of-fact way that makes Hannibal Lector seems like a lovable manic street preacher. And it’s funny how he cares more about the soldiers doing the killing than the million he killed.

I was always horrified by the death by firing squads, especially when I thought of the huge numbers of women and children who would have to be killed. I had had enough of hostage executions, and the mass killings by firing squad ordered by Himmler and Heydrich. Now I was at east. We were all saved from these bloodbaths, and the victims woould be spared until the last moment. That is what I worried about the most when I thought of Eichmann’s accounts of the mowing down of the Jews with machine guns and pistols by the Einsatzgruppe. Horrible scenes were supposed to have occured: people running away even after being shot, the killing of those who were wounded, especially the women and children. Another thing on my mind was the many suicides among the ranks of the SS Special Action Squads who could no longer mentally endure wading in the bloodbath. Some of them went mad.

He also talked about how different people deals with immiment death and the behaviour of the Sonderkommandos.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sachsenhausen. A larger number of them refused to sever in the military and were, therefore, sentenced to death by Himmler as draft dodgers. They were shot to death in the camp in front of the entire assembly of prisoners.

How different each person’s approach to death was. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were in a way strangely satisfied. Once could say they had almost transfigured mood and had a rock-hard awareness that they were to be allowed to go into Jehovah’s kingdom. The draft dodgers and the saboteurs calmly composed and reconciled themselves to the inevitability and the truly asocial appeared to be quite different, either cynical, insolent, or apparently vigorous. Trembling inside with the fear of the great unknown, they raged and fought all the way or whined for a priest to help them.

As strange as that was, so was the general behaviour of the Sonderkommando. All of them knew with certainty that when it was over, they themselves would suffer the same fate as thousands of their race had before them, in whose destruction they were very helpful. In spite of this they still did their job with an eagerness and in a caring, helpful way during the undressing, yet they would also use force with those who resisted undressing. This always amazed me. They never spoke to the victims about what was ahead of them. They also led away the troublemakers and then held on to them firmly while they were being shot. They led these victims in such a way that they they could not see the NCO who stood ready with his gun. This enabled him to aim at the back of their necks without being noticed. It was the same when they dealt with the sickly and feeble who could not be brought into the gas chamber. All this was done in a matter-of-fact manner, as if they themselves were the exterminators. They dragged the bodies from the gas chambers, removed the gold teeth, cut off the hait, then dragged the bodies to the pits or to the ovens. On top of that, they had to maintain the fires in the pits, pour off the accumulated fat, and poke holes into the burning mountains of bodies, so that more oxygen could enter. All these jobs they performance with an indifferent coolness, just as if this was an everyday affair. Where did the Jews of the Sonderkommando get the strength to perform this horrible job day and night?

Reading this and having been to Auschwitz, and still seeing atrocities being act out everyday, it’s a strange feeling. If the efficient Germans and Japanese had tried this extermination thing and failed, it’s quite obvious genocide is pointless because life will always find a way to hold on. Yet until now, dictators and rouge nations are still trying to make this mass extermination works. Can’t we just end this nonsense and use our money and energy to build a better world, maybe in our joint effort, we could really explore space. But no, that will never happen, because it’s human nature to stir trouble. Peace makes people restless. Like some retired elderly who decide to run marathon because they are bored and has too much time at hand.

Meanwhile I am just happy that I can live everyday, safe in the knowledge that no one is targeting me out because of my race, gender. Or height.

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