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Commandant of Auschwitz : The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess Paperback – September, 2000
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One of the themes that is striking is simply the number of times that Hoess blames everyone around him for the evil of the camps and the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question." Thus, according to Hoess, it is not the existence of the camps that was the problem, but the fact that the camps were poorly planned and administered. More times than I care to count he insists that as a "soldier" his only option was to obey the orders of those his senior. In like fashion, it is almost nauseating how often he blames his subordinates for the horrible conditions prevailing at Auschwitz. Perhaps even worse, he blames the victims for their own suffering and deaths. While the title "Soldier" may apply to Hoess' military service in WWI, that title most certainly does not apply to his actions while a member of the Freikorps in the 1920s or in the SS from 1933 to 1945. Soldiers fight as members of an established national army in a declared conflict against an armed enemy. Criminals, not Soldiers, engage in acts of sadism and murder against defenseless non-combatants.
In my mind, it is impossible to resolve the conflict between a man purportedly determined to do everything in his power to alleviate suffering and the same man speaking casually about shooting uncooperative victims in the neck to prevent disorder during the gassing process. Did Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, and Heinrich Himmler simply create the mass murder apparatus out of thin air, without willing accomplices? Was Commandant Hoess so detached from the building and operation of Auschwitz that he bears no culpability regarding the atrocities inflicted on people whose crime was occupying the lower rungs of the Nazi racial ladder? If that were the case, then there can be no real guilt among any of the thousands of individuals involved in implementing the Final Solution, which is, of course, both absurd and false. Of Hoess’ guilt, there is no question. He may not have dumped Zyklon-B crystals into the gas chamber with his own hand, but his fingerprints were all over the canister.
As an aside, the biographical sketches contained in the appendices are informative and illuminating. “Commandant of Auschwitz” is most certainly worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the era.