J’accuse: The War Criminal Rudolf Hoess Speaks to History’s Militarists, Including the CIA’s “Drone Warriors”

Gary G. Kohls, MD

The Duluth Reader ran out of space for an optional ending of last week’s Duty to Warn column. My preferred ending was the powerful Thomas Merton prose poem that gave voice to the infamous international war criminal, the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess.

Merton has Hoess speaking from the gallows with the haunting accusation of history’s pro-war presidents, monarchs, dictators, prime ministers, and assorted politicians who know that wars always involve the mass murder of defenseless civilians (euphemistically known as “collateral damage”) in the universal long-range aerial bombing and now, in the case of the United States, the extra-judicial assassinations of suspected “terrorists” by drone warfare (which meets the definition of international war crimes).

The self-admitted war criminal Hoess accuses every commanding officer who has ever ordered lethal missile or artillery attacks (that inevitably involve innocent non-combatants, a war crime) and every Apache helicopter crew (and their commanders) that targeted “suspects” in Iraq and Afghanistan (see the horrifying war crime “collateral murder” video courageously made available by Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rXPrfnU3G0).

Hoess seems to be accusing every combat platoon who has ever blindly participated in night raids or mortar attacks in areas where civilians are known to be present.

Merton has Hoess say, “Do not think yourself better because you burn friends and enemies with long-range missiles without ever seeing what you have done.”

Merton also accuses the war-profiteering industrialists that bid for the jobs of designing, manufacturing, and equipping the camps with increasingly efficient extermination machinery. German ingenuity in action.

Merton’s poem contains actual quotes from some of the documents that were found after World War II had ended. The innovative SS Lt. Col. Hoess was proud of—and well rewarded for—his part in improving the craft of high-tech, industrial-strength mass murder.

He said: “Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chamber to accommodate 2,000 people at one time whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: We had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.”
Hoess and others among the Nazi hierarchy had noticed the terrible psychiatric toll (alcoholism, depression, suicide, etc.) that the up-close and personal massacres were having on the common soldiers who reflexively obeyed the illegal orders to kill noncombatants. The decidedly less personal killing methods of starvation, shellings, bombings, and gassing were far less traumatizing to the soldiers who were there at the end of the chain of command.

Hoess was hanged in 1947 for his role in the deaths of three million people at Auschwitz during his three and a half years (May 1940 to December 1943) as the camp’s commandant.

In a postwar affidavit (April 1946), Hoess confesses to his crimes:

“I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate 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 dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70% or 80% of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries. Included among the executed and burnt were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war (previously screened out of prisoner of war cages by the Gestapo) who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews and great numbers of citizens (mostly Jewish) from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.”

“It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped.”

“These so-called ill-treatments and this torturing in concentration camps, stories of which were spread everywhere among the people, and later by the prisoners that were liberated by the occupying armies, were not, as assumed, inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual leaders, sub-leaders, and men who laid violent hands on internees.”

In his autobiography, written while he was awaiting his war crimes trial, Hoess wrote:

“I want to emphasize that I personally never hated the Jews. I considered them to be the enemy of our nation. However, that was precisely the reason to treat them the same way as the other prisoners. Besides, the feeling of hatred is not in me.”

“It is tragic that, although I was by nature gentle, good-natured, and very helpful, I became the greatest destroyer of human beings who carried out every order to exterminate people no matter what.”

From where in the
human soul comes
the willingness to kill?
One has to ask out loud, given the fact that Germany was an overwhelmingly Christian nation, “What kind of Christianity was it that justified, contrary to the teachings of Jesus, cruelty in parenting, hateful attitudes toward the ‘other,’ and the justification of the organized mass slaughter of war? What kind of Christian leadership was it that did not stand up and courageously and prophetically say ‘NO’ to its nation’s manufacture and stockpiling of (and its willingness to use) weapons of mass destruction whose only purpose is to kill humans and scorch the earth?
From where in the human soul comes the willingness to kill, wound, torture, enslave, or starve another human or even cooperate with the evils of state-sponsored homicide or genocide, whether your militarized nation is fascist Germany or ‘democratic’ America?”

Harshness in child-rearing is one of the realities that can easily result in the willingness to obey illegal orders to kill. Rudolf Hoess was a victim of cruelty in child-rearing, a violent, xenophobic culture, a vicious anti-Semitism, and an aberrant form of Christianity that was silent on or supportive of its militaristic nation’s glorification of war.

Being a part of the inhumane society he was raised in, Hoess never had a chance to be all that he could have been.

Chant to be Used in
Processions Around a
Site With Furnaces
By Thomas Merton (first published in The Catholic Worker)
How we made them sleep and purified them 
How we perfectly cleaned up the people and worked a big heater
I was the commander   I made improvements and installed a guaranteed system taking account of human weakness   I purified and I remained decent
How I commanded
I made cleaning appointments and then I made the travelers sleep and after that I made soap
I was born into a Catholic family but as these people were not going to need a priest I did not become a priest    I installed a perfectly good machine    it gave satisfaction to many
When trains arrived the soiled passengers received appointments for fun in the bathroom they did not guess
It was a very big bathroom for two thousand people   it awaited arrival and they arrived safely
There would be an orchestra of merry widows not all the time   much art
If they arrived at all they would be given a greeting card to send home   taken care of with good jobs   wishing you would come to our joke
Another improvement I made was I built the chambers for two thousand invitations at a time   the naked votaries were disinfected with Zyklon B
Children of tender age were always invited by reason of their youth   they were unable to work   they were marked out for play
They were washed like the others and more than the others
Very frequently women would hide their children in the piles of clothing but of course when we came to find them we would send the children into the chamber to be bathed
How I often commanded and made improvements and sealed the door on top    there were flowers   the men came with crystals
I guaranteed always the crystal parlor
I guaranteed the chamber and it was sealed    you could see through portholes
They waited for the shower    it was not hot water that came through vents though Efficient winds gave full satisfaction    portholes showed this
The satisfied all ran together to the doors awaiting arrival    it was guaranteed    they made ends meet.
How I could tell by their cries that love came to a full stop   I found the ones I had made clean after about a half hour
Jewish male inmates then worked up nice    they had rubber boots in return for adequate food   I could not guess their appetite
Those at the door were taken apart out of a fully stopped love for rubber male inmates    strategic hair and teeth being used later for defense
Then the males removed all clean love rings and made away with happy gold

A big new firm promoted steel forks operating on a cylinder    they got the contract and with faultless workmanship delivered very fast goods
How I commanded and made soap    “12 pounds fat 10 quarts water 8 ounces to a pound of caustic soda” but it was hard to find any fat
“For transporting the customers we suggest using light carts on wheels    a drawing is submitted”
“We acknowledge four steady furnaces and an emergency guarantee”

I am a big new commander operating on a cylinder   I elevate the purified materials   “boil for 2 to 3 hours and then cool”
For putting them into a test fragrance    I suggested an express elevator operated by the latest cylinder    it was guaranteed
Their love was fully stopped by our perfected ovens but the love rings were salvaged
Thanks to the satisfaction of male inmates operating the heaters without need of compensation our guests were warmed
All the while I had obeyed perfectly

So I was hanged in a commanding position with a full view of the site plant and grounds
You smile at my career but you would do as I did if you knew yourself and dared
In my days we worked hard     we saw what we did     our self-sacrifice was conscientious and complete    our work was faultless and detailed
Do not think yourself better because you burn up friends and enemies with long-range missiles without ever seeing what you have done.