The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
4th April to 15th April, 1946

One Hundred and Eighth Day: Monday, 15th April, 1946
(Part 1 of 10)

[Page 347]

THE MARSHALL: May it please the Tribunal: The report is made that the defendant Ribbentrop is absent from this session of the Court.

THE PRESIDENT: I will deal first of all with the documents of the defendant Rosenberg.

The Tribunal rules that all the documents in Book 1, Volume I and Volume II, should be denied, up to and including the book by Hellpach - that is to say, Exhibits 1 to 6, and also Exhibits 7E and Exhibit 8.

Secondly, the Tribunal rules that it will take judicial notice of Exhibits 7 and 7A to 7D. But it rules that those Exhibits, 7 to 7D, are not to be read at the present stage but may be quoted by counsel in his final speech.

Thirdly, the Tribunal allows Books II and III; and;

Fourthly, the Tribunal rules that the defendant Rosenberg shall be called first and any documents which have been allowed may be put to him in the course of his examination.

That is all.

THE PRESIDENT: Now, Dr. Kauffmann.

DR. KAUFFMANN (counsel for defendant Kaltenbrunner): With the agreement of the Tribunal, I now call the witness Hoess.

RUDOLF HOESS, a witness, took the stand and testified as follows:


Stand up. Will you state your name?

WITNESS: Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess.

THE PRESIDENT: Will you repeat this oath after me: I swear by God, the Almighty and Omniscient, that I will speak the pure truth and will withhold and add nothing?

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: Will you sit down?


Q. Witness, your statements will have far-reaching significance. You are perhaps the only one who can throw some light upon certain hidden aspects, and who can tell what people gave the order for the destruction of European Jewry, and can further state how this order was carried out and to what degree the execution was kept a secret.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kauffmann, will you kindly put questions to the witness?



Q. From 1940 to 1943, you were the commandant of the camp at Auschwitz. Is that true?

A. Yes.

Q. And during that time, hundreds of thousands of human beings were sent to their death there, Is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. Is it true that you, yourself, have made no exact notes regarding the figures of the number of those victims because you were forbidden to make them?

[Page 348]

A. Yes, that is correct.

Q. Is it furthermore correct that only one man, by the name of Eichmann, recorded the figures, the man who had the task of organising and assembling these people?

A. Yes.

Q. Is it furthermore true that Eichmann stated to you that in Auschwitz a sum total of more than two million Jews had been destroyed?

A. Yes.

Q. Men, women and children?

A. Yes.

Q. You were a participant in the World War?

A. Yes.

Q. And then in 1922, you entered the Party?

A. Yes.

Q. Were you a member of the S.S.?

A. Since 1934.

Q. Is it true that you, in the year 1924, were sentenced to a lengthy detention because you participated in a so-called political murder (Fememord)?

A. Yes.

Q. And then at the end of 1934, you went to the concentration camp of Dachau?

A. Yes.

Q. What task did you receive?

A. At first, I was the leader of a block of prisoners (Gefangenenblockfuehrer) and then I became report leader (Rapportfuehrer) and at the end, the administrator of the property of prisoners (Gefangeneneigentumsverwalter).

Q. And how long did you stay there?

A. Until 1938.

Q. What job did you have from 1938 on and where were you then?

A. In 1938, I went to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen where, to begin with, I was adjutant of the commandant and later on I became the head of the protective- custody camp.

Q. When were you commandant at Auschwitz?

A. I was commandant at Auschwitz from May, 1940, until 1st December, 1943.

Q. What was the highest number of internees ever held at one time at Auschwitz?

A. The highest number of internees held at one time at Auschwitz was about 140,000 men and women.

Q. Is it true that in 1941, you were ordered to Berlin to see Himmler? Please, state briefly what was discussed.

A. Yes. In the summer of 1941, I was summoned to Berlin to Reichsfuehrer S.S. Himmler to receive personal orders. He told me something to the effect - I don't remember the exact words - that the Fuehrer had given the order for a definite solution of the Jewish question. We, the S.S., must carry out that order. If it was not carried out now then the Jews would later on destroy the German people. We had chosen Auschwitz because of its easy access by rail and also because the extensive site could readily be isolated.

Q. During that conference, did Himmler tell you that this planned action had to be treated as a "Secret Reich Matter"? (Geheime Reichssache).

A. Yes. He stressed that point. He told me not to say anything about it to my immediate superior Gruppenffuehrer Glucks. This conference only concerned the two of us and I was to observe the strictest secrecy.

Q. What was the position held by Glucks?

A. Gruppenfuehrer Glucks was, so to speak, the Inspector of Concentration Camps at that time and he was immediately subordinate to the Reichsfuehrer.

Q. Does the expression "Secret Reich Matter" mean that no one was permitted to make even the slightest allusion to outsiders without endangering his own life?

[Page 349]

A. Yes, "Secret Reich Matter" means that no one was allowed to speak about such matter with any person and that everyone promised upon his life to observe the utmost secrecy.

Q. Did you happen to break that promise?

A. No, not until the end of 1942.

Q. Why do you mention that date? Did you talk to outsiders after that date?

A. At the end of 1942 my wife's curiosity was aroused by remarks made by the then Gauleiter of Upper Silesia regarding happenings in my camp. She asked me whether this was the truth and I admitted that it was. That was my only breach of the promise I had given to the Reichsfuehrer. Otherwise I have never talked about it to anyone else.

Q. When did you meet Eichmann?

A. I met Eichmann about four weeks after having received that order from the Reichsfuehrer. Eichmann came to Auschwitz to discuss the details with me as to the carrying out of the given order. As the Reichsfuehrer had told me during our discussion, he had instructed Eichmann to discuss the carrying out of the order with me and I was to receive all further instructions from him.

Q. Will you briefly tell whether it is correct that the camp of Auschwitz was completely isolated, and describe the measures taken to insure the secrecy of the carrying out of the task given to you?

A. The camp Auschwitz, as such was about three kilometres from the town. About 20,000 acres of the surrounding country had been cleared of all inhabitants, and the entire area could only be entered by S.S. men or civilian employees who had special passes. The actual compound called "Birkenau," where later on the extermination camp was constructed, was situated two kilometres from the Auschwitz camp. The camp installations themselves, that is to say, the provisional installations used at first, were deep in the woods and could from nowhere be detected by the eye. In addition to that, this area had been declared a prohibited area and not even members of the S.S. who did not have a special pass could enter it. Thus it was impossible, as far as one could judge, for anyone, except authorised persons, to enter that area.

Q. And then the railway transports arrived. During what period did these transports arrive and about how many people, roughly, were in a transport?

A. During the whole period up until 1944, certain operations were carried out at irregular intervals in the different countries, so that one cannot speak of a continuous flow of incoming transports. Each series of shipments lasted four to six weeks. During those four to six weeks, two to three trains, containing about two thousand persons each, arrived daily. These trains were first of all shunted to a siding in the Birkenau. region and the locomotives then went back. The guards who had accompanied the transport had to leave the area at once and the persons who had been brought in were taken over by guards belonging to the camp.

They were there examined by two S.S. medical officers as to their ability to work. The detainees capable of work at once marched to Auschwitz or to the camp at Birkenau and those incapable of work were at first taken to the provisional installations, then later to the newly constructed crematoria.

Q. During an interrogation I had with you the other day you told me that about sixty men were designated to receive these transports, and that these sixty persons too had been bound to the same secrecy described before. Do you still maintain that today?

A. Yes, these sixty men were always on hand to take the detainees not capable of work to these provisional and, later on, to the other installations. This group, consisting of about ten leaders and sub-leaders, as well as doctors and medical personnel, had repeatedly been told both in writing and verbally that they were bound to strictest secrecy as to all that went on in the camps.

Q. Were there any signs that might indicate to an outsider, who saw these transports arrive, that people were being destroyed or was that possibility so small

[Page 350]

because there was in Auschwitz an unusually large number of incoming transports consisting of shipments of material and so forth?

A. Yes, an observer who did not make notes exclusively for that purpose could obtain no idea about that because, to begin with, not only transports arrived which were destined to be destroyed but other transports also arrived continuously, containing new detainees who were used in the camp. Furthermore, transports containing large numbers of workers frequently left the camp. The trains themselves were closed, that is to say, the doors of the freight cars were closed so that it was not possible, from the outside, to see the people being transported. In addition to that, up to one hundred cars of materials, rations, etc., were daily brought into the camp or continuously left the workshops of the camp, in which war material was being made.

Q. And after the arrival of the transports did the victims have to dispose of everything they had? Did they have to undress completely; did they have to surrender their valuables? Is that true?

A. Yes.

Q. And then they immediately went to their death?

A. Yes.

Q. I ask you, according to your knowledge, did these people know what was in store for them?

A. The majority of them did not, for steps were taken to keep them in doubt about it so that the suspicion would not arise that they were to go to their death. For instance, all doors and all walls bore inscriptions to the effect that they were going to undergo a delousing operation or take a shower. This was proclaimed in several languages to the detainees by other detainees who had come in with earlier transports and who were being used as auxiliary crews during the whole action.

Q. And then, you told me the other day, that death from gassing occurred within a period of three to fifteen minutes. Is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. You also told me that even before death definitely set in the victims fell into a state of unconsciousness?

A. Yes. From what I was able to find out myself or from what was told me by medical officers, the time necessary for the arrival of unconsciousness or death varied according to the temperature and the number of people present in the chambers. Loss of consciousness took place after a few seconds or minutes.

Q. Did you yourself ever sympathise with the victims, thinking of your own family and children?

A. Yes.

Q How was it possible then for you to carry out these actions?

A In spite of all the doubts which I had, the only one and decisive argument was the strict order and the reason given for it by the Reichsfuehrer Himmler.

Q. I ask you whether Himmler inspected the camp and convinced himself that the order for annihilation was being carried out?

A. Yes. Himmler visited the camp in 1942 and he watched in detail one processing from beginning to end.

Q. Does the same apply to Eichmann?

A. Eichmann came repeatedly to Auschwitz and knew precisely what was being done there.

Q. Did the defendant Kaltenbrunner ever inspect the camp?

A. No.

Q. Did you ever talk with Kaltenbrunner with reference to your task?

A. No, never. I was with Obergruppenfuehrer Kaltenbrunner on only one single occasion.

Q. When was that?

A. That was one day after his birthday in the year 1944.

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