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Commandant Of Auschwitz (Age of Dictators 1920-1945) Paperback – 6 Apr 2000
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Rudolph Hoess was Commandant of Auschwitz during the war. He was taken prisoner by the British. Between his trial and his execution he was ordered to write his autobiography. This is it.
An extraordinary and unique document: Hoess was in charge of the huge extermination camp in Poland where the Nazis murdered some three million Jews, from the time of its creation (he was responsible for building it) in 1940 until late in 1943, by which time the mass exterminations were half completed. Before this he had worked in other concentration camps, and afterwards he was at the Inspectorate in Berlin. He thus knew more, both at first-hand and as an administrator, about Nazi Germany's greatest crime than did any save two or three other men. Taken prisoner by the British, he was handed over to the Poles, tried, sentenced to death, and taken back to Auschwitz and there hanged. During the period between his trial and his execution, he was ordered to write his autobiography. This is it. Hoess repeatedly says he was glad to write the book. He enjoyed the work. And finally the most careful checking has shown that he took great pains to tell the truth. Here we have, painted by his own hand, a vivid and unforgettable self-portrait of one of the great monsters of all time. To this are added portraits of some of his more spectacular fellow-criminals.The royalties from this macabre but historically important book go to the fund set up to help the few survivors from the Auschwitz camps. See all Product description
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I mention all this so other readers may read this book with a certain amount of honest scepticism. Hoess uses the Nazi argument that criminals, the mentally defective and members of non-aryan races were largely responsible for all of the dreadful horror that he describes. The carelessness of higher authority, poor administration, lack of understanding and the difficulties arising from wartime circumstances all combined to create a situation that inevitably led to the deaths of millions. It was never the evil in the souls of the men administering the killing that caused the suffering. It was their criminal underlings, the guards. Perhaps it was the complicity of the Jewish slaves who did the worst of the work. Indeed it was often those far above Hoess in the administration who had little understanding of the incredible suffering their orders inevitably created. It was never Hoess and his friends. Hoess only wanted to be a quiet Christian farmer, living the rural idyll with his beautiful family among their garden flowers and farm animals.
There is much to learn from the book. It is written by a truly psychotic personality and his thoughts are heavily tainted by the worst of Nazi idealogy. This all inevitably shows through Hoess's narrative. While he never admits any delight in watching the suffering of others, he does present many anecdotes that show the sickly amusement that 'lightened' the lives of those who worked amongst the grizzly horrors of the worst mass killings in history. Hoess explains over and again how neglect and callous disregard for prisoner health caused many more deaths than the gas chambers. All he can really say is he tried but failed to make the prisoners more productive for their slave masters. Higher authority always stood in his way. The corrupt guards always perverted his efforts. The weakness of lesser humans always caused the suffering to continue. The descent into nightmare was inevitable.
Our entire post-war understanding of wartime atrocities are built on books like this. Perhaps it is better that Hoess consistently hides the full detail of the Nazi terror and the worst of the Nazi psyche from us. However there is enough here for us to know that we must never again follow ideologies that promote an elite group of humans and allow them to degrade, humiliate and destroy all others.
Certainly not a book for the faint-hearted. Not really a book for the casual reader but more suited to the serious study of History. A useful book for those who want to know more detail of the Second World War and indeed the origin of much modern historiography.
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