… I personally arranged on orders received from Himmler in May 1941 the gassing of two
million persons between June-July 1941 and the end of 1943,
during which time I was Commandant of Auschwitz …
Signed, Rudolf Höss
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (alt. sp: Hoess) was commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp. He was arrested by the British Military Police near Flensburg, in Schleswig-Holstein, on March 11, 1946. He was interrogated by Field Security on March 13 and 14. Later that month he was handed over to the Americans and taken to Nürnberg (alt. sp: Nuremberg), where he was again interrogated, in April, in connection with the trial of Kaltenbrunner, the so-called “Pohl Trial,” and the “IG Farben Trial.” During the period April 9-16 he had several conversations with the American prison psychiatrist, Dr. Gustave Mark Gilbert. On May 25, 1946, he was handed over to the Polish authorities and removed to Cracow and later to Warsaw to await trial. The trial did not take place until the following March. He was condemned to death, and executed in April 1947. He was hanged on the gallows erected adjacent to the gas chamber of Auschwitz I.
The following is what Höss wrote in his Polish prison cell regarding Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller, pastor of Germany’s Confessing Church Movement, which opposed the Nazis.
… I must, however, give a more detailed account of one special prisoner, because of his unique behavior in prison and because I was in a position to know all the facts of the case.
He was the evangelical pastor, Niemöller. He had been a famous U-boat commander in the First World War. He became a pastor after that war. The German evangelical church was split up into numerous separate groups. One of the most important of these groups, the Bekenntniskirche or Confessional Church, was led by Niemöller.
The Führer wished to see the evangelical church reunited into one, and with this aim in view he appointed an Evangelic State Bishop. But many of the groups refused to recognize him, and indeed were bitterly opposed to him. Niemöller was of their number. His parish was in Dalhem, a Berlin suburb. The whole of the Berlin and Potsdam reactionary evangelical opposition joined his congregation, all the old imperial nobility and others dissatisfied with the National Socialist regime. Niemöller preached resistance, and it was this which led to his arrest. He was accommodated in the cell building in Sachsenhausen, where his detention was made as light and pleasant as possible. He could write to his wife as often as he wished. His wife was allowed to visit him every month and to bring him whatever he wanted in the way of books and tobacco and food. He could, if he wished, go for walks in the courtyard of the cell building. His cell, too, was made as comfortable as possible. In short, everything was done for him that was in any way feasible. The commandant had been instructed to keep him constantly in mind and to inquire after his wishes.
The Führer had an interest in persuading Niemöller to abandon the stand he had taken. Well-known people came to Sachsenhausen in order to reason with him, including Admiral Lanz, who was for many years his superior officer in the navy and who was also a member of the Confessional Church. But in vain. Niemöller firmly maintained his attitude that no state had the right to interfere with canon law or to promulgate new laws concerning the Church. These were entirely and solely the concern of the congregation of each church. The Bekenntniskirche flourished. Niemöller became its martyr. His wife was active in furthering his beliefs. I knew all about it, because I read all his mail and also listened to the conversations he had with visitors in the commandant’s quarters. In 1938 he wrote to the commander in chief of the navy, Grand Admiral Raeder, renouncing his right to wear the uniform of a naval officer since he was not in agreement with the state which that navy served.
On the outbreak of war he volunteered for service, and requested to be given command of a U-boat. Now it was Hitler’s turn to refuse, on the grounds that Niemöller had declined to wear the uniform of the National Socialist State. As time went by, Niemöller began to flirt with the idea of going over to the Catholic Church. He produced the most curious arguments in support of this, even maintaining that in important matters the Catholic Church and his own were in agreement. His wife vigorously dissuaded him. In my opinion he believed that conversion to the Catholic Church would result in his obtaining his freedom. His followers, however, would never have gone over with him. I had many and searching discussions with Niemöller. He would discuss almost anything, and was interested in subjects far removed from his sphere, but as soon as the conversation turned on church matters, it was as though an iron curtain had been rung down. He stubbornly maintained his standpoint, and would brook no criticism of his obstinacy, however reasonable. Nevertheless his readiness to embrace the Catholic faith must have involved his willingness to recognize the state, since the Catholic Church had done so by virtue of the Concordat.
In 1941 the Reichsführer SS ordered all clerics to be transferred to Dachau, and Niemöller was among them. I saw him there in 1944, in the cell building. He was given even more freedom there, and had the former Evangelical Bishop of Posen, Wurm, to keep him company. He was in good health, despite his long years in prison. His physical needs were always most carefully catered for, and it is certain that nothing was ever done to offend his sensibilities. He was at all times treated with courtesy.
Pastor Wilhelm Niemöller, brother of Martin Niemöller and author of the book Kampf und Zeugnis der Bekennenden Kirche (Bielefeld, 1948), after a conversation with his brother, submitted the following comments on the above passage in a letter to the Institut fur Zeitgeschichte dated March 8, 1958.
- The statement that “the whole of the reactionary opposition” joined his Dahlem congregation is, of course, incorrect. Owing to prevailing circumstances the number of educated persons attending divine services at Dahlem was greater than in most Berlin parishes. The fact that the Dahlem congregation was very much alive cannot be minimized by the use of such words as “reactionary” and “dissatisfied.” For the life of that congregation has lasted far longer than did National Socialism.
- Niemöller never preached “resistance.” The National Socialists failed to understand what his preaching was really about. The Confessional Church attempted to preach that men are men, even if their name is Hitler, but that God is God. That a Jew is also human, Niemöller clearly stated.
- Niemöller was not permitted to write letters as often as he wished. Usually he might send his wife two letters per month. But at various periods he was not permitted to write at all, and this frequently for months on end. It is doubtful whether Höss ever read a letter of Niemöller’s, since censorship was done by the “political department.” Frau Niemöller was not allowed to bring her husband any books whatsoever in Sachsenhausen. He was permitted books, within limits, after his move to Dauchau, though a very strict censorship was of course imposed. The time during which he was allowed out of his cell—initially twenty minutes, later one hour—was very strictly enforced. Only in Dachau was this somewhat relaxed.
- Höss implies that regular inquiries concerning the prisoner’s wishes were the most characteristic aspect of Niemöller’s imprisonment. I myself was allowed on one occasion to visit my brother in Sachsenhausen (September 29, 1938), and came away with a very different impression. The commandant had never then inquired concerning the “wishes” of the prisoner. The prisoner can, indeed, not recall ever having seen the commandant. The statement that his cell was made “comfortable” is pure invention on the part of Höss.
- Hitler had no interest in persuading Niemöller one way or the other. The visitor referred to was Admiral von Lanz. He came on his own initiative, and attempted to persuade Niemöller that he state his intention to avoid touching on “political questions” in future. The admiral did not belong to the Confessional Church.
- Martin Niemöller’s request for reinstatement in the navy was dated September 7, 1939. In it there is no reference to his possible employment as a U-boat commander. The sentence concerning Hitler’s refusal, and particularly the alleged grounds for this, are pure invention. The truth is that on September 29, 1939, Keitel wrote a letter, addressed to: “The Rev. Senior Lieut, (retd.) Niemöller, Oranienburg, near Berlin, Concentration Camp Sachsenhausen.” This letter, written in his own hand, ran as follows: “In reply to your request of September 7, 1938, I regret that I must inform you that your recall to active service with the armed forces is not envisaged. Heil Hitler! Keitel, Col.-Gen.” To the best of my recollection it was only after this that he renounced the right to wear uniform.
- That Niemöller hoped to obtain his freedom by conversion to Catholicism is nonsense. It is well known that many devout Catholics were in Dachau. From 1941 on he was with three of these (Neuhausler and others). He studied the doctrines of the Catholic Church in great detail, and for years on end. But this was purely in connection with matters of the faith, of which Höss can have no comprehension.
- The statement that the Provincial Bishop D. Wurm was in Dachau is a strange invention. This Bishop of Wiirttemberg was never either in Dachau or in Posen. He was once under house arrest, in Stuttgart in 1934. In the Dachau cell block Martin Niemöller was the only evangelical cleric. The other pastors were in Barrack 26 of the “Priests’ Block.” The confusion can doubtless be traced to the fact that General Superintendent D. Bursche, head of the Polish Evangelical Church, was in Sachsenhausen, where indeed he died during Martin Niemöller’s time there. The commander of the Sachsenhausen protective custody camp should surely have been aware of this.