… 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 the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
… I have met many religious fanatics in my time: on pilgrimages, in monasteries, in Palestine, on the Hejaz road in Iraq, and in Armenia. They were Catholics, both Roman and Orthodox, Moslems, Shiites, and Semites. But the [Jehovah’s] Witnesses in Sachsenhausen, and particularly two of them, surpassed anything that I had previously seen. These two especially fanatical Witnesses refused to do any work that had any connection whatever with military matters. They would not stand at attention, or drill in time with the rest, or lay their hands along the seam of their trousers, or remove their caps. They said that such marks of respect were due only to Jehovah and not to man. They recognized only one lord and master, Jehovah. Both of them had to be taken from the block set aside for Jehovah’s Witnesses and put in the cells, since they constantly urged on the other Witnesses to behave in a similar manner.
Eicke had frequently sentenced them to be flogged because of their antidisciplinarian behavior. They underwent this punishment with a joyous fervor that amounted almost to a perversion. They begged the commandant to increase their punishment, so that they might the better be able to testify to Jehovah. After they had been ordered to report for military service, which, needless to say, they flatly refused, indeed they refused even to put their signature to a military document, they too were condemned to death by the Reichsfuhrer SS. When told of this in their cells, they went almost mad for joy and ecstasy, and could hardly wait for the day of execution. They wrung their hands, gazed enraptured up at the sky, and constantly cried: “Soon we shall be with Jehovah! How happy we are to have been chosen!” A few days earlier they had witnessed the execution of some of their fellow believers and they could hardly be kept under control, so great was their desire to be shot with them. Their frenzy was painful to watch. They had to be taken back to their cells by force. When their time came, they almost ran to the place of execution. They wished on no account to be bound, for they desired to be able to raise their hands to Jehovah. Transformed by ecstasy, they stood in front of the wooden wall of the rifle range, seemingly no longer of this world. Thus do I imagine that the first Christian martyrs must have appeared as they waited in the circus for the wild beasts to tear them in pieces. Their faces completely transformed, their eyes raised to heaven, and their hands clasped and lifted in prayer, they went to their death.
All who saw them die were deeply moved, and even the execution squad itself was affected.
These Jehovah’s Witnesses became even more fanatical in their faith as a result of the martyrdom of their comrades. Several of them who had already signed a declaration that they would cease to proselytize, a declaration which helped them to obtain their freedom, now withdrew it, since they were anxious to suffer even more for Jehovah.
As people, Jehovah’s Witnesses were quiet, industrious, and sociable men and women, who were always ready to help their fellow creatures. Most of them were craftsmen, though many were peasants from East Prussia. In peacetime, so long as they confined their activities to prayer and the service of God and their fraternal gatherings, they were of no danger to the state and indeed quite harmless generally. From 1937 onward, however, the increased proselytizing by the sect attracted the attention of the authorities, and investigations were made. These investigations showed that our enemies were zealously fostering the propagation of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in order to undermine by religious means the military morale of our people. So proselytizing by Jehovah’s Witnesses was forbidden. It became only too evident, at the outbreak of the war, what a danger would have arisen if the more energetic and fanatical of the Witnesses had not been taken into custody during the previous couple of years, and a stop put to their active proselytizing. In the camp the Witnesses were industrious and reliable workers, who could well have been sent out to work without guards. It was indeed their wish to suffer imprisonment for Jehovah’s sake. They stubbornly refused to do work that had any connection whatever with the war. The women Witnesses in Ravensbrück, for example, refused to roll bandages for military field dressings. Some of these fanatical women refused to line up for roll call and would only parade as a disorderly crowd.
The Witnesses under arrest were members of the International Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they knew virtually nothing about its organization. They only knew the officials who distributed the literature and who organized the meeetings and the Bible studies. They were completely ignorant of the political use which was being made of their fanatical beliefs. If this was pointed out to them they laughed and could not understand. Their duty was simply to follow the call of Jehovah and be true to him. Jehovah spoke to them through inspiration, through visions, through the Bible when properly read, through the preachers and the writings of their sect. That was the plain truth, and it allowed of no argument. To suffer and even to die for Jehovah was their coveted aim. They believed that in this way they would be among the first to ascend and to join Jehovah’s elect. It was in this light that they regarded their imprisonment and detention in the concentration camp. They willingly submitted to all hardships. It was touching to observe the brotherly care they bestowed on each other, giving help and comfort whenever this was in any way possible.
There were, however, many cases of Witnesses voluntarily “abjuring,” as they called it. This meant signing a declaration in which they dissociated themselves from the International Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, undertook to recognize and obey all the laws and regulations of the state, and promised not to enroll any new Witnesses for Jehovah. On this basis of swearing to break their allegiance to the International Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were eventually—later in the war, immediately—set free. In the early days, however, when their release did not at once follow upon their signature of the document of abjuration, they often wondered whether in fact the Reichsfuhrer SS was to be trusted, and whether they would really be released. The abjurers were berated by their brother and sister Witnesses for their disloyalty to Jehovah. Many of the abjurers, especially among the women, later felt remorse and repudiated their signatures. The constant moral pressure was too great. It was quite impossible to shake their faith, and even those who had abjured still wished to remain completely loyal to their beliefs, even though they had broken away from their spiritual community. If their attention was drawn to contradictions in their doctrine or in the Bible, they would simply declare that this might appear so to human eyes, but with Jehovah there were no contradictions, that He and His doctrine were infallible.
On many occasions Himmler, as well as Eicke, used the fanatical faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example. SS men must have the same fanatical and unshakable faith in the National Socialist ideal and in Adolf Hitler that the Witnesses had in Jehovah. Only when all SS men believed as fanatically in their own philosophy would Adolf Hitler’s state be permanently secure.
A Weltanschauung could only be established and permanently maintained by fanatics utterly prepared to sacrifice their egos for their ideals.
I must refer once more to the executions which took place in Sachsenhausen at the beginning of the war.
How diverse were the ways in which men went to their death!
Jehovah’s Witnesses were filled with a strangely contented, one might almost say radiant, exaltation, firm in the knowledge that they were about to be permitted to enter Jehovah’s kingdom.
The men who refused to do their military service and the political saboteurs were generally composed, steadfast, and calm, resigned to the inevitability of their fate.
The professional criminals, the real asocial types, were quite different: these were either cynical, brazen, feigning indifference, yet inwardly trembling before the Great Unknown. Or raving and struggling. Or whining for spiritual support …
… In the women’s camp [Himmler] attended the whipping of a female criminal (a prostitute, who was continually breaking in and stealing whatever she could lay her hands on) in order to observe its effect. Before any woman was whipped, permission had to be obtained from Himmler personally. Some women were produced to him, who had been imprisoned for insignificant offenses, and he set them free. He talked with some female Jehovah’s Witnesses and discussed with them their fanatical beliefs.
The following is excerpted from the Watchtower’s history book, Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (1993):
United Action in the Face of Nazi Oppression
… In 1933 Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in Germany. By the end of World War II, 6,262 were arrested and their combined time of imprisonment totals 14,332 years; 2,074 are sent to concentration camps…
When the government of Nazi Germany put into operation a campaign to stop the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, repeated efforts were made to gain a hearing with the German authorities. But no relief was forthcoming. By the summer of 1933, their work had been banned in the majority of German states. Therefore, on June 25, 1933, a declaration regarding their ministry and its objectives was adopted by Jehovah’s Witnesses at an assembly in Berlin. Copies were sent to all the high government officials, and millions more were distributed to the public. Nevertheless, in July 1933 the courts refused to grant a hearing for relief. Early the following year, a personal letter regarding the situation was written by J. F. Rutherford to Adolf Hitler and delivered to him by special messenger. Then the entire worldwide brotherhood went into action.
On Sunday morning, October 7, 1934, at nine o’clock, every group of Witnesses in Germany assembled. They prayed for Jehovah’s guidance and blessing. Then each group sent a letter to German government officials declaring their firm determination to keep on serving Jehovah. Before dismissing, they discussed together the words of their Lord, Jesus Christ, at Matthew 10:16-24. After this they went out to give a witness to their neighbors about Jehovah and his Kingdom under Christ.
That same day, Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the earth met and, after united prayer to Jehovah, sent a cablegram warning the Hitler government: “Your ill-treatment of Jehovah’s witnesses shocks all good people of earth and dishonors God’s name. Refrain from further persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses; otherwise God will destroy you and your national party.” But that was not the end of it.
The Gestapo intensified their efforts to crush the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After mass arrests in 1936, they thought that perhaps they had succeeded. But then, on December 12, 1936, some 3,450 Witnesses who were still free in Germany blitzed the country with a printed resolution that clearly stated Jehovah’s purpose and set forth the determination of Jehovah’s Witnesses to obey God as ruler rather than men. The opposers could not understand how such a distribution was possible. A few months later, when the Gestapo belittled the charges made in the resolution, Jehovah’s Witnesses prepared an open letter in which they unsparingly named the Nazi officers who had fiendishly abused Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1937, this letter too was given wide distribution in Germany. Thus the deeds of wicked men were laid bare for all to see. This also gave the public opportunity to decide what course they personally would pursue regarding these servants of the Most High.—Compare Matthew 25:31-46.
A Firm Declaration to the Nazi State
On October 7, 1934, the following letter was sent to the
German government by every congregation of Jehovah ‘s Witnesses in Germany:
“To the Officials of the Government:
“The Word of Jehovah God, as set out in the Holy Bible, is the supreme law, and to us it is our sole guide for the reason that we have devoted ourselves to God and are true and sincere followers of Christ Jesus.
“During the past year, and contrary to God’s law and in violation ol our rights, you have forbidden us as Jehovah’s witnesses to meet together to study God’s Word and worship and serve him. In his Word he commands us that we shall not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. (Hebrews 10:25) To us Jehovah commands: ‘Ye are my witnesses that I am God. Go and tell the people my message.’ (Isaiah 43:10, 12; Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 24:14) There is a direct conflict between your law and God’s law, and, following the lead of the faithful apostles, ‘we ought to obey God rather than men,’ and this we will do. (Acts 5:29) Therefore this is to advise you that at any cost we will obey God’s commandments, will meet together for the study of his Word, and will worship and serve him as he has commanded. If your government or officers do violence to us because we are obeying God, then our blood will be upon you and you will answer to Almighty God.
“We have no interest in political affairs, but are wholly devoted to God’s kingdom under Christ his King. We will do no injury or harm to anyone. We would delight to dwell in peace and do good to all men as we have opportunity, but, since your government and its officers continue in your attempt to force us to disobey the highest law of the universe, we are compelled to now give you notice that we will, by his grace, obey Jehovah God and fully trust Him to deliver us from all oppression and oppressors.”