Today is the day: Rudolf Höss

On the 11th of March 1946, a gardener was arrested by the British occupation forces in Germany. His name was Franz Lang. He cut a lonely figure. His clothes were dirty and his back hunched. His hair although prominent at the front was receding at the sides and thinning on top. The skin was sagging on his face, once plump cheeks showing now the signs of struggling to survive. But why was this lonely man a target for the British Occupation Forces? What possibly could a simple gardener have done to draw their attention?

Shadows

It was not the first time that Franz Lang had been held by the British. With papers registered as a boatsman, Franz Lang had blended with the many sailors of the Kriegsmarine that were interned at the end of the Second World War. He was initially sent to Sylt, today the island playground of the wealthy of Germany, then back to the mainland. With a prewar profession listed, not entirely untruthfully as a farmer Fritz Land was released from British custody. He was sent to work on a farm near Flensburg where Franz Land was able to keep in contact with his family. For 8 months he toiled on the land, from Autumn into Winter until the buds of spring started to form on the trees. This was when the British arrived once more.

The British had been watching Franz Lang’s family. They had searched the family residence many times and posters had been distributed amongst towns of the north of Germany. For Franz Lang to be farming near Flensburg, the second and last capital of the Nazi Third Reich, it had been the collecting pool of the surviving criminals of the SS and other branches of the Nazi government.

The Hunt

On the 8th of March 1946, a German Jew who had been fortunate to flee Nazi Germany before the war and had joined the British army arrived in Heide. His name was Hanns Alexander. Alexander was searching for someone, someone in particular. He had been informed that the family of the person that he had been hunting since the end of the war was in Heide and he wished to speak with them.

Hanns Alexander along with members of the Field Security Section 92 drove from Heide to a sugar factory in which there was a sparse apartment where a family was living. The family had been known to the authorities for some time and had been interrogated many times. The mother Hedwig had been questioned again just a few days prior, and the son Klaus had insisted many times he had not seen his father since 1945, the man Alexander was hunting.

Alexander wasn’t happy with the same excuses and repetitive statements. He was tired of the lies. One of the daughters, Bridgette, at the intense screaming of Alexander and the other officers fled from the house and sobbed into her hands beneath a tree. When she finally looked up she saw a truck taking her brother Klaus away.

Klaus was kept in a cell and interrogated more, yet he still persisted that he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of his father. Hedwig his mother came to the station where Klaus was being held. She too was interrogated again. Alexander knew that they were aware of where the father, the husband, was so the interrogation continued. Hedwig announced she was on a hunger strike, unwilling to answer any more questions. Alexander informed her, that her son, Klaus was being deported to Siberia. It was a bluff.

Hedwig knew what Siberia meant. Many Germans had already been taken to Siberia, women and children included to work in mines or in fields, or to be incarcerated as a form of war reparations to the Soviet Union, a sentence few would return from. With this image in mind she relented, she told Hanns Alexander where her husband was.

Into the night

So this was how Hanns Alexander and the British forces, many of which were German Jews, came to be charging in trucks through the night to a farmstead in Gottrupel. This is how Hanns Alexander came to knock on a door at 11 o’clock at night and awaken with a start the man responsible for the most hideous action in human history, Auschwitz. The SS Kamp Komandant Rudolf Höss.

Höss was awoken with a freight. Orders barked cut through the night. A realisation that there was little he could do, Höss opened the door of the farmstead to a blinding light. As he blinked away the headlights of the army truck he saw the end of escape, of a life in the shadows, as he stared into the guns of twenty armed soldiers.

Alexander ordered him to remove his wedding band. Knowing, as a German himself, of the tradition of carving one’s name into the gold of the band on the interior. Höss initially refused, but quickly his refusal gave into obedience. Alexander raised the ring, and in the light of the truck’s headlights, he saw carved inside the name Rudolf Höss. Now it was certain, the farmer Franz Lang was indeed the man who had sent millions of Jews to their deaths in the death camps. Höss a few days later, whilst in Camp Toronto signed an 8-page confession where he confessed to the murder of over 2 million Jews as part of the final solution.

Höss

Höss was not only at one point the Kommandant of Auschwitz he had also worked in many of the other camps in differing capacities. He had begun his career in the camps at Dachau before becoming an adjutant at Sachsenhausen near Berlin. But it was for the location he was transferred to on 1st of May 1940 that he was to become famous for. It was an army barracks in Poland that had once belonged to the now deceased empire of Austro-Hungary. The barracks formed the centre of the camp in Upper Silesia that was to be expanded and to take its name from the German name for the nearby town, Auschwitz.

For his crimes committed at Auschwitz Höss was deported to Poland and placed on trial. During his incarceration, he wrote his memoirs. On the 16th of April 1947, at the site of the crematorium where so many had died under his orders, Rudolf Höss was hanged. The gates of the camp still bear his motto, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “work will set you free.”

Afterward

It is always important to remember the full story around historical events. Especially such important events such as the Shoah or the Holocaust. The words never forget are thrown around too easily today on memorial days or by influencers feigning sincerity. The stories of the individuals are the hardest to tell when such a horrible fate was shared by so many as it is with the holocaust. But it is important to remember the individuals and their stories, as it is important to tell the stories on both sides. If we only remember the stories of those that were the victims we may lose the ability to recognise today those who carry the same traits as the perpetrators. This is why, with no affiliation I post the links below. The first is to the memoirs of Rudolf Höss “Commandant of Auschwitz” which shows Höss as the automatedly cruel human being he was.

 

UK: Commandant of Auschwitz: Rudolf Höss

US: Commandant of Auschwitz: Rudolf Höss

and also Thomas Harding’s Hanns and Rudolf which is an invaluable read to understand how the Nazis cruelty affected a family and how a member of that family became the man who arrested Rudolf Höss, Hanns Alexander.

UK: Hanns and Rudolf

US: Hanns and Rudolf

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