The Long Shadow of Auschwitz

Before his execution by hanging in 1947, Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoess confessed to his role in the industrialized slaughter of millions of Jews and other “enemies” of Hitler’s Third Reich. But Hoess’s guilt while extraordinary in its numbers extends to all leaders who carelessly choose war, Gary G. Kohls observes.

By Gary G. Kohls

The ending of my last column was the powerful Thomas Merton prose poem that gave voice to the infamous international war criminal, the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess. Merton has Hoess speaking from the gallows with a haunting accusation directed at history’s pro-war presidents, monarchs, dictators, prime ministers and assorted politicians who know that wars always involve the mass murder of defenseless civilians (euphemistically known as “collateral damage”).

The self-admitted war criminal Hoess accuses of war crimes every commanding officer who has ever ordered lethal bombings or artillery attacks that inevitably involve innocent non-combatants. That also would apply in modern times to the U.S. policy of extra-judicial assassinations of suspected “terrorists” by drone warfare as well as to every Apache helicopter crew (and their commanders) who targeted “suspects” in Iraq and Afghanistan. [See the horrifying war crime “collateral murder” video courageously made available to the public by Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks at:]

Former Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoess in 1947 as he is readied for execution on gallows constructed near the death camp’s crematorium.

Hoess seems to be accusing every combat platoon that has ever blindly participated in night raids or mortar attacks in areas where civilians are known to be present. Merton has Hoess say, “Do not think yourself better because you burn friends and enemies with long-range missiles without ever seeing what you have done.”

Merton also accuses the war-profiteering industrialists that bid for the jobs of designing, manufacturing and equipping the camps with increasingly efficient extermination machinery. German ingenuity in action.

Merton’s poem contains actual quotes from some of the documents that were found after World War II had ended. The innovative SS Lt. Col. Hoess was proud of and well rewarded for – his part in improving the craft of high-tech, industrial-strength mass murder.

He said: “Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chamber to accommodate 2,000 people at one time whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each.

“The way we selected our victims was as follows: We had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transports of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work.

“Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact.

“Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes, but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.”

Hoess and others among the Nazi hierarchy had noticed the terrible psychiatric toll (alcoholism, depression, suicide, etc) that the up-close and personal massacres were having on the common soldiers who reflexively obeyed the illegal orders to kill noncombatants. The decidedly less personal killing methods of starvation, shellings, bombings and gassing was far less traumatizing to the soldiers who were there at the end of the chain of command.

Hoess was hanged in 1947 for his role in the deaths of 3 million people at Auschwitz during his 3½ years (May 1940 to December 1943) as the camp’s commandant. In a postwar affidavit (April 1946), Hoess confesses to his crimes:

“I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70% or 80% of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries.

“Included among the executed and burnt were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war (previously screened out of Prisoner of War cages by the Gestapo) who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews, and great numbers of citizens (mostly Jewish) from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.

“It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped.

“These so-called ill-treatments and this torturing in concentration camps, stories of which were spread everywhere among the people, and later by the prisoners that were liberated by the occupying armies, were not, as assumed, inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual leaders, sub-leaders, and men who laid violent hands on internees.”

In his autobiography, written while he was awaiting his war crimes trial, Hoess wrote: “I want to emphasize that I personally never hated the Jews. I considered them to be the enemy of our nation. However, that was precisely the reason to treat them the same way as the other prisoners. Besides, the feeling of hatred is not in me. It is tragic that, although I was by nature gentle, good-natured, and very helpful, I became the greatest destroyer of human beings who carried out every order to exterminate people no matter what.”

The Willingness to Kill 

One has to ask out loud, given the fact that Germany was an overwhelmingly Christian nation: What kind of Christianity was it that justified, contrary to the teachings of Jesus, cruelty in parenting, hateful attitudes toward the “other,” and the justification of the organized mass slaughter of war? What kind of Christian leadership was it that did not stand up and courageously and prophetically say “NO” to its nation’s manufacture and stockpiling of (and its willingness to use) weapons of mass destruction whose only purpose is to kill humans and scorch the earth?

From where in the human soul comes the willingness to kill, wound, torture, enslave or starve another human or even cooperate with the evils of state-sponsored homicide or genocide, whether your militarized nation is fascist Germany or “democratic” America?

Harshness in childrearing is one of the realities that can easily result in the willingness to obey illegal orders to kill. Rudolf Hoess was a victim of cruelty in childrearing, a violent, xenophobic culture, a vicious anti-Semitism and an aberrant form of Christianity that was silent on or supportive of its militaristic nation’s glorification of war.

Being a part of the inhumane society that Hoess was raised in, he never had a chance to be all that he could have been. He was hanged on April 16, 1947, at the age of 45 on a gallows built near the Auschwitz death camp’s crematorium in Poland.

Gary G. Kohls, MD, is a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church ( and is a member of a local non-denominational affiliate of ECAPC, the Community of the Third Way.

15 comments for “The Long Shadow of Auschwitz

  1. harryash
    May 9, 2013 at 07:54

    these people have managed to create the biggest lie imaginable and still earn from it….I,ve never heard and read such absolute nonesense…why dont u people study your history more carefully n selectively, n realise that this is justanother Jewish scam…its disgusting that u people make th world and especially th germans responsible for this utter garbage…Check ur Facts!!!

  2. dahoit
    May 5, 2013 at 11:16

    Where,outside of the captive Hoess(under a death sentence and subjected to torture)are the confessors to the alleged systematic gassing of Jews?Not one deathbed confession?As almost every word spewed by the Zionists are proven lies,why should I believe anything they spew?Sorry,count me out of the loop of mendacity.I read recently where the Polish and Israeli governments were going to remodel Auschwitz.Sheesh,then all will be plain as day eh?

  3. James
    May 5, 2013 at 09:30


    “You cannot stoke the fires of prejudice against German people and then not find that somewhere, sometime down the road it doesn’t discharge.”

    Ernst Zundel

  4. Morton Kurzweil
    May 3, 2013 at 12:57

    Utter nonsense. There is no evil. There is a pathologic function in two areas of the brain, the amygdala and the insula portions of the frontal cortex. The result is hyperactivity of the amygdala which prevents collating memories and and patterns of decision making, and the insula which controls social behavior and cooperation.
    The result is an autism that blocks social cooperation and the acts of empathy necessary to social function.
    These people are not evil. They are unable to feel the emotions of themselves or others.
    If this is a sin it is God’s sin.
    These people, to the extent that they are functioning without “conscience”, must be kept under constant supervision. They are the terrorists, the thieves, the politicians, lawyers, hedge fund manipulators who prey on those who can not imagine a social act without its effects on others.
    What is good and competent is what is socially, not religiously or politically good or competent.

    • Richard
      May 5, 2013 at 17:12

      First, until science understands consciousness, anything you say about the human mind is supposition. To date, science has been unable to explain how particles moving about create conscious experience: sounds, colors, flavors, pain, etc.

      Second, these “unfeeling” individuals aren’t quite so devoid of empathy as you make out – search YouTube for “Greatest Interview Moment Ever”, uploaded by user “Z20thcenturyman”. A former British minister asserts that he cares about animals but has no concern for human suffering, least of all the suffering he caused by selling weapons to Indonesia’s former dictator, General Suharto.

      I think you are wrong. These people know what they are doing, but simply don’t care – and that’s the very definition of evil to my mind.

  5. MikeH
    May 2, 2013 at 21:00

    As far as Christianity itself is concerned, it has always been the orthodox Christian belief that “sinners” are condemned to an eternity in hell after they die. And a person is “saved” from hell by “accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior”, and only by doing so, and only by doing so in this present lifetime.

    In other words, too bad for those who, for whatever reason, don’t come to “accept Jesus Christ” in this lifetime. Some would say that this includes people who adhere to religions other than Christianity for all their lives.

    The above is generally believed by theologically conservative Christians, especially by evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant Christians, and also by conservative Catholic Christians.

    The only basis for this belief is what is said in this one particular book, known as the “Holy” Bible, regarded as being the “Word of God”, and thus being “infallible” or “inerrant”, at least among theologically conservative Christians. People who believe the above do not and dare not question anything that is said in the so-regarded “Word of God”, and unquestioningly accept it as God’s privilege and prerogative to condemn people to hell for all eternity.

    Psychologically it is really no different for a “good German” to go along with Hitler’s regime in Germany, or for a “good Christian American” to feel that it is his/her patriotic duty to go along with whatever G. W. Bush (the “Decider”) decides, including torture, than it is for a “good” conservative Christian to unquestioningly accept that some people are going to be condemned to hell for all eternity because the Bible, the so-called and so-regarded “Word of God”, says so.

    And I think there is a psychological tendency to become like that which one worships. Thus if one really believes that God condemns some people to hell for all eternity, and unquestioningly accepts that, then that belief might very well psychologically overpower the teachings of Jesus regarding love towards one’s fellow humans.

    And of course right at what is considered to be the heart of Judeo-Christian and traditional Western morality are what are known as the Ten Commandments. One of these commandments says to unconditionally “honor your father and mother”, and in the biblical text makes no exceptions if one’s parents are abusive or otherwise undeserving of honor.

    The commandment serves to provide legitimacy to arbitrary, abusive, or otherwise bad parents. Such parents, if displeased or affronted by something their child says or does, can always invoke the commandment and imply that an affront to one’s parents is an affront to God.

    Any good or competent parent, or any parent with any self-respect, I would think has no need for the backing of such a commandment, and would NEVER say or imply to his/her child that an affront to one’s parents is an affront to God.

    I would strongly imagine that Rudolf Hoess was always reminded of the commandment to “honor your father and mother”.

  6. delia ruhe
    May 2, 2013 at 20:15

    “Europe is a seething cauldron of hate with powerful men stoking the fires and feeding the flames” (David Lloyd George, upon the end of WWI).

    You’ll never make sense of Nazi Germany by counting the number of churches in it.

  7. Hillary
    May 2, 2013 at 16:55

    In Jewish religious lore there have been countless holocausts since Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego passed unscathed through King Nebuchadnezzar ‘s fiery furnaces.
    In addition to the holocaust of World War II, the New York Times and other Jewish publications reported at least two other holocausts of six million in the 20th Century, for a total of at least18 million murdered Jews.

  8. andreas w. mytze
    May 2, 2013 at 09:33

    Was Mengele in the US after 1945? And why was h e not hanged?

  9. Bill Cromer
    May 1, 2013 at 23:36

    The “Collateral Murder“ video does not reveal a war crime! All of the men in that open courtyard were complicit in an effort to attack and destroy an American Humvee. Including the van driver who posed his children to conceal his involvement and Reuters employees who came to record the success of their effort.

    Those Apache helicopters were arriving, not circling, when the gun-site video begins. A soldier in a Humvee had called them in for air support when, while moving his vehicle three blocks north to establish another BP (Blocking Position), combatants attacked from two positions (intersections) in a nearby courtyard.

    The Reuters employees walked by the first position [01:31] – where five men were standing – and used the second – where men with weapons stood nearby – to photograph that Humvee. Those photographs show a large dirt pile combatants used earlier as a third position to attack this same Humvee with AK47′s and RPG’s.

    Transcript confirms these three positions were used to attack the Humvee:

    (1) [15:36] When asked who called in Crazyhorse 1/8 for air support a soldier in the Humvee (Hotel 2/6) said “Uh, I believe that was me.” “They uh had AK-47s and were to our east, so, where we were taking small arms fire,” he added. This intersection was used by the Reuters photographer to photograph the Humvee.

    (2) [12:04] After engaging ten men and a van Crazyhorse 1/8 asked Hotel 2/6, “Where else were you taking fire from?” Hotel 2/6 responded, “Currently we’re not being engaged, ah, but just south of that location.” Five men, two of whom became the so-called rescuers, stood at this location when the Reuters employees arrived in the open courtyard.

    (3): [11:33] When asked if he was aware of American troops approaching from his left (west) Hotel 2/6 said yes. He gave them this warning: “Be advised, there were some guys popping out with AKs behind that dirt pile break. We also took some RPGs off, uh, earlier, so just uh make sure your men keep your eyes open,” he added. This dirt pile appears in the photographs taken by a Reuters photographer.

    • F. G. Sanford
      May 2, 2013 at 08:37

      Even if this delusional version of the story were true, it wouldn’t excuse all the other atrocities. This mindset falls into the ridiculous “Rambo” interpretation of Viet Nam: “They didn’t let us win”.

      • Bill Cromer
        May 2, 2013 at 18:08

        You really should replace that “soda straw” view of war, present in the gun-site video, with an overall perspective using the Reuters map found on the resource page at Collateral Murder website and the Google Earth satellite imagine of the area [coordinates 33.3137oN, 44.512oE] found at Wikipedia article entitled “July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike.” With these maps you could escape that Assange induced deception by mentally transferring the path walked by the Reuters employees and location of the Humvee over to the satellite map before viewing (analyzing) the long version of “Collateral Murder.”

        Develop this viewpoint further by using that satellite map to examine the first 45 seconds Assange edited out of the long version to make his short version. Here the so-called rescue van and Reuters employees begin moving toward each other at the same time, on the same road. Then it turned one block before arriving at the last position combatants were using to attack the Humvee and the Reuters photographer knelt down and peered around a building at that position to photograph the vehicle.

        The same van returns a few minutes after the first engagement traveling in the opposite direction on this same road. “Appears as if on cue,” according to the Army report. Regardless, some type of coordinated effort is taking place.

        Continue with this analysis until it becomes blatant that all eighteen men in that open courtyard were complicit in an effort to attack and destroy an American Humvee. Including the van driver who used his children to conceal his involvement and Reuters employees who came to record the success of their effort.

        [To manipulate the video use pause/play button and slider bar. Double click on pause/play to advance slowly.]

        • F. G. Sanford
          May 3, 2013 at 14:32

          Bill, you just don’t get it. War of Aggression, the “Supreme International Crime” according to Chief Nuremberg prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, is reprehensible in that it contains within it, “all the evils of the whole”. Your knowledge of maps, coordinates and timelines is impressive, but like the typical enlisted Soldier, you have mastered warcraft without an understanding of the geopolitical, legal and moral considerations it entails. That is why enlisted Soldiers swear an oath to the Officers appointed above them, while Officers swear an oath to King or Constitution. Officers, unlike enlisted Soldiers, are supposed to know the difference between right and wrong. That’s why enlisted Soldiers don’t get to make the big decisions. That’s also why the German Officer Corps despised Adolf Hitler. He was a corporal, and he made all the mistakes one would expect of an enlisted Soldier in a position of unwarranted authority. The war was illegal in the first place. Everything those Soldiers did was a war crime, whether they are personally guilty or not.

          • Bill Cromer
            May 13, 2013 at 12:13

            No, you’re the one, with an anti-government, anti-war, anti-American mindset, who doesn’t get it! To say that “Everything those Soldiers did was a war crime, whether they are personally guilty or not,” is totally ridiculous! Do not attach your “abolish war” mentality to those helicopter pilots in the “Collateral Murder” video. Those four soldiers deserve a good conduct medal and an apology from people like you.

  10. F. G. Sanford
    May 1, 2013 at 20:43

    A recent ‘Scientific American’ article explores the idea that people who believe in ‘conspiracy theories’ suffer from some sort of paranoid delusional illness. I often wonder that, if Germany had won the war, would the ‘holocaust’ be a ‘conspiracy theory’ in the alternative history? If Bradley Manning hadn’t blown the whistle, would targeting of innocent civilians have been a ‘conspiracy theory’? If the Bush administration could have kept the torture chronicles exposed by the Constitution Project a secret, would “black site prisons” be just another nightmarish delusion? If the slightest whiff of a chemical weapon could have been detected in Iraq, would we all believe that the fiendish plot to sell a war to the American people had been nothing more than the ravings of conspiracy theory fanatics? It is impossible to find a single document in all the millions of pages of captured archives that bears Hitler’s signature authorizing the genocide. But does anyone seriously doubt that the conspiracy to to commit genocide was a reality? Americans are faced, in todays world, with the prospect of losing their nation’s most cherished heritage: The Bill of Rights. But they are incrementally, with relentless patience, being trained to ignore all the signs and symptoms of this creeping conspiracy. Look no further than those who would commit crimes of the same nature but defend themselves by invoking the guilt of others in those same crimes on a grander scale. Humanity has not learned a single thing from all of these horrors. When the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is complete, will anyone remember?

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