Now and then, the comedy breaks into the horror itself, and results in stories, presumably true enough, whose macabre humor surpasses that of any Surrealist invention. Such was the story told by Eichmann during the police examination about the unlucky Kommerzialrat Storfer of Vienna, one of the representatives of the Jewish community. Eichmann had recieved a telegram from Rudolf Hoss, Commandant of Auschwitz, telling him that Storfer had arrived and had urgently requested to see Eichmann. "I said to myself: OK, this man has always behaved well, that is worth my while... I'll go there myself and see what is the matter with him. And I go to Ebner [chief of the Gestapo in Vienna], and Ebner says--I remember it only vaguely--'If only he had not been so clumsy; he went into hiding and tried to escape,' something of the sort. And the police arrested him and sent him to the concentration camp, and, according to the orders of the Reichsfuhrer [Himmler], no one could get out once he was in. Nothing could be done, neither Dr. Ebner nor I nor anybody else could do anything about it. I went to Auschwitz and asked Hoss to see Storfer. 'Yes, yes, [Hoss said], he is in one of the labor gangs.' With Storfer afterward, it was normal and human, we had a normal, human encounter. He told me all his grief and sorrow: I said: 'Well, my dear old friend [Ja, mein lieber guter Storfer], we certainly got it! What rotten luck!' And I also said, 'Look, I really cannot help you, because according to orders from the Reichsfuhrer nobody can get out. I can't get you out. Dr. Ebner can't get you out...And then I asked him how he was. And he said, yes, he wondered if he couldn't be let off work, it was heavy work. And then I said to Hoss: 'Work--Storfer won't have to work!' But Hoss said: 'Everyone works here.' So I said, 'OK,' I said, 'I'll make out a chit to the effect that Storfer has to keep the gravel paths in order with a broom,' there were little gravel paths there, 'and that he has the right to sit down with his broom on one of the benches.' [To Storfer] I said: 'Will that be all right, Mr. Storfer? Will that suit you?' Whereupon he was very pleased, and we shook hands, and then he was given the broom, and sat down on his bench. It was a great inner joy to me that I could at least see the man with whom I had worked for so many long years, and that we could speak with each other.' Six weeks after this normal human encounter, Storfer was dead--not gassed, apparently, but shot.
Arendt, pp. 50-51.
Look at the eyes of the men in this Kommando, how deeply shaken they are! These men are finished (fertig) for the rest of their lives. What kind of followers are we training here? Either neurotics or savages!
In 1942, Bach-Zelewski had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for "psychic exhaustion" and "hallucinations connected with the shootings of Jews" However, he recovered and went back to killing(Lifton, pp. 159, 437).
Bach-Zelewski's fate after the war makes an interesting footnote. He was tried in 1961 for his part in the murders of the S.A., the rival German military arm, in 1934, and sentenced to three and one half years; he was then tried again in 1962 for the murder of six Communists in 1933, and sentenced to life. Neither indictment mentioned his Einsatzgruppen activities. Arendt says: "He was also the only one in this category who in 1952 had denounced himself publicly for mass murder, but he was never prosecuted for it" (p. 16).
I had heard Eichmann's description of Jews being mown down by the Einsatzkommandos armed with machine guns and machine pistols. Many gruesome scenes are said to have taken place, people running away after being shot, the finishing off of the wounded and particularly of the women and the children. Many members of the Einsatzkommandos, unable to endure wading through blood any longer, had committed suicide. Some had even gone mad. Most of the members of these Kommandos had to rely on alcohol when carrying out their horrible work.
Lifton, p. 159.
Hoss, the architect and creator of the most prominent of death camps, began the search that resulted in the selection of Zyklon B as the agent of killing.
Hoss wrote his memoirs in 1947, shortly before he was hung for his role in the murder of the victims of Auschwitz. He may be the prototypical Nazi. He was raised religious and had participated in pilgrimages to Lourdes and other shrines. He entered the military and then became involved with the Nazis at the very beginning. In 1923, he participated in beating a suspected informer to death and was sent to prison, where he went mad:
Then I would sink exhausted onto the bed and fall asleep, only to wake again after a short time bathed in sweat from my nightmares. In these confused dreams, I was always being pursued and killed, or falling over a precipice.
Freed in an amnesty in 1928, he later joined the SS under Himmler and was assigned to construct a camp in the Polish town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz to the Germans) in 1940. He had already served at Dachau, where he was uncomfortably thrilled the first time he saw a prisoner flogged: "I went hot and cold all over...I am unable to give an explanation of this."
Contrast his view of his religious upbringing:
I was taught that my highest duty was to help those in need. It was constantly impressed on me in forceful terms that I must obey promptly the wishes and commands of my parents, teachers and priests...
Or his views on work:
All my life I have thoroughly enjoyed working. I have done plenty of hard, physical work, under the severest physical conditions, in the coal mines, in oil refineries, and in brickyards...Work in prison [is] a means of training for those prisoners who are fundamentally unstable and who need to learn the meaning of endurance and perseverance...
Hoss, of course, was responsible for placing the slogan Arbeit Macht Frei over the camp's gate.
In his memoirs, Hoss claimed to exemplify leadership, setting the example for his men: "When reveille sounded for the SS men in the ranks, I too must get out of bed..."
In 1941, Himmler summoned Hoss to Berlin, and told him secretly to transform Auschwitz into an extermination camp. According to Hoss, Himmler said:
The Fuhrer has ordered that the Jewish question be solved once and for all...I have now decided to entrust this task to you. It is difficult and onerous and calls for complete devotion notwithstanding the difficulties that may arise... You will treat this order as absolutely secret, even from your superiors...The Jews are the sworn enemies of the German people and must be eradicated. Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed now during the war, without exception.
Himmler's emissary to Hoss to discuss the details was Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann revealed his plan for the shipment of Jews to Auschwitz, first from Poland, then Czechoslovakia, then Western Europe. The men walked the fields looking for a suitable location for a gas chamber until they found an abandoned farmhouse which was "most suitable":
It was isolated and screened by woods and hedges, and it was also not far from the railroad...We calculated that after gasproofing the premises then available, it would be possible to kill about eight hundred people simultaneously with a suitable gas.
(Friedrich, pp. 2-19.)
Hoss stole food from the prisoner's supplies for his family, and had prisoners build his furniture; he lived a life of such comfort that his wife was said to have remarked, "I will live here until I die." However, he took a non-Jewish camp inmate, Eleanor Hodys, as mistress, got her pregnant, then tried to have her murdered. She was rescued by the SS Judge investigating corruption in the camp, and taken to Munich, where the SS killed her at the end of the war.(Friedrich, pp. 50-51.)
After listening to Hoss testify at Nuremberg, one of the defense attorneys said:
It rained blood, one breathed ashes, the smell of burned corpses poisoned the atmosphere.
Conot, p. 376.
Many prominent German corporations--among them Krupp, Siemens and Bayer--were interested in what might be negotiated. Auschwitz began developing a network of outlying subcamps, thirty-four in all. The prisoners worked at a cement plant...a coal mine...a steel factory...a shoe factory...The biggest of these Auschwitz subcamps was the I.G. Farben plant...The plant was known as Buna because its principal purpose was to produce synthetic rubber; its other main installation was a hydrogenation plant designed to convert coal into oil...The Auschwitz factories [were] the largest in the Farben empire.
Conditions at [Buna] were much like those at Auschwitz--the dawn roll calls, the starvation rations, the labor gangs sent out for twelve hours at a time, forced to work at the double, beaten by guards, harried by giant dogs. The prisoners who died of overwork--dozens of them every day--had to be hauled back to camp at nightfall so that they could be propped up and counted at the next morning's roll call. About 25,000 people, ultimately, were killed in the construction of the I.G. Farben plant...One of the enduring mysteries of Auschwitz is that this plant, built at such cost and such suffering, never actually produced one ounce of synthetic rubber.
Friedrich, pp. 41-42.
After the initial Nuremberg trial, a trial was held of the I.G. Farben industrialists responsible for Buna. "[T]welve were found not guilty, five received sentences of one to four years, and six of five to eight years." Conot, p. 517.
There was also a commerce in the clothes, glasses, and hair of the murdered. Primo Levi wrote:
I myself found in Katowitz, after the liberation, innumerable packages of forms by which the heads of German families were authorized to draw clothes and shoes for adults and for children from the Auschwitz warehouses; did no-one ask himself where so many children's shoes were coming from?
Levi, Drowned, pp. 179-180.