The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down the Kommandant of Auschwitz
In an excerpt from Thomas Harding’s thrilling ‘Hanns and Rudolf,’ Rudolf Höss is taken prisoner, and beaten
Rudolf was immediately surrounded by the remaining soldiers, who dragged him to one of the barn’s slaughter tables, tore the pajamas from his body and beat him with axe handles. Rudolf screamed, but the blows kept coming. After a short period, the doctor spoke to Hanns: “Call them off,” he said, “unless you want to take back a corpse.”
Just as suddenly as it had started, the beating stopped. A rough woolen blanket was wrapped around Rudolf’s shoulders, and he was carried out of the barn.
At around midnight the prisoner was loaded into the truck. Hanns and three sergeants climbed in after. Hanns told the driver to make for Heide, where they would deliver Rudolf to the local jail. Hanns sat on one of the benches next to Rudolf in the back of the truck. As the vehicle rumbled along the narrow roads, Hanns asked the prisoner a series of questions: What is your name? What was your rank in the SS? What role did you play during the war? Did you work at Auschwitz? At last, after repeated questioning, Rudolf confirmed to Hanns that he had worked as the Kommandant of Auschwitz, and that he had been “personally responsible for the deaths of 10,000 people.” Hanns realized with rising excitement that not only had he captured his man, but he was willing to talk.
When they arrived in Heide two hours later, the trucks pulled up at a bar in the center of town, where Paul was waiting for them. With Rudolf left in the truck, under guard, Hanns and the other men, around twenty-five in all, piled into the bar. Extraordinarily, Hanns had interrupted the safe delivery of the most wanted war criminal into custody, in order to celebrate.
Paul described this scene to his parents in a letter he penned the next day:
13 March 1946
Hanns had a very successful time here, though very busy. But he is not leaving empty handed. He caught the bastard from Auschwitz. I have never seen such a shit in all my life. After all was over I found the party for celebration while Rudolf ’s feet got cold in the car under escort. We drank to the success with champagne and whiskey. Just right for the job. But will have to leave the details of the description to Hanns. He is a good bloke but don’t tell him otherwise he gets eingebildet [smug].
After they were finished celebrating, Hanns walked back to the truck, pulled Rudolf out of the vehicle, removed the blanket from his shoulders, and made him walk naked to the prison on the other side of the snow-covered main square. Once inside the prison Hanns, along with a sergeant from the Field Security Section, began Rudolf ’s first formal interrogation. Alcohol was forced down the prisoner’s throat and they beat him with his own whip, confiscated from the barn in Gottrupel. A pair of handcuffs were on his wrists at all times, and with the temperature in the cell well below freezing, Rudolf ’s uncovered feet quickly developed frostbite.
Three days later, on March 15, 1946, Hanns delivered Rudolf to Camp Tomato, a British-run prison near the town of Minden. There, Colonel Gerald Draper—the War Crimes Group’s lawyer—began a further round of intensive questioning. A few hours afterwards, Rudolf’s statement was typed up into an eight-page confession and a one-paragraph summary. It was the first time that a concentration camp Kommandant had provided details of the Final Solution. Rudolf had confessed to coordinating the killing of two million people.
From Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, by Thomas Harding. Copyright © 2013 by Cackler Harding Ltd. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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