Rudolph Hoss, True Believer Essay, Research Paper
Rudolph Hoss, True Believer Death Dealer by Rudolph Hoss is a reflection and a look back on his life as the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz in the early 1940 s. Hoss was the leader of an extermination camp that gassed and killed millions of Jewish people that lived in Germany. In this book Hoss paints two very different and conflicting portraits of himself. In one portrait he shows himself as a very compassionate man that cared for the Jewish people s well-being. He claimed that he was just following orders as any good officer would and should do. He states that he “personally never hated the Jews” (142). He also tries to make it clear that he was doing what he had to or in his words, “I had to obey” (84). This picture conflicts with another portrait of Hoss. A Hoss that believed that Jews were the “enemies of the state” (95) and felt his actions were correct. This Hoss would have felt good about the fact that he was in charge of these mass murders. He took pride in his job and would certainly feel justified in killing those people. The Hoss that I am going to argue for is one that did feel justified in killing those people. I am not convinced by the guilty hearted Hoss. I will argue that he comes up with this picture for other reasons. Let me first start with the Hoss that my opposition would want you to believe existed. He shows himself as a man, who he claims is an obedient man that does what he is told or ordered to do. He says from a young age he “was taught to obey all adults, especially older people, and treat them with respect no matter what the circumstances” (50). My opposition would also content that Hoss was a military man and military men must follow orders at all costs and not question orders or authority. This is the picture of a man that is weak minded and would not stand up for what he believes.My opposition would use Stanley Milgram to help you understand Hoss. In Milgram s The Perils of Obedience, he conducts an experiment to determine if a person would inflict pain on another person. Basically there is an actor in a mock electric chair and a person asking him questions. The person asking the questions does not know the electric chair is not real. The vast majority of the people in this experiment administered shocks to the subject because they were instructed to do so. These people showed obvious signs of discomfort with doing this. However, they kept doing it because they thought they had to. My opposition would say this is a perfect example of what was happening to Hoss at Auschwitz. He didn t want to do these things but just like the people in Milgram s experiment, he believed he had to. What my opposition would not tell you is that these people were much more likely to stop administering these shocks when ordered from a distance like over the phone. When the experiment was conducted this way, the majority of the people did not give the shocks. For this reason I don t think Milgram s theory applies to Hoss. Hoss s superiors only visited Auschwitz a hand full of times, thus lifting the pressures the people in Milgram s experiment experienced.Let me now show you the Hoss that I believe truly existed. This Hoss is a person who thought what he was doing was right and who had no inner doubts about these killings. To help understand and explain how a person can commit these crimes of killing and not feel bad about it, I would look to Erich Fromm s Obedience to Authority. In it, Fromm talks about two types of conscience. The first is the humanistic conscience, which is a voice inside all humans. The second one is authoritarian conscience which is being obedient to an outside power but this power is internalized (379). So what this means is that if a person is told or taught something, it eventually internalizes in their own mind and is deemed consciously right.
I m going to show you a Hoss that did not feel bad killing these Jews. In fact, I m going to show you a Hoss that felt good doing what he was doing. He took pride in his work and he liked it. When Hoss was in prison he said the thing he missed most was work, not his family, not other SS officers, but work (92). If Hoss had any bad feelings toward killing millions of Jews, why would he miss it? People generally don t miss things they don t like. If he liked working at a place where the sole purpose was to kill Jews, he couldn t have felt that bad about killing them.When the orders were given for these killings Hoss says, “at the time I wasted no thoughts about it. I had received an order; I had to carry it out. I could not allow myself to form an opinion as to whether this mass extermination of the Jews was necessary or not” (153). This statement would seem to support the fact that he was just doing his job, and that he didn t feel one way or the other about it. He was just doing as he was ordered, right? What my opposition would have failed to tell you is that right before Hoss tells us he wasted no thoughts on this, he says, “The reason behind the order of this mass annihilation seemed correct to me” (153). To me this doesn t sound like a man that had a problem or ethical conflict with what was taking place. This shows me a picture of a man who is doing what he feels is correct, not because he is ordered but because he agrees with what the order is. Hoss states in this book that even his family was second to his work (185). To Hoss the SS, National Socialism and Hitler were like a religion. Hoss says the SS must believe in what they are doing, like Jehovah s witnesses believing in Jehovah (104). The movie Nuremberg showed me some other things to help understand how Hoss thought and acted. In the movie the actor who played Hoss uses a quote that I think Hoss may have actually used. He says to an United States officer, “Does a rat catcher feel it is bad to kill rats” (Nuremberg). I believe this is how Hoss felt about the Jews. He didn t view them as real people, he saw them as something subhuman, closer to a rat than a human being. The last point I am going to use to prove Hoss was a true believer is one that is hard to dispute. Towards the end of the book, Hoss says something that has stuck with me since I first read it. Hoss writes:Today I realize that the extermination of the Jews was wrong, absolutely wrong. It was exactly because of the mass extermination that Germany earned the hatred of the entire world. The cause of anti-Semitism was not served by this act at all, in fact, just the opposite. The Jews have come much closer to their final goal. (183)This was the only time in the book when he says these killings were wrong. But he says that he and the SS were wrong because things didn t work as planned and they got caught, not because they killed millions of Jewish people. If Hoss and the SS would have killed every last Jewish person and gotten away with it, I think he would say it was right, absolutely right.
Hoss, Rudolph. Death Dealer: The Memoirs of an SS Kommandant at Auschwitz. Ed. Steven Paskuly. New York: Du Capo Press, 1996.Milgram, Stanley. “The Perils of Obedience” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Behrens, Laurence, and Rosen, Leonard J. New York: New York, 2000. 336-355.Fromm, Erich. “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Behrens, Laurence, and Rosen, Leonard J. New York: New York, 2000. 377-381.Nuremberg. TBS, Findlay, Ohio. 20 July, 2000.