"Und Sie hatten nie Gewissensbisse?"Die Biographie von Rudolf Hof und die Frage nach seiner Verantwortung vor Gott und den Menschen. By Manfred Deselaers. (Leipzig: Benno Verlag. 1997. Pp. 424. DM 39,-.) The Nazi concentration camp Commandant in the film Schindler's List is portrayed as a sadistic killer who, for amusement, shoots prisoners at random from the front porch of his house with a telescopic rifle. Following the camp's liberation he is shown standing beneath a gallows with a noose around his neck, clutching a rosary. Rudolf H6g, Commandant at Auschwitz, shot no prisoners for amusement. He ended, however, like the colleague portrayed in the film. Ho, the subject of this gripping book by a priest of the Aachen diocese who has lived at Auschwitz since 1990, was responsible for cruelty on a monumental scale. But he was no sadist and was not personally cruel. Examining this paradox is a central theme of Deselaers' work. He begins with a 200-page biography of Hbg, based on the autobiography which he wrote in prison at Krakow before his trial at Warsaw, on the records of the psychiatrist and prosecutor who questioned Hi)if before his execution in the Auschwitz concentration camp on April 16, 1947, and on interviews with Auschwitz survivors. Ho was unique among major Nazi criminals: he denied nothing and took full responsibility for his crimes.
Hog was the product of a Catholic upbringing so strict that it may be said to have substituted fanaticism for love: his father vowed that young Rudolf would become a priest. Deselaers sees a key to Ho's early abandonment of Christian faith, and his later fanatical devotion to the Nazi idols of Volk and Blut, in this lack of love in his formative years. A friend of Bormann and Himmler in the 1920's, HoB joined the SS in 1934 and served at Dachau and Sachsenhausen before being appointed Commandant at Auschwitz in 1940. That the camp's machinery of death functioned so well was due to his organizational ability, hard work, and unremitting pursuit of the ideal imparted to Hof* by his SS training: "I wanted to be notorious for toughness, never soft."
The lengths to which HoB took this toughness may be seen in his account of the execution of a fellow SS-officer at Sachsenhausen shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939. The victim, in his mid-thirties with a wife and three children, had been ordered to arrest a former communist. Because the man had been a friend, he permitted him to take leave of his wife at home. The prisoner escaped. HoB commanded the firing squad at the officer's execution. "Only the day before we had sat in the mess, chatting about the executions we had to carry out. Now it was his turn. It required all the self-discipline I could muster to place my pistol on his temple for the coup de grace, so that the bystanders would not see how upset I was, HoB wrote. His greatest mistake, HoB lamented repeatedly, was not to have found the courage to tell his superiors early on that he was unfit for concentration camp work, and request transfer to military duties.
Hog went underground at war's end, but was arrested in March, 1946, on a farm near Flensburg, on the German-Danish frontier. …