The ‘kindly’ Auschwitz commander who sent youngsters to gas chambers then
went home to play hide and seek with his children
Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz Concentration camp, (pictured here at his war crimes trial) was kind to animals and to his children according to a new book
By day he ordered the deaths of thousands of people – but at home he was a loving father and husband who enjoyed playing games with his children.
These are the two faces of Rudolf Hoess, the ruthless commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II as remembered by the Polish maid who once worked in his family’s house.
Her memories of life in the Hoess home are revealed in a new book which has given a chilling insight into the family lives of Nazi officers at the infamous prison camp whose day jobs involved mass murder.
‘The Private Life of the SS in Auschwitz’ by historian Piotr Setkiewicz attempts to give a human face to inhumane people in those hours when they were off duty in one of the world’s most horrific places.
The testimony about the killers is unique because it comes from the Polish maids assigned to keep their houses and witnessed at first hand their interaction with their families on a day to day basis.
Hoess, who was hanged after the war at Auschwitz by the Polish authorities for overseeing the extermination of at least 1.2 million people and the enslavement of at least that number, was obsessively kind to animals and his five children.
He would have no moral qualms about ordering the gassing of child inmates of his camp, but in his garden he would play hide-and-seek with his five children and recited poetry to them.
The book contains the memories of Polish maids who once served the SS officers at Auschwitz. Here Hoess (center) socializes with (left) Dr Josef Mengele and (right) Josef Kramer (Commandant of Birkenau concentration camp)
Enjoying a cigarette, Hoess does not display a hint of guilt or concern, despite regularly sending thousands to their death
Maid Janina Szczurek, 32, said; ‘He tucked his children into bed every night and he kissed his wife each morning. He wrote poems about the ‘beauty of Auschwitz.’
‘On one occasion, the children came to me and asked me to sew bands with signs for them, just like the ones worn by the prisoners. I was not aware of what the consequences would be from this.
‘Klaus put a ‘capo [trusty]’ band on his sleeve, and the other children had the colored triangle sewn to their clothing.
‘The happy children, running around the garden, met their father, who noticed the signs and took them into the house. I don’t know what happened but he was not pleased.’
Included among the stories are those of Hoess’s deputy Karl Fritsch and Gerhard Palitzsch who personally killed hundreds of prisoners at the Wall of Death – the execution site where inmates were murdered.
The main gate of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, which was liberated by the Russians, in January 1945. The sign over the gate reads: ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work Sets You Free)
Gerhard Palitzsch (right) carried out executions of prisoners by shooting them against a wall in Auschwitz. The book reveals that his wife had numerous affairs
The wife and children of Auschwitz SS-Unterschafuhrer (junior leader) Ernst Scholz. The new book gives an insight into the family lives of those whose day jobs was to assist in mass murder
Palitzsch illustrates perfectly the duality of the lives of the SS at Auschwitz.
At the wall of death he beat prisoners and tormented them before they were killed – while off duty, he was obsessed with being a ‘good father’ to his children and made them tea and bread.
A portrait of him was supplied by Helena Klysowa, his 19-year-old Polish maid, who testifed to authorities after the war that the Palitzch family ‘lived quietly and they loved each other. They didn’t receive guests, they didn’t organize drinking parties.
‘I arrived each day at 8.00 am. I looked after the children. I would go on walks with the girl. When Palitzsch was at home, I could not speak to the prisoners who worked in the house or garden.
‘The prisoners themselves warned me against this. They were afraid that he would write down their number and they would die in the camp.
Dr Horst Fischer (right) with his wife. He was one of the SS doctors responsible for deciding which Jews would live or die when they arrived at Birkenau. After the war he was tried and executed
The book casts new light on the ordinary lives of SS officers who worked at Auschwitz, including their relationships with their wives and children
The book’s author said he wanted to examine the lives of the prison camp staff in an ‘unemotional way.’ Here, an SS officer plays with his pet dog
‘I spoke to them anyway and found that the terror of the camp was Palitzsch. I could not believe it. At home, he was a wonderful man, so kind and loving to his children who he gave tea and bread to. He loved his children madly.’
Palitzsch died in 1944 after being transferred to the Russian front.
SS officer Wolfgang Guessgen, who took turns at ‘the ramp’ selecting those Jews who were to be gassed upon arrival and those who were to be allowed to live as slave laborers, was a cuckolded man whose wife cheated on him at every turn according to the book. He rewarded her with beatings.
Danuta Rzempiel, who was 16 when she worked at his home on the camp periphery, said; ‘Mrs. Guessgen was not a faithful wife.
‘When he went away somewhere,various SS men would appear at the house, or a trusty prisoner from the locksmith shop who won her favor.
‘She was not embarrassed by my presence at all and would lead her guests straight to her bedroom.
‘It would happen that Guessgen, upon returning home, would find one of these guests. Then he would order me to go do the laundry or to the basement, and when I returned, the guest would not be in the house.
‘Mrs Guessgen was often covered in bruises, so I guessed that it was Mr Guessgen.
‘This didn’t seen to dissuade her, and she exploited every opportunity. It got to the point that Guessgen shot a certain SS man, and as punishment, he was transferred to Oranienburg, and shortly after from there to the front.’
Other stories feature the domestic lives of doctors who carried out selection processes of Jews and who performed horrific experiments, as well as the day-to-day lives of camp guards and lower SS ranks.
‘The purpose of the book is to try and show the lives of SS men objectively,’ Mr Setkiewicz told local media.
‘Their image has forever been written in dark colours and in the pursuit of objective truth I wanted to view the subject unemotionally,’ he said.
Moments before Hoess is executed for his crimes, in Auschwitz – where he once had the power of life and death over thousands of prisoners
Attribution: Allan Hall, Berlin