In the summer of 1941, I cannot remember the exact date, I was suddenly summoned to the Reichsfuhrer SS,* directly by his adjutant's office. Contrary to his usual custom, Himmler received me without his adjutant being present and said in effect:
"The Fuhrer has ordered that the Jewish question be solved once and for all and that we, the SS, are to implement that order.
The existing extermination centers in the East are not in a position to carry out the large Aktionen which are anticipated. I have therefore earmarked Auschwitz for this purpose, both because of its good position as regards communications and because the are can easily be isolated and camouflaged. At first I thought of calling in a senior SS officer for this job, but I changed my mind in order to avoid difficulties concerning the terms of reference. 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 learn further details from Sturmbannfuhrer Eichmann of the Reich Security Main Office who will call on you in the immediate future.
The departments concerned will be notified by me in due course. You will treat this order as absolutely secret, even from your superiors. After you talk with Eichmann you will immediately forward to me the plans for the projected installations.
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. If we cannot now obliterate the biological basis of Jewry, the Jews will one day destroy the German people."
On receiving these grave instructions, I returned forthwith to Auschwitz, without reporting to my superior at Oranienburg.
Shortly afterwards Eichmann came to Auschwitz and disclosed to me the plans for the operations as they affected the various countries concerned. I cannot remember the exact order in which they were to take place. First was to come the eastern part of Upper Silesia and the neighboring parts of Polish territory under German rule, then, depending on the situation, simultaneously Jews from Germany and Czechoslovakia, and finally the Jews from the West: France, Belgium and Holland. He also told me the approximate number of transports that might be expected, but I can no longer remember these.
We discussed the ways and means of effecting the extermination. This could only be done by gassing, since it would have been absolutely impossible to dispose by shooting of the large numbers of people that were expected, and it would have placed too heavy a burden on the SS men who had to carry it out, especially because of the women and children among the victims.
Eichmann told me about the method of killing people with exhaust gases in lorries, which had previously been used in the East. But there was no question of being able to use this for the mass transports that were due to arrive in Auschwitz. Killing with showers of carbon monoxide while bathing, as was done with mental patients in some places in the Reich, would necessitate too many buildings and it was also very doubtful whether the supply of gas which was in ready supply and which would not entail special installations for its use, and to inform me when he had done so. We inspected the area in order to choose a like spot. We decided that a peasant farmstead situated in the north-west corner of what later became the third building sector at Birkenau would be the most suitable. It was isolated and screened by woods and hedges, and it was also not far from the railway. The bodies could be placed in long, deep pits dug in the nearby meadows. We had not at that time thought of burning the corpses. We calculated that after gas-proofing the premises then available, it would be possible to kill about 800 people simultaneously with a suitable gas. These figures were borne out later in practice.
Eichmann could not then give me the starting date for the operation because everything was still in the preliminary stages and the Reichsfuhrer SS had not yet issued the necessary orders.
Eichmann returned to Berlin to report our conversation to the Reichsfuhrer SS.
A few days later I sent to the Reichsfuhrer SS by courier a detailed location plan and description of the installation. I have never received an acknowledgement or a decision on my report. Eichmann told me later that the Reichsfuhrer SS was in agreement with my proposals...
Extract from written evidence of Rudolf Höss in Rudolf. Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz – The Autobiography of Rudolf Höss, London, 1961, pp. 206-208.
Sources: Yad Vashem