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
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
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
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.