Capturing The Butcher of Auschwitz

Auschwitz Kommandant Rudolf Höss, known as the Butcher of Auschwitz, is more or less synonymous with the word “Holocaust,” having played a hand in the deaths of close to a third as many people as died in the tragedy overall. His capture was integral to the pursuit of justice by the British War Crimes Investigation Team in 1946, and Lieutenant Hanns Alexander was but one of many Jewish men from the Pioneer Corps involved in his detention.

The soldiers who descended upon Höss’s hiding place in Gottrupel that night had more than just a job at stake; they were anxious for vengeance. Auschwitz was the home of one of the most malicious concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and the Butcher had annihilated friends and loved ones of many Jews from Germany who took part in his capture. Seizure of the Butcher of Auschwitz was so important that a doctor was brought to his hiding place—a barn near the border of Denmark—to ensure that he had not armed himself with any cyanide capsules to take his own life.

While he did not attempt to take his own life upon search and seizure, it was immediately clear to his arresting officers that the Butcher of Auschwitz was not a man who faced his charges head-on. When asked for identification, he attempted to pass himself off as a man named Fritz Lang, whose name was tacked to the side of the barn door. Unfortunately, his captors had studied his face thoroughly. Even though emaciated and aged, they had no doubt about who he was. Once his identity was confirmed by the engravings on his wedding ring, the Butcher’s fate was sealed. He nearly did not leave the barn alive, as the troops had brought along several axe handles for his inevitable moment of capture. He was de-robed and severely bludgeoned for nearly ten minutes before he was loaded for transportation back to base.

His transit was, surprisingly, not as speedy as one may expect. The troops stopped at a local tavern to revel in a job well done, but not before Lieutenant Alexander thoroughly questioned his detainee. In this way, they discovered that not only had the Butcher of Auschwitz been responsible for nearly two million deaths, but he had played a far more direct hand in about 10,000 of them, the National Post reports.

Once their revelry at the bar had finished, Alexander marched a nude and frostbitten Höss to the nearest local jail, where he was interrogated more exhaustively after forced consumption of liquor. While this may have been deemed excessively cruel by today’s standards, it resulted in a great accomplishment. Not only did Rudolf Hösssign a lengthy confession, revealing all he did as Kommandant of Auschwitz, but this marked a singular moment in the aftermath of World War II, for not ever before had a commanding officer of the Nazi internment camps revealed fully their plans for the human race.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE