"Und Sie hatten nie Gewissensbisse?" Die Biographie von Rudolf Höß und die Frage nach seiner Verantwortung vor Gott und den Menschenby Manfred Deselaers (review)
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 85, Number 1, January 1999
- pp. 97-99
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BOOK REVIEWS97 Fandel's main arguments are convincing precisely in their subtlety. Catholic and Protestant clergy had a very different relationship to National Socialism already before 1933, he tells us, to a large extent because of their political traditions . For priests, the Nazi party posed a direct threat to the Catholic parties: the Zentrum and the Bayerische Volkspartei. For Protestants, the Nazis represented hope for an ecclesiastical and social renewal that would include curtailing Catholic power. From those points of departure the two churches' clergies diverged and converged around issues such as confessional versus integrated schools, intermarriage, police surveillance, and Nazism as a worldview. If the Protestant clergy played a more obvious legitimizing role for the regime (p. 488), their Catholic counterparts too could hardly be classified as resistors (p. 402). Their concern was above all to preserve the autonomy of the church; although many priests suffered disadvantage and violence for their rejection of the total demands of National Socialism—56.7% of those in the Palatinate by Fandel's estimation (p. 405)—they remained largely silent on the broader abuses of the regime, in particular its attacks on the Jews. In sum, Fandel's is a sobering account of accommodation, illusion, opportunism, professional politics , denunciation, and compromise. It is small comfort that Protestant pastors come off even worse in this even-handed treatment. Perhaps more consolation, but also a challenge, emerges from those few examples Fandel so sensitively presents of decency and courage. Doris L. Bergen University ofNotre Dame "Und Sie hatten nie Gewissensbisse?"Die Biographie von RudolfHöß 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 Schindlern Listis 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 Höß, Commandant at Auschwitz, shot no prisoners for amusement. He ended, however, like the colleague portrayed in the film. Höß, 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 Höß, 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 Höß before his execution in the Auschwitz concentration camp on April 16, 1947, and on interviews with Auschwitz survivors. Höß was unique among major Nazi criminals: he denied nothing and took full responsibility for his crimes. 98BOOK REVIEWS Höß 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 Höß'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, Höß 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 Höß by his SS training: "I wanted to be notorious for toughness, never soft." The lengths to which Höß took this toughness may be seen in his account of die 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 . Höß commanded the firing squad at the officer's execution. "Only the day before we...