For those who are interested, the first thirty pages of the book can be found here: http://www.schoeningh.de/uploads/tx_..._leseprobe.pdf
The internet tells me that Dr. Hans-Christian Harten (1948-) is 'Professor apl. für Erziehungswissenschaften an der Freien Universität Berlin' (Hans-Christian Harten). He is a senior academic with many publications (see Harten, Hans-Christian 1948- [WorldCat Identities]).
12-06-2014 07:13 AM
Thank you. The man is hardly a beginner and has a fine scholarly record.
Last edited by Friedrich-Berthold; 12-06-2014 at 05:22 PM.
My friendly neighborhood DHL mailman delivered my copy of the book today.
Just judging from the sheer volume, the chapter headings in the contents table and a few random peeks inside, this promises to be a very rewarding read indeed.
Now if only Amazon could sell me some more spare time to go with it. As usual, I'm a bit backed up in the reading department, with two books already on the go (Volker Koop's new biography Rudolf Höß: Der Kommandant von Auschwitz and Bill Bryson's One Summer: America 1927) and an unread stack still to stackle...
Bravo, Andreas. I also saw the Hoess biography, but failed to order it. Happy reading and thanks for all you have done for us. My best to your family, FB
As I mentioned elsewhere, I have just finished Mr. Koop's Höß book and found myself a bit disappointed by it.
While this thread is not about this book, I thought I would still add my thoughts on it here as I hope it might be of interest to some members while it probably warrants no separate thread of its own.
First of all, it is expressly marketed as a biography. However, the more than three decades of Höß' life spent prior to joining the SS are dealt with on a mere 32 pages (or some 10 % of the total page count), out of which ca. 6 pages worth of space is taken by photographs of period documents, leaving some 26 pages of actual text.
Obviously, Höß' time in the SS was in every way the most historically significant, most interesting and best-documented period of his life by far and is thus naturally deserving of getting the most attention. It is also only fair to say that detailed information and documentation on his earlier life are hard to come by (and of course it has to be remembered that he spent more than four years in prison, where nothing much happened anyway) but even considering these aspects, I still think that the 90-to-10 % ratio here is a very lopsided one and not what I would expect from a thorough biography.
However, within these few pages is an interesting claim: All available literature on Höß so far has him joining the army (after faking his birth year) in 1916, serving in Iraq and winning the EK2, the Badische Verdienstmedaille and the Turkish Iron Crescent all in 1917 followed by the EK1 in 1918. The author states that Höß had his new place of residence registered as Friedrichsfeld as of 31 December 1917 and concludes that - for administrative reasons - could not have become a soldier before 1918 and thus that he could not have been bestowed with those decorations, at least not at the dates claimed by him.
Now this would be quite a sensational new discovery, not just of historical interest, but even more so from a psycho-biographical point of view: Had Höß actually faked the duration and nature of his WW1 service to aggrandize himself? Even claimed to have won decorations that he didn't? This would have been a considerable risk, for if it had been found out, it would have ruined his reputation and career and resulted in prosecution. This matter would have been worthy of deeper research, but that's really all there is to be found here.
I also found myself disagreeing with the author's assessment that Höß suffered from feelings of inferiority due to the rank and decorations he attained when compared to other comrades originating from the Freikorps Roßbach and/or the Artamenen movement (a listing including names like Himmler, Darré, Bormann etc. is provided), going on about how his final rank (Obersturmbannführer) and highest decoration (Kriegsverdienstkreuz I. Klasse mit Schwertern) show that he was not held in the highest regard by his superiors.
Before coming to this conclusion, Höß' career should have been put in perspective to the overall SS apparatus, not to those individuals who - for various reasons - made spectactular meteoric rises. Höß only joined the SS in 1933 as an SS-Anwärter. Let's have a look at his promotion dates after that:
- 1 April 1934 - SS-Mann
- 20 April 1934 - SS-Sturmmann
- 20 November 1934 - SS-Unterscharführer (Which made him a JNCO.)
- 1 April 1935 - SS-Scharführer
- 1 July 1935 - SS-Oberscharführer (Which made him an SNCO.)
- 1 March 1936 - SS-Hauptscharführer
- 13 Sept. 1936 - SS-Untersturmführer (Which made him a commissioned officer.)
- 11 Sept. 1938 - SS-Obersturmführer
- 9 Nov. 1938 - SS-Hauptsturmführer
- 30 Jan. 1941 - Sturmbannführer
- 18 July 1942 - SS-Obersturmbannführer
Of course, parallel to his rise through the ranks were appointments to successively higher duty positions.
I dare say that 11 promotions and a rise from Private to Lieutenant Colonel within 9 years is hardly something to complain about by any standard and not indicative of unappreciative superiors.
Granted, this was followed by a period of nearly three years when no more promotions came before the end of the war, but this is hardly surprising, really: The camp system was not the branch of the SS were anybody could realistically hope to rise to the highest ranks or to gain a chestful of medals.
A look in the 1944 Dienstaltersliste der Waffen-SS illustrates this nicely: Section IV ("SS-Führer im K.L.-Dienst") lists only five men (including Höß) who held that rank and only four men who held a higher rank (all Standartenführer, no general officers). Höß had clearly made it to the top of the field in his particular line of work.
The same goes for the decorations: The KVK I was really the most even a "distinguished" camp man or WVHA official could hope for. Awards of the Knight's Cross of the War Merit Cross or of the German Cross in Silver were extremely rare here. (Some top-level bigwigs like Pohl or Glücks got such high-end decorations, of course.)
And then are quite a few factual errors scattered throughout the text. For example:
On page 23, it is mentioned that Höß was awarded the "Kriegsversehrtenkreuz". However, there is no such thing; this should obviously be "Kriegsverdienstkreuz".
On page 164, we are told that when Theodor Eicke was killed all that was ever found of him were "parts of his uniform and his Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords". Well, no, actually: His body was retrieved and buried. (In fact, the official after-action report for the retrieval of the bodies of Eicke and the other two men in his downed plane goes into some detail on the condition of his remains, stating that his face was crushed and that both of his upper thighs were broken. His boots had been taken away during the night, and a search for his decorations initially only turned up his EK1, Golden Party Badge and Silver Wound Badge at the crash site, meaning the Knight's Cross was missing from the body. The decoration was subsequently found at the position of the Soviet anti-aircraft battery that downed Eicke's plane.)
Page 206 tells us that Gerhard Palitzsch started his career in 1933, serving on guard duty in the Oranienburg and Lichtenburg camps "as a member of the SS-Totenkopfdivision". Needless to say, there was no Totenkopfdivision in 1933, and although it was formed form the camp guard regiments in 1939, the division as such was not involved in the guarding of camps.
One could argue that all of these things are not really relevant for the actual subject of the book, but I for one am always bothered by such oversights in rather easily-researched aspects.
On the plus side, a good-sized chunk of the text - some 100 pages - deals with Höß' SS colleagues and his relationships to and opinions of those, and this section of the book makes for fascinating reading indeed. It contains extensive quotes from Höß' own post-war musings on the characters of these men as written down during his imprisonment, all of it intertwined with background information and annotations. Some of Höß' comments appear to be quite honest, some are clearly designed to shift blame, responsibility and guilt away from himself and some are the product of a thoroughly skewed perspective.
The most remarkable - and sickening - aspect of Höß' evaluations is his inflationary used of the word "gutmütig" ("good-natured" or "docile") when referring to his fellow perpetrators, especially the senior ones. Most of them, Höß wants us to believe, were too "good-natured" to improve the conditions in the camps as they were unable to stand up to to corrupt or violent subordinates, ignorant superiors, inflexible bureaucrats or criminal inmates. Millions of people were killed by men who were just too "good-natured" not to. Go figure.
Naturally, the majority of the text deals with Höß' activities at Auschwitz specifically and the history and development of that complex of camps. Nothing wrong with that, but all of this information is available elsewhere.
I certainly have no complaints about the author's writing style. I found it to be precise, clear and lively, making the book well-readable.
All things considered, although it has its flaws, it is by no means a truly bad book.
However, I found it does not really add anything new to our knowledge and understanding of Höß, either.
Last edited by HPL2008; 12-14-2014 at 03:20 PM.
Bravo, Andreas. I must get this one, too. Did Koop find any new sets of sources?
The copy I had in hand in Wien was in the plastic, so I did not look.
Koop writes a lot, to his credit, but I am not sure that he is a man of the archives as
are others of these new authors on the SS, who have worked their way through mountains of material that beggar description.
Obersturmbannfuehrer was a high rank in the SS of the time.
The tone of his memoirs was one of self pity and victimhood as I recall. I have not looked at the original for decades. You are right: he had a good career in the SS, because I can show
you those who never got promoted much at all after 1933 and also those who got lousy assignments. The concentration camps were part of the Waffen SS (....sorry, folks, but this is a fact...)
and while Hoess may have felt marginalized, the picture album that surfaced recently from the year 1944 of his adjutant hardly shows a man more or less down at the mouth.
Central to the ideology of Nazism, as to most violent political radicalism is the cult of victim hood and martyrdom. It is hard to know what constituted a normal career in an organization
that was abnormal in so many of its key features and which only existed for a brief period of time.
So many interesting things to learn now and thank you for the book report.
Your energy is an example to us all here. Let others emulate Andreas' zeal to learn.
A substantial number of individuals, archives and other institutions are listed in the introduction and acknowledgments, but I honestly do not know whether any truly new sets of sources were discovered during the research for the book or which ones those are.