Architect of Death at Auschwitz

A Biography of Rudolf Höss

Non-Fiction - Biography
251 Pages
Reviewed on 08/20/2020
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Author Biography

I am a retired United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio. In addition to Architect of Death at Auschwitz: A Biography of Rudolf Höss, I authored The Appomattox Generals, The Parallel Lives of Joshua L. Chamberlain, USA, and John B. Gordon, CSA, Commanders at the Surrender Ceremony of April 12, 1865. For 30 years, I have been a volunteer with Camp Discovery, a summer camp in South Texas for children with cancer. I am also the President of the non-profit corporation that operates Camp Discovery and other camps for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite

While awaiting trial in Poland between 1946-47, Rudolf Höss, the man referred to as the greatest mass murderer in history, wrote his memoirs. Höss systemically executed 1.1 million men, women, and children with a chilling lack of empathy or culpability. As the prisoners entered the camp, only 20%-30% of them would survive the first day. Throughout his account of the atrocities, Höss denied any involvement in the mistreatment of prisoners, simply stating he was following orders regarding Hitler's Final Solution. Architect of Death at Auschwitz by John W Primomo is a detailed analysis of Höss's journals as well as accounts from Auschwitz survivors. How did a young boy who was destined to enter the priesthood become the head of all the Nazi death camps and develop such a warped mentality regarding human life? Discover what instigated Hitler's hatred of the Jewish people and where the infamous sign on the entrance of Auschwitz, 'Arbeit Macht Frei,' derives from.

The content of this well-written book is extremely disturbing but absolutely compelling. The accounts from the survivors of the concentration camps regarding the treatment and torture will stay with me always. The book is extremely well researched and includes details about the prisoners' degradation, torture, and humiliation that I was unaware of. The accounts of the standing cells, dusting out the cells, and roll calls were particularly horrendous. Höss's attempt to exonerate himself and paint himself as an innocent bystander was astounding. Architect of Death at Auschwitz by John W Primomo is an excellent in-depth look at how humanity can turn on one another to survive; the behavior of the Sonderkommandos is a perfect example of this. Höss's narcissist attitude left me speechless throughout; his pride in deceiving those as they entered the gas chamber, his belief he was just following orders, and the lack of empathy for anyone but himself. This analysis of Höss from childhood to execution is a superb, non-biased factual account that dissects Höss's memoir and highlights the inconsistencies such as his belief that he was powerless to stop the atrocities. Joseph Stalin regarding the mass murder once said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

Patricia Reding

The war criminal Rudolf Hoss is the subject of John W. Primomo’s Architect of Death at Auschwitz: A Biography of Rudolf Hoss. Primomo opens with a brief identification of Hoss as the greatest mass murderer in history, having served as commandant of Auschwitz where more than a million people were put to death. First comes an overview of how Hoss tried to escape after WWII ended, of Lt. Howard Hervey Alexander’s part in his capture after monitoring Hoss’s wife and children, an account of how Hoss was finally found, and finally, of Hoss’s emotionless confession. Primomo then discusses in more detail, Hoss’s early years with his parents and how he left home at a young age to serve in WWI, how he met Hedwig Hensel (whom he later married) while he was in the Artaman League, and of his eventual membership in the SS. Thereafter comes a thorough history of Hoss’s part in the ultimate design and use of the Auschwitz camp.

Having read numerous biographies and histories of the Nazi era and the key players of that time, I was particularly interested in the information that John W. Primomo gave of the personal details of Hoss’s life. I appreciated the details Primomo shared of Hoss’s membership in the Freikorps and of how so many of its members later joined the Nazi party, of Hoss’s relationship with his parents and the church, and of Hoss’s connection to the Artaman League. All this led to Hoss’s part in growing Auschwitz into such an integral part in the Nazis schemes, his encouraging barbarism in the camp, and his putting into action the torture, mass murder, and seizure of property at Auschwitz during the day, after which he returned home each night, emotionless, to his family. Primomo has indeed given a thorough account of Hoss and his actions. In the end, I’m left with a single question. It is one Primomo did not, because he could not, answer, although he has certainly done as complete a job as possible toward that end. The question that haunts me (and I’m sure many others) is “Why?”

Tammy Ruggles

Architect of Death at Auschwitz: A Biography of Rudolf Höss by John W Primomo is the gripping life story of a mass murderer. This man was an infamous Auschwitz commandant who orchestrated atrocities during the Holocaust--the killing of over 1,000,000 people, causing many thousands of Jews and Poles to die in the gas chambers, using the gas Zyklon B. Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoss didn't begin life as a killer, but his empty, strict childhood as a loner perhaps helped shape the man he would become. Primomo relies on accurate historical records, survivor accounts, and Hoss's own autobiography to tell this story. What is remarkable, at least from a historical standpoint, is that Hoss is one of the few Nazi war criminals to admit his crimes and stand trial at Nurenberg. He recounts his role and duties with cold detachment, and, although he admits his crimes, he blames most of his torturous actions on his inferiors, as well as Hitler, Himmler, and the Nazi war system.

There have been many books written about the Holocaust, and about the Nazis that perpetrated the extermination of so many men, women, and children but none from a commandant. Primomo uses passages from Hoss's own autobiography and reveals someone who chose to use his power and intellect against his fellow man. "I was just following orders" or "I was just a cog" aren't enough to excuse him. Try as we might, we can only attempt to understand the cruelty that lies in the hearts of those who cross the line into murder. It's easier to call them monsters, but they are real men. Hoss was a real man who killed without remorse. Primomo has done a brilliant job of showing us what a human monster looks like, and reminds us that it could happen again under the right circumstances. Another fascinating point to mention is that toward the end, Hoss asked the Polish people to forgive him, but he never apologized. The author shows us a well-balanced, objective analysis of the facts as he has studied them--excellent research on his part. Fans of true crime and criminal profiling can appreciate this book. Architect of Death at Auschwitz: A Biography of Rudolf Höss by John W Primomo should be on the reading lists of schools, libraries, and book clubs everywhere.