The Com­man­dant

Rudolph Hoess; Jurg Amann, ed.; Ian Buru­ma aftwd.
  • Review
By – February 23, 2012

As the com­man­dant of Auschwitz Rudolph Hoess per­fect­ed and over­saw the gas cham­bers where an esti­mat­ed one mil­lion peo­ple were exter­mi­nat­ed. Jurg Amann, a dis­tin­guished author and play­wright, has care­ful­ly syn­the­sized Hoess’s orig­i­nal mem­oir into a high­ly read­able mono­logue. This work is of great sig­nif­i­cance because it pro­vides invalu­able insights regard­ing the inner world of some­one capa­ble of mon­strous evil car­ried out under a veneer of duty, loy­al­ty, and wor­ship of an ide­al. In this work Amann, unin­ten­tion­al­ly, fur­ther demol­ish­es Han­nah Arendt’s psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly naive view that Hoess, Eich­mann, and oth­er bureau­crat­ic func­tionar­ies of the Nazi geno­ci­dal regime can be viewed as ordi­nary or banal.

There is noth­ing remote­ly banal in Hoess’s chill­ing self –rev­e­la­tion. Amann, via his edi­to­r­i­al crafts­man­ship, is able to cap­ture an utter­ly soul­less indi­vid­ual whose respect for life and capac­i­ty for authen­tic love were destroyed at a very ear­ly age. What is left is a shell of a human being who ded­i­cates him­self to an unswerv­ing com­mit­ment to a Ger­man­ic mil­i­tary ide­al. This fanat­ic devo­tion is sub­sumed into a rev­er­ence for Hitler and the SS ide­ol­o­gy which enables Hoess to view each of his killing assign­ments as if they were del­e­gat­ed tasks in a large cor­po­ra­tion . His mind is obsessed with notions of effi­cien­cy, speed, and order. His con­fla­tion of run­ning an anni­hi­la­tion cen­ter as if he were the CEO of a large meat pro­cess­ing plant under­scores an unfath­omable degree of psy­chopathol­o­gy.

There is no ques­tion­ing of the Final Solu­tion save for a few com­ments to the effect that if Hoess were in charge he would have cho­sen a dif­fer­ent approach to the Jew­ish prob­lem.” The geno­cide of the Jews, he wrote, was wrong because the cause of anti-Semi­tism was not served by this act at all, in fact, just the oppo­site. The Jews have come much clos­er to their final goal.”

Jurg Amann has done a great ser­vice by mak­ing Hoess’s mem­oir avail­able to stu­dents of the Holo­caust but, most impor­tant­ly, to the young of the cur­rent and future gen­er­a­tions. The Com­man­dant is a must read for all social sci­en­tists and clin­i­cians seek­ing a graph­ic and com­pelling self por­trait of the evo­lu­tion of ide­o­log­i­cal and bureau­crat­ic sociopa­thy. After­word, editor’s note. 

Steven A. Luel, Ph.D., is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion and psy­chol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege, New York. He is a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst in pri­vate prac­tice. He is co-edi­tor (with Paul Mar­cus) of Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Reflec­tions on the Holo­caust: Select­ed Essays.

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