As depicted in The Zone of Interest, Rudolf Höss was the infamous commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp. The film, directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Christian Friedel as Rudolf Höss, explores the unsettling contrast between Höss’ family life and the unspeakable atrocities he oversaw during the Holocaust. However, the movie leaves the fate of Rudolf Höss ambiguous, prompting curiosity about what happened to him after the events portrayed in The Zone of Interest.
The film follows Höss and his wife Hedwig, played by Sandra Hüller, attempting to lead a seemingly ordinary life alongside the horrors of the Holocaust. The luxurious house they inhabit on the edge of Auschwitz becomes a symbol of their complicity, as they navigate the challenges of family life while Höss continues his role as the commandant. The movie raises questions about the banality of evil and the capacity of individuals to justify heinous acts in certain circumstances.
The real Rudolf Höss, much like his portrayal in the movie, was a central figure in the Holocaust. His proficiency in managing Auschwitz led to his recognition by Nazi high command, ultimately resulting in Operation Höss, a plan to transport hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz for execution. This gruesome task allowed Höss to return to the camp and his family while overseeing the mass murder of innocent lives.
The Zone of Interest concludes with Höss mysteriously disappearing down a darkened stairwell after attending a party. Symbolic of his descent into a moral abyss, the movie does not explicitly reveal what happened to him after World War II ended. In reality, Adolf Himmler advised Höss to go into hiding, leading him to change his name to Franz Lang. For nearly a year, Höss and his family evaded detection, with him working as a gardener.
Höss’s hidden identity was eventually uncovered in 1946 by Hanns Alexander, a German Jew turned Nazi hunter working for the British government. Despite initial denials, Höss’s true identity was confirmed through his wedding ring, bearing his name. Hanns Alexander, along with mostly Jewish soldiers, apprehended Höss, who stood trial at Nuremberg in 1946.
Unlike some of his fellow Nazis, Höss was relatively forthcoming about the extent of his crimes. He admitted to commanding Auschwitz, estimating that around 3 million people were executed and exterminated there. The victims included Jews, Russian prisoners of war, and citizens from various countries. Höss was charged with murder, sentenced to death by hanging, and executed on April 16, 1947, at Auschwitz at the request of surviving former prisoners.
The Zone of Interest’s ending, with Höss disappearing into darkness, serves as a powerful metaphor for the moral abyss he descended into. However, the real Rudolf Höss faced a more concrete and grim fate, marked by a trial that exposed the horrific scale of his crimes and ended with his execution for his role in one of the greatest crimes against humanity in history.