Rudolf Hess

rudolph hess

Rudolf Hess (1894 – 1987) was a prominent Nazi politician and official acting as Adolf Hitler’s Deputy in the Nazi Party during the 1930s and early 1940s. On the eve of war with the Soviet Union, he flew solo to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom, but instead was arrested and held in captivity for the rest of the war. Hess was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to life in prison at Spandau Prison, Berlin, where he died in 1987.

Hess’ 1941 attempt to negotiate peace and subsequent lifelong imprisonment have given rise to many theories about his motivation for flying to Scotland, and conspiracy theories about why he remained imprisoned alone at Spandau, long after all other convicts had been released. Precise and detailed information on many aspects of Hess’ situation either has been withheld in confidential archives in several nations, or has disappeared outright; this has made accurate historical conclusions very problematic.

After hearing Adolf Hitler, a powerful orator, speak for the first time in May 1920 at a Munich rally, Hess became completely devoted to Hitler, and spent much of his time and effort for the next several years organizing for Hitler at the local level in Bavaria. Hess joined the fledgling Nazi Party in 1920 as one of its first members.

Hess introduced a former political science professor of his, Karl Haushofer, to Hitler in the spring of 1921, following a rally at a beerhall. This was a critical and vital development in the eventual Nazi rise to power. Haushofer and Hitler connected immediately on a personal level. Haushofer’s geopolitical theories found a strong convert in Hitler, who utilized this material to form the basis of his own plans for the rebuilding of Germany; Hitler soon began using Haushofer’s material in his speeches, which drew ever-larger audiences and attention. Haushofer would become a close adviser to Hitler, and assume prominence in Germany with Hitler’s rise.

Hess commanded an SA battalion during the Hitler-led Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, which failed. Hess served seven and a half months in Landsberg Prison; Hitler was sentenced to five years in the same prison, but eventually served just nine months. Acting as Hitler’s private secretary in prison, Hess transcribed and partially edited Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf.’ While in prison, Hitler and Hess were frequently visited and tutored by Karl Haushofer. Hess also introduced Hitler at early Nazi Party rallies.

Eventually, Hess became the third-most powerful man in Germany, behind Hitler and Hermann Göring. Soon after Hitler assumed dictatorial powers, beginning in early 1933, Hess was named ‘Deputy to the Fuhrer.’ Hess had a privileged position as Hitler’s deputy in the early years of the Nazi movement and in the early years of the Third Reich. For instance, he had the power to take ‘merciless action’ against any defendant who he thought got off too lightly — especially in cases of those found guilty of attacking the party, Hitler or the state. Hess also played a prominent part in the creation of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. Hitler biographer John Toland described Hess’ political insight and abilities as somewhat limited.

Hess had extensive dealings with senior leaders of major European nations during the 1930s. His education, family man image, high office, and calm, forthright manner all served to make him the more respectful and respectable representative of the often otherwise crude and vulgar Nazis. Compared with other Nazi leaders, Hess had a good reputation among foreign leaders.

Within Germany, Hess was somewhat marginalized as the 1930s progressed, as foreign policy took greater prominence. His alienation increased during the early years of the war, as attention and glory were focused on military leaders, along with Göring, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler. Though Hess worshipped Hitler more than the others, he was not nakedly ambitious and did not crave power in the same manner they did. However, Hess held as much power as the other Nazi leaders. He controlled who could get an audience with the Fuhrer, as well as passing and vetoing proposed bills, and managing party activities. Hitler appointed Hess as ‘Minister Without Portfolio.’

On September 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland and launched World War II, Hitler announced that should anything happen to both him and Göring, Hess would be next in the line of succession. Like Goebbels, Hess was privately distressed by the war with the United Kingdom because he, influenced by his academic advisor, hoped that Britain would accept Germany as an ally. Hess may have hoped to score a diplomatic victory by sealing a peace between the Third Reich and Britain.

On May 10, 1941, at about 6:00 P.M., Hess took off from Augsburg in a Messerschmitt Bf 110, and Hitler ordered the General of the Fighter Arm to stop him (squadron leaders were ordered to scramble only one or two fighters, since Hess’ particular aircraft could not be distinguished from others). Hess parachuted over Scotland and landed (breaking his ankle) at Floors Farm near Eaglesham. In a newsreel clip, farmhand David McLean claims to have arrested Hess with his pitchfork.

It appears that Hess believed the Duke of Hamilton to be an opponent of Winston Churchill, whom he held responsible for the outbreak of the war. Churchill sent Hess initially to the Tower of London, making Hess the last, in the long line of prominent political prisoners, to be held in the 900 year-old fortress. Churchill gave orders that Hess was to be strictly isolated, but treated with dignity. He remained there for ten days.

He was transferred to Mytchett Place near Aldershot. He was kept in a tower room at the rear of the house. The house was fitted with microphones and sound recording equipment. Frank Foley and two other MI6 officers were given the job of debriefing Hess. Churchill’s instructions were that Hess should be strictly isolated, and that every effort should be taken to get any information out of him that might be useful.

Hess became increasingly agitated as his conviction grew that he would be murdered. Mealtimes were difficult, since Hess suspected that his food might be poisoned, and the MI6 officers had to exchange their food with his to reassure him. Gradually, their conviction grew that Hess was insane.

On October 15 he made his first suicide attempt by throwing himself over the rail of the first floor balcony, but he only broke his leg. Hess was interviewed by psychiatrist who concluded that he was not insane, but certainly mentally ill and suffering from depression — probably due to the failure of his mission. Hess’ diaries from his imprisonment in Britain after 1941 make many references to visits from the pyschiatrist, whom he did not like and accused of poisoning him and ‘mesmerizing’ him.

Taken by surprise, Hitler had Hess’ staff arrested. Questioning revealed that Hess was not motivated by disloyalty, but had simply cracked under the strain of the war. The official statement from the German government said that Hess had fallen victim to hallucinations brought on by old injuries from the previous war.

Hess was detained by the British for the remainder of the war. He then became a defendant at the Nuremberg Trials of the International Military Tribunal, where, in 1946, he was found guilty on two of four counts: crimes against peace (planning and preparation of aggressive war) and conspiracy with other German leaders to commit crimes. He was found not guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity. He was given a life sentence.

Hess was considered to be the most mentally unstable of all the defendants. He would be seen talking to himself in court, counting on his fingers, laughing for no obvious reason. Such behavior was a source of great annoyance to Göring, who made clear his desire to be seated apart from him. The request was denied.

In the early 1970s, the U.S., British and French governments had approached the Soviet government to propose that Hess be released on humanitarian grounds due to his age. The Soviet official response was apparently to reject these attempts and reportedly ‘refused to consider any reduction in Hess’ life sentence.’ U.S. President Richard Nixon was in favor of releasing Hess and stated that the U.S., Britain and France should continue to entreat the Soviet Union for his release.

The restrictions of communication in prison for Hess were quite harsh. He was never allowed to discuss anything related to the period of World War II nor the Nazi regime, and his letters and all communication were subject to censorship, which was common practice. He was allowed to write one letter per week of up to 1200 words, which he did every week. Such a regime and circumstances contributed to conspiracy theories, related to the secrecy of British files (not to be revealed until 2017), and possible revelations about his mission damaging to the British. At age 93, Hess hung himself in Spandau Prison in 1987. He was the last surviving member of Hitler’s cabinet.

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