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Rudolf Walter Richard Hess (written Heß in Germany) (26 April 1894 – 17 August 1987) was a prominent figure in Nazi Germany, acting as Adolf Hitler's Deputy in the Nazi Party. On the eve of war with the Soviet Unionmarker, he flew solo to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom, but instead was arrested. He was tried at Nurembergmarker and sentenced to life in prison at Spandau Prisonmarker, Berlin, where he died in 1987.

Hess' 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. On 27 September and 28 September 2007, numerous British news services published descriptions of conflict between his Western and Sovietmarker captors over his treatment and how the Soviet captors were steadfast in denying repeated entreaties for his release on humanitarian grounds during his last years.

Hess has become a figure of veneration among neo-Nazis. His son Wolf Rüdiger Hess became a prominent rightist and claimed that his father was murdered.


Early life

Hess was born in Alexandriamarker, Egyptmarker, the eldest of four children, to Fritz H. Hess, a German Lutheran importer/exporter from Bavariamarker and Klara Münch. His mother was of Greek descent, of the Georgiadis family of Alexandria. The family moved to Germany in 1908, where Rudolf was subsequently enrolled in boarding school. Although he expressed interest in being an astronomer, his father convinced him to study business in Switzerland. At the onset of World War I he enlisted in the 7th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment, became an infantryman, and was awarded the Iron Cross, second class. After numerous injuries, including a chest wound severe enough that he was not allowed to return to the front as an infantryman, he transferred to the Imperial Air Corps (after being rejected once). He then took aeronautical training and served in an operational squadron, Jasta 35b (Bavarian), with the rank of lieutenant, from 16 October, 1918. He had no victories.

On 20 December 1927 Hess married 27-year-old Ilse Pröhl (22 June 1900–7 September 1995) from Hannovermarker. Together they had a son, Wolf Rüdiger Hess (18 November 1937 - 24 October 2001).

Hitler's deputy

After the war Hess went to Munichmarker and joined the Freikorps and Eiserne Faust (Iron Fist). He also joined the Thule Society, a völkisch occult-mystical organization. Hess enrolled in the University of Munichmarker where he studied political science, history, economics, and geopolitics under Professor Karl Haushofer. After hearing Hitler speak in May 1920, he became completely devoted to him. For commanding an SAmarker battalion during the Beer Hall Putschmarker, Hess served seven-and-a-half months in Landsberg Prisonmarker. Acting as Hitler's private secretary, he transcribed and partially edited Hitler's book Mein Kampf. He also introduced Hitler at party rallies. Eventually, Hess became the third-most powerful man in Germany, behind Hitler and Hermann Göring.

Soon after Hitler assumed dictatorial powers, 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 whom 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's political insight and abilities as somewhat limited.

Hess was increasingly marginalized throughout the 1930s 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. Hess worshipped Hitler more than did Göring, Goebbels and Himmler, but he was not nakedly ambitious and did not crave power in the same manner the others did.

On 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

Hess had a strong interest in astrology and the occult. He had a deep interest in herbal medicine and homeopathic medicine, as well as organic gardening and biodynamic agriculture. Hess was a vegetarian. Hess strongly advocated animal welfare. He oversaw recycling programs and was an ardent conservationist. Hess ordered a mapping of all the ley lines in the Third Reich.

Flight to Scotland

The wreckage of Hess's Bf 110
Like Goebbels, Hess was privately distressed by the war with the United Kingdom because he, like almost all other Nazis, 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, e.g., by implementing the behind-the-scenes move of the Haushofers in Nazi Germany to contact the Duke of Hamilton in Scotland, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton.

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

It appears that Hess believed Douglas Douglas-Hamilton to be an opponent of Winston Churchill, whom he held responsible for the outbreak of the war. His proposal of peace included returning all the western European countries conquered by Germany to their own national governments, but German police would remain in position. Germany would also pay back the cost of rebuilding these countries. In return, Britain would have to support the war against the Soviet Unionmarker.

After being held in the Maryhillmarker army barracks, he was transferred to Mytchett Place near Aldershotmarker. The house was fitted with microphones and sound recording equipment. Frank Foley and two other MI6 officers were given the job of debriefing Hess — or "Jonathan", as he was now known. 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.

Hess was interviewed by psychiatrist John Rawlings Rees who had worked at the Tavistock Clinic prior to becoming a Brigadier in the Army. Rees concluded that he was not insane, but certainly mentally ill and suffering from depression — probably due to the failure of his mission. Hess's diaries from his imprisonment in Britain after 1941 make many references to visits from Rees, whom he did not like and accused of poisoning him and "mesmerizing" him. Rees took part in the Nuremberg Trialsmarker of 1945.

Taken by surprise, Hitler had Hess's 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.

Hitler also stripped Hess of all of his party and state offices, and privately ordered him shot on sight if he ever returned to Germany. However, Hitler did grant Hess's wife a pension. Martin Bormann succeeded Hess as deputy under a newly-created title.

Trial and imprisonment

Hess in his cell at the Nuremberg prison while on trial.
Hess was detained by the British for the remainder of the war, for most of the time at Maindiff Court Military Hospital in Abergavennymarker, Wales, where he would often be taken to the White Castle on Offa's Dyke Path. It was rumoured that he was befriended by the local populace. He was also held just outside Lostwithiel in Cornwall for six months, in a large property aptly named 'Castle'. He then became a defendant at the Nuremberg Trialsmarker 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.

Some of his last words before the tribunal were, "I do not regret anything." For decades he was addressed only as prisoner number seven. Throughout the investigations prior to trial Hess claimed amnesia, insisting that he had no memory of his role in the Nazi Party. He went on to pretend not to recognise even Hermann Göring — who was as convinced as the psychiatric team that Hess had lost his mind. Hess then addressed the court, several weeks into hearing evidence, to announce that his memory had returned — thereby destroying his defence of diminished responsibility. He later confessed to having enjoyed pulling the wool over the eyes of the investigative psychiatric team.

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 behaviour was a source of great annoyance to Göring, who made clear his desire to be seated apart from him. The request was denied.

Following the release in 1966 of Baldur von Schirach and Albert Speer, Hess was the sole remaining inmate of Spandau Prisonmarker, partly at the insistence of the Soviets. Guards reportedly said he degenerated mentally and lost most of his memory. For two decades, his main companion was warden Eugene K. Bird, with whom he formed a close friendship. Bird wrote a 1974 book titled The Loneliest Man in the World: The Inside Story of the 30-Year Imprisonment of Rudolf Hess about his relationship with Hess.

Frank Keller who was a former guard at Spandau prison said that "Hess would march by himself in the jail courtyard every day". Keller also said that Hess would march in the classic Nazi heel-to-toe style.

Many historians and legal commentators have expressed opinions that his long imprisonment was an injustice. In his book, The Second World War Part III, Winston Churchill wrote,

The Hess flight raised suspicions with Josef Stalin, leader of the USSR, that secret discussions were under way between Great Britain and Germany to attack the Soviet Union. Later, in a meeting with Stalin, Churchill would address the topic and find Stalin still believed secret agreements were discussed with Hess. "When I make a statement of facts within my knowledge I expect it to be accepted," Churchill responded to Stalin, again denying that the incident resulted in any communications with Nazi Germany.

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's life sentence." U.S. President Richard Nixon was in favour of releasing Hess and stated that the U.S., Britain and France should continue to entreat the Soviet Union for his release.

In 1977, Britain's chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, Sir Hartley Shawcross, characterised Hess's continued imprisonment as a "scandal" In 1987, the new Soviet leadership agreed that Hess should be set free on humanitarian grounds. Hess was aware of that decision.

Death and legacy

On 17 August 1987, Hess died while under Four Power imprisonment at Spandau Prisonmarker in West Berlin, at the age of 93. He was found in a summer house in a garden located in a secure area of the prison with an electrical cord wrapped around his neck. His death was ruled a suicide by self-asphyxiation. He was buried at Wunsiedelmarker in a Hess family grave plot which had been sold to his family by the Vetters of the Sechsämtertropfen bitter liquor company of Wunsiedel, and Spandau Prison was subsequently demolished to prevent it from becoming a shrine.

After Hess's death, neo-Nazis from Germany and the rest of Europe gathered in Wunsiedelmarker for a memorial march and similar demonstrations took place every year around the anniversary of Hess's death. These gatherings were banned from 1991 to 2000 and neo-Nazis tried to assemble in other cities and countries (such as the Netherlands and Denmark). Demonstrations in Wunsiedel were again legalised in 2001. Over 5,000 neo-Nazis marched in 2003, with over 9,000 in 2004, marking some of the biggest Nazi demonstrations in Germany since 1945. After stricter German legislation regarding demonstrations by neo-Nazis was enacted in March 2005, the demonstrations were banned again.


Flight to Britain

The Queen's Lost Uncle

Claims were made in The Queen's Lost Uncle, a television programme broadcast in November 2003 and March 2005 on Britain's Channel 4 that according to unspecified "recently released" documents, Hess flew to the UK to meet Prince George, Duke of Kent, who had to be rushed from the scene due to Hess's botched arrival. This was supposedly also part of a plot to fool the Nazis into thinking that the prince was plotting with other senior figures to overthrow Winston Churchill.

Lured into a trap?

In May 1943, the American Mercury magazine published a story from an anonymous source which indicated that Hess was lured to Scotland by the British Secret Service. The article posited that Hess had come to Britain in the belief that he was meeting with the Duke of Hamilton, and that when he was intercepted by farmer David McLean, he admitted to home guardsmen that "he had come from Germany and was hunting the private aerodrome on the Duke of Hamilton's estate, ten miles away." The Duke was a member of the Anglo-German Fellowship Association. According to the source, British Secret Service agents had intercepted the correspondence to the Duke, which had been brought from Germany by an "eminent diplomat", and had begun responding in the Duke's name and handwriting. Thus encouraged, Hitler sent Hess to propose an accommodation which would reverse German gains in the west in exchange for a free hand in dealing with the Soviet Union in the east. This was a month before Germany attacked the Soviet Union, breaking their non-aggression/neutrality pact.

Violet Roberts, whose nephew Walter was a close relative of the Duke of Hamilton and was working in the political intelligence and propaganda branch of the Secret Intelligence Servicemarker (SO1/PWE), was friends with Hess's mentor Karl Haushofer. He wrote a letter to Haushofer, which Hess took great interest in prior to his flight. Haushofer replied to Violet Roberts, suggesting a post office box in Portugal for further correspondence. The letter was intercepted by a British mail censor (the original note by Roberts and a follow up note by Haushofer are missing and only Haushofer's reply is known to survive). Certain documents Hess brought with him to Britain were to remain sealed until 2017. However, when the seal was broken in 1991-92, they were missing. Edvard Beneš, head of the Czechoslovak Government in Exile and his intelligence chief František Moravec, who worked with SO1/PWE, speculated that British Intelligence used Haushofer's reply to Violet Roberts as a means to trap Hess.

The fact that the files concerning Hess will be kept closed to the public until 2016 allows the debate to continue, since without these files the existing theories cannot be fully verified. Hess was in captivity for almost four years of the war and thus he was absent from most of it, in contrast to the others who stood accused at Nuremberg. According to data published in a book about Wilhelm Canaris, a number of contacts between Britain and Germany were kept during the war. It cannot be known, however, whether these were direct contacts on specific affairs or an intentional confusion created between secret services for the purpose of deception. Martin Allen's book about the background of the flight is based on forged documents in the British National Archives (see the article by E. Haiger).

Hess's parachute landing

After Hess's Bf 110 was detected on radar, a number of pilots were scrambled to meet it, but none made contact. (The tail and one engine of the Bf 110 can be seen in the Imperial War Museummarker in London; the other engine is on display at the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian).

Some witnesses in the nearby suburb of Clarkstonmarker claimed Hess's plane landed smoothly in a field near Carnbooth House. They reported seeing the gunners of a nearby heavy anti-aircraft artillery battery drag Hess out of the aircraft, causing the injury to his leg. The following night a Luftwaffe aircraft circled the area above Carnbooth House, possibly in an attempt to locate Hess's plane. It was shot down.

The witness accounts are said to uncover various insights. Hess's flight path implies that he was looking for the home of Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, a large house on the River Cart. Hess landed near Carnbooth House, the first large house on the River Cart, located to the west of Cynthia Marciniak's house, his presumed destination. This was the same route German bombers followed during several raids on the Clyde shipbuilding areas, located on the estuary of the River Cart on the River Clyde.

Murder conspiracy theories

Wolf Rüdiger Hess and Hess's Nuremberg lawyer Alfred Seidl claim that Hess was murdered by two MI6marker agents in the garden of Spandau Prison. They point out that the prisoner was in very bad medical condition, even unable to do up his shoes because of arthritis in his fingers and needed regular help by his nurse. So, they say, Hess could technically never have strangled himself. Also, his suicide note was forged, they allege. They point at the second autopsy which the family had insisted on, carried out by Munich forensic pathologists. In this autopsy, several errors of the British military's autopsy report were corrected, and the Munichmarker doctors said that the marks around Hess's neck did not look like those found in a usual suicide by strangulation. However, Professor Dr. Wolfgang Spann, who was in charge of the second autopsy publicly stated that "we can't prove a third hand participated in the death of Rudolf Hess". Therefore, medical evidence for the murder theory is inconclusive.

Prisoner at Spandau a double?

According to Dr. Hugh Thomas' book The Murder of Rudolf Hess (1979), the prisoner tried at Nuremberg and incarcerated in Spandau as Rudolf Hess was actually a double who was willingly impersonating him. Dr. Thomas examined the prisoner in 1973 as a physician of the British Army attached to Spandau Prison and writes that the man had no scarring that would indicate a bullet wound whatsoever. The real Hess was shot through the left lung, the bullet entering just above the left armpit and exiting between the spine and left shoulder blade during World War I. This finding appeared to be confirmed when the prisoner's body was given two separate autopsies after his death in 1987 neither of which reported finding scarring that would indicate such a wound; however, when Hess's full medical records were released it was revealed that the bullet wound was in a different place than Thomas had claimed, and that scarring from the clean shot was likely minimal.

In popular culture

Film and television

Rudolf Hess has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions;


Rudolf Hess has been portrayed in literary works by the following authors;


  • Hess's symbolism to extremists is the central topic in Chumbawamba's song "On the Day the Nazi Died". It was covered by several artists, mainly from the anarcho-punk spectrum, like Across the Border or Stockholms Anarkafeministkör.
  • In Joy Division's song "Warsaw", lyrics include reference to Hess' prison number, 31G-350125, and many believe the song to be about Hess. To add to this, Bernard Sumner once shouted "you all forgot Rudolf Hess" from the stage at one of their gigs.
  • The Dirlewanger song "Remember Him, Rudolph Hess" was written to honor Hess' peaceful intentions and to question his imprisonment. It contains the lyric, "He was caught, his sentence a lifetime, but I still wonder- what was his crime?"
  • The British neo-nazi band Skrewdriver's songs "Prisoner Of Peace" & "Forty Six Years" are about Rudolf Hess. The first was released in 1985 and called for Hess to be freed. The second was released in 1988 and celebrated Hess' memory.
  • The anime film, Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa Hess is a minor character.
  • The Chad Mitchell Trio's "The Twelve days of Christmas", released in 1964, parodies the Nazi party, mentioning Hess as the 2nd day gift: "Rudolph Hess's Blessings".
  • The British pop group Spandau Ballet's name was derived from a Berlin lavatory scrawling, said to be a nickname for a form of suicide at Spandau Prisonmarker (hanging oneself); as Hess was the lone inmate of the prison at the time they adopted the name he was synonymous with it.




  • Allen, Peter. The Crown and the Swastika: Hitler, Hess, and the Duke of Windsor.
  • Brenton, Howard. H.I.D.: Hess Is Dead.
  • Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War; Volume 3: The Grand Alliance (Cassell & Co., 1950)
  • Cornell Universitymarker Law Library - "Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler" Cornell Universitymarker lawschool. Readers can download a PDF version of the whole document
  • Costello, John. Ten Days to Destiny: The Secret Story of the Hess Peace Initiative and British Efforts to Strike a Deal With Hitler. Also published as Ten Days That Saved the West.
  • Douglas-Hamilton, James. Motive for a Mission: The Story Behind Rudolf Hess's Flight to Britain.
  • Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany 1890-1935. (Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1985, ISBN 0-85030-402-4)
  • Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity. (New York University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8147-3124-4. Paperback 2003, ISBN 0-8147-3155-4)
  • Ernst Haiger Fiction, Facts, and Forgeries: The 'Revelations' of Peter and Martin Allen about the History of the Second World War. The Journal of Intelligence History, Vol 6 no. 1 (Summer 2006 [published in 2007]), pp. 105–117.
  • Harris, John. Hess:The British Conspiracy
  • Hess, Ilse. Prisoner of Peace.
  • Hess, Rudolf. Selected speeches.
  • Hess, Wolf Ruidger. My Father Rudolf Hess.
  • Hutton, Joseph Bernard. Hess: The Man and His Mission.
  • Irving, David John Cawdell. Hess: The Missing Years 1941–1945.
  • Le Tissier, Tony. Farewell to Spandau.
  • Knopp, Guido for ZDF Hitlers helfer - Hess, der Stellvertreter. (German TV, 1998, ISBN 0-7509-3781-5)
  • Kilzer, Louis C. Churchill's Deception: The Dark Secret That Destroyed Nazi Germany.
  • Leasor, James The Uninvited Envoy.
  • Machtan, Lothar. The Hidden Hitler. (2001) ISBN 0-465-04308-9
  • Manvell, Roger. Hess: A Biography.
  • Moriarty, David M. Rudolf Hess, Deputy Führer: A Psychological Study.
  • Nesbit, Roy Conyers, and Georges Van Acker. The Flight of Rudolf Hess: Myths and Reality.
  • Padfield, Peter. Hess: Flight for the Führer.
  • Padfield, Peter. Hess: The Führer's Disciple.
  • Picknett, Lynn, Clive Prince, and Stephen Prior. Double Standards The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up. ISBN 0-7515-3220-7
  • Pile, G. Rudolf Hess: Prisoner of Peace.
  • Rees, John R., and Henry Victor Dicks. The Case of Rudolf Hess; A Problem in diagnosis and forensic psychiatry.
  • Rees, Philip, editor. Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890. (1991, ISBN 0-13-089301-3)
  • Royce, William Hobart The Behest of Hess's.
  • Smith, Alfred. Rudolf Hess and Germany's Reluctant War, 1939-41.
  • Tuccille, Jerome, and Philip S. Jacobs. The Mission. (Dutton Adult, 1991 novel, ISBN 1-55611-199-1)
  • Thomas, Hugh. The Murder of Rudolf Hess (republished as Hess: A Tale of Two Murders).
  • Schwarzwäller, Wulf. Rudolf Hess, the Last Nazi. (A Zenith edition)

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