Rudolf Hess

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Rudolf Hess

Rudolf Hess should not be confused with another prominent Nazi, Rudolf H (also spelled Hss or Hoess.)

Walter Richard Rudolf Hess (He in German) (April 26, 1894August 17, 1987) was a prominent figure in Nazi Germany as Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party. On the eve of war with the Soviet Union, he flew to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace. He was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to life in prison. He has become a figure of veneration among neo-Nazis.



Born in Alexandria, Egypt, to a Bavarian Lutheran importer/exporter, Hess studied in Germany and Switzerland before fighting in World War I. After the war, in Munich he joined the Thule Society and assisted the Freikorps in their struggle against Communism. He enrolled in the University of Munich 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 his leadership. For commanding an SA battalion during the Beer Hall Putsch, he served seven and a half months in Landsberg prison. Acting as Hitler's private secretary, he edited Hitler's book Mein Kampf and eventually rose to deputy party leader and third in leadership of Germany, after Hitler and Hermann Gring.

Hess had a privileged position as Hitler's deputy in the early years of the Nazi movement, but became increasingly marginalized in the 1930s as Hitler concentrated more and more powers into his person; his position as deputy hence became quite meaningless. This trend only increased in the early years of the war as most of the attention and glory became focused on the generals, Hermann Gring, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler.

According to William L. Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Hess might have flown to Britain in the hope that he could score a stunning diplomatic victory by sealing a peace between the Reich and Britain. He flew to Britain in May 1941 to meet the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, parachuting from his Messerschmitt Bf 110 over Renfrewshire on May 10 and landing (breaking his ankle) at Floors Farm near Eaglesham, just south of Glasgow.

Hess believed Hamilton to be an opponent of Winston Churchill and came to see him because he did not want to negotiate directly with Churchill or his cabinet as he held them responsible for the outbreak of the war. As such, he did not consider that Germany could negotiate a peace with them. His proposal for peace was identical to the bargain Hitler tried to make with Neville Chamberlain prior to the invasion of Poland: Germany would help protect the British Empire as long as Britain did not oppose Germany in Europe.

Hess's strange behavior and unreasonable proposals totally discredited him as a serious negotiator, especially since it quickly became obvious that he did not officially represent the German government. He was imprisoned by the British in the Tower of London. Hitler spread the word throughout Germany that Hess had become insane and acted of his own accord. Martin Bormann succeeded him as deputy.

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Rudolf Hess (first row, second from left), in the defendant's box at the Nuremberg Trials.

Hess was tried at the Nuremberg Trials after the war for crimes against peace and was given a life sentence. For decades after, he was addressed simply as "prisoner number seven." Following the 1966 release of Baldur von Schirach and Albert Speer, he was the sole remaining inmate of Spandau Prison. He was said by the guards to have degenerated mentally and lost most of his memory.

On 17th August 1987, he died under Four Power imprisonment in the Spandau Prison in West Berlin. His death was ruled a suicide. His son, Wolf Rdiger Hess, maintained until his own death that his father was murdered by the British SAS.

After Hess's death, neo-Nazis from Germany and the rest of Europe gathered in Wunsiedel, where Hess is buried, for a "memorial march". The demonstrations take place every year around the day of Hess's death. They were banned from 1991 to 2000, during which time the neo-Nazis tried to gather in other cities and even in other countries (such as the Netherlands and Denmark). Since 2001 the demonstrations in Wunsiedel are legal again and over 5,000 neo-Nazis marched in 2003 and around 7,000 in 2004. These were among the biggest Nazi demonstrations in Germany since 1945.

Claims concerning Hess's flight to Britain

Hess's journey to Britain was one of the odder events of World War II. It was claimed (in The Man Who Was M: The Life of Charles Henry Maxwell Knight by Anthony Masters, ISBN 0-631-13392-5) to be a scheme conceived by British Intelligence officer Ian Fleming (later to gain fame as the creator of James Bond). According to Masters, the trap was laid in 1940 after Fleming read about the Anglo-German organization The Link in the intelligence file of its founder, Admiral Sir Barry Domvile. Via an agent, Fleming fed Hess the line that The Link had been driven underground and was in a position to overthrow the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and negotiate peace, and that the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon was prepared to be a negotiator.

Masters also claims that Hess selected the date of his flight after Ernst Schulter-Strathaus, Hess's consultant on astrology and the occult, informed him that there was going to be a rare alignment of six planets in the astrological sign of Taurus at the time of the full moon on May 11, 1941, exactly one day after his landing in Scotland. Because Hess was himself born with the Sun in Taurus (Taurus was his Sun Sign, also called Star Sign), this system of prediction (called electional astrology) was believed by Hess and the astrologer to greatly increase the chances for success during the mission. The Man Who Was M is the only known source of these claims.

Related claims were made in The Queen's Lost Uncle, a television program produced by Flame ( and broadcast in November 2003 and March 2005 on Britain's Channel 4. The program reported that, according to unspecified "recently released" documents, Hess was flying 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 allegedly also part of a plot to fool the Nazis into thinking that the prince was plotting with other senior figures to overthrow Winston Churchill.

There is circumstantial evidence that Hess was lured into flying to Scotland by the British secret service. Violet Roberts, whose nephew, Walter Roberts, was a close relative to the Duke of Hamilton and was in the political intelligence and propaganda branch of the Secret Intelligence Service (SO1/PWE), was friends with Hess's mentor Karl Haushofer and initiated a letter to Haushofer in which Hess took a great interest prior to his flight. Haushofer replied to Violet Roberts and suggested a post office box in Portugal for further correspondence, which was intercepted by a British mail censor (the original note by Roberts and a followup note by Haushofer are missing; only Haushofer's reply is extant). Certain documents that Hess brought with him to Britain were sealed until 2017; when the seal was broken in 1991-92, the documents were missing. Speculation from Edvard Benes, head of the Czech government in exile and his intelligence chief Frantisek Moravetz, who worked with SO1/PWE, was that British Intelligence used Haushofer's reply to Violet Roberts to trap Hess. (See: Hess: the British Conspiracy, by McBlain and Trow, 2000.)

Claims concerning Hess in Spandau

Various conspiracy theories have suggested the man imprisoned at Spandau was not Hess, but a double. These claims are generally not taken seriously. However, this has been the theme of at least two novels; Spandau Phoenix, by Greg Iles, features this idea prominently, and The Separation by Christopher Priest considers an alternate history where Hess' peace mission was a success.


  • Hess: The Fuhrer's Disciple by Peter Padfield
  • The Loneliest Man in the World: The inside story of the 30-year imprisonment of Rudolf Hess's' by Eugene K. Bird
  • The Flight of Rudolf Hess: Myths and Reality by Roy Conyers Nesbit, Georges Van Acker
  • Rudolf Hess: Prisoner of Peace by G. Pile
  • Double Standards: The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up by Lynn Picknett, et al
  • The Murder of Rudolf Hess's' by W. Hugh Thomas (1979, ISBN 0060142510)
  • Ten Days to Destiny: The Secret Story of the Hess Peace Initiative and British Efforts to Strike a Deal With Hitler (Ten Days to Destiny) by John Costello
  • Farewell to Spandau by Tony Le Tissier
  • Hess: A Biography by Roger Manvell
  • H.I.D.: Hess Is Dead by Howard Brenton
  • Hess: The Man and His Mission by Joseph Bernard Hutton
  • The Crown and the Swastika: Hitler, Hess, and the Duke of Windsor by Peter Allen
  • The Windsor Secret: New revelations of the Nazi connection by Peter Allen
  • Motive for a Mission: The Story Behind Rudolf Hess's Flight to Britain by James Douglas-Hamilton
  • Rudolf Hess: The British Conspiracy by John McBlain
  • The Truth About Rudolf Hess's' by James Douglas-Hamilton
  • The Mission by Jerome Tuccille, Philip S. Jacobs (Dutton Adult, 1991 novel, ISBN 1556111991)
  • Hess: Flight for the Fhrer by Peter Padfield
  • Rudolf Hess, the Last Nazi (A Zenith edition) by Wulf Schwarzwller
  • Ten Days That Saved the West by John Costello
  • The Case of Rudolf Hess; A Problem in diagnosis and forensic psychiatry by John R. Rees, Henry Victor Dicks
  • Rudolf Hess and Germany's Reluctant War, 1939-41 by Alfred Smith
  • Selected speeches by Rudolf Hess
  • Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer: A Psychological Study by David M. Moriarty
  • Who Murdered my Father Rudolf Hess?: My father's mysterious death in Spandau by Wolf Rdiger Hess
  • Hess: The Missing Years 1941-1945 by David John Cawdell Irving
  • The Uninvited Envoy by James Leasor
  • The Behest of Hess's' by William Hobart Royce
  • Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890 edited by Philip Rees, (1991, ISBN 0130893013)

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