Rudolf Hess was born in Alexandria, Egypt, April 26, 1894, the son of
a prosperous wholesaler and exporter. He did not live in Germany until
he was fourteen. He volunteered for the German Army in 1914 at the outbreak
of World War One, partly to escape the control of his domineering father
who had refused to let him go to a university but instead persuaded him
into an unwanted career in the family business.
In World War One, Hess was wounded twice, then later became an airplane
pilot. After the war, Hess joined the Freikorps, a right-wing organization
of ex-soldiers for hire, involved in violently putting down Communist uprisings
At the University of Munich, Hess studied political science and came
under the influence of the Thule Society, a secret anti-Semitic political
organization devoted to Nordic supremacy. Hess was also influenced by Professor
Karl Haushofer, a former general whose theories on expansionism and race
formed the basis of the concept of Lebensraum (increased living space for
Germans at the expense of other nations).
After hearing Adolf Hitler speak in a small Munich beer hall, Hess joined
the Nazi Party, July 1, 1920, becoming the sixteenth member. After his
first meeting with Hitler, Hess said he felt "as though overcome by
At early Nazi Party meetings and rallies, Hess was a formidable fighter
who brawled with para-military Marxists and others who often violently
attempted to disrupt Hitler's speeches.
In 1923, Hess took part in Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch in which
Hitler and the Nazis attempted to seize control of Germany. Hess was arrested
and imprisoned along with Hitler at Landsberg prison. While in prison,
Hess took dictation for Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, and also made some editorial
suggestions regarding Lebensraum, the historical role of the British Empire,
and the organization of the Nazi Party.
After his release from prison in 1925, Hess served for several years
as Hitler's personal secretary in spite of having no official rank in the
Nazi Party. In 1932, Hitler appointed him Chairman of the Central Political
Commission of the Nazi Party and SS General as a reward for his loyal service.
On April 21, 1933, he was made Deputy Führer, a figurehead position
with mostly ceremonial duties.
Hess was a shy, insecure man who displayed near religious devotion,
fanatical loyalty and absolute blind obedience to Hitler. In 1934, Hess
gave a revealing speech stating - "With pride we see that one man
remains beyond all criticism, that is the Führer. This is because
everyone feels and knows: he is always right, and he will always be right.
The National Socialism of all of us is anchored in uncritical loyalty,
in the surrender to the Führer that does not ask for the why in individual
cases, in the silent execution of his orders. We believe that the Führer
is obeying a higher call to fashion German history. There can be no criticism
of this belief."
One of his most visible tasks was to announce the Führer at mass
meetings with bellowing, wide eyed fanaticism, as seen in the Nazi documentary,
Triumph Of The Will.
Although often rewarded by Hitler for his dogged loyalty, Hess was never
given any major influence in matters of state due to his lack of understanding
of the mechanics of power and his inability to take any action on his own
initiative. He was totally and deliberately subservient to his Führer.
He was granted titles such as Reich Minister without Portfolio, member
of the Secret Cabinet Council, and member of the Ministerial Council for
Reich Defense. In 1939 Hess was even designated to be Hitler's successor
But over time, his limited power was further undermined by the political
intrigue of the top Nazis around Hitler who were constantly scheming for
personal power. Hess had only one desire, to serve the Führer, and
thus lacked the will to engage in self serving struggles for power and
lost out primarily to his subordinate and eventual successor, Martin Bormann.
As a result, Hitler gradually distanced himself from Hess.
Hoping to regain importance and redeem himself in the eyes of his Führer,
Hess put on a Luftwaffe uniform and flew a German fighter plane alone toward
Scotland on a 'peace' mission, May 10, 1941, just before the Nazi invasion
of the Soviet Union. Hess intended to see the Duke of Hamilton, who he
had met briefly during the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
With extra fuel tanks installed on the Messerschmitt ME-110, Hess, an
expert flier, made the five hour, 900 mile flight across the North Sea
and managed to navigate within 30 miles of the Duke's residence near Glasgow,
Scotland. At 6,000 feet Hess bailed out and parachuted safely to the ground
then encountered a Scottish farmer and told him in English, "I have
an important message for the Duke of Hamilton."
Hess wanted to convince the British Government that Hitler only wanted
Lebensraum for the German people and had no wish to destroy a fellow 'Nordic'
nation. He also knew of Hitler's plans to attack the Soviet Union and wanted
to prevent Germany from getting involved in a two-front war, fighting the
Soviets to the east of Germany, and Britain and its allies in the west.
During interrogation in a British Army barracks, he proposed that if
the British would allow Nazi Germany to dominate Europe, then the British
Empire would not be further molested by Hitler. He insisted that German
victory was inevitable and even threatened that the British people would
be starved to death by a Nazi blockade around the British Isles unless
they accepted his generous peace offer.
But Hess also displayed signs of mental instability to his British captors
and they concluded he was half mad and represented only himself. Churchill,
realizing this, and somewhat infuriated by his statements, ordered Hess
to be imprisoned for the duration and treated like any high ranking POW.
was declared insane by a bewildered Hitler, and effectively disowned by the
Nazis. His flight ultimately caused Hitler and the Nazis huge embarrassment
as they struggled to explain his actions.
During his years of British imprisonment, Hess displayed increasingly
unstable behavior and developed a paranoid obsession that his food was
being poisoned. In 1945, Hess was returned to Germany to stand trial before
the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
In the courtroom, he suffered from spells of disorientation, staring
off vacantly into space and for a time claimed to have amnesia. In periods
of lucidity he continued to display loyalty to Hitler, ending with his
final speech - "It was granted me for many years to live and work
under the greatest son whom my nation has brought forth in the thousand
years of its history. Even if I could I would not expunge this period from
my existence. I regret nothing. If I were standing once more at the beginning
I should act once again as I did then, even if I knew that at the end I
should be burnt at the stake…"
In spite of his mental condition, he was sentenced to life in prison.
The Soviets blocked all attempts at early release. He committed suicide
in 1987 at age 92, the last of the prisoners tried at Nuremberg.
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