*** NAZIs Rudolf Hess

Rudolf Hess (Germany, 1883-1987)

Rudolf Hess:

Figure 1.--Here NAZI Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess inspects a group of older Hitler Youth boys. We do not know who the other NAZI figures are. We do not see Schirach. The man in the light-colored trench coat may be Martin Borman. The uniforms show that they come from a variety of different NAZI organizations. The photograph is undated. We would guess it was taken in the early War period, sometine around 1939-41. Put your cursor on the image to zoom in on Hess.

NAZI Deputy-Führer Rudolf Hess was born in Egypt where his father had established an import-export business. Growing up in a villa surrounded by a luxurious garden, Rudolf received a disciplined, Teutonic upbringing that clashed with his romantic temperament and the exotic Near East setting. He was an early supporter of Adolf Hitler and during the early years his closest associate. His loyalty brough Hitler's affectionn and appointment as the Deputy-Führer. His power base was in the Party as he vied for power. He gradually lost influence within the NAZI hierarchy. He id not know for any major program or policy other than absolute loyalty to Hitler. The one issue where he differed with Hitler was on the East abd the decesion to attack the Soviet Union. It was not that he did bot want the Soviet Union defeated. He simply felt that England should be defeated or peace made with England so German would not be caught in a two-front war. His insistence on the matter simply further distanced him from Hitler. He is as a result, best remembered for a dramatic flight to Britain (May 1941). Having failed to convince Hitler, he hoped in the run-up to Barbarossa to convince the British to make peace. The British were stunned and not at all sure what to do with him. Aftervthe War, he was tried and found guilty at Nuremberg. He did not receive a death sentence because he was not directly involved in the Holocaust.


Rudolf's father, Fritz H. Hess, was a wealthy German merchant who established an import-export business in Alexandria, Egypt. His mother was Klara Munch. At the time, Egypt was a British protectorate. The Suez Canal made it a major trading center between Europe and Asia.


The NAZI Vice-Führer was born in Alexandria, Egypt because his father was running an export-import business there (1883). He was the eldest of four children. Growing up in a villa surrounded by a luxurious garden, Rudolf received a disciplined, Teutonic upbringing. His father ws staunchly Lutheran and veryvstrict. His unbringing clashed with his romantic temperament and the exotic Near East setting.


Rudolf's father sent his son at age 12 back to Germany where he was educated at the Godesberg boarding school. Rudolf was interested in studying astronomy. His father insisted that he study business in Switzerland.


After graduating, Hess joined his father's export-import business in Hamburg.

World War I (1914-18)

Hess when World War I broke out he enlisted in the 1st Bavarian Infantry Regiment (August 1914). He fought as an infantryman with considerable bravery. This was a very different combat recordcthan that if Hitler. He was wounded twice. He was awarded the Iron Cross secind class. He was seriously wounded at Verdun (August 1917). The chest would was so severe that he was not returned to frint-line duty. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. At the end of the War he became an officer pilot. He volunteered for the German Army Air Force (1918). In the last few months of the War, he fought in the fighter squardon 35 at the western front. This was very dangerous because by this time the Allies had achieved air superiority.

University Studies

Hess after the War moved to Munich. Here he began to study at the University of Munic, focusing on history and economics. While at university he was influenced by Karl Haushofer, a geo-politcal theorists. Haushofer's central thesis was that every political state is in effect a biological organism which either grows or contracts over time. He saw the life of a state as a struggle for space with other states. In this struggle the strong nations take land from the weaker. While at university he wrote an essay for which he won a prize, "How Must the Man be Constructed who will lead Germany back to her Old Heights?" He wrote, "When necessity commands, he does not shrink from bloodshed .... In order to reach his goal, he is prepared to trample on his closest friends."

Freikorps (1919)

Gemany was in chaos after the War. The new German Republic had little support within the Army which was largely monarchist. Communists attempted to seize power. Freikorps were organized from veterans to put down the Communists with considerable brutality. There were several different Freikorps. Hess joined the Freikorps organized by Franz Epp. Epp played a central role in supressing the Spartakist (Communist) uprising (1919).

Hitler and Early NAZI Organization (1920-22)

Hess first heard Adolf Hitler speak a year after the Spartakist Uprising. Hess who was studying at the University of Munich attended a right-wing political meeting. Hess' initial reaction was mixed. He wrote, "Was this man a fool or was he the man who would save all Germany". He quickly made up his mind. Hess was one of the first men to join the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP/NAZI) (1920). He developed a personal relationship with Hitler, becoming an ardent supporter. It is at this time that Hess seems to have influenced Hitler with Haushofer's theories which became central to his new Führer's thinking. In a notabke speech, Hess he acoylte enthused, "Do not seek Adolf Hitler with your mind. You will find him through he strength of your hearts! Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler. He who takes an oath to Hitler takes an oath to Germany!"

Beer Hall Putsch and Mein Kampf (1923-24)

Hess played arole in Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch (November 1923). His assignment with other Stormtroopers was to arrest Jews and left-wing politicans. After the Putsch failed, Hess managed to escape. He sought refuge in Haushofer's country home--Hartschimmelhof. This was located in the beautiful e Bavarian Alps. From there he escaped to Austria. The German police eventually managed to arrest and he was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison. While in Landsberg Prison with Hitler, he helped write Mein Kampf. Haushofer's theories and even certain phrases are clearly reflected in the end product. 【Douglas-Hamilton】 This shows Hess' influence. Haushofer's theries provided a coherent structure for ideas that had begun crystalize in Hitler's mind.


Hess met fellow student Ilse Pröhl (1900–95) from Hanover while at university. They had rooms in the same boarding house. They married (1927). She was 27 years old. They had one child, a son, Wolf Rüdiger Hess (1937–2001), was born 10 years into their marriage. The name was to honor Hitler who would use 'Wolf' as a code name. Hess micknamed him 'Buz'. We are not sure what commotation that had in German, but he probably picked it up durng his childhood in Egypt.

NAZI Rise to Power

The NAZIs emerged as one of the major right ing paries in Germany. Hitler, after the failure of the Putsch, concluded that he could only gain power by competing in German political elections. When Hess was released from prison, Hitler's made him his private secretary. In that role, Hess was constantly at Hitler's side and was at his side on almost all of his political travels all over Germany. It was the Depression that enabled the NAZIs to emerge from a fringe party to the single most imporant party in the country, replacing the Social Democrats. Even so, this was well short of a majority party. Hess through his relation with Hitler rose in the NAZI hierarchy. Hitler just before seizing power appointed him head of the Central Political Committee and deputy leader of the party and minister without portfolio (December 1932). He got on well with Joseph Goebbels who described him as "the most decent, quiet, friendley, clever, reserved... he is a kind fellow." Given Goebbels character, this can be interpreted basically that he did not see Hess as a threat. He appears to have had a better reputation than many oher NAZIs. One eminent historian focusing on Hitler and the NAZIs writes that he was an "honest man" and "the conscience of the Party". 【Fest】

NAZI Government

Hitler was appointed Chacellor (January 1933). Hess played a prominent role in the first years of the NAZI Goverment. When after the death of President Hindenburg (1934), Hitler became Führer. He made Hess his deputy Führer. Gradually Hitler began to rely more on other NAZI leaders, especially Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann. Perhaps because of their long association, Hitler kept Hess as Deputy Führer, but never gave him any major assignment. He played a prominent role in the development of the Nuremberg Laws (1935). It was Hess who conceived the slogan, "Guns instead of butter". He was, however, given no manegerial duties. His major duty durung the NAZI years was to announce the Fuhrer at mass meetings. He did this with a wide eyed fanaticism that can be seen in period newsreels. Hitler trusted his loyalty, but apparently had no confidence in his abilities. He thus was never given any actual responsibilities. This explains his title of Reich Minister without Portfolio. Other titles included that of member of the Secret Cabinet Council, and member of the Ministerial Council for Reich Defense. Hitler presumaably trusted Hess, designated him as his successor after Goring (1939). 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 Fuhrer, and thus lacked the will to engage in self serving struggles. Hitler seems to have used him to some extent as atrouble shooter, to resove squables between NAZI officials. Of course his position as deputy head of the party helped here. Apparently Hitler slowly came to believe that Hess was aman of limited capabilities. He slowly lost out not only to the other top NAZIs, but to his subordinate and eventual successor, Martin Bormann. As a result, Hitler gradually distanced himself from Hess.

Medical Quackery

Hess had a range of unconventinal ideas. The most bizare was his distrust of conventional medicine. He supported various natural healers, essentially medical fakes and confidence men. This is of course fascinating in thast Hess lived such a long life abnd received extensive medical care both in Britain and in Soandau. Hess tried to have Hitler legitimize them. Hitler ignored his efforts, but in fact emoloyed just such a fake as his own personal doctor, Dr. Theodor Morell. He was essentially a drug pusher who plyed Hitler with dangerous drugs that he claimed were the product of his own research. It has been argued that Morell had a role in Hitler's deteriorating medical condition late in the War. This likely was the case, but it certainly was the case that he did not help.

World War II (1939-45)

Hess' role declined even further after Hitler launched the War. The role of military leaders along with Göring, Goebbels, and Himmler took center place around Hitler. Hess had no important role in the War. Given his attachment to Hitler, this must have affected his thinking. Like Göring, Hess was privately concerned about the inability to reach an arrangement with Britain. This weighed on his mind as it became clear that Hitler was intent on invading the Soviet Union even if Britain continued to fight. This violated Hess's geo-political vision acquired from Haushofer. It is unclear to what extent he discussed his views with Hitler. By this time in the War he was not an adviser whose opinion Hitler sought. And Hitler was not one who suffered people with different opinions. Hess almost certainly would have had no problem with the Holocust. Anti-Semitism was prt of wht drew Hess to Hitler. He had, however, no role in what Himmler and the SS was doing. And he left Germany before the mass killing phase of the Holocaust began.

Flight to Britain (May 10, 1941)

Rudolph Hess was a competent pilot, aslthough Hitler had forbidden him to fly. Hess in one of the most bizzare events of World War II flew to Scotland (May 10). He was worried about Hitler's upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union and desperately wanted Hitler to make peace with Britain so as to preclude a two-front war. Hess had studied under German geopolitical theorist Karl Haushofer and ideas of geo-politics were prominent in his thinking. He seems to have influenced Hitler along these lines in the early-1920s. A great deal of speculation exists on this episode. Most historians believe that Hess made the flight without Hitler's approval. Hess was the NAZI Deputy Führer and handled NAZI Party administration. He had been Hitler's closest associate, but his place in the NAZI fermament had been gradually eclipsed by Goebels, Göring, and Himmler. A successful mission to Britain would have reestablished his position in the NAZI hierarchy. Hess in an impressive piece of flying came very close to the loction in Scotland that he was trying to reach, the home of a British airistocrat that he felt would be sympathetic to NAZI peace feelers. While the event was a curiosity in Britain and America, it was of much more pressing interest further east. Stalin saw it a confirmation of what he feared most--that the British would seek an arrangement with the NAZIs and end the War. Britain continuing the War was one of many reasons that he dimissed warnings about the German buildup in eastern Europe received from the Americans and British. He was conviced that the British in particular were trying to draw him into a war with Germany. He was confident that Hitler would not strike east until Britain had been defeated. 【Kershaw, pp. 281-82】. A great deal has been written about this incident, basically centering on the idea that Hitler was behind it. Most historians dismiss this. Hitler seems to have been concerned about Hess devulging NAZI secrets. Some believe that he was especially concerned about secret assessments of NAZI allies. This is what Hitler apparently feared. 【Goebbels, p. 477.】 And it is notable that immeditely after the flight, Hitler dispacted Foreign Minister von Ribbontrop to see Mussolini. 【Ciano, p. 351.】 Hitler may have also been concerned about Hess devulging his plans to attack the Soviet Union. But of course the Americans and British were already aware of this and had warned Stalin.

Internment in Britain (1941-45)

There are reports tht secret negotiations were going on between Britin nd the NAZIs. They are difficult to confirm or dismiss. The claims are that Hess' flight to Britin were designed to bring them to a conclussion. He few to Scotland (May 10, 1940). He was debriefed intensely by the British. He was brought to the Towervof London (May 17). in 1941 is another question. He is was then moved out of the Tower in the afternoon of Tuesday 20th May 1941, he then spent the rest of his time in Wales (1941-45). The next 13 months he was held at Mychett Place, designated 'Camp Z'. By this time the British realized that he was mentally unhinged and represented no one but himself. It all sounds bizare today, but the level of support for Appeasement is generally poorly understood today. Hess was not altogrther wrong that there was support for an arrangement with the NAZIs. It needs to be mentiioned that this was nor for what we understand about the NAZIs today. The Appeasers constituted a substantial part of both the Conservative and Labour Party as well as many influential people throughout British society, including both the Duke of Windsor and King George VI who strongly opposed Churchill becoming Prime-Mimister. What Hess gotb wrong was him timing. Hitler's violation of the Munich Pact (March 1939) changed many minds. There were no longer many Brits willing to appease him. Stalin was, however, highly suspicious of the whole event seeing as an effort by the British to make a separate peace. While in British custody, Hess began to behave bizarly. In particular he developed a paranoid obsession that his food was being poisoned. He was transferredv to an asylum in Abergavenny under he was held under comfortble conditions although he was continued to be convinced he was being poisoned. The fact that he did not die after 4 years does not seem to have disuaded him. He was was allowed to wander about under escort. He routinely took walks in the countrysude. Hebecame known as the 'Kaiser of Abergavenny'. One author wries, "I have found the diary of a visiting doctor from the War Office who wrote on 25 June 1942 'Hess seems to be here in Talgarth, but one is not to know it. He has delusions that he is being poisoned. I have had samples of wine and vitamins analysed.'" 【Purcell】 A Welsh boy recalls seeing Hess. "The arrival of the deputy Reich fuhrer in Abergavenny was made known to us by our intelligence sources some weeks before my mother told us, in hushed tones, that Rudolf Hess was imprisoned in a section of the military hospital [actually an asylum that inclided shellshocked soldiers] in which she worked. We knew too that Hess was on occasions taken for exercise on the surrounding mountains. Abruptly, our interest changed to taking long walks and just what we would do if we saw him. We were ascending the Sugar Loaf Mountain quite early one morning when three figures approached us, the sun full on their faces. 'It’s him. It’s Hess.' On each side of him was a Welsh Guardsman with slung rifles. Hess was equal in height to the six-foot-plus guardsmen, bare headed, bushy eyebrows above deep-set eyes. He wore a long civilian overcoat, hands in pockets, his head bent as if deep in thought. 'Good morning, Mr Hess,' we called, and he nodded gravely and gave us a schoolmasterly look. We saw him three more times, each time his greeting to our good mornings was the same — a slight mouthing of 'Guten Tag.' Each time he was guarded by a lesser unit, the men of a county regiment then the Pioneer Corps. The last time I saw him was when I was out walking on the mountain with my first girl friend. This time he was accompanied by two unarmed mental-hospital attendants. Shortly thereafter Hess made that long journey back to his homeland by way of Nuremberg and Spandau.' 【Tossell】

Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (1945-46)

After the War, the British returned him to Germny to stand trial with the other top NAZIs before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg. He was clearly disoriented in the courtroom. He seemed to stare off vacantly into space. He also claimed amnesia. There were periods of lucidity when he was one of the few defendents who remained loyal to Hitler. In his final statement he proclaimed, "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." The court ignored his mental condition, he was sentenced to life in prison. Although a high-ranking NAZI official, the IMT recognized that he was not a major decession maker. He also flew to Britain before the mass killings began.

Spandau Prison (1947-97)

Spandau Prison was located in the Spandau neighborhood in West Berlin. It was opened as a military prison (1876). The NAZIs turned it into a small concentration camps. Aftrr the War, the conicted NAZI war criminals were housed in the grim prison. Those given the death penalty were executed here. Those given prison terms served their time here, referred to as the Sopandau Seven. They were garded by American, British, French and Soviet military guards who rotated their duty. There was nom unity among thev prisoners. Petty personal rivalries civalries continued aw well personal thoughys of prestige, basically a contiuation of NAZI party politics. Even with his small groups, they dfivided. Albert Speer and Hess were loners, disliked by the other five. Speer was disliked becuase he admitted guilt and repudiated Hitler. Hess was disliked because of an basically antisocial personality and mental issues. The two admirals (Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz) became close, despite their mutual issues. Baldur von Schirach and Walther Funk became very close. 【Speer】 Konstantin von Neurath was true to his diplomatic career got along with all of the others. A sharp lift developed between Dönitz and Speer. Dönitz blamed Speer for his incarceration. The Spandau reportys on Schirach, Speer, and Hess have survived. 【"Minutes ..."】 Raeder in poor health was released in 1955. Dönitz was release in 1956. Speer served a full term and was released in 1966. This left Hess alone at Spandau. Rudolf Hess, sentenced to life but not released due to ill health as were Raeder, Funk, and Neurath. Hess was by far the most demanding prisoner. He refused any work assignments as beneath his dignity. And was constantly complaining. After a time there were attempts to have Hess released as a result of his mental disordrs. The Soviets rejected all attempts at early release. It is not entirely clear why the Soviets were so intransigent on Hess. Of course, the reason he flew to Scotland was to ensure the conquest of the Soviet Union. For three decafes, Hess was the only NAZI war criminal left at Spandau. He committed suicide at age 92 (1997).


Ciano, Count Galeazzo. Hugh Gibson, ed. The Cano Diaries, 1939-1943 (Garden City: Garden City, 1947), 582p.

Douglas-Hamilton, James. Motive for a Mission.

Fest, Joachim C. The Face of the Third Reich.

Goebbels, Josef. Louis P. Lochner, ed. The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943 (Doubelday: New York, 1948), 566p.

Kershaw, Ian. Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941 (Penguin Press: New York, 2007), 624p.

Purcell, Hugh. Up Top (Y Lolfa).

Speer, Albert. The Spandau Diaries. (Macmillan: 1976).

Tossell, Alan. "Rudolf Hess in Abergavenny," WW2 Peoples War (BBC).

"Minutes of the meetings of the physicians of the Spandau Allied Prison" Archived at the United States National Library of Medicine.


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Created: 11:13 PM 2/18/2009
Last edited: 7:45 PM 4/28/2021