Rudolf Hess

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Rudolf Hess (1894-1987) was one of the early core members of the Nazi Party, originally a close aide to and follower of Adolf Hitler who transcribed the first draft of Mein Kampf, but lost influence as the party took control of the government. While he held the title of Deputy Fuehrer, he lost influence, especially to Martin Bormann. In 1941, he made an unauthorized, still not fully explained flight to Great Britain to seek a peace agreement but was interned. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Trial of the Major War Criminals and was the last prisoner in Spandau Prison, probably committing suicide.

Early life and influences

He was the son of a German businessman in Egypt, and spent the first fourteen years of his live there.

Serving in World War I as a pilot, he was in the same List Regiment as Hitler, but they did not meet. Afterwards, he became a university student in Munich, and was extremely interested in the geopolitical theories of Karl Haushofer.

He joined the Freikorps of Franz Ritter von Epp, and engaged in combat against radicals.

On the mystic and pan-German nationalism side, he was a member of the Thule Society, along with other early Nazis such as Alfred Rosenberg, Karl Harrer, Gottfried Feder, Hans Frank, Dietrich Eckhart and Anton Drexler. Originally a purely occult group, it moved more into politics, and spawned the German Workers' Party, the ancestor of the Nazi Party.[1]

Beginning Nazi

Dietrich Eckhart introduced Hess to Hitler. [2] Hess joined the party in 1920. His academic thesis, "How Must the Man be Constituted Who Will Lead Germany Back to Her Old Heights" caught Hitler's attention. Shirer comments that "for all his solemnity and seriousness, Hess remained a man of limited intelligence, always receptive to crackpot ideas, which he could adopt with great fanaticism...he would be...one of the few [followers] who was not bitten by consuming personal ambition."[3] Hess introduced Hitler to his professor, Karl Haushofer.

Shifting roles

He was a prominent speaker, introducing Hitler at the 1934 Nuremberg Party Rally. Albert Speer mentions that some of the actual footage of the Rally was spoiled, and he created a studio reproduction of the speaking venue. He said that he was "rather disturbed" that Julius Streicher, Hess and Alfred Rosenberg acted so well in the reenactment. "Frau Riefenstahl, on the other hand, thought the acted scenes better than the original presentation."[4]

Government

while still Deputy Fuehrer, had become increasingly marginalized. While the motivations for his next act was still argued, it appears he genuinely respected the British, wanted to avert war with the Soviets, and restore his influence. He had been having foreign policy discussions with Professor Karl Haushofer and his son, Albrecht Haushofer.

Flight to UK

He obtained an Me-110 with long-range auxiliary fuel tanks, and took of at 5:45 PM local time from the Messerchmitt company airfield in Augsburg. Hitler learned of the flight on the evening of 10 May 1941, [5] parachuting to the residence of the Duke of Hamilton, a friend of Albrecht Haushofer, and asking for an audience with Churchill.

When making inventory of his personal effects, the British discovered he had brought an extensive range of conventional and homeopathic remedies. The Medical Research Council observed that if he "knew the action of all the drugs he carried, he had obviously missed his vocation and ought to have made a very handy practitioner...this reliance on allopathy for real body ailments and his further belief in homeopathy for other discomforts seems to represent a curious outlook on medical science."[6]

When Hitler received a letter telling him "when you receive this, I shall be in England", he became enraged, ordering the arrest of Hess' staff and Albrecht Haushofer. Hitler's first public announcement suggested Hess had had a mental breakdown.

Franz Pfeffer von Salamon had been on his staff. Hitler became angry with Pfeffer after Hess' May 1941 flight to England, and briefly imprisoned him. Pfeffer was expelled from the Reichstag, the Party, and all offices on 14 November 1941. He lived, in retirement, on his estate in Pomerania.

Postwar

He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Nuremberg, although not without controversy.

References

  1. Joachim Fest (1973), Hitler, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, p. 122
  2. William Shirer (1960), Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Simon & Schuster, p. 39
  3. Shirer, pp.47-48
  4. Albert Speer (1970), Inside the Third Reich, Macmillan, p. 62
  5. Shirer, pp. 834-837
  6. James Leasor (2001), Rudolf Hess: The Uninvited Envoy, House of Stratus, p. 43