Rudolf Hess by Niamh Wood
Rudolf Walter Richard Hess was a German politician and a leading member of the Nazi party in Nazi Germany. He is commonly known for the international shock he created when he secretly flew to Scotland in 1941 to negotiate peace between Great Britain and Germany during World War II.
Rudolf Hess was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on April 26th, 1894. He was the eldest of three children and grew up in a wealthy German family. Hess attended a protestant German-speaking school in Alexandria from 1900 to 1908. Hess later moved to live in Germany when he was 14 and studied at a boarding school. He demonstrated natural abilities in science and mathematics however, his father, a prosperous wholesaler, and exporter wished for him to join the family business, Hess & Co. Hess did not want to do this and in 1914, during the outbreak of World War I Hess volunteered for the German Army to escape his father's controlling grasp. Hess went on to fight in the war with a unit from Bavaria. He fought at the Battle of Ypres before enrolling in the newly formed German air force.
After the First World War, Hess went on to study at the University of Munich, where he engaged a lot in nationalist propaganda. It was at the university where he first met Hitler. In 1920 Hess joined the fledgling Nazi Party and quickly became a friend and confidant to Hitler. Shortly after joining, Hitler promoted Hess to be his private secretary. In April of 1933, Hess once again went up the ranks and became deputy party leader and entered the cabinet in December. In 1939, Hitler declared him the second to Hermann Goring in the line of succession.
Hess had a reputation for absolute loyalty to Hitler. However, during the later 1930s and the first years of World War II, Hitler began to become increasingly preoccupied with military and other foreign policies and Hess's power began to wane. Hess, once considered unique amongst the Nazi leaders in that he grew up under British rule, was now being undermined by other leaders. A recurring theme in Hess’s later writings and speeches was that he believed people from countries like Britain and Germany were destined to rule the world and believed they should cooperate. This belief of his is thought to have been what led to his decision that took everyone by surprise.
On May 10th, 1941, Hess secretly took a plane and flew it solo from Augsburg to Scotland. Here he ditched the plane and landed by parachute. He was embarking on a secret mission to try and secure a negotiated peace between the British government and Germany. Hess was found by a scots farmer and was arrested. Those who arrested him were so impressed with his manners and his wish to negotiate peace, that when he was interned at the Tower of London for four days wardens asked for his autograph. Despite this, Hess’s proposals met with no response from the British government, and they treated him as a prisoner of war and held him throughout World War II. His actions were likewise rejected by Hitler himself who accused Hess of suffering from ‘pacifist delusions’ and immediately stripped Hess of all the ranks he held in the Nazi Party.
After the war was over, Hess was sent to trial at Nuremberg in 1946. Here he was convicted of war crimes and was given a life sentence. He served his sentence at Spandau Prison in Berlin along with other Nazi Leaders and from 1966 he was the sole inmate. In 1987, Rudolf Hess committed suicide by hanging himself. His death while in prison is still questioned today as many believe he was far too old and frail to do this by himself and would have needed assistance. Despite this, nothing has ever been proved and after his death, the Spandau prison was demolished. Hess was buried in Wunsidel Bavaria, and his grave later became a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis. In 2011, it was decided that his body should be removed, and his remains were subsequently cremated, and his ashes were scattered in an unidentified lake.