BY TIINA PAIVARINTA AND GIOVANNI DI STEFANO
Born to a wealthy Bavarian family, Rudolf Hess spent his first 14 years in Egypt before going to Germany to finish his education and begin a career as a merchant. At the outbreak of the First World War, Hess enlisted in the German infantry. He was wounded on several occasions and was awarded the Iron Cross, second class, for his exploits.
Hess first heard Adolf Hitler speak at a Munich rally in 1920. He became devoted to Hitler and joined the fledgling Nazi Party as one of its first members. After Hitler assumed dictatorial powers in early 1933, Hess was named Deputy to the Fuhrer. On 1 September 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, Hitler announced that should anything happen to both him and Hermann Göring, Hess would be next in the line of succession.
Hess was an early confidant of Hitler, who dictated much of the infamous manifesto ‘Mein Kampf’ to Hess while imprisoned during the 1920s.
Like Goebbels, Hess was privately distressed by the war with Britain because he had hoped it would accept Germany as an ally..
On 10 May 1941, Hess took off from Augsburg in a Messerschmitt Bf 110. After reaching the west coast of England he turned east before climbing and parachuting over Renfrewshire and he landed at Floors Farm near Eaglesham. He was picked up by a ploughman who offered him a cup of tea. Stranger things may have happened in World War II, but not many. When Hitler heard about it, a howling scream of anger and frustration echoed around his Berchtesgaden home. In England, when told of Hess’ flight, Winston Churchill reportedly remarked: ‘Well, Hess or no Hess, I’m off to see the Marx Brothers.’
The Dad’s Army brigade who raised the alarm fell about laughing when this tall, blond German told them he had a secret message for the Duke of Hamilton. But for the Deputy Fuhrer it was deadly serious.
He had been planning this solo flight for some time - possibly as long ago as the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin when he had chatted to Hamilton, an admirer of Germany, about the possibilities of brokering an Anglo-German peace deal with the British Government. But by 1940 there had been so much slaughter that any peace deals were out of the question.
An admirer of the English, Hess was born and raised in Alexandria where British influence was strong. Moving to Germany, he met Hitler in 1920 and yoked his star to the newly formed Storm Troopers, the SA. When the SA was banned, Hess followed Hitler into prison, and then in 1925, on their release, Hitler made Hess his Private Secretary. For the next 14 years the two men were seldom apart.
That closeness led Hess to think he could read the Fuhrer’s mind: he imagined that by flying his Messerschmitt to Britain with a peace plan to bring their two countries together to defeat Russia, the common enemy, he was doing what Hitler privately wanted to happen.
It was a fatal error. Hitler reacted with fury. Since he couldn’t put Hess before a firing squad, he let it be known that his deputy was insane (a suggestion put forward by Martin Bormann, who wanted Hess’ job).
When it became known that Hess had plotted his flight with astrological advice, Hitler banned all astrologers and mediums, much to the dismay of men like Himmler who depended on them. The British knew that in Hess they had a potential gold-mine of intelligence.
Although the Battle of Britain had been won, the country was still in desperate straits.
Hess was taken under armed escort to London and spent four days in the Tower, while a country house near Aldershot could be made secure. Its name was Mytchett Place - under the code-name Camp Z, Hess would be its only inmate: the best guarded and most secret refuge in the land. Security was tight. The house was surrounded by barbed wire, and alarm bells and armed sentries patrolled the perimeter; the windows were taped against bomb splinters. Dozens of concealed microphones relayed the erstwhile Deputy Fuhrer’s every yawn.
The interrogations by Major Frank Foley, friendly but insistent, uncovered very few gold nuggets and are now more interesting for what they revealed about British wartime fears in 1941 - in particular bacterial warfare and what Hess described forbiddingly as ‘new bombs with stronger explosives’.
The real problem was Hess’ state of mind. He was sullen, depressed and uncommunicative; he developed a persecution mania in which he thought he saw Hitler’s face in his soup, and believed that his food and his pills were poisoning him. Hitler said he was delusional and the British treated him as a prisoner of war. The Fuhrer then sacked Hess and ordered him to be shot if he ever returned to Germany. He appointed Martin Bormann as his new deputy.
At one point Hess made a suicide attempt, putting on his uniform and trying to throw himself off the top of the landing. Diving, he caught his leg in the banister and had to be hospitalised with a broken thigh.
Hess never did get to see either the Duke of Hamilton or King George VI, though not for want of asking. The nearest he came were two interviews, one with Lord Simon, the Lord Chancellor and the other with Lord Beaverbrook: vague waffle about peace movements, the transcripts of which Churchill sent across to President Roosevelt.
The only importance of Hess’ flight was incidental. It confused Stalin into thinking that either Britain or Germany had a secret plan to gang up on him. It enabled Britain to cast Hess as a fanatical Nazi whose mission was to scupper any negotiations between Russia and Germany.
By January 1942, Foley had had enough. Hess, now fully recovered from his suicide attempt, had relapsed into apparently incurable paranoia. He was moved to a mental hospital, and next surfaced at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, when psychiatric reports judged him to be disturbed but not insane.
A Welsh historian, Dewi Bowen, has claimed a greyhound owned by Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess raced throughout the war at Merthyr Tydfil. Nimrod the dog – a regular at Penydarren Park – was given to Hess after he took his crazy flight to the UK in 1941 in a bid to sue for peace with Churchill.
Hess spent most of his time as a POW confined to Maindiff Court Military Hospital in Abergavenny.
Mr Bowen, 85, says Nimrod was given to him in a bid to keep his mind off of committing suicide. 'Almost every Saturday afternoon during the Second World War a private soldier with a greyhound travelled down from Abergavenny to Merthyr Tydfil by train and dropped off at Cefn Coed to quench his thirst at the Railway Inn.
'He claimed the greyhound that answered to his German name – Nimrod – was owned by Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s former deputy, who was in captivity.
On Saturdays during the Second World War, a private soldier with a greyhound named Nimrod, travelled down to Cefn Coed. It's claimed the greyhound was owned by Rudolf Hess.
'Hess walked the surrounding hills – the Sugar Loaf was one of his favourite rendezvous – under military guard and probably with his greyhound. 'Regular customers at the inn would speak of this. The soldier exercised Rudolf Hess’ greyhound en route for the Saturday evening greyhound racing at Penydarren Park in Merthyr Tydfil.'
Historian and Merthyr Tydfil librarian, Carolyn Jacob, said she had heard the tale of the Nazi-owned greyhound: 'It is a common local legend in Cefn Coed and was remembered by quite a few people.'
'No-one has ever challenged the greyhound story but only questioned whether the prisoner in Abergavenny was the real Hess or a double. 'The British government never tried to hide the fact that Hess was being detained in Abergavenny. 'Indeed when he first arrived, the staff of the hospital actually lined up in a formal reception to meet him and the news did feature in many of the national papers of the time.’
'The fact that Hess was moved amid virtual fanfare to Abergavenny makes it seem that this was really a case of drawing attention to a double,' said Jacob.
'There was certainly no attempt to play down, or keep low profile, his presence in the quiet Welsh border town.
'But he never visited Merthyr Tydfil – only his greyhound did.
'It was the source of many jokes in Cefn Coed at the time and certainly local people do not think it was just a double.'
A declassified report has revealed for the first time the stark scene in which Hitler's deputy Rudolph Hess was said to have killed himself at a fortified compound in Berlin, and his alleged suicide note.
After the end of the war, Hess was tried at Nuremberg alongside other Nazi leaders. He was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against peace but told the tribunal, 'I regret nothing.'
Hess was sent to Spandau Prison after the Russians demanded a full-life sentence, and in 1987, at the age of 92, he hanged himself with an electrical extension cord in the summerhouse of his prison garden.
He was the sole member of the Nazi hierarchy sentenced at Nuremberg still serving his life sentence for war crimes.
Pictures, which had not been published until now, show the electrical cord Hess allegedly used to end his life inside a small summerhouse at Spandau Prison 25 years ago this month.
But the report of the investigation into Hess’ death, released this week under Freedom of Information, has only deepened the mystery surrounding his final moments.
Although the official verdict by the Special Investigations Branch of the British Military Police is that Hess committed suicide and no others were involved, historians have claimed that the new images cast doubt on this version of events.
There have long been conspiracy theories claiming Hess was murdered by M16 to stop him being released from prison and revealing embarrassing secrets about his time in British captivity.
A photograph showing the electrical cord attached to the window handle less than 5ft off the ground has prompted sceptics to suggest it would be next to impossible for Hess to hang himself from such a height.
Hess’ son Wolf had earlier claimed that the frail 93-year-old would not have been physically capable of killing himself in such a way. The report also contains the text of Hess' suicide note, in which, according to an English translation, he claimed he was writing 'a few minutes before my death'.
Hess' son had previously said that the so-called suicide note refers to a period in 1969 when Hess had a perforated ulcer in the duodenum and feared he could die.
The note refers to 'Freiberg', a secretary he had not spoken to in years, and is also signed off with 'Euer Grohser' - Your Eldest - a term for himself he hadn't used for a long time, according to his son.
Peter Padfield, the historian whose freedom of information request led to the report's release, believes the note was planted on Hess’ body. 'The "suicide note" appended to the report is surely bogus. For instance, passing his regrets to Freiberg - he had done this some 20 years before when his wife and son visited him for the first time in Spandau. And there is no mention of his grandchildren,' he said.
'It was forged. That doesn't mean he was murdered, but it does suggest they were trying to cover something up,' he said. 'It won't put the mystery to bed.'
The suicide note says: 'All other attempts to gain freedom impossible.'
Mr Padfield added that he was surprised that the report included no witness statements.
The report gives a blow-by-blow description of the moments leading up to Hess' death on 17 August 1987, and the guard's reaction on discovering him.
Hess, the last remaining prisoner at Spandau Allied Prison, had left the prison building around 2.30pm 'ostensibly to go for a walk' and had entered the summer house.
Even though he had apparently tried to take his own life on two previous occasions, the report found that it was not uncommon - 'taking account of the prisoner's age and health' - for him to be left alone for a few minutes either in the prison block or garden area.
The warden, who was sitting 10 metres away from the summerhouse, left Hess alone for only five minutes.
According to the report, Hess was discovered unconscious but with a pulse and a 'red mark running from ear to ear around the patient's neck'.
Two US Army Medics tried unsuccessfully to revive him and he was pronounced dead at 4.10pm, after an ambulance had taken him to hospital.
A post-mortem two days later revealed that Hess had 'died following asphyxia caused by compression of the neck'.
The report says that Hess 'planned well in advance to take his own life'.
'It would appear... that whilst alone in the summerhouse he took his own life by placing the electrical cable around his neck and hanging himself. No evidence has been obtained to indicate otherwise.'
An examination of the summer house revealed that 'fastened to the rear window handle, positioned at a height of 1.40m from the floor was a 2.75m long plastic coated electric extension cable, which clearly had a loose knot in the lower region. No other marks or material of evidential value to suggest criminal involvement of any person was apparent during examination of the scene.'
The electrical cable was used to move lamps near the chair in the summerhouse.
'It was subsequently learned that a one page hand-written letter in the form of a suicide note was found in the clothing of Allied Prisoner No 7 (Hess) following his admission to the British Military Hospital,' the report says, adding that authorities compared the note to samples of Hess' writing and found 'a marked area of resemblance'.
Fingerprints were not taken from the scene, due to the number of people who had access to the summerhouse.
The prison was demolished shortly afterwards and the rubble secretly disposed of.
Many far right groups say Hess did not commit suicide but was killed by British military guards in prison, and conspiracy theories about the Nazi, who was interested in the occult, abound.
Rudolf Hess’ remains taken from grave in dead of night, cremated and scattered after it became neo-Nazi pilgrimage site
The grave of Adolf Hitler’s deputy has been dismantled to stop neo-Nazis using it as a pilgrimage point.
Rudolf Hess’ remains were exhumed from the burial plot in a cemetery in the Bavarian town of Wunsiedel. They will be cremated and scattered at sea in a secret operation.
Hess, who was one of Hitler’s closest aides, committed suicide in 1987 while serving a life sentence in Berlin for crimes against peace. He was 93. He had requested in his will to be buried in his family’s plot in Wunsiedel.
But in recent years he has come to be seen as a martyr by the far right, and thousands of neo-Nazis have used the anniversary of his death on August 17 as an occasion to hold rallies in the town. Despite these being outlawed six years ago, the site and town continued to attract extremists.
Hess’ relatives and the Lutheran Church, which runs the cemetery, agreed it was best to remove his remains from the site. ‘The grave is now empty,’ cemetery administrator Andreas Fabel has confirmed.
Holocaust survivors welcomed the move. ‘There is now one less place of evil in the world,’ said Elan Steinberg of the New York-based American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.
German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung said the descendants of Hess were initially against the idea of exhuming his body. A granddaughter of Hess even filed a law suit to prevent it.
But the family eventually caved in to pressure from the local authorities and agreed to have his remains taken away.
However, according to Fabel, with the lease on the burial plot coming up for renewal in October, Hess’ relatives and Lutheran Church authorities in the town decided it was best to remove the remains. 'Both sides were in favour of it,' he added.
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