Changing the guard

Changing the guard (US troops left and British right) at Spandau Prison.

(May 7, 2021) This week, 80 years ago, Deputy Führer of the Nazi Party, Rudolf Hess, (not to be confused with Rudolf Höss, commandant of the extermination camp at Auschwitz) climbed into a Messerschmitt Vf110E-1/N at the Messerschmitt company airfield, at Augsburg-Haunstetten Airport, in Bavaria, Germany.

His destination was Scotland, where he intended to meet with the Duke of Hamilton, whom he had met at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, to discuss a cessation of hostilities between their two countries. The deputy führer mistakenly thought that the duke was a man with whom he could reason. The news hit the German Führer, “...as though a bomb had struck the Berghof [his vacation home in the Bavarian Alps]!”

At 11:06 p.m. on May 10, 1941, Hess parachuted from his plane, which crashed about three minutes later – out of fuel.

News of this event landed in the Axis governments like a thunderclap! All were stunned! At orders from Hitler, the German press characterized Hess as a madman, who was operating on his own. He was described as, “a deluded, deranged and muddled idealist, ridden with hallucinations traceable to World War I injuries.”

Der Führer, immediately, contacted the Italian Duce to reassure him that he had nothing to do with Hess’ flight, and was not attempting to negotiate a separate peace with the United Kingdom. To ensure that Mussolini was still loyal, Hitler, on May 13, sent Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to ensure the relationship was still sound. Of course, questions arose as to why Hess would hold such an important position as deputy führer if he was, indeed, “a deluded, deranged and muddled idealist, ridden with hallucinations traceable to World War I injuries.”

The Duke of Hamilton met with Hess the next day, at which time, Hess told the Duke he was on a “mission of humanity.” The duke contacted Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and relayed his conversation with Hess, who was transported to London and initially, and briefly, confined in the Tower of London, before being transferred to Mytchett Place in Surrey, where he stayed for the next 13 weeks.

During an attempted suicide attempt while in Surrey, he fractured the femur of his left leg. On June 26, 1942, Hess was transferred to Maindiff Court Hospital, where he remained for the next three years.

Hess was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father owned an import company, Hess & Co. He lived with his family on the Mediterranean Coast outside of Alexandria. Since his father wanted him to join the family business, after school in Germany and Switzerland, he apprenticed with a trading company in Hamburg. Upon the outbreak of WWI, he enlisted in the Bavarian Army. During the war he was wounded and promoted several times. At war’s end he held the rank of lieutenant.

After the war, Hess entered the University of Munich, where he met fellow student Ilse Pröhl, whom he later married. In the meantime, Hess joined the Nazi Party on July 1, 1920, becoming member #16. In 1922, he became a member of the party’s paramilitary branch, the SA.

He participated with Hitler in the “Beer Hall Putsch.” For his participation, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 18 months incarceration. He was imprisoned in Landsberg Prison with Hitler. While there he served as scribe while Hitler dictated “Mein Kampf.”

Both men were released from prison in December 1924, and began rebuilding the party. In April 1925, Hess became Hitler’s private secretary. Four years later, he was elevated to Hitler’s personal adjutant. He became head of the party liaison staff and chairman of the party Central Political Commission on Dec.15, 1932.

The following year, he became Deputy Führer of the Nazi Party and a Reich Minister without Portfolio. Hess organized the giant party rallies at Nuremberg, and usually spoke at them and introduced Hitler. Hess oversaw the implementation of the “Nuremberg Laws,” aimed at stripping Jews of their rights and making them second-class citizens.

He was transported to Nuremberg, Germany on Oct. 10, 1945, and stood trial with the other Third Reich hierarchy. As with the rest, Hess was charged with conspiracy to commit crimes, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. John Mervyn Guthrie Griffith-Jones led the team presenting the case against him.

He was found guilty of planning and preparing a war of aggression and conspiracy to commit crimes. He was acquitted of the other charges. A life sentence was imposed on Oct. 1, 1946. The Soviet judge, Maj. Gen. Iona Nikitchenko dissented from the sentence. He advocated the death sentence. Hess would spend the rest of his life in Spandau Prison in Berlin.

Others were released until, finally, only Hess remained. Always, the Soviets blocked any attempt to commute his sentence. In 1989, Hess died at the age of 93. His death was ruled a suicide.

Next week: First Attempt to Relieve the Siege Of Tobruk

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. He can be contacted at: wimbrowlaw@gmail.com.

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