In 1920, Rudolf Hess (1894-1987) joined the Nazi Party of Germany and quickly became one of Adolf Hitler’s confidants. He participated in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, and in the resulting imprisonment of Nazi Party members thereafter, he helped record and edit Hitler’s infamous manifesto, Mein Kampf. When Hitler began to ascend to real power, Rudolf Hess immediately became a high-ranking Nazi officer. Yet, though Hess was in Hitler’s inner circle, his position was frustratingly static—other leaders such as Hermann Göring and Martin Bormann kept Hess from attaining any more influence.
By 1941, Rudolf Hess was desperate to gain Adolf Hitler’s attention. On May 10, 1941, Hess secretly took off from Berlin, Germany, in a Messerschmitt airplane, crossed the English Channel and parachuted into Scotland while his plane plummeted to the earth. After the rough landing, the locals found Hess and offered him tea. The next day, Rudolf Hess obtained an audience with the Duke of Hamilton, during which the Nazi renegade declared that he had come to Britain to negotiate a peace between the British and the German Empires—obviously, with terms favoring the Nazi regime. Instead of negotiating, the British arrested Hess, and, because the Nazi was there without orders from Hitler, any possible diplomatic immunities were declared void. Rudolf Hess spent the rest of WWII imprisoned in Britain.
The reasons as to why Hess flew to Britain remain enormously debated. The man’s own statements show that he obviously felt, at least at first, that he was fated to broker a peace between Germany and Britain, allowing the Reich to have its way in mainland Europe. One unproven theory claims that Britain may have sowed this idea in Hess’ mind in a scheme, the so-called Operation Mistletoe, convincing the man to fly to Britain to negotiate peace. Yet, no matter the cause, Rudolf Hess was arrested in Scotland, leaving the Allied Powers amused and Hitler furious.
After Hess was arrested, a string of consistent, odd behaviors became apparent. He thought he was being poisoned with substances causing symptoms ranging from irritation to amnesia. He also was convinced that his prison clothing was at one time laced with a rash-inducing substance. Hess was so paranoid that he would sometimes refuse to eat, for fear of poison. Around 1946, when he was sentenced to life imprisonment during the Nuremberg Trials, he was still convinced that his food was poisoned—he even gave a sealed package of suspect prison rations to a prominent psychologist named Dr. Douglas Kelley. The packets of food, to this day, remain in Maryland along with other Nuremberg memorabilia that was collected by Dr. Kelley, who sadly committed suicide by cyanide in front of his family in 1958.
With the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trials, Rudolf Hess was imprisoned at Spandau in Berlin, where he would remain for the rest of his life. In August 1987, the ninety-three year old Nazi was mysteriously found hanged to death by an electrical cord or cable—the death was deemed a suicide. Rudolf Hess had, indeed, attempted (unsuccessfully) to take his life on multiple occasions during his long imprisonment. Yet, many observers remain convinced that Hess was murdered or assassinated, pointing out Hess’ elderly infirmities, as well as governments or politicians who may have wanted Hess silenced or given further punishment.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.