Famous Dead Person of the Week: Rudolf Hess
Life: April 26, 1894 – Aug. 17, 1987
Occupation: Nazi (I wonder if that was a lucrative occupation?)
Claim to Fame: Adolph Hitler’s deputy prior to WWII.
Fun Fact: Edited large portions of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s rambling autobiography.
Nazi’s were bad people. I think (hope?) we can all agree on that. They burned books, encouraged genocide and plunged the world into World War II.
So the case of Rudolf Hess is, I think, an interesting one.
Hess was an early devotee of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi party. He rose to the role of deputy for the Fuhrer, and as such had pretty much unlimited power to handle those that were critical of Hitler or the party. He even had a high reputation among other nation’s political leaders, at least by Nazi standards.
As the 1930s wore on, Hess became less important as men like Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler began to seize power within the party. Hess, not a politically-ambitious sort but a long-time Hitler loyalist, remained the third in command behind Göring.
So it makes his dead of night flight to Scotland such a strange turn of events.
Ostensibly, Hess’ journey to the UK on the night before the German invasion of Soviet Russia was a clever ploy in an attempt to make an ally out of Great Britain. Regardless, Hess was not much of a pilot and crashed into a field outside of Glasgow en route. His mission, born of peace, led him to a life spent in various prisons.
(Which was probably for the best in a long-term sense. Hitler was not pleased by Hess’ move and a standing order that he be shot on sight was issued not long after his capture.)
He was imprisoned for almost all of WWII, but was included in the Nuremberg Trials for the Nazi elite. Despite the fact that his failed mission unhinged him to the point of suicide attempts, he was declared fit to stand trial and sentenced to life in prison.
Hess outlived most of those involved in WWII and was the last living member of Hitler’s cabinet; he lived to be 93, and spent many of those years in Spandau Prison until he was found dead with an electrical cord around his neck. This was probably a suicide, but a frail, mentally unhinged 93-year old would’ve had a hard time pulling that off by himself. His treatment bordered on criminal; he was denied most everything, including visits with his lawyer – the Soviets seemed to think his continued existence was something they should be very worried about.
He was Spandau’s last prisoner; the facility was demolished to prevent it from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine. The new generation of Nazi sympathizers seemed to regard him as an important figure. Neo-Nazis across Europe gathered near Wunsiedel (site of Hess’ first grave) for demonstrations around the anniversary of Hess’ death yearly until Germany basically said, “Umm, hey, let’s cut that out,” for good in 2005. Hess’ body was exhumed, cremated and scattered in 2011.