Rudolf Hess was born in 1894 in Alexandria, Egypt
, to a German importer/ exporter and his wife. They returned to Germany
in 1908. At the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted in the 7th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment, where he was an infantryman and awarded the Iron Cross, second class. After several injuries he joined the Imperial Air Corps in 1918 at the rank of lieutenant. He married his wife Ilse in 1927.
He became a devoted Nazi
in 1920 after hearing Adolf Hitler
speak to a crowd. After the disastrous Beer Hall Putsch, Hess was sentenced to seven and a half months in prison, where he became a kind of personal secretary for Hitler, transcribing and editing Hitler's book, Mein Kampf
. When Hitler seized power in Germany in 1933, he named Hess as Deputy to the Fuhrer, a post Hess would hold until 1941. Hess' influence in the party slowly declined as the focus shifted to foreign policy, however he still maintained a great deal of legislative power within the party, perhaps greater than the powers wielded by some of the more prominent Party members like Hermann Göring
and Heinrich Himmler
. He was second in line to run the party in the event of Hitler being incapacitated, behind Göring.
In many ways, Hess literally worshipped Hitler. He was probably the most committed of any of the Nazi party to the Hitler Myth. His ambitions in the party were limited, and he did not seem to want power in the same way that his fellow ministers did. He seems to have shared some of Hitler's interest in the paranormal, as it was he who ordered the mapping of all the ley lines in the Third Reich.
Hess, who had hoped that Britain
would ally with the Germans rather than fighting them, flew to Scotland
on May 10th, 1941. While there he hoped to persuade the British to make peace with the Germans. He was first held in the Tower of London, then transferred to Mytchett Place, near Aldershot, where two MI6
agents attempted to debrief him. he grew increasingly agitated, insisting that he was going to be murdered, perhaps by poison in his food. The agents believed that he might be insane. He attempted suicide by throwing himself down a set of stairs, but only broke his leg. A psychologist concluded that he was not insane, but was mentally ill and depressed. Hitler had Hess' staff arrested and, eventually, it was determined that Hess had acted out of stress over the war, and had not been disloyal to Germany. At this point, Hess was stripped of all of his titles and powers and ordered shot on sight if he ever returned to Germany. For the remainder of the war he was held in a military hospital in Wales
and a castle in Cornwall.
After the war, he was tried at Nuremburg along with other Nazi leaders. He was noted as being the most mentally unstable of all of the defendants, much to the irritation of fellow defendant Göring. He was found guilty in 1946 of two of four counts, and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he served in Spandau Prison. After the release of two other convicted war criminals, Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach, in 1966, Hess was the last remaining prisoner in Spandau, and remained so until his death by self-asphyxiation in 1987.