At the end of WWI, Rudolf Walter Richard Hess enrolled in the University of Munich. He’d been wounded several times in the Great War, serving in the 7th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment. As a student, Hess studied geopolitics under Karl Haushofer, an early proponent of “Lebensraum” (“living space”), the philosophy which later became a central plank in the Nazi Party political platform.
Hess was an early and ardent proponent of Nazi ideology. A True Believer. He was at Hitler’s side during the failed revolution of 1923, the “Beer Hall Putsch”. He served time with Hitler in prison, and helped him write his political opus “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle). Hess was appointed to Hitler’s cabinet when the National Socialist German Workers’ Party seized power in 1933, becoming Deputy Führer, #3 after Hermann Göring and Hitler himself. Hess signed many statutes into law, including the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, depriving the Jews of Germany of their rights and property.
Obsessed as he was with race theory, Hitler believed that, as fellow Anglo Saxons, the British people were meant to be natural allies to Germany. If only they could get rid of Churchill, he believed, the two nations might be able to work things out. Churchill and Hitler deeply hated one another, but there were many in Great Britain, including much of the landowning aristocracy, London financiers and media moguls, who regarded the Soviet Union as the greater threat.
Rudolf Hess flew into Scotland on May 10, 1941, parachuting to earth as his Messerschmidt two-seat aircraft ran out of gas. It’s unclear whether the scheme was Hess’ own idea or if it had official sanction. It was a cockamamie scheme, in which he intended to arrange peace talks with Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton, believing him to be a prominent opponent of the British government. The Deputy Führer was immediately arrested, remaining in British custody until the end of the war, when he was returned to Germany for the 1946 Nuremberg Trials.
Hess mental state seems to have declined while under British custody and questions were raised about his sanity and fitness to stand trial. Judges decided that he understood the charges against him and was capable of defending himself. Hess did himself no good at trial, declaring his late Führer to be “the greatest son my Volk has brought forth in its thousand-year history”. He testified that he wouldn’t change a thing about having worked for the man, saying “I regret nothing.”
Nine months later, the court acquitted Hess of war crimes and crimes against humanity, apparently deciding that his earlier persecution of Jews to be insufficiently connected to their later annihilation. Hess was convicted of conspiracy to wage aggressive war and of crimes against peace and sentenced to life in prison, transferred to Spandau Prison in West Berlin, and placed under the authority of the four major allied powers. Spandau had once housed as many as 600 prisoners. There he was stripped of his name and given a number, #7, one of 8 former Nazi officials imprisoned there. After July 18, 1947, those eight became the only inmates to occupy the facility.
Hess’ fellow convicts were gradually released from the prison, as their terms expired or on compassionate grounds. His main companion at this time was his jailer, warden Eugene K. Bird, with whom Hess became close friends. The last of the other inmates had left by 1966, leaving #7 the prison’s only occupant. Warden Bird wrote a book in 1974, titled “The Loneliest Man in the World”, about his relationship with Hess during his 30 years’ confinement.
Attempts by family members and prominent politicians to get him released were blocked by Soviet authorities, who believed him to be a principle architect of Barbarossa, the Nazi sneak attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. On August 17, 1987, #7 tied a lamp cord to a window latch and hanged himself with it. He was 93.
Spandau prison was demolished following the death of its final remaining prisoner, the rubble dumped into the North Sea to prevent the place from becoming a Neo-Nazi shrine,