On This Day: Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, kills himself in jail

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, kills himself in jail

August 17: Deputy Nazi leader Rudolf Hess killed himself in jail on this day in 1987 following his fourth suicide attempt during his 46 years in captivity.

The 93-year-old, who was captured in 1941 after flying solo to Britain in a bid to discuss peace during World War II, hanged himself in Spandau Prison, West Berlin.

He spent 21 years as the only inmate in the notorious war criminals’ jail after every other Nazi German leaders locked up there had all been released by 1966.

The Soviet Union - which had joint control of the prison with the U.S, Britain and France – refused to release Hess because it wanted to keep a foothold in West Berlin.

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Hess, who was one of the first to join the Nazi party in 1920 and became Deputy Führer after the Nazi’s 1933 election win, was extremely devoted to Adolf Hitler.

His career as a senior member of the fascist party blossomed after being imprisoned alongside the leader following the failed 1923 Munich Putsch bid to take power.

Hitler dedicated his 1925 book Mein Kampf – which means “My Struggle” in German and spelled out his evil plans – to Hess after he helped him write it in jail.

But, despite holding the office as Hitler’s deputy, by the start of World War II Hess had lost influence to other members of the Nazi party.

So, without consulting Hitler, the former First World War pilot, who was later found to be mentally unstable, made the baffling decision to secretly fly alone to Scotland.

He crashed his Messerschmitt 12 miles from Dungavel House, where he hoped to meet the Duke of Hamilton, who he believed would be willing to help him.

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Instead, he was apprehended by a farmer, arrested and – after delivering his plea for Britain to quit fighting - was forced to spend the rest of the war in the UK.

A British Pathé newsreel reveals the astonishment people felt that the “shadow of nature’s worst blunder” had dared to come to meet his enemies during a time of war.

Hitler disowned him when news of his flight reached Germany.

Questions regarding Hess’s sanity were raised both during his internment in Britain and his trial at Nuremberg, when he repeatedly claimed his food was being poisoned.

He was found guilty of crimes against peace and conspiracy with other leaders to commit crimes – but not war crimes, which ensured he avoided the death penalty.

During his time at Spandau, where he was assigned prisoner number 7, he was not allowed to speak with other senior Nazis and refused to let his family visit until 1969.

Most of the other top politicians there – including Karl Dönitz, who served as Führer during the dying days of the Reich after Hitler’s suicide – were released in the 1950s.

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After Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect and the Nazi famed for saying sorry, was freed in 1966, Hess was alone in the 600-cell prison.

Despite being given greater freedom  - including a garden and access to movies - he spiralled further into depression after successive appeals for his release were rejected.

He ended his life by hanging himself an extension cord from a lamps, which was strung over a window latch in the summer house built for him in the garden.

His grave in the town of Wunsiedel in Bavaria was the site of neo-Nazi pilgrimages until his remains were exhumed and cremated in 2011.

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