The year in which a photo of Rudolf Hess and Adolf Hitler published in yesterday's editions was taken was incorrectly provided by United Press International. It was taken in Nuremberg in 1938. (Published 8/19/87)
Rudolf Hess, 93, Adolf Hitler's deputy fuehrer who flew to Scotland in 1941 in a bid to end World War II, died Aug. 17 at Spandau Prison in West Berlin.
A statement issued by the four Allied powers said the cause of death would not be disclosed. It had previously been reported that Hess had heart, lung and stomach ailments and was nearly blind. He also had attempted suicide three times during his captivity.
Jailed by the British during the war, he was convicted by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal of "plotting against world peace" and "planning an aggressive war." Sentenced to life in prison, he had been in Spandau since then.
The episode for which Hess is best remembered began on the night of May 10, 1941, when he flew a twin-engine Messerschmitt-110 fighter plane from a runway at Augsburg, Germany, and headed northwest toward the darkness above the North Sea.
His mission was so secret that not even Hitler knew about it, according to most historians. His objective: to arrange some kind of "peace" in the war with England before the United States entered the fighting and before Hitler's armies invaded the Soviet Union.
Four hours later, Hess -- a skilled, barnstorming-style pilot -- was skimming low over the Scottish countryside. He outraced a British Spitfire on his tail, put his plane into a slow roll and bailed out, hoping to make contact with top British officials who might see the wisdom of his plan.
It was to be the last day of freedom for the man who was second in line, behind Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, to succeed Hitler.
When news of Hess' bizarre escapade was heard on BBC radio the next day, it shocked the world, enraged Hitler -- who promptly portrayed Hess as a madman -- and made Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, already nervous about a rumored German invasion of Russia, even more suspicious that such an attack was imminent.
Hess failed to negotiate a peace, if that is what he intended. He wound up a British prisoner in the Tower of London until the war's end, when he was sent back to Germany to stand trial at Nuremberg with other Nazi war criminals.
But his flight, the mystery that still surrounds it, the suspicions that it unleashed, which linger still in Soviet history books, marked Rudolf Hess as perhaps the strangest man among the strange cast of characters that made up Hitler's hierarchy.
And it made his jutting jaw, deep-set eyes and bushy, beetle brows instantly recognizable in much of the world that was then slipping deeper into the abyss of a gruesome war.
In letters and cryptic conversations with a few friends before he took off, Hess indicated his aim was to try to convince the British that it was senseless to continue the fighting between the two countries. Later, the Soviets came to believe his mission was really meant to inform the British about the secret Nazi plan called Operation Barbarossa to invade Russia.
The idea, the Soviets felt, was to encourage England to strike a deal in which the western Allies would not open up a second front to distract Hitler from the forthcoming attack against Russia, or even to have England join Germany in a push against the Bolsheviks. England, the German rationale supposedly went, could not possibly benefit from a future Europe overrun by communists if Hitler's armies were defeated. The Soviets long have suspected that the Allies delayed the invasion of Europe until it was clear that the Russians were going to overpower Hitler in the East.
Hess made his flight just six weeks before the invasion of Russia.
In 1972, in an extraordinary series of then-secret interviews with U.S. Lt. Col. Eugene K. Bird, who headed the U.S. Army contingent guarding Hess in Berlin's Spandau prison, Hess acknowledged to Bird that he had known about Operation Barbarossa before his flight. However, he never disclosed whether he told the British about it.
Bird, in an interview with The Washington Post, said there is still a secret file in the British archives on Hess that is marked not to be opened until the year 2017.
At Nuremberg, Hess declined to defend himself or shed any light on his mission. He either suffered from or feigned amnesia and talked of "secret forces" and "evil influences" being used to destroy him, all of which reinforced those who thought this mysterious man had, in fact, either gone mad or his belief in astrology had gotten the better of him.
On July 18, 1947, the blue-steel gates of century-old Spandau prison, an ugly red-brick prison-fortress on the outskirts of Berlin, swung open and Hess, along with six other top Nazis, entered.
There were no other prisoners in the jail, which was used exclusively by the four World War II Allies -- the United States, Britain, France and Russia -- to house the war criminals. Hess was prisoner No. 7 in Cell 23.
By 1966, he was alone in the 600-cell fortress. His fellow inmates had either died or completed their sentences. Baldur von Schirach, the former Nazi youth leader, and Albert Speer, Hitler's armaments minister, were released in 1966 after completing 20-year sentences.
The other four inmates were Adm. Erich Raeder, economics minister Walther Funk, foreign minister Konstantin von Neurath and Adm. Karl Doenitz. Raeder and Funk got life sentences but were freed early for health reasons and died in 1960. Von Neurath served eight years and died in 1956. Doenitz served 10 years, was released and died in 1980.
Hess became what Bird later described as "the loneliest man in the world." There was no noise in the huge prison except for perhaps the footsteps or occasional, overheard conversations among the 100-man guard detachments that rotated duty monthly between the four Allied powers.
Visits by his wife, Ilse, or his son, Wolf-Ruediger Hess, now a Munich architect-engineer, were limited to one a month between them, meaning only one could come each month. In fact, Hess refused to have any visitors until Nov. 18, 1964, when he agreed to see his Nuremberg lawyer, Alfred Siedl.
Bird, who later wrote a book about Hess and is probably the only outsider whom Hess took into his confidence after 1941, described him as a cantankerous, hard-to-manage prisoner.
But Bird rejected the notion that Hess was mad. "He had a complex and intelligent mind," the former Spandau commandant wrote, "which had pushed its dark secrets down into the depths where they lay purposely forgotten." He added that there also were moments of "warmth and humor" between the two men, who spent hours together talking in both German and English, although such contact was officially forbidden.
Speer, the only top Nazi to plead guilty at Nuremberg -- which alienated him from most of his former comrades -- always had a strained relationship with Hess, whom he considered eccentric, yet cunning.
Speer felt that Hess never really had the instincts for survival in the snakepit of intrigue that marked the circles around Hitler, that the fuehrer had become increasingly annoyed with Hess and that Hess may well have undertaken his extraordinary flight to try to win back Hitler's esteem.
Yet even Speer came to marvel Hess' stamina and morale. As he was leaving Spandau, he told Hess he thought it would not be in keeping with the respect Hess had received during his prison ordeal, even from some enemies, if Hess were to try to win his freedom by feigning insanity, which he frequently did. "You are absolutely right," Hess answered. "I, too, do not feel good about all that."
Hitler biographer John Toland believes that the Nazi leader never really thought Hess had gone mad, but that he was just naive and foolish in making the flight. Hitler probably understood that Hess had made the flight to try to help Hitler somehow get out of the war with England, a conflict that neither side could win, according to Hess, and which would ultimately destroy what Hess considered to be white civilization at that time.
Toland calls Hess "a man of culture without judgment . . . a completely devoted servant who convinced himself that he was carrying out the true will of his master."
In prison, Hess passed time by feeding birds in the prison garden. But he mostly stayed in his cell and watched television or read books (censored of references of the Third Reich).
He was permitted to write one letter a month. His only glimpses of the outside world were during high-security transfers from prison to the British military hospital, where he occasionally received medical treatment.
Hess was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on April 26, 1894, the son of a German wholesale merchant. He came from what Germans would call "a good home," went to business school, joined the infantry in World War I and, like Hitler, despaired of what happened to Germany in the war's aftermath.
At 24, he entered Munich University and fell under the geopolitical spell of Prof. Karl Haushofer, who mixed political theories, persuasion, dreams and astrology in a way that influenced Hess and Hitler.
Hess began political brawling in beer halls and distributing anti-Semitic leaflets. In 1920, he heard Hitler speak for the first time and that was enough to begin sealing his fanatic devotion to the then-radical political upstart.
When Hess' devotion -- Bird called it dog-like -- came to Hitler's attention, their lives become indelibly intertwined.
After the failure of Hitler's famous beer-hall putsch, or grab for power, in Munich on Nov. 8, 1923, Hess fled with Hitler into the nearby Bavarian Alps.
When they were captured and jailed in Landsberg prison, it was to Hess that Hitler dictated his book, "Mein Kampf," which was to become the black outline for Hitler's thousand-year reich.
From then on, the man who author William Shirer said "never escaped from mental adolescence" moved steadily upward.
In 1932, Hitler named Hess to head the Nazi party's central political commission. A year later, he was Hitler's deputy.
By 1935, he had added his name to legislation that eventually would spell doom for Europe's Jews. By 1938, he was inside Hitler's war planning circle.
The flight to Scotland catapulted Hess' name outside Germany and into the headlines. The Nuremberg trials kept it there for a while. But interest in the fate of Rudolf Hess faded in the postwar years, except for the persistent efforts of his son to get him freed. Then, as Hess moved into his third decade in Spandau, his solitary life in that enormous prison began to take on an eerie fascination with the public.
In 1959, he tried to commit suicide, an act he repeated almost 20 years later. In 1969, he became sick with ulcers and was taken briefly to a British hospital, his first trip outside Spandau.
What was happening, however, was that Rudolf Hess had imperceptibly begun to stand, in some people's eyes, for something else -- for cruel and unusual punishment.
By the mid-1970s, sentiment began to grow within some quarters, and not only in Germany, that Hess, then entering his eighties, should be set free to live out his final days with his family. Bird was among the supporters.
The three western Allies, the United States, Britain and France, also came around to the idea that Hess could safely be let go. But the Soviets, who under the postwar four-power agreements have veto power, would not hear of it.
The Russians, for one thing, never forgot the flight to Scotland and always feared that even a feeble Hess could somehow become a rallying figure for neo-Nazi forces.
By 1977, there were signs on poster boards throughout West German cities proclaiming "lasst Hess frei," "let Hess go." The posters were put up by a small committee, but opinion polls showed that the vast majority of Germans felt some mercy should have been shown.
In 1978, the Soviet ambassador to East Germany, Pyotr Abrasimov, went to West Berlin and called an extraordinary news conference to say that the Russians, who had lost 20 million people in World War II, would never understand setting Hess free.
"A premature release of this war criminal would signify an amnesty for fascism and for those people who actively developed and propagated its ideas," he said.
There is nothing to suggest that Hess ever abandoned the views he expressed in his closing address to the Nuremberg tribunal.
"I was allowed for many years of my life to work under the greatest son that my people produced in their 1,000-year history," he said on that occasion. "Even if I could, I would not want to erase this period from my existence. I am happy to know that I have done my duty to my people, my duty as a German, as a National Socialist, as a loyal follower of my fuehrer. I regret nothing . . . . "
An Allied spokeman said Hess' body would be turned over to his 87-year-old widow and his son.
"The purpose of Spandau Allied prison has ceased on the death of Rudolf Hess," the spokesman said. He added that the site probably would become a shopping center.