Britain repeatedly pressed for the release of Adolf Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, from solitary confinement in Spandau prison, Berlin, before his suicide in 1987, newly released Foreign Office files reveal.
The papers left by the British military governor of Spandau show pleas for Hess’s release on humanitarian grounds were made by foreign secretaries including Alec Douglas-Home, James Callaghan and Douglas Hurd. An appeal was also drafted in the name of Margaret Thatcher in 1982 to be sent to the Soviet premier, Leonid Brezhnev.
“There is to my mind no justification for keeping Hess in prison any longer. He is 88. He has been in prison for 40 years. He has been without the company of other prisoners for over 16 years. Humanitarian reasons demand that no one should be treated this way,” the draft letter said.
Each of the 11 unilateral British appeals, which dated back to 1957, along with 14 others made separately, or jointly, by the US and French authorities were rejected by an unwavering Soviet insistence that the release of the former deputy Nazi leader would be an insult to the 20 million Soviet war dead. There were also fears that his release could fuel a resurgence of neo-Nazism.
Hess killed himself at the age of 93 on 17 August 1987 having been the sole prisoner in the Berlin jail since the release of fellow Nazis Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach in 1966. Spandau was demolished to prevent it becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.
Hess was deputy führer from 1933 until his flight to Scotland in 1941 in an attempt to hold peace talks with the Duke of Hamilton. Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 for crimes against peace and taken with six other Nazis to Spandau allied military prison in the British sector of Berlin.
Spandau was administered jointly by the four allied powers and the bulk of the files released on Thursday at the National Archives are the personal papers of the last British governor of the prison, Lt Col Tony Le Tissier.
The internal Foreign Office papers deal with most of the controversies that have surrounded Hess over the last 76 years. They say there is no evidence of a conspiracy to bring him to Scotland. Ministers concluded he came on his own initiative. One of his first interrogations on his arrival was by a member of the Home Guard. Hess gave no information about Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s invasion of Russia, although it was launched only a month later.
Hess was never certified insane, despite doctors consistently reporting he was prone to hysterical amnesia, delusions and paranoid psychosis.
The newly released files show the lengths the authorities were prepared to go to counter allegations in a 1979 book, The Murder of Rudolf Hess, that the Nazis had disposed of the deputy führer and sent an impostor in his place on the flight to Scotland. The book by W Hugh Thomas, a one-time Spandau doctor, claimed Prisoner No 7 did not bear scars corresponding to the wounds Hess sustained during the first world war and that the plane, a new ME 110, he was flying did not have the fuel capacity to make a direct flight to Kilmarnock.
Although in public Thomas’s book was cursorily dismissed in a parliamentary answer, behind the scenes four separate investigations were commissioned – including from the British military hospital in Berlin and the RAF – demolishing the claims. As Hess’s wife, Ilsa, is recorded in the files to have greetedLe Tissier after the book came out: “How is the doppelganger today?”