Tag Archives: Spandau prison

Jackson List: Spandau Prisoner Rudolf Hess

Rudolf Hess was one of Adolf Hitler’s earliest friends and devoted supporters.  Imprisoned with Hitler in the 1920s, Hess assisted his writing of Mein Kampf.  Hess was at Hitler’s side as the Nazi Party gained support and then political power.  After Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hess became Deputy Führer.  He assisted Hitler through the rest of the decade, as Germany built up its military strength and then started World War II, coercing some countries to capitulate and attacking others.

In May 1941, Hess became a British prisoner.  He was captured in Scotland, where he had flown from Germany on an odd, apparently solo, mission.  It seems that Hess sought to negotiate a United Kingdom-Germany peace agreement.

In 1945, following Nazi Germany’s military defeat and unconditional surrender, the Allies created the International Military Tribunal (IMT), charged Hess as a war criminal, and transported him to Nuremberg for trial (where Justice Jackson of course served as chief U.S. prosecutor).  Hess was tried there and, in Fall 1946, convicted of conspiracy and crimes against peace and sentenced to life in prison.

Hess was transported to Spandau Prison in Berlin and served his sentence there.  As the other prisoners completed their terms and were released, Hess became the only person still held in Spandau.  He died there, by suicide, in 1987, age 93.

Over the years, a story developed that the real Hess had been somehow, at some point in 1941 or later, freed, switched for a “double” who became the prisoner of Spandau.

This story, which involved neo-Nazi Hess supporters and was meaningful to them, never seemed to have much to it.

In any case, it now seems to have been disproven.  Austrian scientists, testing a preserved blood sample from the Spandau prisoner, have matched it to a DNA sample from a distant male relative of Hess.

Here are some links with further details—

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This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world. I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics. The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu. Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.