Historian Calls for Release of Secret British Documents About Hess
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Historian Calls for Release of Secret British Documents About Hess

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A leading British historian Tuesday called for the release of secret British documents about Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy who died Monday in Berlin aged 93.

Robert Rhodes James, a Conservative member of Parliament who in recent months has been sharply critical of Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, said the documents, which are not due to be declassified until 2017, would cast light on Hess’ daring solo flight to Britain in 1941.

In landing in Scotland six weeks before the German blitzkrieg against Russia, Hess hoped to persuade leading British politicians to make peace with Germany, thus ensuring that Hitler would not have to wage war on two fronts.

Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime leader, refused to see Hess, and had him locked up in the Tower of London. But this has never dispelled Soviet suspicions that the Western Allies wanted Germany to destroy the Soviet Union, a factor which strengthened Moscow’s determination that Hess should stay locked up till his death.

The war over, Hess was put in the dock at Nuremberg alongside the other Nazi leaders. Most were put to death or committed suicide but Hess, who was not charged with crimes against humanity, was jailed for life.

Following the release of Albert Speer and Balour von Schirach 20 years ago, Hess spent the rest of his long life as the only inmate of Spandau prison where he was guarded by 600 troops at an estimated cost of 300,000 Pounds Sterling a year.

British press comments Tuesday generally deplored the failure to release him. However, it also emphasized Hess’ complicity in Hitler’s campaign against the Jews.

Lord Elwyn Jones, one of the Nuremberg trial prosecutors, was quoted as saying history would condemn Hess for his part in “the vilest crime in modern history — the Holocaust.” Hess, he added, “was right in the thick of the Nazi movement right from the beginning. He played a major part. He signed the Nuremberg decrees against the Jews.”


Hess was born in Alexandria of a German father and Swiss mother. Less known is the fact that Hess’ father was honorary German Consul in Jerusalem early in the century and that young Rudolf spent some time there, moving in European and missionary circles before he was sent to boarding school in Germany when he was about 13.References to young Hess’ presence in Jerusalem appears in the memoirs of Bertha Spafford Vestor, whose family were among the 19th century founders of the American colony in the city.

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