Sigh of Relief at Hess’ Death
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Sigh of Relief at Hess’ Death

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Western Europe, with a few rare exceptions, heaved a sigh of relief at the death of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s former deputy, who died Monday at the age of 93 in the British military hospital near the four-power Spandau war crimes prison where he had been serving a life term.

A British official was quoted by German Radio Tuesday as saying that Hess had apparently committed suicide. The official was reported as saying that Hess walked into a small cabin next to his exercise ground inside the prison compound. When a guard looked in a few minutes later he found Hess’ body lying on the ground with an electric wire round his neck.

The former Nazi leader was said by his son to be depressed and had asked on several occasions to be freed or put to death. German Radio commentators expressed belief that Hess’ suicide might provoke new neo-Nazi demonstrations and strengthen the nationalist elements inside Germany.

Many West European leaders had given in to West German requests and backed a demand for Hess’ release; others who had not gone that far feared that his continued detention risked turning him into a martyr, strengthening the neo-Nazis and other extreme right-wing movements.

Hess’ body will be released to his family and flown to West Germany for burial after an autopsy. The body will be flown to Frankfurt, probably Friday morning, by a British military aircraft. Hess is survived by his wife and son.

The three Western powers, America, France and Britain, had been in favor of his release on humanitarian reasons because of his age. The Soviet Union had always opposed such a move. Moscow released a statement Tuesday reiterating its position: no pardon and no forgetfulness for Nazi crimes.


After the announcement of his death, neo-Nazis and members of rightwing organizations demonstrated in several West German cities. Skinheads, young toughs with closecropped hair, placed a wreath of red and white carnations at the foot of the Spandau prison wall in West Berlin.

In Hamburg, demonstrators marched Monday night on the British and American Consulates carrying torches and posters reading “Rudolf Hess — a Martyr for Peace.” In Frankfurt, two men in their early twenties threw gasoline bombs on U.S. military vehicles. No one was injured and there were no damages.

The French press and television stressed Tuesday, in the words of Le Monde, that “40 years after the war many in West Germany feel that the time has come for the world to take into consideration the new Germany and often considered (Hess’ continued imprisonment) as a form of relentless revenge.”

Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld said he was glad Hess died behind bars. Klarsfeld, who spoke on television, said “Hess played an effective role in the rise of Nazism and in measures taken against the Jews. He was a close aide to Hitler and sought to help him by trying to negotiate a separate peace treaty with Britain. Had he died free, he would probably have been surrounded by the media and editors.”

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