Sunday, June 8, 2014

The very brave Rudolph Hess

Flight for peace.

Rudolph Hess
What really happened between June 1940 and May 10, 1941, the day my father took off in a Messerschmidt 110 to Scotland, is known only in outline because the relevant British documents still remain classified. The Hess papers that were released in Britain with great fanfare in June 1992 proved to be disappointing. Among these approximately two thousand pages was absolutely nothing of real substance about the secret contacts that existed between Britain and Germany, about the British peace group (which included members of the royal family) and its peace feelers to Germany, or about the role played by the British secret service prior to the flight. In short, these papers contained nothing that would show why my father seriously hoped that his mission might well turn out successfully.

In any case, it can be said with certainty that the still-classified British documents contain nothing that will reflect badly on Rudolf Hess or the policies of the German government of that time. Moreover, it can be stated with certainty that the documents that the British government continues to keep secret will reflect badly on the wartime British government of Winston Churchill. I will go further to say that these suppressed documents confirm that Churchill sought to prolong the war, with all the suffering, destruction and death that implies.

Some may dismiss this statement as unjustified and self-serving. In this regard, I would therefore like to cite the words of a British historian who has carried out extensive research on precisely this aspect of that dreadful conflict. In Ten Days To Destiny: The Secret Story of the Hess Peace Initiative and British Efforts to Strike a Deal with Hitler (New York: W. Morrow, 1991), it would have been quite possible to bring the European war to an before it turned into a world war, if only the British government had made even the slightest move to do so.

    Hitler's order halting the Panzer advance on Dunkirk was a carefully timed stratagem to persuade the British and French governments to seek a compromise peace.
    An alarmed President Roosevelt secretly sought Canadian help to stop the British accepting a "soft peace" deal with Hitler.
    French leaders believed on May 24, 1940, that Britain would not fight on but accept a joint peace deal brokered by Mussolini at the of May 1940.
    Churchill--and Britain--survived only because the Prime Minister resorted to ruthless Machiavellian intrigue and a high-stakes bluff to stop a wobbly Foreign Secretary talking the War Cabinet into a peace deal engineered by R.A. Butler. When France fell, Lord Halifax's Under Secretary actually passed a message to Berlin that "common sense and not bravado" dictated that Britain should negotiate, not fight Hitler.
Two days after Churchill had promised "we shall never surrender," Lord Halifax and R.A. Butler signaled to Berlin via Sweden that a British peace proposal would be made after the French armistice on June 18, 1940.
    Ambassador Kennedy had been in clandestine contact with Hitler's emissaries trying to stop the war while the British government suspected him of illegally profiting from Treasury information to make a killing in international stock and securities dealings. The Duke of Windsor and other members of the Royal Family encouraged German expectations that peace would eventually be negotiable.
    Hess' plan to fly to Scotland took shape in the final days of the battle for France and was encouraged in September 1940 by his discovery that Britain continued putting out peace feelers via Switzerland and Spain.
    MI5 [the British secret service] intercepted Hess' first peace initiative and then turned it into a "double-cross" operation to snare Hess into a trap baited by the Duke of Hamilton and the British Ambassadors in Switzerland and Madrid.
    Hess' dramatic arrival left Churchill with no choice but to bury the affair in distortion and official silence in order to protect not only the Duke of Hamilton but senior Tory colleagues who even in 1941 remained convinced that an honorable peace could be struck with Hitler.
Hitler & Hess

For more than sixty years the cloak of British secrecy has clouded and distorted the record. The official histories carefully masked the roles played by the key players in the year-long effort to strike a deal with Hitler behind Churchill's back. Just how close this peace plotting came to succeeding has been concealed to protect the reputations of the British politicians and diplomats who had believed that Hitler was less of a menace to the Empire than Stalin.

No one knows for sure whether my father undertook his flight with the knowledge and blessing of Adolf Hitler. Both men are now dead. All the available evidence, though, suggests that Hitler knew in advance of the flight:

First: Just a few days before his flight, my father had a private meeting with Hitler that lasted four hours. It is known that the two men raised their voices during portions of their talk, and that when they were finished, Hitler accompanied his Deputy to the ante-room, put his arm soothingly around his shoulder, and said: "Hess, you really are stubborn."

Second: The relationship between Hitler and Hess was so close and intimate that one can logically assume that Hess would not have undertaken such an important step in the middle of a war without first informing Hitler.

Third: Although Hess' adjutants and secretaries were imprisoned after the flight, Hitler intervened to protect Hess' family. He saw to it that a pension was paid to Hess' wife, and he sent a personal telegram of condolence to Hess' mother when her husband died in October 1941.
Mychett Place

and, fourth: Among the papers released in June 1992 by the British authorities are two farewell letters my father wrote on June 14, 1941, the day before he tried to commit suicide in Mytchett Place, in England. The letters were written after he realized that his peace mission had definitely failed. One was addressed to Hitler and the other to his family. Both clearly confirm that his close relationship with Hitler still existed. If he had undertaken his now-obviously failed mission without Hitler's prior knowledge, his relationship with Hitler clearly would no longer still have been one of trust.
After September 1941 my father was completely isolated. On June 25, 1942, he was transferred to Abergavenny in south Wales, where he was kept prisoner until he was flown to Nuremberg on October 8, 1945, to stand trial as a "major war criminal" and as the second-ranking defendant in the so-called "International Military Tribunal."

I will not go into detail here about this shameful "victors' trial of the vanquished," except to note that even the Tribunal's Allied judges had to exonerate my father of the charges of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity," but ruled that he--the one man who had risked his life to secure peace--was guilty of "crimes against peace," and, on that basis, sentenced him to life imprisonment! The court's treatment of Hess is alone more than enough to dismiss the Nuremberg Tribunal as a vengeful victors' kangaroo court that merely pretended to be a genuine forum of justice.


Spandau prison
After the release of Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach on October 1, 1966, Rudolf Hess was the only remaining inmate. For more than twenty years, my father was the sole prisoner in a prison designed for about six hundred.

After a further revision of regulations in the early 1970s, one member of the family was permitted to visit the prisoner for one hour once a month. The prisoner was now also permitted to receive four books each month. As before, visits, letters and books were strictly censored. No reference to the events of the 1933 to 1945 period was permitted. No mention of the Tribunal's sentence, or matters related to it, was permitted. Family visits were monitored by authorities of each of the four powers, as well as by at least two guards. No physical contact--not even a handshake--was permitted. The visits took place in a special "Visitor's Room," which had a partition with an open "window.'

My father was allowed to receive four daily newspapers, and after the mid-1970s, he was allowed to watch television. However, newspapers and television were censored along the lines mentioned above. My father was not permitted to watch any television news reports.

For many years my father refused visits from members of his family on the grounds that because of the conditions under which such visits were permitted, they were an offense to his honor and dignity, and were more aggravating than pleasurable. He changed his mind in November 1969, when he became severely ill and had to struggle to stay alive. Under these circumstances, and because of new conditions for visits, he agreed to a visit by my mother, Ilse Hess, and myself in the British Military Hospital in Berlin. Thus, on December 24, 1969, my mother and I visited him for the first time since my childhood. This was the only occasion when two persons were permitted to visit him at the same time.

After being returned to the Allied Military Prison in Spandau, he agreed to further visits. In the years that followed, members of the family visited Rudolf Hess 232 times altogether. Only the closest members of his family were allowed to meet with him: that is, his wife, his sister, his niece, his nephew, my wife and myself. It was forbidden to shake hands or embrace. Presents were also forbidden, even on birthdays or at Christmas.

My father's attorney, retired Bavarian state minister Dr. Alfred Seidl, was permitted to meet with his client only six times in all during the forty year period from July 1947 to August 1987. Dr. Seidl was also subjected to the strict censorship regulations: That is, he was warned before each visit that he was not allowed to discuss with his client the trial, the reasons for his imprisonment or the efforts that were being made to secure his release.

Death by Suicide?

 The Spiegel magazine report of April 13, 1987, and the reply from Radio Moscow of June 21, 1987--show unequivocally that the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Secretary General Gorbachev, intended to release Rudolf Hess. This release would not only be entirely consistent with Gorbachev's policy of reconciliation, it would also be essential feature of a settlement of the remaining unresolved consequences of the Second World War, without which the reunification of Germany and Berlin would not be possible.

If the western custodial powers had not already been aware of Gorbachev's intention, they certainly were after the publication of the Spiegel article in April. This undoubtedly set off alarm bells in Britain and the United States, since this new Soviet move would remove the last remaining legal obstacle to my father's release. For many years the British, American and French governments had said that they were ready to agree to Hess' release, but that it was only the Soviet veto that prevented it. Gorbachev's new initiative threatened to call the British and American bluff.

The authorities in London and Washington would have to find some new and more permanent way to deny Hess his freedom and keep him from speaking freely.

On Monday, August 17, 1987, a journalist informed me in my office that my father was dying. Later, at home, I received a telephone call at 6:35 p.m. from Mr. Darold W. Keane, the American director of the Spandau Prison, who informed me officially that my father had died. The official notification, which was in English, read as follows: "I am authorized to inform you that your father expired today at 4:10 p.m. I am not authorized to give you any further details."

The next morning I was on a plane to Berlin, accompanied by Dr. Seidl. When I arrived at the prison, a fairly large crowd had gathered in front. Berlin police were blocking the entrance, and we were obliged to show identification papers before we were allowed to approach the green-painted iron gate. After ringing the bell, I asked to speak with the American prison director, Mr. Keane. After quite a while, Mr. Keane finally appeared, looking extraordinarily nervous and unsure of himself. He told us that we would not be allowed inside the prison complex, and that I would not be permitted to see my dead father. He also told us that he was not able to provide any further information about details of the death. A new report with details of my father's death was allegedly being prepared, and would be made available at about 4:00 p.m. Then, after we gave him the address and telephone number of a Berlin hotel where we would be waiting for further news, he left us standing in front of the gate.

The long-expected telephone call to the hotel finally came at about 5:30 p.m. Keane said:

I will now read to you the report that we will release immediately afterwards to the press. It reads:

"Initial examination indicated that Rudolf Hess attempted to take his own life. In the afternoon of August 17, 1987, under the customary supervision of a prison guard, Hess went to a summerhouse in the prison garden, where he always used to sit. When the guard looked into the summerhouse a few minutes later, he discovered Hess with an electric cord around his neck. Attempts were made at resuscitation and Hess was taken to the British Military Hospital. After further attempts to revive Hess, he was declared dead at 4:10 p.m. The question of whether this suicide attempt was the cause of his death is the object of an investigation, including a thorough autopsy, which is still in progress."

To be continued..............

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