Papers reveal allied tug-of-war over Rudolf Hess
28 September 2007, London (dpa) - Rudolf Hess, the one-time deputy of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, was the subject of a bizarre Cold War tussle ranging from the confiscation of his spectacles at night time to the wider question of his release on "humanitarian grounds," secret British government files have confirmed. Hess, who spent 21 years of his 40-year-confinement in a solitary cell in Berlin's Spandau prison after being sentenced to life at the Nuremberg trials, was at times subjected to "mental cruelty"
28 September 2007
London (dpa) - Rudolf Hess, the one-time deputy of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, was the subject of a bizarre Cold War tussle ranging from the confiscation of his spectacles at night time to the wider question of his release on "humanitarian grounds," secret British government files have confirmed.
Hess, who spent 21 years of his 40-year-confinement in a solitary cell in Berlin's Spandau prison after being sentenced to life at the Nuremberg trials, was at times subjected to "mental cruelty" by Soviet guards who shared control of the jail with the Western allies, the US, Britain and France.
Efforts to secure the release of the notorious Nazi prisoner were consistently blocked by the then Soviet Union despite "British sympathy" and an intervention by former US President Richard Nixon in 1974, the papers said.
They cover the period between 1973 and 1974, which saw a humanitarian campaign, backed by western governments, for the release of Hess, on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 1974.
After the release of Albert Speer, Hitler's Armaments Minister, in 1966, Hess was the only inmate in Spandau.
He had spent the last four years of World War II in a cell in the Tower of London after parachuting from a Messerschmitt plane near Edinburgh, Scotland, on a "secret mission to seek peace with Britain" in May, 1941.
The newly-declassified files held in Britain's National Archives in Kew, near London, describe details of strict daily prison routine and reveal British anger at Soviet insistence that Hess "must drink his retribution to the bottom of the cup."
Soviet guards insisted, against the wishes of the three other governors, on removing Hess' spectacles at 10 pm every night so that he could not read, refused to let him wear winter socks, and would not allow him to take windfall plums into his cell, the papers recorded.
They showed how the British prison governor, Robert de Burlet, took Russia to task over "prisoner number seven," as Hess was known.
"We have what I consider a genuine case of mental cruelty," de Burlet wrote.
"Whatever horrors the Germans perpetrated in their concentration camps, I do not want it to be said that we were following their example," he added.
De Burlet warned that leaving Hess imprisoned until he died would turn him into a "martyr who would not be remembered for his misdeeds but for the inhumane treatment he himself suffered."
The British prison governor, incensed by Soviet "obstructionism," wrote in a 1974 secret memo: "The Allies and particularly the British now have a dual role in Spandau."
"On the one hand we are carrying out the sentence passed on Hess, and on the other we are additionally forced into the role of protector against the grosser Soviet violations of his minimal privileges."
According to the documents, Hess encountered particular difficulties with a man referred to only as Voitov, the Soviet governor in the early 1970s.
Voitov had ordered Hess to stand up whenever he entered his cell, the papers revealed. To remind him, Hess put a notice on his prison wall that read: "Stand up when Soviet governor appears." It was considered an "insubordinate breach of regulations" and promptly removed.
"The Soviet governor, Voitov, short, fat and roly-poly, and his chief henchman, Federov, thin and sallow, are a couple of sneaky and mean individuals who are perfectly cast in their villainous roles as a sort of sinister Laurel and Hardy team," de Burlet wrote in May, 1974.
Hess, who never repented his political beliefs, was found hanging, aged 93, in a summer house in the prison garden in August, 1987, with an electric cord around his neck.
A verdict of suicide was recorded, although his family claimed he had been murdered by his captors.
Subject: German news