In Spandau prison, Rudolph Hess leads a Spartan life
Bonn — There is one well-known old Nazi who is not on the most-wanted search list: Rudolf Hess. For the past 44 years everyone has known exactly where Adolf Hitler's one-time deputy was -- in jail first in Britain, then in Nuremberg, and, since the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946, in Spandau Prison in West Berlin.
In Spandau, Mr. Hess has been in eerie solitary confinement for the past two decades. His last fellow prisoner, Hitler's armaments minister Albert Speer, was released in 1966, and since then there have been no companions for Hess in the other 599 Spandau cells. The rotating American, British, French, or Soviet officer and 37 soldiers under the officer's command guard Hess alone -- and the four dozen cleaning women, the cook, doctor, pastor, and other German staff members serve Hess alone, at an annual cost of $670,000 to West German taxpayers.
Hess is allowed a visit by a member of his family (usually his son) only once a month for one hour. On these occasions the two are divided by a wall and glass window, and their conversation is observed by the Allied officers. Hess may write one letter and receive one letter a month. He reads four censored newspapers every day but may not read anything about Nazis. Recently he has also had access to television.
For years the West German government as well as the United States, British, and French governments have proposed that the now 91-year-old Hess be freed on humanitarian grounds. The Soviets refuse, and since Spandau is one of the two remaining institutions in Berlin run jointly by the four victorious powers of World War II -- the other is the commission controlling air safety over Berlin -- the Soviet veto prevails.
In many ways Hess is an anomaly as a war crimes prisoner. He never had anything to do with the mass murder of Jews in the annihilation camps; he left Germany too early for that. Nor was he one of the real policymakers around Hitler. Yet he was given a lifelong sentence at the Nuremberg trials, largely on the strength of his position as Hitler's deputy in the early years of Hitler's rule. His conviction was for ``conspiracy against world peace'' and ``planning a war of aggression.''
At the Nuremberg trial he said, ``It was granted to me to be active under the greatest son that my people ever brought forth in their 1,000-year history. I regret nothing.'' He regards himself as a martyr and has never recanted. Even in prison he continues to refer to himself in the regal third person.
Hess began his political career as an ardent admirer of the young Adolf Hitler. He became Hitler's private secretary in the 1920s and took the dictation for ``Mein Kampf.'' He became a minister without portfolio in Hitler's government in the 1930s and signed the Nuremberg anti-Jewish laws. He was the oracle of Hitler's cult of personality and is credited with having invented the ritual greeting of Hitler with ``Mein F"uhrer.''
In 1941 Hess abruptly flew a tiny plane to Scotland. That bizarre flight remains something of a mystery to this day. Hess said he brought a peace offer from Berlin -- and he hoped to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his action. When Hitler found out about the affair, he declared Hess insane -- and some British and US psychiatrists who later examined Hess inclined to the view that he was unbalanced.
In his 19 years of solitary confinement Hess has lived a Spartan life, rising at 6:45, breakfasting at 7:45, walking 28 rounds of the garden at 10:30, lunching at 11:45, walking in the garden again at 2:30, dining at 5, and retiring at 10 p.m.
His family must not make public any information about him, under threat of retraction of visiting privileges.