Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy and the last surviving Nazi leader, lies in a secret place, buried privately and quietly in an apparent attempt to prevent neo-Nazis from turning his funeral into a pilgrimage. The clandestine burial by his relatives some days before the scheduled funeral in Wunsiedel on Wednesday came as a climax to a week of mystery, drama, and myth which began with his Aug. 17 suicide.
It will spare Wunsiedel the ugly scenes which were expected as hundreds, maybe thousands, of neo-Nazis from all over Europe and possibly North America converged on this small Bavarian town. But it is unlikely to dissipate the legend that Mr. Hess was a martyr - a myth which had been fueled by the Hess family, by the right-wing popular newspaper, Bild, and, involuntarily, by the four occupying powers in Berlin.
Hess died at 93 after imprisonment for the last 40 years in Spandau, the West Berlin jail where the victorious allies - the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union - jointly kept leading Nazi war criminals. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1945 by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal for planning and executing a war of aggression. An enigmatic figure in the Nazi hierarchy, he made a sensational flight to Scotland in 1941, apparently without Hitler's consent, in a vain attempt to persuade Britain to make peace with Germany and join it in fighting the Soviet Union.
Several British and American psychiatrists have contended Hess was unbalanced. Noted British historian A.J.P. Taylor doubted this contention, however.
For the past 21 years Hess had been Spandau's only inmate. As he grew old and frail, his son Wolf-R"uediger Hess intensified a campaign to have him released. The Soviet Union vetoed every attempt to have him pardoned.
It was not until 24 hours after his death that the three Western allies, acting without the Soviet Union, revealed he had been found with an electric cord around his neck, and another 24 hours before they disclosed he had left a suicide note in his trouser pocket. Only a week later did they issue a fuller explanation that he had used the temporary absence of his guard to hang himself.
Whether the Allies' delay was intentional or not, their doubts helped fuel a movement on West Germany's extreme right wing to elevate Hess to the rank of a martyr.
The secret burial of Hess means the neo-Nazis have been deprived, at least for the time being, of a shrine to their past. But the hunt for his tomb has begun.