August 17

This Day in History

General Interest

Aug 17, 1987:

Hitler's last living henchman dies

Rudolf Hess, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's former deputy, is found strangled to death in Spandau Prison in Berlin at the age of 93, apparently the victim of suicide. Hess was the last surviving member of Hitler's inner circle and the sole prisoner at Spandau since 1966.

Hess, an early and devoted follower of Nazism, participated in Hitler's failed "Beer Hall Putsch" in 1923. He escaped to Austria but voluntarily returned to Germany to join Hitler in Landsberg jail. During his eight months in prison, Hitler dictated his life story--Mein Kampf--to Hess. In 1933, Hess became deputy Nazi party leader, but Hitler later lost faith in his leadership ability and made him second in the line of succession after Hermann Goering.

In May 1941, Hess stole an airplane and landed it in Scotland on a self-styled mission to negotiate a peace between Britain and Germany. He was immediately arrested by British authorities. His peace proposal--met with no response from the British--was essentially the same as the peace offer made by Hitler in July 1940: an end to hostilities with Britain and its empire in exchange for a free German hand on the European continent. However, by May 1941 the Battle of Britain had been lost by Germany, and Hitler rightly condemned Hess of suffering from "pacifist delusions" in thinking that a resurgent Britain would make peace.

Held in Britain until the end of the war, Hess was tried at Nuremberg after the war with other top Nazis. Because he had missed out on the worst years of Nazi atrocities and had sought peace in 1941, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was held in Spandau Prison in Berlin, and the USSR, the United States, Britain, and France shared responsibility in guarding him.

On August 17, 1987, he was found strangled to death in a cabin in the exercise yard at Spandau Prison. Apparently, he choked himself to death with an electrical cord he found there. Some suspected foul play.

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