The Madness of Rudolf Hess
During the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-1946, one of the most complicated questions of the trial was if one of the defendants, Rudolf Hess, former Deputy Fuhrer of the Third Reich, was competent to stand trial. From a legal standpoint, Hess probably was not, as with hindsight we now know that Hess was missing a few marbles. Before World War II many Nazi leaders admitted that Hess was a bit strange, but the story of Hess’ craziness begins in 1941. Without Hitler’s orders, Hess commandeered a plane, flying to Britain with the goal of negotiating a peace with the British. In one of the most bizarre incidents of the war, Hess parachuted from his plane into a Scottish farmer’s field near Glasgow. The farmer took Hess to the headquarters of the local Home Guard unit, who eventually turned him over to the regular military.
It was during Hess’ imprisonment at the hands of the British that his mental health would deteriorate quickly. He believed that his psychologists were poisoning his food with a type of “brain poison” and often would refuse to eat. Sometimes he would take samples of his food and wrap them in wax paper, saving them for later so that they could be analyzed for poison. He often had long bouts of amnesia, which psychologists at first believed he was faking, but later theorized that he might have convinced himself that he had amnesia. While under British custody he attempted suicide twice, once by attempting to jump off a balcony, then with a dull butter knife. Towards the end of the war, Hess formulated his own theory for the causes of the war. First and foremost was his belief that the Jews had poisoned the Allies, and pretty much anyone who opposed the Nazi Party with a special type of psychedelic drug which hypnotized them and made them act irrationally. He even drew up a list of those he believed had been drugged, which included most of the Allied political leadership, his psychologists, and himself.
After Hess was transferred to Germany for the Nuremberg Trials in October of 1945, his mental status continued to deteriorate even further. His persistent belief that he was being poisoned grew worse, as did his bouts of amnesia. Regardless, psychologists declared him fit to stand trial. The question of his fitness continued as his behavior grew more bizarre by the day. When asked to plead to the court, he stood and shouted “no”, which the court interpreted as “not guilty”. Seated next to Hess was Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering. Hess was often seen conversing with the former Luftwaffe chief, with Goering responding with a speechless “dafuq u just say?” reaction. He giggled for no reason and often spent hours of the trial staring at nothing. He believed that his guards had placed a noise machine under the prison floors specifically to unnerve the inmates before the trial. During the night, Hess had written “quiet” all over his walls in chalk, none of the other inmates complained of the noise, which turned out to be an electrical generator. Ten days into the Nuremberg Trial the question of his fitness for trial was once again going to be reviewed by the court when Hess stood and announced that he was faking his amnesia. The court and his psychologists were dumbfounded, for if he was faking and had just admitted it, he had eliminated the possibility of him not standing trial.
During the trial Hess never spoke with his defense attorney or offered any kind of defense. However he constantly stated that he would make a surprise revelation, one that would shock the world while clearing his name and that of the Nazi Party.
At the end of the trial the trial each of the defendants were given the opportunity to make a closing statement. It was then that Hess made his shocking revelation. He made a lengthy and at times, incoherent speech, one that truly did shock the court. Goering at one point mumbled to Hess, “stop talking”, then put on a pair of sunglasses and covered his face in embarrassment as Hess’ rambling continued. Hess claimed that the Holocaust was not the fault of the Nazi Party but of the Jews themselves. According to Hess, the Jews had hypnotized the political leadership of the Nazi Party as well as the concentration camp commanders and guards, causing them to act so cruelly to the Jews. Thus, he believed the Jews self exterminated in order to make the Nazi’s appear to be cold hearted murderers.
Hess was sentenced to life in prison, most of which he would spend at Spandau prison. For the rest of his life his bizarre behaviors continued. At one point, he even believed that he was the Fuhrer of the “Fourth Reich”. He died in prison in 1987.