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Nuremberg Trial Judgements: Rudolf Hess

Major General NIKITCHENKO:

Hess is indicted under all four counts. He joined the Nazi Party in 1920 and participated in the Munich Putsch on 9th November, 1923. He was imprisoned with Hitler in the Landsberg fortress in 1924 and became Hitler's closest personal confidant, a relationship which lasted until Hess's flight to the British Isles. On 21st April, 1933, he was appointed Deputy to the Fuehrer, and on 1st December, 1933, was made Reichs Minister without Portfolio. He was appointed Member of the Secret Cabinet Council on 4th February, 1938, and a member of the Ministerial Council For the Defence of the Reich on 30th August, 1939. In September, 1939, Hess was officially announced by Hitler as successor designate to the Fuehrer after Goering. On 10th May, 1941, he flew from Germany to Scotland.

Crimes against Peace

As Deputy to the Fuehrer, Hess was the top man in the Nazi Party with responsibility for handling all Party matters, and authority to make decisions in Hitler's name on all questions off Party leadership. As Reichs Minister without Portfolio he had the authority to approve all legislation suggested by the different Reichs Ministers before it could be enacted as law. In these positions, Hess was an active ,supporter of preparations for war. His signature appears on the law of 16th March, 1935, establishing compulsory military service. Throughout the years he supported Hitler's policy of vigorous rearmament in many speeches. He told the people that they must sacrifice for armaments, repeating the phrase, " Guns instead of butter." It is true that between 1933 and 1937 Hess made speeches in which he expressed a desire for peace and advocated international economic co-operation. But nothing which they contained can alter the fact that of all the defendants none knew better than Hess how determined Hitler was to realise his ambitions, how fanatical and violent a man he was, and how little likely he was to refrain from resort to force, if this was the only way in which he could achieve his aims.

Hess was an informed and willing participant in German aggression against Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. He was in touch with the illegal Nazi Party in Austria throughout the entire period between the murder of Dollfuss and the Anschluss, and gave instructions to it during that period. Hess was in Vienna on 12th March, 1938, when the German troops moved in; and on 13th March, 1938, he signed the law for the Reunion of Austria within the German Reich. A law of 10th June, 1939, provided for his participation in the administration of Austria. On 24th July, 1938, he, made a speech in commemoration of the unsuccessful putsch by Austrian National Socialists which had been attempted four years before, praising the steps leading up to Anschluss and defending the occupation of Austria by Germany.

In the summer of 1938 Hess was in active touch with Henlein, Chief of the Sudeten German Party in Czechoslovakia. On 27th September, 1938, at the time of the Munich crisis, he arranged with Keitel to carry out the instructions of Hitler to make the machinery of the Nazi Party available for a secret mobilsation. On 14th April, 1939, Hess signed a decree setting up the government of the Sudetenland as an integral part of the Reich; and an ordinance of 10th June, 1939, provided for his participation in the administration of the Sudetenland. On 7th November, 1938, Hess absorbed Henlein's Sudeten Germany Party into the Nazi Party, and made a speech in which he emphasised that Hitler had been prepared to resort to war if this had been necessary to acquire the Sudetenland.

On 27th August, 1939, when the attack on Poland had been temporarily postponed in an attempt to induce Great Britain to abandon its guarantee to Poland, Hess publicly praised Hitler's " magnanimous offer " to Poland, and attacked Poland for agitating for war and England for being responsible for Poland's attitude. After the invasion of Poland Hess signed decrees incorporating Danzig and certain Polish territories into the Reich, and setting up the General Government (Poland).

These specific steps which this defendant took in support of Hitler's plans for aggressive action do not indicate the full extent of his responsibility. Until his flight to England, Hess was Hitler's closest personal confidant. Their relationship was such that Hess must have been informed of Hitler's aggressive plans when they came into existence. And he took action to carry out these plans whenever action was necessary.

With him on his flight to England, Hess carried certain peace proposals which he alleged Hitler was prepared to accept. It is significant to note that this flight took place only ten days after the date on which Hitler fixed 22nd June, 1941, as the time for attacking the Soviet Union. In conversations carried on after his arrival in England Hess wholeheartedly supported all Germany's aggressive actions up to that time, and attempted to justify Germany's action in connection with Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. He blamed England and France for the war.

War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity

There is evidence showing the participation of the Party Chancellery, under Hess, in the distribution of orders connected with the commission of war crimes; that Hess may have had knowledge of even if he did not participate in the crimes that were being committed in the East, and proposed laws discriminating against Jews and Poles; and that he signed decrees forcing certain groups of Poles to accept German citizenship. The Tribunal, however, does not find that the evidence sufficiently connects Hess with these crimes to sustain a finding of guilt.

As previously indicated the Tribunal found, after a full medical examination of and report on the condition of this defendant, that he should be tried, without any postponement of his case. Since that time further motions have been made that he should again be examined. These the Tribunal denied, after having had a report from the prison psychologist.

That Hess acts in an abnormal manner, suffers from loss of memory, and has mentally deteriorated during this trial, may be true. But there is nothing to show that he does not realise the nature of the charges against him, or is incapable of defending himself. He was ably represented at the trial by counsel, appointed for that purpose by the Tribunal. There is no suggestion that Hess was not completely sane when the acts charged against him were committed.


The Tribunal finds the defendant Hess guilty on Counts One and Two; and not guilty on Counts Three and Four.

Sources: The Avalon Project