Rudolf Hess

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 08.06.2016 )
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Rudolf Hess was born on 26 April 1894 in Alexandria, Egypt, the son of a German businessman. He joined the army as a volunteer during the First World War by the end of which he attained the rank of lieutenant after a period of service in the air force. After the war, he was active in extreme right wing movements and joined the NSDAP, the Nazi party, in 1920.

Sentenced to 15 months imprisonment in 1924 following the failed Munich putsch (in 1923), he became Hitler’s personal secretary whilst in the Landsberg prison. It was to him that Hitler dictated the major part of his book “Mein Kampf”.

Having become a close friend of the Führer, he was appointed as one of his deputies in April 1933 and Minister without Portfolio in December 1933. He also became a member of the Defence Council of the Reich, a member of the Reichstag (the German Parliament) and held the rank of General in the SS and the SA. In September 1939, he was officially designated as the successor to Hitler just after Göring.

On 10 May 1941, alone, he piloted his personal plane to Scotland, hoping to convince the British to conclude an alliance against the USSR. He spent the rest of the war there in prison.

Rudolf Hess was accused of having used his various official functions, his personal influence and close contacts to the Führer, to promote the accession to power of the Nazi conspirators and the consolidation of their power in Germany, in terms of the count of indictment N° 1. In addition, Hess was accused of participating in plans for military, economic and psychological warfare in terms of the count of indictment No. 1. He was also accused of taking part in political plans for wars of aggression according to count of indictment No. 1 and 2.

Furthermore He was accused of taking part in the planning of Nazi policy related to foreign affairs, in terms of count of indictment No 1. Finally, he was also accused of having authorised, directed and taken part in acts constituting war crimes, according to count No 3, and of crimes against humanity according to count No 4, due especially to the numerous crimes committed against people and their property .

At the end of the war, Rudolf Hess was handed over to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal by the British authorities who had been holding him in detention since 1941.

legal procedure

At the end of the war, Rudolf Hess was handed over to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal by the British authorities who had been holding him in detention since 1941.

Charged with counts 1 (concerted plan or conspiracy), 2 (crimes against peace), 3 (war crimes) and 4 (crimes against humanity), he pleaded not guilty.

At the outset of the trial, doubts arose as to the mental faculties of Rudolf Hess. Nevertheless, the Tribunal decided on 1 December 1945, based essentially on medical reports and a declaration from the accused himself, that there was no reason not to proceed with the trial against Hess.

In its verdict, the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal held that Hess was perfectly aware of and had been a fervent partisan of the policy of aggression directed against Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. For the judges “up until his flight to Scotland, Hess was the closest confidant of Hitler. Their relationship was such that Hess must have been aware of Hitler’s plans of aggression from the very beginning, and that Hess took action on each occasion when it was necessary to put these plans into operation.”

Moreover the Tribunal considered that proof existed of the involvement of the Chancellery, under Hess’s direction, in the commission of war crimes. Although ruling that Hess had not participated in these crimes, the Tribunal stated that in all probability he was aware of them. These elements however were not sufficient to establish his criminal responsibility.

On 1 October 1946, the International Military Tribunal therefore found Rudolf Hess guilty on counts no 1 and 2, but acquitted him on the charges related to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Russian judge Nikitchenko issued a dissenting opinion according to which Hess was also guilty of crimes against humanity and deserved the death penalty.

Hess’s appeal to the Control Council was rejected on 10 October 1946.

On 17 August 1987, Rudolf Hess committed suicide in Spandau prison.


After the Second World War numerous trials against war criminals and those responsible for Nazi crimes took place in Germany and other countries. It is not possible here to give an overview of all the trials. Below are the main facts concerning the major trials of war criminals at Nuremberg.


The German armed forces surrendered unconditionally on 7-8 May 1945. The Allies (USA, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France) took over all governmental functions in Germany, instituted the Allied Control Council and divided Germany into four zones of occupation.

After the adoption of the London Charter of 8 August 1945, the Allies set up the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in order to judge the major German war criminals. Annex III of the Agreement contains the Statute of the International Military Tribunal (IMT Statute [2]).


According to Articles 1-3 of the London Charter, war criminals with offenses having no particular geographical location were to be judged by the IMT. However in accordance with Articles 4 and 6 of the Convention, the principle of territoriality was to apply to the other German war criminals, with the courts of those states where crimes had been committed having the competence to try these criminals on the basis on their national laws.

Crimes within the jurisdiction of IMT:

– Crimes against peace;

– War crimes and

– Crimes against humanity (Article 6 of IMT Statute).

The IMT was composed of four judges and four substitutes who were appointed by the four Allied powers (Article 2 IMT Statute). In application of Article 13 of the IMT Statute, the Tribunal drew up its own Rules of Procedure

The IMT indicted 24 people in total. The trials took place from 14 November 1945 until 1 October 1946. Twelve defendants were sentenced to death, three were acquitted and seven others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. In one case, the procedure was suspended for health reasons and in another the defendant committed suicide before his trial.

Fact Sheet
Name: Rudolf Hess
Nationality: Germany
Context: Nazi Germany
Charges: War crimes, Aggression, Crimes against humanity
Status: Sentenced
Judgement Place: IMT - Nuremberg
Particulars: Rudolf Hess was condemned to life imprisonment by the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal