Hitler is simply pure reason incarnate. — Rudolf Hess
All modern systems of order based on a totalitarian ideology contain a pseudo-religious claim. The end or at least the erosion of the authority of Christianity helped to prepare the way for states themselves to appear with growing emphasis as the bearers of a compulsory secular ethic. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the concepts of a 'civic religion', and the idea of virtue started the shift from the religious plane to that of social reality, which has been further and further intensified up to the present day. In their certainty of promise, their intolerance, the inexorable alternative of subservience or damnation, but also in the order constituted by a favoured elite and a hierarchic structure, totalitarian systems in modern times have copied and still copy, to some extent consciously, the metaphysical or sociological structures of Western religious societies.
'The Revolution could not tolerate a Church,' Michelet stated, looking back at the events of 1789. 'Why? Because it was itself a Church.'
Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov commented that the Church nowadays showed no tendency to become a 'state', but on the other hand the state did all it could to become a 'church'. (1)
The liquidation and capture of heaven, as practised by the rival secular religions with zealous seriousness and growing support from the masses, was certainly in line with modern man's lack of religious orientation and his consequent search for fresh metaphysical attachments inside or outside the traditional content of faith; to this extent the trend merely reflected the re-establishment of identity between the state of consciousness on the one hand and reality on the other. But the totalitarian systems, in doing away with 'heaven', did not simultaneously do away with hells, but actually established them for the first time, because however far and however consistently the parallels with religion were drawn, they did not possess the power of grace and forgiveness. On the other hand their demands went far beyond all traditional forms of dictatorial rule. While the dictators' urge to power was basically satisfied with the elimination of all opposition movements, totalitarian systems continually seek positive manifestations of faith; they demand, not the loyal servant of the state, but the idolator. It is not a demand solely for exclusive outward power, but a demand by the state for dominion over souls, the ultimate key to power, which alone guarantees total power over the social body.
'National Socialism and Christianity have this much in common, that they lay claim to the whole man,'
one of the leaders of the Third Reich once said, and a questionnaire once asked the young leaders of the BDM — the German Girls' League — whether God or the Fuhrer was 'greater, more powerful, and stronger'.(2) Just as the Nationalist Socialist movement on its way to power strangled the Weimar state by means of a so-called shadow state which duplicated almost every state institution, so the National Socialist Weltanschauung also envisaged a shadow church. The attempt to detach the masses' desire to believe from existing creeds in favour of a political ideology brought its own dogmas, places of sacrifice and liturgy; there was a God and a vision of the Devil that led to the bloodiest exorcisms in history. True, as an ideology National Socialism never had the scholastic rigidity of Communist theory; it was vague, imprecise, and deliberately left the greatest possible scope for irrational needs. Its followers owed allegiance less to the orthodoxy of a doctrine than to the person of the Fuhrer. But the lack of clarity in the ideological reference-points has no bearing on the intensity of the emotions called for or aroused. Within the inner circle of the National Socialist community there emerged men prepared only for utter subservience, men who, as Hitler put it, in thoroughly religious terms,
'set themselves free from their environment, who put everything far behind them, all the petty things of life that are apparently so important, who turn once more to a greater task'. (3)
This type was to be found, above all, among the followers of the movement in its early days and among the middle ranks of the leadership; but few typified it so unequivocally as Rudolf Hess, who took the Fuhrer's call more seriously than almost anyone-else and fell to his knees before lowly shrines more ardently than others, seeking for the strength to utter the prayer used in National Socialist day nurseries: 'Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, my faith, my light!' (4) — until, in response to an insane decision, he tried his strength in disobedience and immediately came to grief. Far from his God and the dispensation of blessings, for which he had always been so avid, he was a mere ghost of himself. Those who met him again at Nuremberg saw a face burnt out by its former ecstasies and the torture of excommunication.
Sola fide, by faith alone, Rudolf Hess rose from depressed, introverted student to deputy leader of a great power; no one, as the weekly magazine Das Reich said in an article of December 1940,
'sang at his cradle that he would one day become the third man in a mighty empire'.(5)
He did not have, to recommend him, demagogic talent or tactical adroitness, or striking intelligence, brutality or ideological skill. Shy, in many ways inhibited, and so modest as often to seem a positive backwoodsman, he was nothing but believing and strenuously loyal. 'I want to be the party's Hagen von Tronje!' (6) Expressions of unconditional and ardent devotion mark his path from the day of his first meeting with Hitler, when he felt, in his own words, 'as though overcome by a vision', (7) down to his closing words at Nuremberg, when he escaped for a moment from his fantasies and dreams and gazed for one brief, ecstatic instant into the world outside:
'It was granted me for many years to live and work under the greatest son whom my nation has brought forth in the thousand years of its history.' (8)
For all its devouring vehemence his faith remained rather mute; by comparison with his rhetorically adroit partners in the leadership, he has left few testimonies behind. But whatever he did say or write, though stammering and clumsy in both word and thought, was a canticle to subservience and a cry of jubilation at having cast aside freedom. If the actively totalitarian man is characterised by the consciousness that everything is possible,(9) Hess was the type of the passively totalitarian man with whom it is possible to do anything, because he loves to feel he is wax in the hands of another, and his ambition is to intensify his impersonality, voluntarily to renounce criticism, judgement and self-determination, under such ideological pretexts as loyalty, duty or obedience: in short, to be nothing, or only a particle, and accordingly to experience the high-points of existence in intoxications of enthusiasm, in moments of melting emotion, of total extinction of personality. 'One must want the Fuhrer,' Rudolf Hess used to say. (10) In a speech a few days before 30th June 1934, clearly shaking a warning finger at the insubordinate SA Chief of Staff, Ernst Rohm, he said revealingly:
With pride we see that one man remains beyond all criticism, that is the Fuhrer. This is because everyone feels and knows: he is always right, and he will always be right. The National Socialism of all of us is anchored in uncritical loyalty, in the surrender to the Fuhrer that does not ask for the why in individual cases, in the silent execution of his orders. We believe that the Fuhrer is obeying a higher call to fashion German history. There can be no criticism of this belief. (11)
Albert Krebs, one of the so-called Old Guard of the NSDAP and one-time Gauleiter of Hamburg, accused Rudolf Hess, not without reason, of having given the youthful movement a decisive push in the direction of a fascist-totalitarian, quasi-military party and, thanks to his greater reliability, of having been more effective even than Goebbels in erecting altars to the cult of the Fuhrer which, in its efforts to set Hitler in the place of God, feared neither blasphemy nor ridicule (12).
In his unbalanced approach to authority Hess strikingly resembles many National Socialists who, like him, had 'strict' parents. There is a good deal of evidence that Hitler profited considerably from the damage wrought by an education system that took its models from the barracks and brought up its sons to be as tough as army cadets. The fixation on the military world, the determining feature of their early background, shows not only in the peculiar mixture of aggressiveness and doglike cringing so typical of the 'Old Fighter', but also in the lack of inner independence and the need to receive orders. Whatever hidden rebellious feelings the young Rudolf Hess may have had against his father, who emphatically demonstrated his power for the last time when he refused to let his son go to a university but forced him, against his wishes and the pleas of his teacher, to train as a businessman with a view to taking over his own firm in Alexandria — the son, whose will was broken over and over again, henceforth sought fathers and father substitutes wherever he could find them. 'One must want the Fuhrer!' it fits into the picture of this complicated relationship that, of all the Hohenzollern kings, Rudolf Hess felt a particular admiration for Friedrich Wilhelm I, a blustering roi sergent with a fatherly roughness and strictness who has been interpreted in literature as a father figure (13). When Rudolf Hess volunteered for the Army at the outbreak of the First World War he was seeking to escape not only from the hated commercial career, but above all from the demands of his own father figure. He could not, of course, escape from himself.
What military service with its clear-cut relationships of dependence gave him, Hess later sought and found again in dependence upon his teacher Karl Haushofer, before his meeting with Hitler in 1920 created that 'almost magical' attachment of which his wife has spoken. (14) She has left a description of an evening when Hess came back from a meeting at which Hitler had spoken; Hess, who in his despair at the lost war and the downfall of the Fatherland seldom laughed and
'really was a string taut to the point of snapping, on which the fateful song of Germany's distress was unendingly played',
rushed into the pension in Schwabing in which they were living and kept on shouting, 'the man, the man', laughing ecstatically. Another account, written later, still gives a hint of the hysteria that went with this overwhelming, almost religious experience.
'He was like a new man, lively, radiant, no longer gloomy, not despondent. Something completely new, something stirring must have happened to him.'(15)
This description reveals the inequality of the two sides to the encounter. On the one hand, the demagogue sure of achieving the desired effect; on the man he other, the unstable neurotic who has nothing with which to counter the faces, however hard he tries to hide his own lack of substance behind the pose of rugged solidity. Characteristically the first articulate sound in Hess's political career is a hero-worshipping defence of Hitler, who had been accused of embezzlement and dictatorial egotism in a pamphlet issued as part of a factional dispute inside the party. Soon afterward Hess won a prize for an essay on the subject 'What must the man be like who will lead Germany back to the heights again?' In it he described the future great dictator according to his idealized picture of Hitler:
Profound knowledge of all matters of state and of history, the ability to learn from it, faith in the purity of his own cause and in ultimate victory, and an indomitable will to give him the power to carry away audiences with his speeches and cause the masses to cry out to him in jubilation. For the sake of the salvation of the nation be will not shrink from employing the weapons of his opponents, demagogy, slogans, marches through the streets. He himself has nothing in common with the masses, is all personality like every great man. The power of personality radiates something that puts those around him under its spell and spreads in ever-widening circles. The people are yearning for a real leader, free from all party fraud, for a pure leader with inner truthfulness . . .
On every occasion the leader demonstrates his courage. This produces blind truth in the organized power; through this he achieves dictatorship. When necessity demands he does not shrink from shedding blood. Great questions are always decided by blood and iron. He has nothing in view but to attain his goal, even if he has to trample on his closest friends in order to reach it . . .
Thus we have the picture of the dictator: sharp of mind, clear and true, passionate and yet controlled, cold and bold, thoughtful and conscious of his aims when making decisions, uninhibited in swiftly puffing them into execution, ruthless towards himself and others, mercilessly hard and then again soft in his love of his people, tireless in work, with a steel fist in a velvet glove, capable last of all of conquering himself.
We do not yet know when 'the man' will intervene to save us. But millions feel that he is coming. (16)
Soon after their first meeting, Hess had allied himself personally very closely with Hitler; his attachment to Hitler was henceforth 'set above' all other relationships (17). While they were both imprisoned in Landsberg, Hitler dictated to him parts of his ideological testament Mein Kampf, and it was no doubt here that the dominating idea of Lebensraum found its way into National Socialist ideology; for through Karl Haushofer, who kept up a lively contact with the prisoners, the original idea of a political geography under the catchword 'geopolitics' had undergone an imperialistic transformation into a 'pseudo-scientific expansionist philosophy'. (18) It offered the humiliated national spirit the idea that the destiny of Germany would be decided in the East and thus added a fundamental ideological category of National Socialism, that of 'Space', to that of 'race'. These two ideas, linked by that of struggle, constituted the only more or less fixed structural elements in the intricate tactical and propagandist conglomerate of the National Socialist Weltanschauung.
Acting as intermediary between Haushofer and Hitler was the most important and virtually the only personal contribution Rudolf Hess made towards the birth and shaping of National Socialism. Up to 1932 he held no rank in the party but belonged rather to Hitler's personal retinue, as head of his private chancellery. As was his wish, he stood in the Fuhrer's shadow, high enough for his secretly burning ambition and yet as concealed as his insurmountable shyness demanded. To most people's surprise, in December 1932, after the fall of Gregor Strasser, Hitler thrust him a little out of this shadow to head the newly formed Political Central Commission, and very soon afterwards, in April 1933, appointed him his deputy.
'Up to then,' as the Frankfurter Zeitung wrote, 'he had been credited only with the tasks of an adjutant, or more accurately, absolutely no mental picture has been connected with his name.' (19)
His image remained blurred, even after he had entered the cabinet at the end of 1933 as a kind of minister for the party. His innocence kept him from joining his former colleagues in the wholehearted intrigue for power; he simply wanted to be loyal and to serve the Fuhrer. He was often called 'the conscience of the party', but in his undemanding readiness to serve he was grossly overestimated (20). He was incapable of taking any moral initiative, since for him the highest morality lay in the 'blindly trusting subservience' of which he had spoken, and he regarded himself as a tool of 'the man', for whom he was prepared to make any sacrifice of conscience. Even during the so-called period of struggle he had said nothing to Hitler about the excesses of the brown-shirted columns, for fear of paralysing his 'working energy and joy in taking decisions'; expressions of concern he dismissed with the revealing reproach that they sprang from 'an intellectual tendency to criticism'.(21) Now he reacted in exactly the same way. Because of his powerlessness and his hungry loyalty to his Fuhrer, he soon found himself downgraded to a channel for petty grievances, and after he had failed to get into the political power game by means of moves to reform the Reich, nothing was left to him but subordinate representative functions. He was allowed to deliver the annual Christmas speech, to welcome VDA (German expatriate) delegations, to give coffee parties for mothers of large numbers of children, and alongside charitable duties to preside over second-level congresses. It was also his privilege to announce the Fuhrer from the tribunal at mass meetings, and this is the picture most of his contemporaries have of him: Hess standing there with his arm outstretched, watching his Fuhrer mounting towards him, his eyes wide with happiness at so much power in another, enjoying his own subservience. His hunger for faith, which took its pretexts and stimulants where it could find them, drew additional satisfaction from the pseudo-sciences and occult wisdoms that flourished upon the contempt for reason energetically fostered by National Socialism. He was convinced the stars ruled human destiny, had diagrams worked out for him by an old soothsayer, and devoted himself earnestly to the tortuous efforts of the practitioners of terrestrial radiations, animal magnetism, pendulum diagnosis, and the various means of foretelling the future.(22) When he flew to Britain his pockets were filled with medicaments and drugs, mostly of a homeopathic nature, among them an elixir supposed to have been brought from Tibet by Sven Hedin.(23)
He was saved from being ridiculous, in the high office he held with such a total lack of knowledge of the mechanics of power, solely by his personal integrity, which he maintained in the face of every temptation. With his own peculiar fondness for lapidary profundity he once declared,
'He climbs highest who does not know where he is climbing to.'(24)
By following this precept, which merely clothed in a phrase his own uncertainty in handling power, he had thrown away the influence he had acquired more or less by chance, and he carried no further weight with the top leadership. With his concealed ambition, this undoubtedly pained him; Hans Frank said he was always waiting 'for the Fuhrer to recognize his reticence' and give it preference, especially, over the noisy 'courting of publicity' by Goring, who as the 'Second Man' was displacing the nominal 'Deputy' in public favour.(25) 'Decent, but sick and indecisive,' was Rosenberg's verdict on Hess, and his secretary frequently caught him gazing into space with a blank look in his eyes.(26) With his deep-set eyes in a lumpy, almost rectangular face, the sombreness of sleepless nights and the zealot-like hint of ecstatic rapture, which all his artificial hardness and simplicity could not hide, he looked rather like a master of devotional exercises who has had dealings with demons and has fought down his doubts and fears in long-drawn-out penances. At the end of 1940 Das Reich published a character study of Hess which naturally deduced 'energy', 'self-discipline' and 'austere firmness' from his features, but also stated, 'Hess can be silent and keep secrets.' (27)
In fact, the neglected deputy of the Fuhrer was already preparing for the enterprise that dumbfounded an incredulous world on 10th May 1941. With a kind of confused heroism he secretly flew to Britain in the middle of the war with a personal peace proposal to the Duke of Hamilton, about whom he knew nothing. The essence of the plan was that Germany should be given a free hand for its Lebensraum politics within Europe and in return would guarantee the undiminished continuation of the British Empire.(28)
While the British noted these proposals without comment, and shut Hess up as a prisoner of war, Hitler was profoundly shocked and announced that if Hess returned he should be 'put in a madhouse or shot'.(29) During a conference on 13th May Hitler was 'in tears and looked ten years older', while Goebbels intimated that Hess's flight was 'more serious than the desertion of an army corps'.(30) A party memorandum published the same day spoke of 'an illness that has been going on for years', or 'traces of a mental breakdown' and 'hallucinations'; yet Hitler only eighteen months before, in his speech of 1 September 1939, had called upon the German people to place 'blind trust' in his successor-designate as Fuhrer.(31) By a personal call from his Foreign Minister he had his Italian allies informed immediately that
'he and his colleagues had been utterly taken aback by Hess's enterprise. It was the act of a madman. Hess had been suffering for a long time from a gall-bladder complaint and had fallen into the hands of naturopaths and mesmerists, who had caused his condition to become progressively worse.' (32)
Meanwhile those left behind vied with one another in casting ridicule and contempt upon their ex-fellow leader. Rudolf Semmler, a member of Goebbels' immediate staff, has given a revealing description of this process from within the Propaganda Minister's private circle, which at the same time throws light on the mutual relationships of the National Socialist leaders:
Goebbels spoke of Hess's mental illness and then described the comedy of Hess and his wife, who had been trying for years to produce an heir. No one knew for sure whether the child was really his. Hess was alleged to have been with his wife to astrologers, cartomancers, and other workers of magic and to have drunk all kinds of mixtures and potions before they were successful in begetting a child.
Frau Goebbels remembered that Frau Hess had told her for five or six years in succession that she was at last going to have a child — generally because some prophet had predicted it. When the child arrived, Hess danced for joy. All the Gauleiters were instructed to send the Deputy Fuhrer a sack of earth from each Gau. This earth was scattered under a specially made cradle, so that the child symbolically started his life on German soil. Goebbels added that he himself had seriously considered — as Gauleiter of Berlin — whether he would not do best to send a Berlin paving stone. (33)
The contemptuous or bitter comments on Hess's action concealed rather than revealed his motives. Now it may be taken as almost beyond question that he had a whole series of motives, virtually all of them of a depressive character. According to the Nuremberg court psychiatrist Douglas M. Kelley, Hess as early as 1940 was in a mental state 'not far removed from a severe nervous breakdown'.(34) Hess himself declared in England that he had reached this
'most serious decision of his life' after 'an endless series of children's coffins with weeping mothers behind them' had repeatedly appeared before his eyes. (35)
It is possible that dismay at the ruthless extermination policy in Poland may also have played a part.(36) The psychologists have further pointed out that the flight may be attributed to the discovery 'that his "father-substitute", Hitler, was not a god but a cruel and violent man';(37) but against this, it is certain that Hess did not think of treason. It is much more probable that the motives first mentioned condensed among the wild phantasmagoria of his emotional life into a decision to perform an act of self-sacrifice for Fuhrer and Fatherland in a deed of constructive disobedience. Also his self-esteem, which after the first unexpected rise to eminence had been for so many years repeatedly wounded in the ambience of prolific 'mothers' and VDA treasurers, may have been partly responsible for an action through which — as Baldur von Schirach commented — he would hope to become 'the most important man in the world'. (38)
Meanwhile his sober reception by the British government, who totally ignored the sensational nature of the event, quickly shattered such hopes. This disillusionment, which comes through clearly in Hess's written account of his stay in England, manifestly brought into the open the paranoid elements long present in his personality. According to one of his doctors, Hess declared in extreme agitation after barely a fortnight that he felt he was surrounded by murderers, and a week later his paranoia had constructed out of the normal day-to-day events around him a catalogue of devilish torments, from which he tried to escape at the end of July by attempting suicide.(39) Hess's own description of his stay in England makes it sound as though the author had found his way into Dr Bondi's cabinet of horrors. In conformity with his in any case hypochondriac nature, he suspected poison at every meal so that at table he would sometimes quickly change plates with a neighbour (40). In sealed envelopes he preserved pieces of blotting paper saturated with remains of food.(41) He hid scraps of paper all over his room and from time to time lay with his fingers in his ears, smiling to himself, and saying, 'I'm thinking.' (42)
'When the signs of poisoning mounted up,' Hess wrote, 'in my desperation I scratched the lime from the walls in the hope that this would neutralize the effect of the poisons, but without success.'
In his food he analysed not only
'Soap, dishwater, dung and rotten fish', but also 'petroleum and carbolic acid'. 'The worst thing,' he continues, 'were glandular secretions of camels and pigs. The crockery was full of bone splinters, and thousands of little splinters of stone were mixed with the vegetables.'
He was allegedly submitted unprotected to the scorching rays of the sun, and as a torture he was made to stand 'for hours' in the smoke of fires. Mountains of stinking fish heads were tipped out in front of his window, and after he one day discovered a shady bench nearby, where he went to sit for several days away from all the noise to read, a dead bull with its throat cut was suddenly lying there.
'They put substances in my evening meal that robbed me of sleep,' and 'Outside my garden moonstruck men wandered up and down with loaded guns — moonstruck men surrounded me in the house, and when I went for a walk moonstruck men went before and behind me.'(43)
From this ghostly world Rudolf Hess fled in autumn 1943 into the night of amnesia, after having previously shown isolated signs of loss of memory and diminished concentration.(44) According to his own statements even the things closest to him had vanished from his memory-his family, his role in the party, his parents' house in Alexandria, his father, Haushofer, Hitler. He did not awake from his amnesia until 4th February 1945, when he declared to the doctor who had been summoned that he had an important statement to make to the world. The Jews, he announced, possessed a secret power. They were able to hypnotize people. Their magical influence led the victim to commit criminal actions against his will. Among those hypnotised were Winston Churchill, the men responsible for the attempt on Hitler's life on 20th July 1944, the King of Italy, the doctors and his guards, and himself, Rudolf Hess. 'In order to gain propaganda material against Germany,' the Jews had actually gone so far as to 'cause the guards in the German concentration camps, by the use of a secret chemical, to treat the inmates after the manner of the GPU.'(45) A few hours later he made a fresh attempt at suicide.
Then thing became even more confused. Again and again the shadows he tried to grasp eluded him. From the churned-up depths he dredged the intelligence that the Jews had instigated his attempted suicide because he had revealed their secret. Then he claimed triumphantly that his loss of memory had only been simulated, 'big act', as he later wrote from Nuremberg.(46) Four days later he went on hunger strike and published a declaration to the German and British governments that he wished to die and to be conveyed to Germany in full Luftwaffe uniform.
Whatever he did or said from this moment on was devoted to the attempt to gain the attention that everyone denied him. His renewed assertions at Nuremberg that his claim to have lost his memory and regained it, and all the rest, were nothing but bluff, part of a helpless attempt to escape from the chaos of inner conflicts that he could no longer master. His unbroken faith in the Fuhrer, his own branding as a traitor and madman, the discovery of the regime's crimes, the meeting with his former colleagues: he could not stand up to these contradictions and emotional conflicts. But his stubborn silence before the court and his occasional announcement of a 'great disclosure' were unquestionably the belated dramatic gestures of a man who found himself taken seriously by no one but his doctors. In writing of his stay in England he concluded that the war of nerves to which he was subjected was an attempt to wring out of him an anti-German declaration, but he had stood fast against all temptations and blackmail.(47) Here too he deluded himself that he had an importance which the British government was by no means prepared to accord him. It looks as though all his actions from his flight to Britain to the gesture of demonstrative contempt with which he received his sentence at Nuremberg sprang from a desperate attempt to regain, by the most spectacular means available, that personal foundation which he had once given up, to recreate the lines of an individual personality that had vanished in the blaze of his faith in the Fuhrer. But whatever he regained added up, significantly enough, only to fragments of a second-rate imitation of the Fuhrer. The Fuhrer, the world was supposed to understand, would have behaved in just this way if he had ever appeared at Nuremberg, just as proud, just as reserved, just as full of imperious rejection; and he, Hess, was still his legitimate deputy, in spite of the self-important, theatrical behaviour of Goring, who could not abandon his histrionics and aspired to the level of his judges. Meanwhile Rudolf Hess remained silent, his burnt-out eyes gazing contemptuously over the scene; at times he covered them with his hand or stared dreamily at the same page of a book lying on his knees.(48)
Only during his final speech did he return once again from his silent world, to deliver his monologue with his eyes and voice directed towards some distant interlocutor in the void: fragments of a banal revelation about Jewry, secret chemical preparations, the Moscow Trials, and the glassy eyes of his guards in England. When Goring whispered to him to stop, he exclaimed out loud, 'Don't interrupt me.' Then he said:
It was granted to me for many years of my life to live and work under the greatest son whom my nation has produced in the thousand years of its history. Even if I could I would not expunge this period from my existence. I regret nothing. If I were standing once more at the beginning I should act once again as I did then, even if I knew that at the end I should be burnt at the stake. No matter what men do, I shall one day stand before the judgement seat of the Almighty. I shall answer to him, and I know that he will acquit me.(49)
He did not regain his lost self. The last sentence reiterated almost verbatim a phrase with which Hitler had ended his final plea to the Munich People's Court in 1924.(50) The desire for rehabilitation, for reinstatement in the community of the faithful, from which he knew he had been ejected by Hitler himself, dominated him with a power that can be comprehended only in religious terms. On his ravaged features, which mirrored the hunger for 'the man', after the horrors and exaltations which he had experienced at his side, he bore the visible signs of rejection. 'Why don't they let me die?' he asked one of the guards after the verdict. (51) Life was henceforth devoid of meaning for him, after he had tried in his final attempt to appear as Hitler's successor to wrest some meaning from it once more.
And then, unexpectedly, he found himself accepted once more into the fold after all. From Erich Kempka, Hitler's chauffeur, he learnt that shortly before the end, speaking of his former deputy, the Fuhrer had said
'that at least in all these years it had been possible to introduce one idealist of the purest water indelibly into history'.
Hess had to 'summon up all his manliness in order not to weep', he wrote afterwards. (52)
He was forgiven; he was once more with his father.
He embodied one of the fundamental weaknesses of the type susceptible to totalitarianism: he was incapable of living on his own. Without the support and certitudes of ethical or religious ties in his early life, he continually sought substitute satisfaction for his irrational needs, and he finally found a new orientation and a new faith in the overwhelming apparition of 'the man'. For him freedom and independent existence meant terrifying exposure. There is much to suggest that the confusion into which he lapsed after his independent trip to Britain was rooted in this constitutional servitude; that he took flight into neurosis from the isolation into which he was plunged by the loss of his Fuhrer-god, for the symptoms of his mental illness evidently lasted no longer than the feeling of having been repudiated by Hitler. A psychiatric report of 27th May 1948 states that
'Hess at the present time is not suffering from any mental disturbance' and is 'perfectly normal'.(53)
The letters to his family which he wrote during his imprisonment in Spandau confirm this. It is possible, therefore, that what we see in him is nothing other than an exemplary failure of self-determination, the psychopathology of bewilderment in the face of freedom. This alone would make him, beyond all politically sensational aspects, the 'most famous psychiatric case of the first half of the century', as he has been called.(54)
The American court psychiatrist Douglas M. Kelley reported from Nuremberg that his French colleague, in order to have a specimen of his handwriting, asked Hess for his signature. Thereupon Hess 'wrote his name and immediately crossed it out again'. 'This,' we learn, 'happened several times.' (55)
|« NEXT »||« Part 3 »||« The Third Reich »||« Library »||« Home »|