|“||I am happy to know that I have done my duty, to my people, my duty as a German, as a National Socialist, as a loyal follower of my Führer.||„|
|~ Rudolf Hess|
Hess, the oldest of three children, was born on April 26th, 1894 in Alexandria, Egypt, into the ethnic German family of Fritz Hess, a prosperous merchant from Bavaria, and Clara Hess (née Münch). His brother, Alfred, was born in 1897 and his sister, Margarete, was born in 1908. The family lived in a villa on the Egyptian coast near Alexandria, and visited Germany often from 1900, staying at their summer home in Reicholdsgrün (now part of Kirchenlamitz) in the Fichtel Mountains. Hess attended a German language Protestant school in Alexandria from 1900 to 1908, when he was sent back to Germany to study at a boarding school in Bad Godesberg. He demonstrated aptitudes for science and mathematics, but his father wished him to join the family business, Hess & Co., so he sent him in 1911 to study at the École supérieure de commerce in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
After a year there, Hess took an apprenticeship at a trading company in Hamburg Hess enlisted in the 7th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment as an infantryman at the outbreak of World War I. He was wounded several times over the course of the war, and won the Iron Cross, second class, in 1915. Shortly before the war ended, Hess enrolled to train as an aviator, but he saw no combat in this role. He left the armed forces in December 1918 with the rank of Leutnant der Reserve.
In autumn 1919 Hess enrolled in the University of Munich, where he studied geopolitics under Karl Haushofer, a proponent of the concept of Lebensraum ("living space"), which later became one of the pillars of the Nazi Party (National Socialist German Workers Party; NSDAP) ideology. Hess joined the NSDAP on July 1st, 1920 as a member of the Sturmabteilung and was at Hitler's side on 8 November 1923 for the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed Nazi attempt to seize control of the government of Germany. Whilst serving time in jail for this attempted coup, Hess helped Hitler write his opus, Mein Kampf, which became a foundation of the political platform of the NSDAP.
After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Hess was appointed Stellvertreter des Führers (Deputy to the Leader) of the NSDAP and shortly received a post in Hitler's cabinet as Minister without Portfolio. He was also appointed in 1938 to the Cabinet Council and in 1939 to the Council of Ministers for Defense of the Reich. Hitler decreed in 1939 that Hermann Göring was his official successor, and named Hess as next in line. In addition to appearing on Hitler's behalf at speaking engagements and rallies, Hess signed into law much of the legislation, including the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which stripped the Jews of Germany of their rights in the lead-up to the Holocaust. He also issued a decree in 1940 that all captured enemy parachutists were to be "rendered harmless" (meaning killed), which would later form the basis for Hitler's Commando Order. Hess later become second-in-command to Heinrich Himmler in national command of the Schutzstaffel. Hess also served as Hitler's personal secretary, but he would later be replaced in this position by Martin Bormann.
Hess continued to be interested in aviation, learning to fly the more advanced aircraft that were coming into development at the start of World War II. On May 10th, 1941 he undertook a solo flight to Scotland, where he hoped to arrange peace talks with Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton, whom he believed was prominent in opposition to the British government. Hess was immediately arrested on his arrival and was held in British custody until the end of the war, when he was returned to Germany to stand trial in the Nuremberg Trials of major war criminals in 1946. Throughout much of the trial, he claimed to be suffering from amnesia, but later admitted this was a ruse. Hess was convicted of crimes against peace and conspiracy with other German leaders to commit crimes and was transferred to Spandau Prison in 1947, where he served a life sentence.
Repeated attempts by family members and prominent politicians to win him early release were blocked by the Soviet Union, and he committed suicide by hanging himself, still in custody in Spandau, in 1987 at the age of 93 making him the last surviving defendant of the Nuremberg Trials.