British attempts to free Hess from Spandau thwarted by Russians

Britain made repeated efforts to free Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's one-time deputy, from Spandau prison but each time were thwarted by the Russians, show newly released documents on the internment of Adolf Hitler's former deputy.

Letters sent by the British military in Berlin also accuse Hess's Soviet guards of mental cruelty. Several times in the 1970s, British officials tried to persuade the Russians to try to persuade them to release Hess or relax his harsh conditions. But each time they were rebuffed.

The story of Rudolf Hess is one of the strangest to emerge from the Second World War.

The former First World War soldier, who joined the Nazi Party in 1920, was captured after flying alone to Scotland in May 1941 to seek an Anglo-German peace deal. Hitler said he had gone mad, but Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator, suspected some sort of deal was being done with Britain and Nazi Germany, hence the later rough treatment.

In 1946, Hess was sentenced to life at the Nuremberg war trials and later transferred to Spandau in the British-controlled sector of Berlin. The four occupying powers, the US, Britain, France and the Soviet Union took turns to guard him.

After 1966, when Baldur von Schirach, the Hitler Youth leader, and Albert Speer, Hitler's armament minister, were released, Hess was alone. By 1974, several governments, including Britain, America and France, were calling for his release on humanitarian grounds.

The correspondence, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows the Queen wrote to the former German chancellor, Willi Brandt, saying Britain was doing all it could to try to free him. These efforts were stepped up as Hess approached his 80th birthday. But by May 1974 all hope had faded. Of pressing concern was the increasingly cruel treatment by the Soviets.

In a letter by a senior official in the British Military Government to the British ambassador in Bonn paints a particularly bleak picture. Robert de Burlet, who had diplomatic responsibility for Spandau and visited Hess several times, wrote: "now that the possibility of a tripartite démarche to the Russians to appeal for Hess's release ... seems to have receded ... I think I should bring up to date on the current situation at the prison."

Mr de Burlet said the Russian governor at Spandau has demanded that Hess be deprived of his glasses between 10pm and 7am every night. The Russians also insisted Hess burn his notebook before being allowed a new one, restricted his access to the prison garden and refused him physical contact with any visitor, including his wife and son.

Mr de Burlet wrote: "This new Russian turn of the screw, is particularly unpleasant and amounts to the infliction of mental torture on the prisoner. It is made more blatant by the fact that since November 1959 when Hess cut his wrists with a fragment of glass from his spectacles he has been given ones with plastic lenses."

Mr de Burlet says that in the "course of argument" with the Soviet governor, whom he describes as "short, fat and sinister", he pointed this out but "he refused to listen".

He adds: "It is strange but true, that the Allies, and in particular the British, now have a dual role at Spandau. On the one hand we are carrying out the sentence passed on Hess and on the other hand we are additionally forced into the role of his protectors against the grosser Soviet violations of his minimal privileges.

Mr de Burlet goes on: "We might, of course, tell the Russians to go jump in the Volga ... but this might lead to violent protests and ... physical confrontations with the Soviet warders."

Hess hanged himself at 93, having been a prisoner for 46 years, 40 of them in Spandau, the last 23 in solitary confinement.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick