The Propagander ™ FAQ

Did Hess Deserve His Life Sentence?

Stalin and his successors really hated
Rudolf Hess. His flight to Scotland and his obvious attempts to ally the English with the Nazis against the USSR made the Commies in the Kremlin see Red, so to speak. They certainly didn't expect the well-known hypochondriac to live so long.

Hess has been called 'The Last Nazi,' and I think there is something to that; not just because he was the last big shot Nazi to die, but because his faith in his Fuehrer never wavered. He remained unapologetic and unrepentant to the end. Hess maintained a fanatic and foolishly futile resistance to captivity, utilizing tricks of aggressive passivity and repeating them with subtle variation for decades. One hesitates to release a man from jail who shows every sign of not having learned anything at all during his confinement. The dangers of a revisionist revival of Nazism sparked by Hess's anticipated recidivism seemed apparent at the time.

The irony of Hess's case is that, although he was charged at 
Nuremberg with all four Counts, he was only convicted of Counts 1 and 2, and that the weakest of them; Count 1, Conspiracy to commit crimes alleged in other counts, and Count 2, Crimes Against Peace. He was found Not Guilty of Count 3, War crimes, and Count 4, Crimes against humanity. Here is a fellow who was captured on what could arguably be considered a diplomatic mission, given no sort of diplomatic immunity or even a fair hearing, and locked away as a POW for the duration. Perhaps he deserved this treatment; there was a desperate war going on. Regardless, the realities of Soviet alliance politics being what they were, Hess would have expected no better had he not so totally misjudged the situation.

Had I been a judge, I'd have convicted him on Crimes against Humanity, also, because he signed the order authorizing Goering to set in motion The Final Solution. I can't see why the Court absolved him of guilt for that (as if an Arsonist who ran away before the building was engulfed in flames could claim that he wasn't there when the fire actually destroyed the place). In the evidence presented to the Court, there is substantial cause to determine that Hess was well aware of the ultimate meaning of the Final Solution term. He has much more culpability there than on Count Two, which is, as I said, the weakest of the four counts.

From The Nuremberg Trial by Ann and John Tusa:

The French thought twenty years was an adequate sentence for Hess. No one else agreed. As ever, the Russians wanted a hanging--in this case they added to their general principle the national prejudice that Hess's flight to Scotland had been an attempt to win Germany a free hand against Russia. They also argued that Hess's signature on the Nuremberg Decrees made him guilty of the deaths of millions of Jews; that his signature of the documents incorporating conquered territories and his establishment of compulsory military service made him at least as culpable as Frick; that his uniquely close relationship with Hitler and vigorous public support for all his policies put him in the same category as Goering; his detailed knowledge of all aggressive planning put him in the same category as many defendants who were to hang. These arguments convinced the other judges that Hess deserved a heavy sentence. But they had also put in the balance the fact that Hess left Germany in 1941; only after that date did the worst atrocities occur. In a three to one vote against the Russians they found Hess guilty on Counts One and Two only; after a three to one vote against the French, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

I'd have given him Life, also, but I'd certainly have expected--as did a number of the Judges--that he would not have had to serve the full term, especially as decade followed decade. A Life Sentence would have confirmed the serious gravity of the Crime, while a humanitarian release at some distant point--contingent on some show of regret or remorse from the prisoner, perhaps--would have confirmed the righteousness and charity of the victors tribunal. This is standard procedure in such cases.

January 2, 1970 Statement by Lord Shawcross, British Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg:

[Rudolf Hess's] life sentence by the IMT (International Military Tribunal) at Nuremberg was, compared with others, by no means a lenient one. I suspect that all of us on the Western side took it for granted that it would be subject to the same sort of commutation recognized in civilized systems of criminal justice, and would not literally be for life. That he should continue to be imprisoned now, seems to me an affront to all notions of justice.

In the event, incarceration for so many years came to be perceived as Cruel and Unusual by many, and fickle Public Opinion--already out of its shallow depth with the Trials nuances to begin with--began to condemn the Trials themselves as war crimes of a sort (Victors Justice). This is unfortunate.

Conclusion: I believe that if Hess had been willing to repent, so to speak, and renounce his Nazi past, he'd have been released. However, since he remained unrepentant to the last day--and perhaps beyond--the door remained locked. And rightfully so. His grave site to this day continues to attract the delusional.
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