Looking at the War Diary of General Franz Halder, on page 114 of Volume VI., concerning General Halder's activities on 13th May 1941, it states:-

a) Rudolf Hess affair. Political blow of the first order. Danger of an extremist political course.

I believe the Radke mentioned was SS Lt. Col. Radke of the Das Reich division, who appears many times in the Diary and seems to be an advisor to Halder on matters relating to propaganda and morale issues. I'm curious about their discussion that day over the possibility that there could be a "danger of an extremist political course" following the flight of Rudolf Hess to England, which occurred a few days prior to their meeting. Was there a general belief that Rudolf Hess was a moderating influence over Hitler? Is there any evidence that there was in fact a noticeable change in the "political course" towards a more extremist position which could be attributed to Hess's departure? Or are there other possible explanations for Halder and Radke's concerns?

I'm aware that Martin Bormann assumed most of Hess's duties, and that he was regarded as a conniving and brutal extremist himself, but Bormann had already been serving alongside Hess as his secretary for many years, and had established himself fairly well within the inner circle already in his own right, so the transition from Hess to Bormann at Hitler's side, does not in itself seem a dramatic or obvious change of course at first glance. The Wikipedia entry states:-

"Bormann was invariably the advocate of extremely harsh, radical measures when it came to the treatment of Jews, the conquered eastern peoples, and prisoners of war. He signed the decree of 31 May 1941 extending the 1935 Nuremberg Laws to the annexed territories of the East. Thereafter, he signed the decree of 9 October 1942 prescribing that the permanent Final Solution in Greater Germany could no longer be solved by emigration, but only by the use of "ruthless force in the special camps of the East", that is, extermination in Nazi death camps. A further decree, signed by Bormann on 1 July 1943, gave Adolf Eichmann absolute powers over Jews, who now came under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Gestapo."

So it appears that Bormann wasted no time in putting his name to an extension of the Nazi Nuremberg racial laws just weeks after Hess's departure, and that he was central in signing off many of the most brutal Nazi policies over the following years.

Hess, on the other hand, is mentioned in Alexander Dallin's, German Rule in Russia 1941-1945, as a member of "the loyal opposition":-

"The loyal opposition saw the danger clouds gathering -- clouds that were of Hitler's own making. But -- except for Hess, who removed himself from the scene -- the critics were no more than meteorologists who could record and sometimes foresee the change in political climate. Their concept of duty and patriotism paralyzed those among them who were in a position to act." (p.17).

The question I'm asking is to what extent was there a real change of course after Hess's departure. It seems that the Nazi regime was on a trajectory towards a more extreme outlook with the decision to embark on a War of Annihilation in the Soviet Union, but to what extent was this policy made worse by Hess's absence, and more interestingly, to what extent was this change predicted and acquiesced by the German leadership? Was Hess's departure a ripple in a rising pond of increasing extremism, or is the correlation between the ascendancy of Martin Bormann and the accelerated darkening of the soul of the Nazi regime in mid 1941 more than a coincidence? Were Halder and Radke alone in their concern about the political consequences of Hess's departure, or was there a more general awareness and/or concern that a significant political shift was taking place at that moment?

1 Answer 1


Role of Hess remains mysterious and controversial in mainstream history

When you read official and accepted historiography about Hess, you will find many discrepancies. Was he just a powerless figurehead ? Or was he third powerful man in the Reich (second in line of succession to Hitler) ? Did he acted alone when he went to Britain ? What was he hoping to accomplish ? Let's try to examine some of this things.

First of all, it is well known fact that Soviets wanted his head, i.e. demanded death penalty for him in Nuremberg Trials, and latter opposed any clemency and early release. Why was that ? Hess went to Britain more then a month before Operation Barbarossa commenced, so he could not have direct command responsibility. Note that in latter years (after Stalin's death) Soviets were not so harsh in persecuting even those officials and generals who directly participated in the war in the east (for example Wilhelm Mohnke, Johann Rattenhuber, Sigfrid Henrici etc ...). According to official Soviet historiography, Hess knew about Barbarossa and went to Britain to negotiate peace in order to allow Germany free hand in the East. Both accounts are disputed, yet even if we take them as true, Soviets would not have any reason to silence him - his testimony would damage reputation of British, not Soviets. There are various theories floating around that Hess actually knew about secret negotiations between Germany and Soviet Union about closer cooperation against British, that would embarrass Soviets post-war. Yet, so far there is no proof for this.

Also, official history denies that Hitler knew about Hess's flight in advance. Apparently, Hitler went into a rage, and days latter started punishing those associated with Hess, denouncing and removing his image in public etc ... But timing is important here. Already on May 12, 1941 British confirmed that they have Hess in custody, implicitly showing that there would not be any secret negotiations. Therefore, Hitler's rage could have been just a damage control to contain embarrassment caused by failed diplomatic mission.

Finally, there is a question of British involvement. Official historiography claims that Hess went to Britain without invitation, without even getting a reply from his supposed host, Duke of Hamilton. This sounds rather naive, especially considering the fact that Hess prepared his mission for months. Official historiography does confirm that Hess's letter to Hamilton was intercepted by MI5. Is it possible that MI5 did trick Hess, by sending him fake reply from Hamilton, or perhaps someone on even higher level (Churchill himself ) ? But such actions would probably have to be approved by higher echelons of British government, something that could look suspicious and embarrassing after the war. After all, it would be difficult to judge was correspondence with Hess genuine or just a ruse. However, leaving aside all of this speculations, we do know that British intelligence had contacts with Admiral Canaris, head of Abwehr, especially in late 1940 / early 1941 with certain lull in ground operations. Apparently, Canaris, who was strongly anti-Communist but didn't want to fight British, did have some rapport with head of MI6 Stewart Menzies. It is quite possible that some of these Anglo-German links were actually quite strong, and perhaps extended to Hess, enough to persuade him to attempt his flight.

Anyway, to the main question . Did Hess's departure strengthened hardliners in Third Reich government ? If we prescribe to official history, Hess was essentially man with too much time on his hands and no real power once WW2 started. His influence on Hitler was minimal, and course for total war was already set in. His misadventure in Britain only strengthened the notion that British should not be trusted, and that Germany must seek position of power before any negotiations could commence. But if we entertain the notion that Hess didn't act alone, his departure and failure could be one of the turning points of the war. If we assume that Hess was in fact leader of the dovish faction in Third Reich hierarchy, leading the effort to limit and eventually end the war (with or without new conflict against Soviet Union) , then his capture would certainly radicalize ruling circles in Berlin. For example, since no peace with Britain could be achieved (and possibility of victory was slim do to the failure of aerial offensive and British naval superiority) , only way for Germany to get necessary oil and other raw materials was war against Soviet Union. Jewish question could not be solved with resettlement in Palestine or Madagascar, therefore only solution was extermination (final solution first mentioned in July 1941) etc ... We do have some circumstantial evidence that disappearance of Hess effected hardening of German leadership, but it is not enough to distinguish between cause and coincidence. More historical research would be needed, but since these are still highly politically loaded questions, this would probably have to wait for another, more opportune time.

  • 4
    Please provide sources for all of your assertions.
    – Spencer
    Feb 14, 2020 at 10:45
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    This reads like conspiracy theory and may not be appropriate for H:SE. I'll let the community decide, "When you read official and accepted historiography about Hess, you will find many discrepancies." - In which case it should be easy to substantiate that. This post attacks historical scholarship with unsubstantiated assertions. The post as written is not within the standards and methods of history or science.
    – MCW
    Feb 14, 2020 at 10:57
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    This answer makes it sound as if Britain could have somehow "avoided" Germany invading Soviet Russia and the Holocaust, if they had only taken Heß' offer and made peace with Germany. This is so completely against everything we know about Hitler's (and Heß'!) motivations that I wouldn't know where to begin. A "more opportune time" for reevaluating Hitler's written intentions to "take land" and destroy "Jewish bolshevism" in Soviet Russia? Seriously? He considered England a potential ally in this undertaking...
    – DevSolar
    Feb 14, 2020 at 15:36
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    @rs.29: Without quotes that put your speculations even in the "credible" range, this answer is misleading at the best, and right-wing apologetism at the worst. A question framed like this would be closed as counterfacrual.
    – DevSolar
    Feb 17, 2020 at 6:06
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    Your personal hypotheses do not comprise an answer. And your personal hyptheses line up pretty exactly with a particular line of right-wing apologetics. Come up with some references that these aren't your personal hypotheses but some founded-in-reality line of historic reasoning, and all is good.
    – DevSolar
    Feb 17, 2020 at 8:41

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