Hess's Own Statement

During his stay in the hospital in Wales, Hess wrote out a statement which was taken to Nuremberg amongst his possessions. This is quite coherent, though frankly psychotic; it is given in full in Rees's hook. The following extracts, grouped by their themes, give some idea of the psychiatric quality of this statement:

The poisoning:

"A few days after the conference, I broke my leg. With the excuse that he was giving me morphine, the doctor injected brain poison... If I took only a small part of the pills the cramps which would close my bladder would start again. Repeated experiment always had the same result." When in November 1941 he asked the Swiss Envoy to visit him, "I had hardly mailed the letter when, again, huge quantities of brain poison were put in my food to destroy my memory... After the visit of the Envoy, I was given a daily dose of the brain poison for eight weeks... Daily they caused my bladder to close and only let it open once for a short time in twenty‑four hours... For three years they caused my intestines to close by a medicine that they put in my food and it could only be opened by a special antidote ... ...For a few days I merely pretended to eat breakfast and at once my eyes got better. I had hardly started drinking the cocoa again when the visual disturbances reappeared... Soon my eyes deteriorated so badly that I could see only very blurry outlines of near and distant objects... Even bread and cake, which had given me relief so far, were finally treated with acid. In desperation, I scratched lime from the walls in the hope that this would neutralize the other stuff but I was not successful... They now started to add corrosive acids to my food. The skin come loose and hung in little bits from my palate. It can be imagined what condition the mucous membranes of my stomach and bowels must have had... but in the course of time I became immune also against the corrosive acid... The worst was the secretion from camel and pigs' glands from which even the starchy foods were not safe ... ....In order to indulge in some serious activity I started to translate an English book into German... [the] English‑German Dictionary showed signs of decay that increased from day to day, which increase soon made it useless. Therefore I declared that I had ceased the translation, and continued it only secretly and when I was alone, and gave the appearance of not touching the dictionary any more ... ....there were no further signs of decay... Dr. Jones brought me a dozen apples... Each apple had been beautifully packed in coloured paper and had been put into an equally Xmas‑like box. All apples showed places where they had been penetrated when I sampled them; it was found that hot poison had been put into them."

The universal hypnosis:

Of one of the doctors, 'the strange thing here was how his eyes had changed since the previous day. They had a peculiar glassy and dreamy expression... A further thought that I had was that these people had been hypnotized... the people around me played their parts with the greatest zeal and tenacity. Sometimes it even seemed to me that they believed what they said... The Envoy had arrived without giving much notice. I had asked him to do this in our common interest; in that way he would not have to suffer from paralysis... The eyes were the symptoms that the people around me had been put into an abnormal mental condition by a secret che­mical which had been unknown to the world so far. The condition however is like a partial lunacy, or like the condition which might be created by hypnosis of long duration. In this condition, people can be made to behave like rogues or enemies towards someone for a certain time and to commit crimes such as murder. Then at a prefixed time, under hypnotic influence, they will get excited and will carry out what had been suggested to them... I knew how this staggering event [the Italian surrender] was to be explained, namely that the King of Italy had also been put into a state of partial lunacy... I have no doubt that the then Swiss Envoy in London was put into this abnormal condition. . . I suspect that the crimes against the Envoy were perpetrated in his London Club by people who had been made partial luna­tics... Otherwise they could force me to be a traitor to my country as Paulus, who, no doubt, became a victim of the secret chemical... The British Government had been hypnotized into endeavouring to change me into a lunatic so that I could be paraded as such."

Persecution by noises:

    Practically throughout his stay in England Hess believed that noises were made to prevent him from sleeping. "Gradually, though, I got used to the noise and slept in spite of it. When they got wise to this, they quit making noises... From that it was clear that the racket which had lasted all the night previously had been made intentionally, partly, apparently, by whistles which had been fastened to bushes in the nearest vicinity of my house... Such a racket may normally be tolerable. Howe­ver, in conjunction with chemicals which harm the nerves it will lead to the very limit of nervous collapse, if not to madness, which they intended to inflict."

Amnesia and thought interference:

    He says that when he attempted mental activities "they apparently also guessed at this occupation. At any rate, I suddenly got a terrific headache... At the same time, the worst headaches started... My sense of time was disturbed. Events that had taken place days ago appeared to be many weeks away. My memory temporarily deteriorated. I again deceived them into believing that I had lost my memory. I came through tests like a sudden appearance of persons whom I had known before, and I pretended not to recognize them any more, although I was in a state of hypnotic sleep."

    Hess was admitted to the Nuremberg gaol on October 10, 1945, where he came under the care of Major Kelley. Apart from obvious weight loss, physically he was normal. He was alert and responsive, but said he could not remember his birth date, birthplace, date if leaving Germany, or any fact whatever of his early life; and the next day he said he could not remember anything that had taken place during his imprisonment in England. Rorschach responses indicated "the possibility of a psychotic episode," but Major Kelley concluded "there is no doubt that Rudolf Hess had a severe psycho‑neurosis of the hysterical type." He had brought with him a number of small parcels, all carefully sealed with numerous red seals; when these were undone, they were found to contain hits of food which he had saved from his! meals, and which he claimed contained the various poisons which had affected his brain, stopped up his nose, loosened his bowels, plugged up his bowels, weakened his heart, or caused him to lose his memory. When the trials began, Hess arrived in the court‑room with a small book, which he proceeded to read, paying no attention to the trial proceedings. The general opinion of his colleagues was that he was undoubtedly crazy. He remained amnesic. Neither his defense counsel, nor Goering, with whom he. was allowed to have long talks, were able to find any way through to a re­covery of memory.

    On November 30, 1945, the question whether Hess was fit to stand trial and to plead was brought before the Tribunal. His counsel submitted that he was not fit to plead. Reports of the American, British, French and Rus­sian experts [See Appendix] were discussed. Finally the Tribunal wished to hear Hess's own view on this matter, and the question was put to him where he sat, without going into the box. His reply, which contained the following state­ment, flabbergasted everybody:

"My memory is again in order. The reasons why I simulated loss of memory were tactical. In fact, it is only that my capacity for concentration is slightly reduced. But in consequence of that, my capacity to follow the trial, my capacity to defend myself, to put questions to witnesses or even to answer questions these, my ca­pacities, are not influenced by that. I emphasize the fact I hear the full respon­sibility for everything that I have done or signed as signatory or co‑signatory. My attitude, in principle, is that the Tribunal is not competent‑is not affected by the statement I have just made. Hitherto in conversations with my official defense counsel I have maintained my loss of memory. He was therefore in good faith when he asserted I lost my memory."


    Hess was highly delighted by the sensation he had made, and afterwards was much more ready to talk to Major Kelley; but he remained distant and arrogant, standing at attention during an interview, refusing to shake hands, and not adopting the friendly reactions which were common in other priso­ners. He was the only prisoner with whom rapport was not developed. He would not sign his name to anything. During his examination by Dr. Jean Delay, who requested his signature as an example of his handwriting, Hess would write the signature and immediately scratch it out; this occurred several times.

     During December, Hess became increasingly preoccupied with his food, and several times said he felt it was tampered with. He mentioned the ideas he had had in England that he was being poisoned, admitting that such ideas were peculiar, but saying he could not control them. He then added, "Even now, at times these ideas come over me. I will look at a piece of bread or a bit of food and suddenly I feel sure that it has been poisoned." Every day the jailers searched his cell, and always found numerous bits of food, carefully wrapped, which had been secreted in various parts of the cell.

     About four to six weeks after his "recovery," he started to complain again of mental fatiguability, and the paranoid ideas came to the fore. Other priso­ners would have to taste his food for him. In January 1946, his memory began to deteriorate again; Dr. Gilbert noted a sharp decrease in span of digit recall. In casual conversation it was noticed that there were serious gaps in his recol­lections of recent events at the trial. He became apathetic, withdrawn and secretive. His memory decreased rapidly from week to week, blocking out more and more recent events. Finally he could not even remember events of the day before. In February he reverted to reading books in the court‑room. He cut himself off from his fellow‑prisoners. He complained about the noise the guards were making, and thought that somebody "higher up" was plotting to interfere with his defense by having the guards disturb his ability to con­centrate. On March 24 the day came when he was supposed to take his stand as a witness, as indeed he had previously intended. But his counsel could not put him into the box because of his loss memory. Two days later he had forgotten that two witnesses had been called in his defense; and ten days later he had forgotten that he had made any defense at all. As the amnesia became more and more complete, evidence of a paranoid trend diminished, until at the end of the trial he had completely reverted to the withdrawn apathetic state of total amnesia in which he caine to Nuremberg. His counsel asked for examination by another psychiatric commission, and the Tribunal asked Dr. Gilbert to report whether in his view this was necessary. Dr. Gilbert, a psychologist Ph.D. and not a medically trained psychiatrist, reported to the effect that liess's condition was unchanged, i.e. a hysterical amnesia, and any new commission must inevitably come to the same conclusions as the original commissions. The Tribunal decided not to order another psychiatric exami­nation. Hess's condition remained almost the same until the medical record closes in October 1946, when however his memory had largely recovered again. No further case data from that time on are available to the present writer, nor has he any inkling what the later psychiatric history has been.

     The last chapter in Rees's book gives a general review of the case. This sees the illness not in the least in phenomenological or descriptive terms, but along the lines of dynamic interpretation, beginning: "In assessing Hess's personality and its degree of morbidity in the direction of a paranoid psycho­sis, it will first be necessary to relate his behaviour to the natural pattern which has formed his background." This is, then, the comparison of a men­tally sick man, not with others of his kind, the mentally ill with whom the psychiatrist is primarily concerned, but with vague and imprecise psychological norms, supposedly applying to an undefined mass of individuals. The writer goes on to say that, queer as Hess's symptomatology was, it didn't differ so much from the norm of Nazi and possibly even more generally German modes of thinking and dealing with reality. Hess's illness is related to constitutional factors, including a family history of suicide and mental disorder, to ambivalence towards the father, identification with the mother, an unrecognized passive streak and persistent autoerotism leading to his "outstanding sense of inner weakness and contamination," to an "immature, self‑preoccupied neu­rotic personality." The Nazi movement, it is said, corresponded to the needs of such a paranoid mystical fantast. However, he probably became somewhat isolated from the other leading Nazis, and one motive of his flight could have been his growing sense of isolation and waning influence. When he got to England, instead of being received as peace‑maker and hero, he became a prisoner. This must, it is thought, have enhanced his ambivalence and em­phasized his fantasies of conspiracy and suspicion. Accumulating tensions cau­sed the first attempt at suicide; the second is more easily understood, taking place at a time when Germany was manifestly losing the war. Isolation and defeat can also be held responsible for the hysterical amnesia, for which se­veral motivations can be suggested. "It has been our point of view that, in common with his cultural pattern and reinforced personal need to reject weakness and ambivalence in himself, Hess unconsciously has made use of the paranoid projection mechanism in order to defend himself against his own sense of guilt." The persistent paranoid idea of a secret poison which causes a glassy stare in the eyes of its victims may well have been a displa­cement from Hitler, whose "glassy stare" at the frequent moments of fury and hysterical behaviour is notorious. We are reminded that in his written statement Hess projected temptations to disloyalty on to various British per­sonalities, and we are, it is claimed, entitled to infer that such temptations might have been present in his unconscious mind, and dealt with in a paranoid way.

     Coming at last to the problem of diagnosis, the writer draws attention to the editorial comment in The Lancet, 5‑12‑1945, which argued that it was most unlikely that Hess was "entirely a hysteric;" the probable diagnosis was pa­ranoid schizophrenia; the main difficulty was the occurrence of hysterical amnesia, but "hysterical symptoms are by no means uncommon in schizo­phrenia." We agree with The Lancet that there were many points favoring the diagnosis of schizophrenia of a paranoid type. However, he says, "these neat technical terms have become shopworn and degraded currency." "Fortun­ately, the modern point of view in psychiatry is more concerned with the structure and dynamics of the total personality than with attaching diagnos­tic labels." The conclusion is that Hess belonged in "the group of psychopathic personalities of the schizoid type", and "we may safely leave the problem of final diagnosis to the predilections and judgments of our colleagues present and future."