Conflict & Justice

Rudolf Hess remains exhumed to end neo-Nazi pilgrimage


Neo-Nazis march under a flag bearing the colors of pre-World War II Germany August 16, 2003 through Wunsiedel, Germany to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Rudolf Hess, deputy to Adolf Hitler. About 2,600 neo-Nazis from across Europe, including Germany, Great Britian, Italy, Holland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Austria and the Czech Republic, marched to pay their respects to Hess, until this week buried in Wunsiedel.


Sean Gallup

The remains of Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, have been exhumed and his grave in Bavaria destroyed to prevent it being used as a shrine for neo-Nazi pilgrims.

Hess' headstone with the epitaph "Ich hab's gewagt" ("I dared") was removed in secret from a churchyard in the small Bavarian town of Wunsiedel, southern Germany, early on Wednesday morning, after the bones were removed, AFP reports, quoting Roland Schoeffel, the town's deputy mayor.

His remains will be cremated and his ashes scattered at sea on a date set by his surviving family, the Telegraph reports.

One of Hitler's closest aides, Rudolf Hess was "captured after flying to Scotland in 1941 in a failed attempt to convince Great Britain to negotiate a peace agreement with Nazi Germany," according to the Guardian.

Hess he was tried at Nuremberg along with other top Nazis, including Hermann Goering, who swallowed cyanide on the eve of his execution.

Hess committed suicide in 1987 at age 93 having served two decades of a life sentence for crimes against peace as the only inmate in Berlin's Spandau prison, which was itself razed to stop it becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.

Hess was buried his parents in the family plot in Wunsiedel cemetery in accordance with his will.

But according to AFP, the site "became Germany's top pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis, with hundreds of skinheads marching in the 10,000-strong town on every August 17 anniversary of Hess's death until a 2005 ban."

Nazi sympathizers also came from around the world, and all year round, AFP reports, "laying flowers and performing Hitler salutes in the cemetery."

In 2004 alone an estimated 4,500 skinheads from around the world came to pay homage to a man they revered as a hero.

"The people in the town didn't like the association with Hess as it was embarrassing so it is good news that he's gone," Horst Martini, spokesman for Wunsiedel council, told the Telegraph. "Although the neo-Nazi activity has been quite quiet for the past five years it was not good for the town to have him here."

Hess's descendants had wanted a 20-year-extension on the plot at the Lutheran Wunsiedel, but with the lease coming up for renewal church said it wanted the grave removed.

Hess's granddaughter ultimately consented to it being removed, after saying that "she wanted nothing more to do with it," a representative of the church council told AFP. "We were all very relieved."

"The Hess family would like to be left alone," Wunsiedel's Lutheran deacon Hans-Juergen Buchta said. "And we in the congregation said we would like Rudolf Hess to rest in peace."

Meanwhile, Monika Lazar, far-right expert for the opposition Green party, said she doubted whether Wunsiedel had seen the last neo-Nazi visitor.

"Strategies for future marches are already being discussed," she said.