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Remains of Rudolf Hess exhumed

During the years since his burial in 1987, the grave of Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, in the small town of Wunsiedel in southern Germany, became a shrine for neo-Nazis. Between 4 and 6 o’clock, in the early hours of Wednesday 20th July, the grave was reopened, his remains were removed, and the grave was destroyed.  

Arrested in Scotland in 1941, where he flew solo in an attempt to negotiate a peace settlement with the United Kingdom, Rudolf Hess was detained by the British for the remainder of the Second World War. In 1946 at the Nuremberg Trials, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent 40 years in Spandau Prison in West Berlin, where he eventually committed suicide in 1987, aged 93. The prison was dismantled in the aftermath of his death to prevent it from becoming a shrine.

Rudolf Hess was buried according to his wishes in the family grave in the cemetery of the Lutheran church in Wunsiedel. However, the grave soon became a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis, who every year organised a commemorative march on the anniversary of his death. In 2003, 5,000 people marched to the grave; it is estimated that crowds reached over 9,000 in 2004, marking some of the biggest Nazi demonstrations in Germany since 1945. In 2005, a court order banned such gatherings and the local church ended the family’s lease of the plot as of October 2011.

Rudolf Hess' remains are due to be cremated and scattered at sea.

Why did Hess fly to Scotland in May 1941? Historians have long differed over the true nature of his mission. Was he acting alone? Or was he travelling to a pre-arranged meeting? John Harris reveals new evidence in Why Hess Flew: A New View