Hess, Rudolf

Career in the Nazi Party

Vorsitzender der Politische Zentralkommission der NSDAP (Chairman of the central political commission of the NSDAP)

In these years, Hess enlarged the Parteikanzlei (party chancellory), the administrative heart of the party, until May 1941 designated the Stab des Stellvertreters des Führers (staff of the Führer’s deputy). In 1931, this organization moved into its own offices in the so called Braunes Haus (brown house) in Munich, the party headquarters. In the meantime, Hess had also become a member of the SS. The successes of the party increased. Membership of the NSDAP gradually increased to 1,500,000 in 1929. After the crash of the Stock Exchange in October of that year and the ensuing economical crisis, the party really started to expand. In September 1930, the party won 18.3 % of the votes in the elections for the Reichstag. On July 1st, 1932, the party won no less than 37.3% of the votes but Hitler did not yet become Reichskanzler (state chancellor); especially as the Reichspräsident (State president), the old general Paul von Hindenburg prevented this.

Hess fell ill in September 1932 and had to recuperate in a hospital for a few months from a boil infection. In November 1932, the party lost 2,000,000 votes in the election for the Reichstag but retained 33.1 % of the votes, still making it the largest party in Germany.
The NSDAP threatened to fall apart however when it turned out that Reichsorganisationssleiter (head of organization), Gregor Strasser, one of the Old Warriors and up till then a confidant of Hitler’s and who advocated a more socialist policy, had entered into negotiations, behind Hitler’s back, with Kurt Schleicher who had been appointed Reichskanzler by Von Hindenburg on December 3rd . Strasser attempted to split the party apart and subsequently form a government in co-operation with Von Schleicher. Eventually, no split occurred as on December 8th, 1932, Hitler forced Von Schleicher to leave the party and he appointed Hess as chairman of the newly established central political commission of the NSDAP, a position comparable to that of a secretary-general. By this move, Hess became, at least in theory, the second most powerful man in the party with one stroke. In December 1932, Heinrich Himmler (Bio Himmler), chief of the SS, granted Hess the rank of SS-Gruppenführer as well, which meant he was permitted to wear the SS uniform. In the following year he was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer.

Stellvertreter des Führers (the Führer’s deputy)

After the elections in November 1932, in which the communists achieved a sizeable victory, fear for a revolution increased in Germany. Hitler turned this fear to his advantage and threatened that the communists would seize power unless he was appointed Reichskanzler. On January 4th, 1933, conservative politician Franz von Papen entered into negotiations with Adolf Hitler to try and form a government. The country already suffered from a political crisis for months. On January 30th, 1933, Reichspräsident Von Hindenburg bowed to the pressure that mainly came from prominent industrialists and estate owners and he appointed Hitler Reichskanzler. Because of the fire in the building of the Rechstag on February 27th, 1933 and the subsequent proclamation of the Emergency Law, prohibiting all resistance and the Authorisation Law that was passed on March 23rd, Hitler was able to seize all power and establish the Third Reich.

On April 21st, 1933, Hitler appointed Hess Stellvertreter des Führers (the Führer’s deputy). This position did not carry real power but now, Hess was allowed to attend meetings of the cabinet. In December 1933, he finally became member of the cabinet after he was appointed Minister without Portfolio. As the Authorisation Law was passed on March 24th, 1933, the unification of party and State became a reality. From then on, the government did not have to lay its decisions before the parliament for verification, effectively side tracking the Reichstag. From that day on, Hitler was able to yield his power by issuing decrees. As Hess was in charge of the central commission, his tasks consisted mainly of checking and converting these decrees into official language. Hess also supervised the Germans who were living abroad and the Auslandorganisation (AO, foreign agency) of the NSDAP. Furthermore, Hess was authorized to enter into negotiations with other countries on behalf of Hitler.

In his new functions, Hess was obliged to appear more and more in public. Despite the fact that he was a poor speaker, he soon did become one of the most popular figures of the regime. Probably because he was seen as the epitome of decency: he was incorruptable, reliable and direct and that set him somewhat apart from other important Nazis as Hermann Göring (Bio Göring) and Josef Goebbels (Bio Goebbels). Among others, it was Hess’ task to anounce Hitler at the Reichsparteitage (days of the party) as can be seen in the documentary Triumph des Willens (triumph of the will) by Leni Riefenstahl and to direct the ceremony of oath taking to Hitler. He frequently used phrases like: "Die Partei ist Hitler, Hitler ist aber Deutschland wie Deutschland Hitler ist" (Hitler is the Party but Hitler is Germany just like Germany is Hitler) and: "Our nationalsocialism is anchored in blind docility, in devotion to the Führer whom one does not ask why and for whom one does in silence whatever he orders". The German historian Guido Knopp describes Hess in his role in the adoration of the Führer as the "high priest of the Hitler cult".

Hess was in charge of the entire body of partyofficials. As the NSDAP evolved into a state within the state and all sorts of functions arose with overlapping power, Hess almost drowned under the workload. He was not able to solve the problems and he let himself be fooled regularly by the Gauleiter (regional partyleaders) and other partyofficials. Almost all complaints that came to the partychancellory were dealt with by Hess personally. Partly owing to this, he was designated as the conscience of the party. His usual answer however was always that he would look the case over again. The following phrase that circulated was allegedly about Hess: "Come to me, all those who are tired and stressed and I shall do absolutely nothing". As Hess could not perform his duties properly anymore, he decided to employ a chief of staff. June 1933, he appointed Martin Bormann, (Bio Bormann) a rising star within the party. In this fuction. Bormann performed his duties well, relieving Hess of much of his work. Later it would turn out that Bormann had been coveting the position of the Füher’s deputy from the very beginning.

Despite the fact that Hess held an important position within the party, he had little power in comparison to the other top Nazis like for instance Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler. In his position he could hardly take any initiative himself as his functions were more of a representative nature and he had to share his power with others. In addittion to that, Hess possessed little personal ambition. He had a somewhat naïve character and did not strive after power or luxury; being a faithful servant and being in Hitler’s favour was more important to him. The fact that Hess joined the Geheime Kabinettsrat (secret ministerial council) in February 1938 and became a member of the Reichsverteidigingsrat (council for national defence) in August 1939 made little difference. Both councils had more of a symbolic function without having any power of decision; moreover, Hess seldom attended the meetings.

The limited influence of Hess became obvious when he was not informed in advance of the Night of the Long Knives. During this bloodbath, which occurred in the night of June 30th - July 1st, 1934, the entire top of the SA was murdered because Hitler did not trust the organization any longer. The SA had served Hitler well but once he had risen to power, the organization became more and more repugnant to him. The leader of the organization, Ernst Röhm wanted his SA to take the place of the German army. Moreove, Hitler was called on to do something about the aggressive and unco-ordinated conduct of this paramilitary unit. Other opponents of Hitler’s were also murdered, including Gregor Strasser. Although Hess was angry over the fact that he had not been informed beforehand, later he did co-operate in explaining away this action.

Meanwhile, Hess started to show an increasing interest in the supernatural. He had always practised astrology - he was convinced that the future could be determined by reading the stars. But now he began to show interest in other occult things like the divining rod. Before he went to sleep, he always checked his room for waterveins (subterranian streams of water with negative radiation). Hess suffered from inexplicable abdominal and intestinal pains which he could not shed, despite numerous medical treatments and adapted food. He visited prayer healers, magnetizers and all kinds of alternative healers. His interest in the supernatural caused his esteem within the party to decrease. Many people claimed that Hess was going nuts. Hermann Göring said about him: "For as long as I have known Hess, he was already a little deranged. His appointment by Hitler to deputy partyleader was a mystery to many. I have always thought it was caused by Hitler’s loyalty to old friends".

Hess’ popularity did not increase either when he instructed the Gauleiter to abstain from alcohol, not to make themselves guilty of sexual escapades any longer and to do physical exercise for an hour a day. He also came into conflict with Hitler when he brought his own food to a dinner on the Obersalzberg because, in his opinion, it was more biologic and dynamic. Hitler was not pleased at all and it caused an estrangment between the two old comrades. This conflict was probably also caused by Hess’ strange behaviour becoming more and more repugnant to Hitler.


brown house
Society house of the national-socialist movement.
German word for leader. During his reign of power Adolf Hitler was Führer of Nazi Germany.
Leader and representative of the NSDAP of a Gau.
Night of the Long Knives
Night of 30 June to 1 July 1933 during which Hitler killed many of the demanding leaders of the SA, including Ernst Röhm.
Resistance against the enemy. Often also with armed resources.
Usually sudden and violent reversal of existing (political) the political set-up and situations.

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Gregor Strasser in 1928 who negotiated a new government in 1932 behind Hitler’s back.
(Source: Bundesarchiv / Wikimedia Commons.)

Hess in SS uniform.
(Source: Bundesarchiv / Wikimedia Commons)

Hess delivers a speech in the congresshall of the party in Nurnberg in 1934. Image from the propagandamovie “Triumph of the will”.
(Source: Public Domain)

Hess whipping up the audience. Another fragment from Triumph of the will.
(Source: Public Domain)


Translated by:
Arnold Palthe
Article by:
Wesley Dankers
Published on:
Last edit on:
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