Rudolf Hess and the psychiatrists

Show Navigation

By | From the Collections


Rudolf Hess

                     Rudolf Hess

Rudolf Hess’s state of mind from the date of his landing in Scotland in 1941, throughout the years of his imprisonment in England, and during his trial in Nuremberg, has been the subject of speculation by historians, fiction writers and conspiracy theorists ever since. Prior to his trial Hess was examined by a commission of psychiatric experts from the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and France. The report of the British delegation, which included Lord Moran, concluded that he was ‘unstable’ and exhibited the characteristics of a ‘psychopathic personality’ but that he was not ‘insane in the strictest sense’ and he was subsequently deemed fit to stand trial. Moran’s own file relating to the matter is held by the Wellcome Library. It contains correspondence, clinical notes on Hess by J.R. Rees and Moran’s own notes (Ref: PP/CMW/G.3/2).

Psychiatrists have since used this kind of material, gathered at the time, to come to their own conclusions. William Sargant’s interest in Hess is borne out by his possession of an English translation of an account by Hess of his imprisonment in England, including his physical and mental health and medical treatment. This document forms part of a recently-catalogued accession to the Sargant papers held in the Library (Ref: PP/WWS/A/22). Sargant gave his opinion in a review in the BMJ in 1962 of James Leasor’s Rudolf Hess, The Uninvited Envoy (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1962). He believed that ‘Hess was obviously psychiatrically ill at his trial’ and that Leasor had relied rather heavily on official sources when concluding that Hess was sane during his imprisonment. For Sargant

It shows how the facts of history can so often be misjudged for posterity. Fortunately there are ample clinical descriptions …of Hess’s many and complicated delusional systems, and of his hallucinations and other psychiatric abnormalities, so that future medical men will have a lot of factual data available to judge for themselves.[1]

The two files of stray papers that form the additional Sargant accession were found amongst the papers of Ann Dally (Ref: PP/DAL), who was at one point working on a biography of Sargant, and transferred the original collection of his papers to the Library in 1995. In addition to the Hess document, they include small amounts of correspondence, published and unpublished writings and presscuttings. They date from the 1930s to the 1970s and cover a wide range of Sargant’s interests. Examples include texts for two lectures given in the 1940s, one on ‘modern treatments in psychiatry’ written for a postgraduate course at the West End Hospital for Nervous Disorders and one given in the United States on ‘physical treatment in psychiatry from a Pavlovian viewpoint’, Eliot Slater’s vote of thanks after a lecture given by Sargant in 1968 and reviews of Sargant’s autobiography, The Unquiet Mind.[2]

[1] William Sargant, ‘Hess’s mental state’, BMJ (20 October 1962), p.1036.
[2] William Sargant, The Unquiet Mind (London: Heinemann, 1967).

Author: Jennifer Haynes

Chris Hilton

Chris Hilton

Dr Christopher Hilton was until August 2017 a Senior Archivist at the Wellcome Library.

See more posts by this author

Comments are closed.

Related Blog Posts