A German academic who found a letter proving that Adolf Hitler personally intervened to protect a Jewish man who had been his commanding officer during World War One, told Haaretz on Saturday that she found the letter "by coincidence," while carrying out research on Jewish jurists.
The letter, composed in August 1940 by Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazis' feared paramilitary SS, said that Ernst Hess, a judge, should be spared persecution or deportation "as per the Fuehrer's wishes." It was published for the first time by the Berlin-based Jewish Voice from Germany newspaper.
The fifty-year-old Dr. Suzanne Mauss, who lives in a small city near Dusseldorf, western Germany, has carried out much research on German Jewry. She came across the letter last year, while researching an exhibition, "Lawyers without Rights," sponsored by the German Federal Bar. During her research, she looked at the fate of Jewish judges and lawyers in the Dusseldorf region.
"In the State Archive of North Rhine-Westphalia lay about 70,000 files from the Duesseldorf Gestapo," she said. "For the exhibition I was looking at all the files regarding Jewish jurists (mainly lawyers, but also judges) and their family members. So I found the Hess file by coincidence."
Hess, a decorated First World War hero, briefly commanded Hitler's company in Flanders.
Mauss soon understood the archival treasure that had fallen into her hands was the kind that historians seek for many years: written and signed evidence that Hitler, who initiated the murder of six million Jews, gave protection and shelter to one of them.
The documents Mauss found in the file included two important and interesting letters. The first was the 1940 correspondence written by Himmler.
"I do think that the importance is that until now no document was published where Hitler in person appeared in giving his name for the shelter of a Jewish fellow," said Mauss. "Although he didn't write the letter by himself - but the office of Heinrich Himmler - it wasn't possible that his name could have been used without his knowledge."
This "couldn't have been done without his permission," she added.
The second letter she found, written in November 1940 by Hans Heinrich Lammers, chief of Hitler's office from 1933 to 1945, was addressed to Hess. Under the heading, "to be used if necessary," he stated, "it is the wish of the Fuehrer" that Hess should be "treated considerately."
Hess is not the only Jew to have received some sort of protection from Hitler. A well-known case is that of Edward Bloch, Hitler's family doctor, who emigrated to the U.S. during the Second World War. History will not be rewritten because of these documents, Hitler still remains the mass murderer of the Jews however, said Mauss, adding that it looked like Hitler had some consideration for First World War heroes, if only for a short time.
Who was Ernest Hess, and why was he the subject of special protection from Hitler? Ernst Morris Hess was born in 1890 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. During the First World War, he joined the Bavarian Foot Regiment. As fate would have it, Hitler volunteered for the same regiment. They were both on the Flanders front in Autumn 1914, where they served until 1918. In the summer of 1916, Hess even served as Hitler's commander for a short period. Hess was injured twice while serving there, and was later decorated for bravery and promoted.
Hess worked as a local judge, living in Wupperthal with his wife and then moving to Dusseldorf. In 1936, Nazi racial laws forced him to resign as a judge. That same year he was beaten up by Nazi thugs outside his house, and left Germany with his family for northern Italy.
From his new home, he sent a personal letter to Hitler in which he asked for his daughter and himself to be spared, and described the "spiritual death" imposed on them. In order to reach Hitler, he was helped by another friend from the First World War days, Fritz Wiedemann, who was one of the Fuehrer's aides, and close to the head of his office.
In the end, he responded to Hess' request, and ordered that Hess' pension money be transferred to him in his home in Italy. Later, he exempted Hess from bearing the name "Israel" on his documents – a sign for identifying Jews. In 1939, Hess received a new passport without the red "J" stamp – also a sign for identifying Jews.
Later that year, however, Hess was forced to return to Germany with his family, according to an agreement between Germany and Italy. Their attempts to emigrate to Switzerland and Brazil failed. Relying on the protection he received from Hitler, Hess moved his family to live in a remote village in Bavaria. However, in June 1941, he was summoned by the authorities in Munich. When he presented them with the letter of protection he had received, he was told that the letter was no longer valid, and that from now he was "a Jew like all Jews."
The document was taken away and never returned to him. Hess was later taken to a concentration camp near Munich, where he performed forced labor. What saved his life in the end was his marriage to a Protestant. In contrast, his sister and mother were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp by Adolf Eichmann. His sister was later murdered in Auschwitz, while his mother managed to escape to Switzerland.
After the war, Hess remained in Germany and declined the offer of being appointed again as a judge. He earned his living by working as a manager in the Federal Railways Authority in Frankfurt. In 1983 he died. His daughter, Ursula, now 86, still lives in Germany. In an interview with the Jewish Voice of Germany newspaper, which first published the documents, Ursula said her father described Hitler as a "man with no friends, who did not say a word to anyone."