Daily Archives: 8 July, 2010

Talking to Rudolf Hess by Desmond Zwar

This really is quite some book. In fact, its a book about two other books!

Desmond Zwar, an Australian journalist living in London, was sent by a downmarket Aussie Newspaper on the trail of an English artist who, aparenly, painted ‘nudes on horseback’. Although the equestrian nudes turned out to be an urban myth, it did however transpire that the artist in question was employed by the British Government to paint proceedings at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial. Zwar’s fascination with Nuremberg led the artist to put him in touch with an old friend, Colonel Burton Andrus of the US Army, who had been the Governor of Nuremberg Prison at the time of the trials. Andrus had kept numerous documents of his time at Nuremberg, and Zwar and Andrus collaborated to write The Infamous of Nuremberg.

From there, the natural path by Zwar was to write about Spandau Prison, where the leading Nazi figures who had not been executed at Nuremberg were taken. By the mid-1960’s the only occupant of Spandau was Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy who had flown to England in a bizarre attempt to negotiate for peace. Spandau was managed by the US, Soviet Union, UK and France in a bizarre arrangement throughout the Cold War, whereby each country would control the prison for three months each year. Spandau was almost certainly the only place in the world where quadripartite co-operation continued on such a basis for so long.

Zwar made contact with Eugene K. Bird, the US Governor of Spandau for three months each year. After some persuasion Bird was convinced to secretly interview Hess, with a view to a book. For several years Bird carried out the painstaking task of visiting Hess and recording his thoughts about his life, the Nazi regime, the War and all manner of subjects. Hess himself even gave his consent for the project. After several years Bird’s superiors in the US authorities in Berlin learnt of his actions and shipped him back to he US, in effect ending his career.

Bird was interrogated at length by the CIA, and both he and Zwar were lent on severely to try and forestall the publishing of the book. After much intimidation and legal wrangling the ‘establishment’ consented to the book, after making a token protest for the benefit of the Soviets. Bird’s actions had been a breach of the quadripartite agreement over the running of Spandau, and were a severe embarassment to the US Government. Finally, however, The Loneliest Man in the World was published.

On first impressions, a book written about the process of writing two other books might not be the most interesting. But when we consider that the books in question are about the Nuremberg Trials and Rudolf Hess in Spandau prison, this book takes on a whole new meaning. Sneaking in and out of Spandau to interview Hess reads like something out a spy novel, and Bird and Zwar’s encounters with the CIA afterwards could have come straight out of a Robert Harris thriller.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Not only does it chart some pivotal events in history, it is also a very entertaining read. I virtually read it from cover to cover.

Talking to Rudolf Hess is published by The History Press

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Filed under Book of the Week, cold war, Uncategorized, World War Two