BERLIN (Reuters) - Adolf Hitler personally intervened to protect a Jewish man who had been his commanding officer during World War One, according to a letter unearthed by the Jewish Voice from Germany newspaper.
The letter, composed in August 1940 by Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazis' feared paramilitary SS, said Ernst Hess, a judge, should be spared persecution or deportation "as per the Fuehrer's wishes".
Hess, a decorated World War One hero who briefly commanded Hitler's company in Flanders, worked as a judge until Nazi racial laws forced him to resign in 1936. The same year he was beaten up by Nazi thugs outside his house, the paper said.
In a petition to Hitler at that time, Hess wrote: "For us it is a kind of spiritual death to now be branded as Jews and exposed to general contempt."
Hess and his family moved for a time to a German-speaking area of northern Italy but were then forced to return to Germany where he discovered Hitler's protection order had been revoked.
He spent the rest of World War Two doing slave labor but he escaped death partly thanks to the fact that his wife was a Gentile. Hess's sister died in the Auschwitz death camp but his mother managed to escape to Switzerland.
Hess remained in Germany after the war, becoming head of the Federal Railway Authority based in Frankfurt. He died in 1983.
Hess's daughter Ursula, now 86 and still living in Germany, told the paper in an interview her father had benefited from a chance encounter with another World War One comrade, Fritz Wiedemann. He became Hitler's adjutant and used his influence to win concessions for Hess, she was quoted as saying.
Ursula Hess also recalled her father saying that as a young corporal in World War One, Hitler had had no friends in their regiment and had kept himself very much to himself.
Reporting by Gareth Jones