Don’t we love stories about doppelgangers and body-doubles!
Political assassination is always a risk for a public figure. Hitler had several doubles who replaced him at public events where there might be some danger to his person. The use of a “political decoy” (doppelganger or body-double) was common for political leaders in Europe during the war years. It is believed that Hitler had at least four doppelgangers who were trained to impersonate him.
One of them was Gustav Weler. He would stand in for Hitler on occasion and was used as a political decoy for security reasons. When Berlin was captured at the end of the war, it was thought that Weler had been executed by a gunshot to the forehead in an attempt to confuse Allied troops. When “his” corpse was discovered in the Reich Chancellery garden by Soviet troops, it was mistakenly believed to be that of Hitler because of his identical moustache and haircut. The corpse was photographed and filmed by the Soviets. His body was brought to Moscow for investigation and buried in the yard at Lefortovo prison.
Voice and movement instructions were given to the doppelgangers. They were trained to mimic Hitler’s soft conversational voice and distinctive walk. Plastic surgery was undertaken and their faces and dental work were altered. German efficiency even went as far as breaking their spines in the same place where Hitler had been injured in the First World War. Nothing was left to chance.
But the one thing that none of these doppelgangers could ever hope to duplicate, was Hitler’s hypnotic, charismatic public speaking style. His ability to sway a crowd had never been matched or equalled. The doubles were good for public appearances, parties, or maybe meetings or briefings where Hitler was not expected to have that much interaction with his underlings.
The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is alleged to have had a double, identified only as “Rashid”. It is believed that the KGB learned that Rashid was a “double” for Stalin and employed him to replace Stalin for some public functions after World War II. Rashid had spent two years studying with Alexei Dikiy, an actor who played the role of Stalin in propaganda films. Rashid claimed there were other Stalin lookalikes employed by the KGB, although he never met any. He claimed to have heard of another Stalin double who was hired to live in the dictator’s dacha outside of Moscow in the late 1940s and 1950s when Stalin was dying. This double filled in for Stalin at media events and at times when Stalin had to meet government functionaries and others. Rashid died in 1991, aged 93.
In 2008 Felix Dadaev, another one of Stalin’s doubles, wrote a book about his adventures as a political decoy. The Putin government gave him permission to tell his story at age 88. He appeared in a 2014 documentary about Stalin’s last days on German television.
Perhaps the most famous political decoy was an actor and soldier Clifton James who doubled for Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (“Monty”) during the WW2. In 1940, James had acted in an Army production called When Knights Were Bold and his photograph appeared in an Army newspaper with a remark about how much he resembled General Montgomery.
As a result, he was approached by actor David Niven in May 1944. Niven was then a colonel in the Army Kinematograph Section. He told James that he was wanted to impersonate “Monty”, as this would allow Montgomery to be somewhere else, thus confusing the Germans. James had to learn Montgomery’s gestures, mannerisms, gait and voice and had to give up smoking. James had lost his right-hand middle finger during the Great War, so a realistic replacement was made for him.
James doubled for Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in ‘Operation Copperhead’. He was flown to Gibraltar in May 1944 just before D-Day and paraded around town as the famous field marshal and then did the same in Algiers giving credibility to a possible invasion plan for the South of France. According to several captured enemy generals, German intelligence believed that Clifton James was in fact Montgomery, but still guessed that it was a feint and the invasion would come from the north.
Saddam Hussein had a few doubles working for him for similar reasons. In 2003, the German television network ZDF claimed that Saddam Hussein was frequently replaced with doubles for TV appearances. This analysis was based on sophisticated measuring techniques, which detected discrepancies in the position of Hussein’s facial features and blemishes from appearance to appearance. It was supported by the opinion of Jerrald Post, the man who created the CIA’s Psychological Profile Unit. It was also alleged that Austrian politician Jörg Haider had actually met a double when he thought he was meeting Hussein. This claim is disputed by Dr Ala Bashir, Saddam Hussein’s former personal physician, who said: “The stories about Saddam Hussein having body doubles, to foster the impression that the Iraqi dictator was everywhere, are nonsense.”
Then, of course, there is the son of Saddam Hussein. Remember the movie about Saddam’s sadistic son Uday entitled The Devil’s Double which came out a few years ago. It told the story of an Iraqi soldier fighting in the Iran-Iraq War who was called on to become a “fedai” (body-double) for Uday Hussein, the playboy son of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
The Rudolf Hess imposter story, however, is not in the same league. Here is a man who actually replaced the real Rudolf Hess after he disappeared during his flight from Augsburg in Bavaria in 1941 (possibly executed by Himmler). He was a political decoy in the full sense of the term and his subterfuge lived on for some 32 years!
Hess’ body-double stood in the box with Göring at Nuremberg and was sentenced to life imprisonment at Spandau in Berlin. The doppelganger was strangled to death in 1987 by his American jailers in the courtyard of the same prison. Everything about this story is exceptional and today it remains one of the great mysteries of WWII.
I expect my novel Playing Rudolf Hess will raise a lot of eyebrows across Europe and in the UK. A lot of important people will attack the novel as a lie, a fabrication, but others will find it very compelling. Everyone loves a mystery so the novel should benefit from a lot of public interest.
Over the next few weeks we will be releasing the first chapters of the novel. The book will be available in paperback and ebook in book stores and on Amazon sometime in November 2016.
Next week we will show you the surgical evidence that the man who flew to Scotland could not have been Rudolf Hess.
Can you think of any other doppelgangers? Please share in the comments section below.
References: Wikipedia and other sources