Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered a former Jewish officer in his unit in World War I spared from persecution or deportation, at least for a time, according to a German Jewish publication.
Susanne Maus, editor of Jewish Voice from Germany, unearthed the almost unique order in the archives of the Gestapo secret police with regard to Ernst Hess, a judge in the western city of Duesseldorf.
Signed by Hitler's henchman and SS chief Heinrich Himmler in June 1940, it said that "as per the Fuehrer's wishes" his war comrade was "not to be importuned in any way whatsoever."
Hess was a highly decorated soldier, receiving among other medals the Iron Cross, first and second class.
By 1936 however, he had been stripped of his job, when he was beaten up by Nazi thugs, and had moved to Italy. But in 1940 he returned to live in Bavaria.
"Hess's exemption only lasted until 1942 when at the Wannsee Conference the murder of the European Jews was codified," wrote Maus, who interviewed his 86-year-old daughter Ursula.
"Hess survived thanks to his mixed marriage' with his gentile wife. His sister was murdered by the Nazis, as were millions of others.
"One irony of this dark history is that Hitler could on occasion bestow his personal protection to a person otherwise marked for death," Maus said, citing also the example of his former family doctor Eduard Bloch.
Maus said Hess's daughter recalled how her father would often relate the surprise expressed by corporal Hitler's former comrades when they heard that the maverick politician had been in their ranks.
"Hess then used to explain that Hitler had had no friends within the regiment, never said a word to anyone and had been 'an absolute cipher.'"
He had petitioned Hitler as early as June 1936 asking for an exception to be made for himself and his daughter, referring to his Christian upbringing and patriotic political outlook, as well as to his service in World War I.
"For us, it is a kind of spiritual death to now be branded as Jews and exposed to general contempt," he wrote.
lthough Hitler turned down the petition he did allow Hess's pension to be transferred to Italy in 1937, albeit at a reduced amount and released Hess from the obligation to bear the name 'Israel' that identified him as a Jew.
Hess was finally deported to Milbertshofen, a concentration camp for Jews near Munich, where he did forced labour in the city.
After the war he became an executive with the national railways and died in Frankfurt in 1983 at the age of 93.
Maus said his mother Elisabeth and his sister Berta had talked themselves into believing that the "protection" accorded to Ernst also extended to them.
Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Nazis' mass murder of the Jews, "went out of his way to categorically deny this, personally signing the deportation order for both women."
Berta Hess was killed in Auschwitz while her mother survived and went to live with her son Paul in Brazil.