Leading Article: Ill-judged tribute to Nazi criminal

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RUDOLF HESS, Hitler's deputy, landed in a Scottish field in 1941 bearing what his interrogators described as 'a cudgel of an olive branch'. Convinced by Nazi notions of Aryan Britain, he sought an anti-Slav armistice: Britain would keep her Empire and Germany would control the Continent. Little wonder that the Soviet Union, invaded six weeks later, demanded after the war that Hess 'should drink out the chalice of punishment to the last drop'.

There may be a certain romanticism surrounding Hess's solo flight to Scotland; and, in some eyes at least, an element of pathos in the decades of solitary confinement in Spandau prison. Throw in the suggestion that Prisoner 7 may have been an impostor, and the ingredients of a myth are there. Mystery, however, should not obscure the crimes of Rudolf Hess.

Yet, as we report today, a new memorial erected at the site of his Scottish landing describes Hess as 'brave and heroic'. This is a misrepresentation. It neglects to note that Hess was at Hitler's right hand for 20 years and was an architect of one of the greatest war crimes in history. Decrees bearing his approval sanctioned persecution of the Jews.

Few could argue with an alternative epitaph that truthfully detailed the horrors for which Hess was at least partly responsible. The same could be said for monuments to other historical figures with blood on their hands, such as Lenin and Stalin. Their actions, too, should be accurately set out, although, of course, they never are, except on monuments to their victims.

The unveiling last year in London of a statue of Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, chief of Bomber Command, raised similar issues, though on a lesser scale. The statue was seen by some as celebrating blanket bombing of German cities. It fell short of doing justice to history by omitting any reference to those burnt to death in Dresden.

Being honest about past horrors is painful. Germany has undergone much soul-searching in recent months to design a fitting first national memorial to the Second World War dead. Even an accurate memorial faces the danger of being turned into a neo-Nazi shrine. But that danger is increased if figures such as Hess are misrepresented. Fortunately, an isolated Scottish field is unlikely to become a point of pilgrimage for any but the most obsessive neo-Nazis.