15 MAY 1941, Page 1


T1 0 most of the world the fantastic adventure of Rudolf Hess I would be incredible if it were not a fact. Literally like a bolt from the blue the deputy leader of the Nazi Party, Hider's right-hand man, the fidus Achates of his epic career, descends upon our island a visitant from a hostile and mysterious world, seeking sanctuary among his country's enemies. His pheno- menal arrival is one of those rare startling events in history which in a lightning flash reveal or half reveal something of the passions and dark forces of personality which lurk behind the surface of great events and transform the prose into significant tragedy. The news of so sensational an event catches unawares the Nazi propagandists who in distracted haste issue contradic- tory reports now announcing that Hess is insane, the victim of hallucinations, a consultant of "hypnotists and astrologers," now that he is bent on a clandestine plan for concerting peace. By what means can they account to Germany and the world for the fact that the man who controlled the day-by-day work- ing of the Nazi party-machine, who publicly decorated Nazi industrialists on May 1st and sat beside Hitler at the Reichstag meeting on May 4th, faced 'the perils of a lonely flight to Scotland on May loth and is now a refugee in Britain ?

We may dismiss at once the excuse that Hess is insane. The skill with which he planned his exit, the presence of mind with which he manipulated the machine and contrived his landing, and the British doctors' report are conclusive evidence that this is no exploit of a madman. His action, on the contrary, reveals resolute determination to shape his course either for self-pre- servation or for other ends, in the view of circumstances which he knew but which we as yet cannot fully understand. But some of the facts are known. There was no man in the whole of Hitler's political career who stood personally closer to him, except Roehm, victim of the blood-purge of 1934—a reflection Which starts trains of thought. It was to him that Hitler dic- tated Mein Kampf, and he was implicitly trusted in all matters Pertaining to the organisation of the party. He is described as a retiring and even " shy " man—rare among Nazi leaders —lacking in personal ambition, and in popular estimation trusted for his integrity. We are told that he had a genuine belief in Nazi doctrines, from which it might seem to follow that he was disturbed when Ribbentrop brought off his original pact with Soviet Russia, and that, as Dr. Rauschning suggests in an article in this issue, he has been disturbed again by more recent projects for a rapprochement with Stalin.

But here we pass into the field of conjecture. And in this sphere we are asked to consider whether the Army chiefs, with Goering on their side, disturbed by Hitler's unbridled and fantastic ambitions, are planning to remove Ribbentrop and Goebbels and Himmler and other sinister influences in the party which threaten to lead Hider to self-destruction. If so, on which side was Hess? Or was he torn between the two, and in danger from both? Or is it possible that at length he was discovering that his idol had feet of clay ? Did he foresee that Roehm's fate would be his own if he waited ?

To what must be purely conjectural can be added some reasonable deductions. All is not well in the inner counsels of the Nazi Party. It is deeply divided. It is torn by political jealousies, personal ambitions and hatreds, plots and counter- plots. Something was about to happen in the party, and Hess knew. Something, we may be pretty sure, will happen, though it may be that Hess's sensational flight will alter its character and change the balance of power among the gangster-chiefs. Moreover, all of the gang are now in fear of what he will say. Will he reveal their plans to the British, or will he not ? The uncertainty will be scarcely less alarming to them than the fact. In any case the world now knows, and Germany knows, that this terrific front of the united Totalitarian State, armed, as it seemed, physically and morally for war, is a facade, behind which lies not the united strength of the Nazi Government but faction-fighters, mortally divided, afraid of one another. This is what a military dictatorship basing all on the gamble of robber war inevitably leads to. We shall not make the mistake of supposing that this powerful machine of tyranny and aggression will easily crumble. Nor on the other hand shall we make the opposite mistake of supposing that it has all the strength it pretends to have, or that its will is composed of iron and undetermined by human weaknesses and conflicting passions.