MALAGA, SPAIN -- Leon Degrelle, 87, the former Belgian fascist and SS General who was once praised by Adolf Hitler as the ideal son, died at a private clinic here March 31. He had heart and lung ailments.

He had lived in Spain since 1945, where he fled after having played a prominent role in the Nazi war effort by commanding the the German army's Walloon Legion, which he founded in 1941.

Rising to the rank of an SS general, he fought on the Eastern Front and won the Iron Cross for his efforts. In 1944, he also won the coveted Knight's Cross, which Hitler awarded him in person.

Hitler is credited with saying of Degrelle at the time: "If I had had a son, I would have liked him to be like you."

Gen. Degrelle was born in Bouillon, Belgium, one of eight children. He started his right-wing activities in the 1930s, founding the Roman Catholic and monarchist Rexist movement, which won 21 seats in the Belgian parliament in 1935.

After the Nazi capitulation in May 1945, he fled to Norway, which was still occupied by the remnants of the German army at the time, in Albert Speer's private plane. The plane ran out of fuel over the Franco-Spanish border, but the pilot managed to bring it down on a beach near the northern Spanish resort of San Sebastian.

Thanks to his good relations with Spain's leader, Gen. Francisco Franco, Gen. Degrelle was allowed to stay. He became a naturalized Spaniard in 1954, changing his name to Leon Jose de Ramirez Reina.

Gen. Degrelle was condemned to death in his absence by a Belgian military court at the end of the war, but the time limit for carrying out the sentence expired in 1974. He published his memoirs in 1970 and never renounced his Nazi principles, helping found neo-Nazi movements in Spain that are still active.

He won further notoriety in Spain by saying in a magazine interview in 1985 that the gas chambers never existed and that Josef Mengele, the so-called "Angel of Death" for his wartime experiments on Jewish victims, was a normal doctor. A former Auschwitz inmate, Violeta Friedman, filed a suit against Gen. Degrelle for his statements, winning on appeal.