Léon Joseph Marie Ignace Degrelle (French: [dəgʁɛl]; 15 June 1906 – 31 March 1994) was a Belgian politician and Nazi collaborator. Degrelle rose to prominence in the 1930s as the leader of the Catholic authoritarian Rexist Party in Belgium. During the German occupation in World War II, he enlisted in the German army and fought in the Walloon Legion on the Eastern Front. After the collapse of the Nazi regime, Degrelle went into exile in Francoist Spain where he remained a prominent figure in neo-Nazi politics.
|Leader of the Rexist Party|
2 November 1935 – 30 March 1945
|Born||15 June 1906|
Bouillon, Luxembourg Province, Wallonia, Belgium
|Died||31 March 1994 (aged 87)|
Málaga, Andalusia, Spain
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves|
|Branch/service||Army (Wehrmacht) |
|Years of service||1941–45|
|Unit||SS Division Wallonien|
|Battles/wars||Eastern Front (World War II)|
After studying at a Jesuit college and studying for a law doctorate at the Université catholique de Louvain, Degrelle worked as a journalist for the conservative Roman Catholic periodical Christus Rex. During his time at this publication, he became attracted to the ideas of Charles Maurras and French Integralism. Until 1934, Degrelle worked as a correspondent for the paper in Mexico, during the Cristero War. He led a radical group inside the Catholic Party, based on the Éditions de Rex publishing house. The Éditions drew its name from the battle cry of the Cristeros: Viva Cristo Rey y Santa María de Guadalupe, alluding to Christ the King.
Degrelle's actions inside the Catholic Party saw him come into opposition with the mainstream of the same party, many of whom were monarchist conservatives or centrists. The Rexist group, including the likes of Jean Denis, separated itself from the Catholic Party in 1935, after a meeting in Kortrijk. The newly formed party was heavily influenced by Fascism and Corporatism (but also included several elements interested solely in Nationalism or Ultramontanism); it had a vision of social equality that drew comparisons with Marxism but was staunchly anti-communist (anti-bolshevik). The party also came to denounce political corruption in Belgian politics. In 1936, in which Rex reached peak votes, it drew its support from Brussels (18.50%), Wallonia (15.16%), Flanders (7.01%), and Eupen-Malmedy (26.44%). Rexism had a Flemish ideological competitor in the Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond which advocated an independent Flanders and exclusive use of the Dutch language.
In 1936, Degrelle met Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, both of them providing Rexism with funds (2 million lire and 100,000 marks) and ideological support. Elections in that year had given the Parti Rexiste 21 deputies and 12 senators, although its influence declined by 1939 when it managed to win only four seats in each Chamber. The party progressively added Nazi-inspired Antisemitism to its agenda, and soon established contacts with fascist movements around Europe. Degrelle notably met with Falange leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera and the Iron Guard's Corneliu Zelea Codreanu.
During this time (mid-1930s), Degrelle became acquainted with the cartoonist Hergé. In a volume published after his death (Tintin mon copain), the Rexist leader claimed that his years of journalism had inspired the creation of The Adventures of Tintin—ignoring Hergé's statements that the character was in fact based on his brother, Paul Remi. Degrelle had been shipping Mexican newspapers containing American cartoons to Belgium, and Hergé did admit years later in 1975 that Degrelle deserved credit for introducing him to the comic "strip".
When the war began, Degrelle approved of King Leopold III's policy of neutrality. After the Germans invaded Belgium on 10 May 1940, the Rexist Party split over the matter of resistance. He was arrested as a suspected collaborator and evacuated to France. Unlike other Belgian deportees, Degrelle was spared in the Massacre of Abbeville and instead sent into a French concentration camp. He was later released when the occupation began.
Degrelle returned to Belgium and proclaimed reconstructed Rexism to be in close union with Nazism—in marked contrast with the small group of former Rexists (such as Théo Simon and Lucien Mayer) who had begun fighting against the Nazi occupiers from the underground. In August, Degrelle started contributing to a Nazi news source, Le Pays Réel (a reference to Charles Maurras). Degrelle joined the Walloon legion of the Wehrmacht, which was raised in August 1941, to fight against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. The leadership of the Rexists then passed to Victor Matthys. Lacking any previous military service, Degrelle joined as a private and was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class in March 1942. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a lieutenant in May 1942, and received the Iron Cross First Class the same month. Initially, the group was meant to represent a continuation of the Belgian Army, and fought as such during Operation Barbarossa, while integrating many Walloons who had volunteered for service. The Walloons were transferred from the Wehrmacht to the Waffen-SS in June 1943, becoming the Sturmbrigade Wallonien and served on the Eastern Front.
From 1940, the Belgian Roman Catholic hierarchy had banned all uniforms during Mass. On 25 July 1943, in his native Bouillon, Degrelle was told by Dean Rev Poncelet to leave a Requiem Mass, because he was wearing his SS uniform, which church authorities had prohibited. Degrelle was excommunicated by the Bishop of Namur, but the excommunication was later lifted by the Germans since as a German officer he was under the jurisdiction of the German chaplaincy.
During the battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, fought from 24 January to 16 February 1944, the Wallonien was given the task of defending against Soviet attacks on the eastern side of the pocket. While General Wilhelm Stemmermann, the overall commander for the trapped forces, moved them to the west of the pocket in readiness for a breakout attempt, Wallonien and Wiking were ordered to act as a rearguard. After Lippert was killed, Degrelle took command of the Brigade, and the Wallonien began its withdrawal under heavy fire. Of the brigade's 2,000 men, only 632 survived.
For his actions at Korsun, Degrelle was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer (major). He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz) by Hitler in February 1944. Degrelle later claimed Hitler told him, "You are truly unique in history. You are a political leader who fights like a soldier. If I had a son, I would want him to be like you." Six months later Degrelle was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, as were seven other non-Germans.
The unit was sent back to Wildflecken to be reformed. In June 1944, a 440-man battalion of the Wallonien was sent to Estonia to assist in the defence of the Tannenberg Line. After Operation Bagration began, Army Group North began to fall back into the Kurland Pocket. The battalion left through the port of Tallinn (Reval) on the Baltic Sea. The remnants of the Battalion were sent back to join the rest of the brigade, which was located at Breslau.
On 8 July 1944 Degrelle's brother Edouard, a pharmacist, was killed in Degrelle's hometown of Bouillon by Belgian resistance fighters. Shortly afterwards, a Rexist hit squad executed pharmacist Henrie Charles. A few days later, three civilian hostages were executed, apparently on Degrelle's orders, as all three were known to be his political enemies.
He commanded Sturmbrigade Wallonien from 18 September 1944 to 8 May 1945. He led the unit in the defense of Estonia against the Soviets. He was promoted to SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) in the early months of 1945.
Degrelle was promoted to SS-Standartenführer (colonel) on 20 April 1945. On 1 May 1945, Degrelle was promoted by SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler to Brigadeführer (brigadier general). This promotion, however, was extralegal due to Himmler having been removed from office on Hitler's orders on 28 April.
With the final surrender of Berlin on May 2, 1945, Degrelle was desperate to avoid Russian captivity and ordered as many of his worn-out veterans as possible to make for the Baltic port of Lubeck to surrender to the British. Degrelle himself fled first to Denmark and then Norway, where he commandeered a Heinkel He 111 aircraft, allegedly provided by Albert Speer. After a 1,500-mile flight over portions of Allied-occupied Europe, he crash-landed on the beach at San Sebastian in northern Spain, but was gravely injured and hospitalized for over a year.
In 1954, in order to ensure his stay, Spain granted him Spanish citizenship under the name José León Ramírez Reina, and the Falange assigned him the leadership of a construction firm that benefited from state contracts, including with the U.S. government to build military airfields in Spain. Meanwhile, friends scoured Europe for his children. In time, all were found and spirited to Spain.
While in Francoist Spain, Degrelle maintained a high standard of living and frequently appeared in public and private meetings in a white uniform featuring his German decorations, while expressing his pride over his close contacts and "thinking bond" with Adolf Hitler. He continued to live undisturbed when Spain transitioned to democracy after the death of Franco, and continued publishing polemics, voicing his support for the political far right. He became active in the Neo-Nazi Círculo Español de Amigos de Europa (Cedade) and ran its printing press in Barcelona, where he published a large portion of his writings, including an Open Letter to Pope John Paul II on the topic of the Auschwitz concentration camp, asking the Pope not to go.
His repeated statements on the topic of Nazi genocide brought Degrelle to trial with Violeta Friedman, a Romanian-born survivor of the camps. Although lower courts were initially favourable to Degrelle, the Supreme Court of Spain decided he had offended the memory of the victims, both Jews and non-Jews, and sentenced him to pay a substantial fine. Asked if he had any regrets about the war, his reply was "Only that we lost!"
SS-Oberführer Karl Burk
| Commander of 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien
30 January 1945 – 8 May 1945
General elections were held in Belgium on 24 May 1936.
The result was a victory for the Belgian Labour Party, which won 70 of the 202 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 39 of the 101 seats in the Senate. Voter turnout was 94.7%.Despite the rise of far-right and far-left parties, Paul van Zeeland continued as Prime Minister leading a government of national unity, composed of the three major parties (Catholics, Socialists and Liberals).Belgium in World War II
Despite being neutral at the start of World War II, Belgium and its colonial possessions found themselves at war after the country was invaded by German forces on 10 May 1940. After 18 days of fighting in which Belgian forces were pushed back into a small pocket in the north-east of the country, the Belgian military surrendered to the Germans, beginning an occupation that would endure until 1944. The surrender of 28 May was ordered by King Leopold III without the consultation of his government and sparked a political crisis after the war. Despite the capitulation, many Belgians managed to escape to the United Kingdom where they formed a government and army-in-exile on the Allied side.
The Belgian Congo remained loyal to the Belgian government in London and contributed significant material and human resources to the Allied cause. Many Belgians were involved in both armed and passive resistance to German forces, although some chose to collaborate with the German forces. Support from far right political factions and sections of the Belgian population allowed the German army to recruit two divisions of the Waffen-SS from Belgium and also facilitated the Nazi persecution of Belgian Jews in which nearly 25,000 were killed.
Most of the country was liberated by the Allies between September and October 1944, though areas to the far east of the country remained occupied until early 1945. In total, approximately 88,000 Belgians died during the conflict, a figure representing 1.05 percent of the country's pre-war population, and around 8 percent of the country's GDP was destroyed.Blueshirts (Falange)
The Blueshirts (Spanish: Camisas Azules) was the Falangist paramilitary militia in Spain. The name refers to the blue uniform worn by members of the militia. The colour blue was chosen for the uniforms in 1934 by the FE de las JONS because it was, according to José Antonio Primo de Rivera, "clear, whole, and proletarian," and is the colour typically worn by mechanics, as the Falange sought to gain support among the Spanish working class. In Francoist Spain the Blueshirts were officially reorganized and officially renamed the Falange Militia of the FET y de las JONS in 1940.CEDADE
CEDADE (from the initials of Círculo Español de Amigos de Europa or 'Spanish Circle of Friends of Europe') was a Spanish neo-Nazi group that concerned itself with co-ordinating international activity and publishing.Jean Denis (politician)
Jean Denis (10 November 1902 – 10 March 1992) was a Belgian politician and writer. Through his written work he was the chief ideologue of the Rexist movement.
A native of Chastre-Villeroux-Blanmont in Walloon Brabant, Denis was educated to doctorate level. He first became involved in politics with the radical Catholic movements, serving as secretary to Monsignor Louis Picard. Léon Degrelle had also been a member of Picard's Action Catholique de la Jeunesse Belge and it was that movement's publishing house, Éditions Rex, that inspired the name of Rexism. As such Denis was almost inevitably drawn to Rexism and he served as a deputy for Namur between 1936 and 1939.Denis two main books were Principes Rexistes and Bases Doctrinales de Rex, both published in 1936. Within these books he argued that Rex was more of a popular movement than a political party and endorsed a policy that sought to restore dignity to Belgium through a new hierarchical state. As such he demonstrated an influence of Integralismo Lusitano, which held similar views with regards to Portugal, on Rexist thought.Under the Nazi German occupation Denis collaborated with the occupiers and wrote regularly for Le Pays Réel. He was imprisoned after the war for his activity but his fairly minor involvement saw him released in 1951. He settled in Dion-le-Val, Chaumont-Gistoux following his release and disappeared into obscurity.Jef van de Wiele
Fredegardus Jacobus Josephus (Jef) van de Wiele (Deurne, Belgium, 20 July 1903 – Bruges, 4 September 1979) was a Belgian Flemish Nazi politician. During the Nazi occupation of Belgium he became notorious as the leader of the most virulently pro-Nazi wing of Flemish politics.List of foreign recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
In total, 43 individuals in the military of allies of Nazi Germany were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), the highest award in the military of Nazi Germany during World War II. Eight of these men were also honoured with the next higher grade, the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, and one senior naval officer, Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, was additionally awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves. Among the recipients were eighteen Romanians, nine Italians, eight Hungarians, two Slovaks, two Japanese, two Spaniards, two Finns, and one Belgian.Colonel General Dezső László of Hungary became the last foreign recipient of the award on 3 March 1945. The last surviving foreign recipient of the award was Belgian politician Léon Degrelle, who died on 31 March 1994, fifty years after receiving the medal from Hitler's hands.National Fascist Party (Argentina)
The National Fascist Party of Argentina (Partido Nacional Fascista) was a fascist political party formed in 1923. In 1932, a group broke away from the party to form the Argentine Fascist Party, which eventually became a mass movement in the Córdoba region of Argentina.National Idea
National Idea (Czech: Národní myšlenka) is a nationalist group in the Czech Republic that promotes Catholic integralist ideas by way of its journal National Idea: an Independent Journal of Conservative Nationalism. It was established in 2001 in Prague and is currently based in the town of Hodkovice nad Mohelkou. It is associated with Mladá pravice, a right-wing political party led by the Eurosceptic activist Lukáš Petřík which has a strong Internet presence.
The journal features political and economic essays and translations, interviews with right-wing groups and music and literary reviews. The journal has explored contemporary and historic strains of nationalist thought including the patriotic ideology of Czech philosopher František Mareš, the integralism of Charles Maurras and the revolutionary conservatism of Carl Schmitt and Ernst Jünger on the one hand; and the clerical fascism of Léon Degrelle, the paleoconservatism of Pat Buchanan and the antiliberalism of the European New Right on the other.Norbert Wallez
Abbé Norbert Wallez (19 October 1882 – 24 September 1952) was a Belgian priest and journalist. He was the editor of the newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century), whose youth supplement, Le Petit Vingtième, first published The Adventures of Tintin.
Wallez studied at the University of Leuven. Ordained a priest in 1906, he devoted himself to teaching, interrupted when he enlisted as a volunteer during the First World War. After the armistice, he continued his teaching career at the religious Bonne Espérance school and at the School of Commerce in Mons. In 1924, by order of Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, he assumed the leadership of the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle.
His ultraconservative ideology was influenced by Charles Maurras and the nationalist Action Française. He was also a great admirer of Mussolini, whom he had visited during a trip to Italy in 1923; he had a signed portrait of the dictator on his office wall. His ideal, as expressed in his book Bélgique et Rhénanie. Quelques directives d'une politique (1923), was the federation of Belgium and the Rhineland, a region of Germany that he considered essentially Catholic, in contrast to Protestant Prussia.
In 1927 the young journalist Georges Remi started working for Le Vingtième Siècle. A year later, Remi became editor-in-chief of Le Petit Vingtième. In 1929, Remi began publishing Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the first of The Adventures of Tintin, in the eleventh issue of Le Petit Vingtième, under the name Hergé. Wallez was crucial in the choice of the first three destinations of Tintin: Soviet Russia, Belgian Congo and United States. He also facilitated Remi's marriage in 1932 to Germaine Kieckens, who was Wallez's secretary. Hergé's comic series Quick & Flupke also began in Le Vingtième Siècle, in 1930.
In 1933, Wallez was removed from his position as head of Le Vingtième Siècle on the orders of his superiors, and named to head the preservation of the ruins of Aulne Abbey.
With the German invasion of Belgium in 1940, he resumed writing, and supported the Rexist Party led by Léon Degrelle.
In 1947, he was accused of collaboration, and was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of 200,000 francs. He remained jailed in Charleroi until 1950. After being released, dying of cancer, he was met by Remi and his wife. He died on 24 September 1952.Peter Hartung
Peter Hartung (born c. 1959) is the director of the Holocaust denial organization Adelaide Institute having previously been a successful businessman and political adviser. He is a native of Adelaide, Australia.
Hartung assumed the role of director of the Adelaide Institute in 2009, following the incarceration of Gerald Fredrick Töben for three months in South Australia for contempt of court. On assuming the role from Toben, Hartung defied the Federal Court by publishing the revisionist material that led to Toben’s three months jail time.Reichsgau Wallonien
The Reichsgau Wallonia (German: Reichsgau Wallonien; French: Gau du Reich Wallonie) was a short-lived Reichsgau of Nazi Germany established in 1944. It encompassed present-day Wallonia in its old provincial borders, excluding Comines-Warneton but including Voeren. Eupen-Malmedy and Moresnet were also omitted, both of which had already been incorporated into Germany after its victory in the Battle of France in 1940.
When Nazi Germany annexed the Reichskommissariat of Belgium and Northern France on the 15 December 1944, no part of the planned Reichsgau Wallonia was under German control. During the Battle of the Bulge, all territory east of the Western Front within Belgium (excluding Bastogne) became part of the Reichsgau Wallonia. The most populous municipality held by the Germans within the Reichsgau Wallonia was Rochefort.René Lagrou
René Lagrou (1904–1969) was a Flemish-Belgian politician and collaborator with Nazi Germany.
Originating in West Flanders, Lagrou worked as a lawyer in Antwerp. Lagrou had first came to prominence as a member of the Flemish National Union. He published his own journal Roeland, which became increasingly anti-Semitic following Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Following the German occupation of Belgium in World War II Lagrou, along with Ward Hermans, was the founder of the Algemeene-SS Vlaanderen (from 1942, the Germaansche SS in Vlaanderen), a Flemish political faction supported by the SS.Lagrou saw action with the Waffen SS on the Eastern Front and some initial reports erroneously suggested that he had died in battle. However Lagrou had survived and he was captured by the Allies in France but managed to escape to Spain.In May 1946 his was one of three names on a 'black list' sent by the government of Belgium to Spain where he was in hiding, along with Léon Degrelle and Pierre Daye. Soon after he was condemned to death in absentia by the war crimes tribunal in Antwerp.With the possibility of extradition from Spain looming, Lagrou arrived in Argentina in July 1947 and adopted the false name Reinaldo van Groede. Here he became a leading figure in the ratlines sponsored by Juan Perón to rescue Nazis from prosecution in Europe. Given wide powers within the Immigration service in Argentina, Lagrou drew up ambitious plans to move as many as 2 million people from Belgium, all either Nazi collaborators or their families. He was also a member of the Rodolfo Freude-led División de Informaciones and in this capacity initiated the cases for resettlement for a number of Nazis.Rexist Party
The Rexist Party (French: Parti Rexiste), or simply Rex, was a far-right Catholic, nationalist, authoritarian and corporatist political party active in Belgium from 1935 until 1945. The party was founded by a journalist, Léon Degrelle, and, unlike other fascist parties in the Belgium of the time, advocated Belgian unitarism and royalism. Initially the party ran in both Flanders and Wallonia but never achieved much success outside Wallonia and Brussels. Its name was derived from the Roman Catholic journal and publishing company Christus Rex (Latin for Christ the King).
The highest point that the Rexist party had achieved was its success on sending 21 out of 202 deputies (with 11.4% of the vote) and twelve senators in the 1936 election. Never a mass movement, it was on the decline by 1938. During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II, Rex was the largest collaborationist group in French-speaking Belgium, paralleled by the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV) in Flanders. By the end of the war Rex was widely discredited, and was banned following the liberation.
Initially modelled on Italian Fascism and Spanish Falangism, it later drew closer to German Nazism. The Party espoused a "right-wing revolution" and the dominance of the Catholic Church in Belgium, but its ideology came to be vigorously opposed by the leader of the Belgian Church Cardinal van Roey, who called Rexism a "danger to the church and to the country".Rodolfo Freude
Rodolfo Freude (1922–2003) was a close advisor of Argentine President Juan Perón and served as his Director of the Information Division (División de Informaciones).Freude, an Argentine citizen of German descent, is suspected of having organized ODESSA and helping the smuggling of Nazi officers to Argentina.Tropical fascism
In African political science, tropical fascism is a type of post-colonial state which is either considered fascist or is seen to have strong fascist tendencies. Gnassingbé Eyadéma dictator of Togo and leader of the Rally of the Togolese People, Mobutu Sese Seko dictator of Zaire and leader of the Popular Movement of the Revolution and Idi Amin dictator of Uganda have all been considered an example of tropical fascism in Africa. The Coalition for the Defence of the Republic and larger Hutu Power movement, a Hutu ultranationalist and supremacist movement that organized and committed the Rwandan Genocide aimed at exterminating the Tutsi people of Rwanda, has been regarded as a prominent example of tropical fascism in Africa. Pol Pot and The Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia has been called a tropical fascist regime, as they officially renounced communism in 1981.Victor Matthys
Victor Matthys (20 March 1914 – 10 November 1947) was a Belgian politician who served as both deputy and acting leader of the Rexist Party. He was later executed for collaboration with Nazi Germany.
An early member of the Rexist movement, Matthys took over the editorship of the party newspaper, Le Pays Réel, in 1936 and in May 1941 was promoted to director of propaganda. He became official leader of Rex that same July after Léon Degrelle left to serve in the Waffen SS. He was nominated for the position as he was a weak character who posed no real threat to Degrelle's position as leader. Matthys was also popular with the Germans as he had a long standing admiration for Adolf Hitler.As Rexist leader Matthys proved as weak and ineffective as Degrelle had hoped, although he also demonstrated a propensity towards violence to mask his failings. His position eventually came under scrutiny after he ordered the massacre of 20 people in Courcelles as a reprisal against resistance activity. The move was roundly condemned as being too heavy-handed and Matthys gave up the leadership of the Rexists in favour of Louis Collard. He was sentenced to death for collaborationism and executed.Viktor Pavičić
Viktor Pavičić (15 October 1898 – 20 January 1943) was a Croatian military commander who led the 369th Reinforced Croatian Infantry Regiment, which fought on the Eastern Front and was involved in the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II.Walloon Legion
The Walloon Legion (French: Légion Wallonie) was a collaborationist military formation recruited among French-speaking volunteers from German-occupied Belgium, notably from Brussels and Wallonia, during World War II. Created in July 1941 shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the unit was supported by the Rexist Party as a demonstration of its loyalty towards Nazi Germany. It served on the Eastern Front, initially as a unit of the Wehrmacht and, after June 1943, in the Waffen-SS. Though sustaining heavy casualties, the unit increased from battalion to brigade and eventually division-size before surrendering to the British in April 1945.
|Political parties and collaborationist groups|
Post-war flight of Axis fugitives
|Disputed / dubious|