Léon Degrelle

Léon Degrelle
Born (1906-06-15)15 June 1906
Bouillon, Wallonia, Belgium
Died 31 March 1994(1994-03-31) (aged 87)
Málaga, Andalusia, Spain
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Years of service 1941–45
Rank Standartenführer
Unit 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves

1) Marie-Paule Lemay (married 1932, lived 1911-1984)

2) Jeanne Brevet Charbonneau (married 1984-1994, his death)
Other work

Léon Joseph Marie Ignace Degrelle (French: [dəgʁɛl]; 15 June 1906 – 31 March 1994) was a Walloon Belgian politician and Nazi collaborator, who founded Rexism and later joined the Waffen SS (becoming a leader of its Walloon contingent) which were front-line troops in German combat operations against the Soviet Union. After World War II, he was a prominent figure in fascist movements.

Before the war

Flag of Rex

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 militant tendency inside the Catholic Party, which he formed around the Éditions de Rex he founded. 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 strongly 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 the German-speaking Community of Belgium (or the territory corresponding to this present-day community) (26.44%).[1] 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 4 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".[2]


When the war began, Degrelle approved of King Leopold III's policy of neutrality. After Belgium was invaded by the Germans 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 Theo 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. He quickly rose upwards in the ranks. Initially, the group was meant to represent a continuation of the Belgian Army, and fought as such during Operation Barbarossa, while integrating many Walloons that had volunteered for service. The Walloons were transferred from the Wehrmacht to the Waffen-SS in June 1943, becoming the 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien.

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.[3]

Severely wounded at Cherkasy in 1943, Degrelle continued to climb the Schutzstaffel (SS) hierarchy after the inclusion of Walloons in the Waffen-SS, being made an SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) in the early months of 1945. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) by Hitler. Degrelle later claimed Hitler told him, "If I had a son, I would want him to be like you." Degrelle was later awarded the oakleaves (mit Eichenlaub), as were seven other non-Germans.[4]

Military record


Léon Degrelle (center-left) awarding medals to members of the Walloon SS, April 1944
Degrelle was promoted directly to SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor der Waffen-SS d. R. by Heinrich Himmler on 2 May 1945; an entry to this effect appears in his Soldbuch, however this promotion cannot be considered official as Himmler had been stripped of all SS and Party posts by Führer order on 28 April 1945.

Decorations & awards:

Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves

Refuge and scandals

Emergency landing of Degrelle's Heinkel 111 in the Beach of La Concha in San Sebastián, Spain in May 1945.

After Germany's defeat, Degrelle fled first to Denmark and eventually fled to Norway, where he commandeered a Heinkel He 111 aircraft,[7] allegedly provided by Albert Speer. He was severely wounded in a crash-landing on a beach in San Sebastian in Northern Spain. The government of Franco in Spain initially refused to hand him over to the Allies (or extradite him to Belgium) by citing his health condition. After further international pressures, Francisco Franco permitted his escape from hospital, while handing over a look-alike; in the meanwhile, José Finat y Escrivá de Romaní helped Degrelle obtain false papers. 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. Belgium convicted him of treason in absentia and condemned him to death by firing squad.

While in Spain, during the Franco dictatorship, Degrelle maintained a high standard of living and would frequently appear in public and in 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 became democratic after the death of Franco with the help of the Gil family, 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 own writings, including an Open Letter to Pope John Paul II[8] on the topic of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the extermination purpose of which Degrelle called "one big fraud, Holy Father."

His repeated statements on the topic of Nazi genocide brought Degrelle to trial with Violeta Friedman, a Romanian-born Venezuelan 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.[9] Asked if he had any regrets about the war, his reply was "Only that we lost!"[4]


In 1994, Léon Degrelle died of cardiac arrest in a hospital in Málaga.

Works by Degrelle


  1. Jean Ladrière, François Perin & Jean Meynaud. La décision politique en Belgique, CRISP, Bruxelles, 1965, pp. Annexe III, pp. 85-86.
  2. Farr, Michael (2007). The Adventures of Hergé (Re-release ed.). Last Gasp. pp. 27, 53. ISBN 978-0-86719-679-5.; (first published 2007 by John Murray Publishers Ltd.)
  3. "Degrelle's ex-communication reversed". CatholicHerald.co.uk.
  4. 1 2 "Profile at germandaggers.info".
  5. 1 2 Thomas 1997, p. 111.
  6. Mike Miller. Axis Biographical Research at the Wayback Machine (archived 27 October 2009), 10 June 2005)
  7. Degrelle, p. 345
  8. Léon Degrelle.
  9. "Open Letter to Pope John Paul II". Internet Archive. 1979.
  10. Hill, Adam (26 June 2007). "Campaign in Russia, Book Review". Historical Warfare. Archived from the original on 5 January 2010. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  11. "Léon Degrelle: Hitler, Born at Versailles (cover text)". Retrieved 12 March 2015.


  • Baland, Lionel (2009). Léon Degrelle et la presse rexiste (in French). Paris: Déterna. ISBN 9782913044869. 
  • Berger, Florian (2004). Ritterkreuzträger mit Nahkampfspange in Gold [Knight's Cross Bearers with the Close Combat Clasp in Gold] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 978-3-9501307-3-7. 
  • Bruyne, Eddy de; Rikmenspoel, Marc (2004). For Rex and Belgium: Leon Degrelle and Walloon Political & Military Collaboration 1940-1945. Solihull, West Midlands, England: Helion. ISBN 1-874622-32-9. 
  • Conway, Martin (1993). Collaboration in Belgium: Leon Degrelle and the Rexist Movement, 1940-1944. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05500-5. 
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) [1986]. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Griffin, Roger, ed. (1997). Fascism. ISBN 0-19-289249-5. 
  • Rees, Philip (1991). Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890. ISBN 0-13-089301-3. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Streel, José (2010) [1st. pub. as La révolution du vingtième siècle, Bruxelles: Nouvelle société d'éditions: 1942]. La révolution du XXème siècle [The Revolution of the Twentieth Century] (in French). Paris: Déterna. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6. 
  • Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6. 
Military offices
Preceded by
SS-Oberführer Karl Burk
Commander of 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien
30 January 1945 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
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