Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Leon Degrelle was already known as the leader of the anti-Establishment Rexist party in Belgium, and as Europe’s youngest and most dynamic political figure. During the war he became known across the continent for his charismatic leadership and courage in combat on the Eastern Front. Of him Hitler reportedly said: “If I were to have a son, I would want him to be like Degrelle.”
Belgian SS General, Leon Degrelle (Left). 600,000 of the 1 million strong SS were volunteers from all over Europe.Support Russia Insider – Go Ad-Free!
His life began in 1906 in Bouillon, a small town in the Belgian Ardennes. As a student at the University of Louvain, he earned a doctorate in law. His keen interests were wide-ranging, and included political science, art, archeology and Thomistic philosophy. In his student days he traveled in Latin America, the United States and Canada. He visited North Africa, the Middle East and, of course, much of Europe.
His natural gifts as a leader were apparent early on. Imbued with a strong Christian ethos, he sought to win support for his vision of a more just and noble social-political order dedicated to the best long-term interests of the people. While still in his twenties, he was reaching out to people in many articles and several books he wrote, through a weekly newspaper he ran, and in numerous speeches. Mussolini invited him to Rome, Churchill met with him in London, and Hitler received him in Berlin.
Although often provocative and controversial, people read what he wrote and listened to what he had to say because he expressed himself with clarity, passion and obvious sincerity, and because he dealt with real concerns and issues. In a few short years he won a large measure of popular backing. On May 24, 1936, his Rex movement scored a remarkable electoral breakthrough. In a startling rebuke of the Establishment parties, it won 11.5 percent of the national vote.
As tensions mounted in 1939, Degrelle sought to counter the drift into another cataclysmic conflict. In September Britain and France declared war on Germany. Events were to quickly prove that the leaders in London and Paris had badly miscalculated. Within a year the swastika flag flew from the North Pole to the shores of Greece and the border with Spain. As war continued between Britain and Germany, the Soviet leaders prepared to seize the opportunity and strike westwards. But Hitler beat them to it. On June 22, 1941, German and allied forces struck against the Soviet Union. It was soon clear to everyone that the titanic struggle could end only in victory for either Hitler or Stalin.
With an awareness that this great clash would determine the long-term future of their native countries and of the West, thousands of young men across Europe pledged their lives for a better future in a united Europe, and volunteered for combat against the Soviets.
They joined the ranks of the Waffen SS – the military and ideological shock troops of the new Europe. This first-ever truly European armed force would grow to nearly a million men. About 400,000, a minority of the total, were Germans from the Reich. Most of those who will fill the scores of Waffen SS divisions — including Degrelle and the other Légion Wallonie volunteers from Belgium’s French-speaking region — were Europeans from outside of Germany.
These hundreds of thousands of volunteers, and their leaders, understood that after the war this pan-European brotherhood in arms would be the social and political foundation of a new continental order that would transcend the petty national rivalries of the past. All SS men fought the same struggle. All became comrades in arms. And all shared the same vision of the future.
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For understandable reasons, the military and political achievements of Waffen SS are not well known today, and even less properly appreciated.
Leon Degrelle is one of its most famous soldiers. After joining as a private he quickly rose in rank due to his exceptional courage and proven leadership at the front. He engaged in dozens of hand-to-hand combat actions. He was wounded on numerous occasions. His many decorations for outstanding service and valor included the highest honors: the Knight’s Cross (Ritterkreuz) of the Iron Cross, the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross, and the Gold German Cross in Gold. He was among the last to fight on the Eastern Front. At the end of the war he escaped surrender and certain death in Allied captivity with a daring and perilous flight of some 1500 miles from Norway to Spain. He was critically wounded when his plane crash-landed on a Spanish beach. But once again, he survived. In the new life he built in Spanish exile, he dedicated his efforts, above all, to keeping faith with his wartime comrades, both living and dead, and in passing on to future generations the story of their epic struggle and vision.