The Rexist Party-Belgian Fascists

Rexist Party flag

Germany and Italy weren’t the only countries with Fascists parties. Several European countries had National Socialist Fascists partyies, for example  The Netherlands had the NSB.

In Belgium the Rexist Party(aka Rex), led by Léon Degrelle, won about 10 percent of the seats in the parliament in 1936.

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After failing 3 times to pass his final law exams at the Catholic University of Leuven , Degrelle, who was a dynamic orator, entered politics. Using national banking scandals and corruption of the established political parties as issues, he organized the Rexist Movement in 1930, allegedly to cleanse the Roman Catholic religion of political contamination.Its name was derived from the Roman Catholic journal and publishing company Christus Rex (Latin for Christ the King).

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Initially it stayed loyal tho the monarchy, in their flag they included the crown. At the outbreak of WWII they endorsed the Belgian government’s policy of neutrality.

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.With the German invasion of Belgium in 1940, Rexism welcomed German occupation.

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After the occupation some members left the party and joined the Belgian resistance because they could not agree with the  Nazis’ anticlerical and extreme anti-Semitic policies enforced in occupied Belgium.

During World War II Degrelle collaborated with the German occupation forces. In August 1941 he formed and later commanded the Walloon and Flemish storm-trooper brigades that fought on the Russian front. Under his guidance the Rexists took control of local governments and newspapers in Belgium. Degrelle joined the Walloon legion of the Wehrmacht, which was founded in August 1941, to fight against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. The leadership of the Rexists then passed to Victor Matthys.

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In August 1944, Rexist militia were responsible for the Courcelles Massacre .Matthyss he ordered the execution of 20 civilians in Courcelles in central Belgium as reprisals for anti-German resistance activities.

The Rexist mayor of the Greater Charleroi area, Oswald Englebin, was attacked and killed along with his wife and son by members of the Belgian Resistance between Courcelles and Monceau-sur-Sambre in a region known as the “Bois du Rognac”

As news broke in Rexist headquarters in Brussels and Charleroi of the attack on the Mayor and his family, A number of civilian were rounded up,including  policemen, doctors, architects, lawyers and various civil officials. 20 were executed. Among them was the Catholic priest Pierre Harmignie, during the night he had tried to console his fellow hostages with the words “I will die, we all will die in order for peace to return to the world so people can love each other again”

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Those responsible for the killing returned to Brussels, where they were offered a drink and congratulated.on their act of revolutionary vengeance.

The order for the executions  would ultimate lead to Matthys’s  downfall from power as criticisms surfaced. It was condemned as being too heavy-handed and Matthys gave up the leadership of the Rexists to Louis Collard.After  the liberation of Belgium in September 1944, the party had been banned.

Of the 150 participants of the massacre, 97 were identified, 80 arrested and tried of whom 27 were executed on 10 November 1947. Amongst them was Victor Matthys who was accused of organizing the massacre.

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With the final surrender of Berlin in May 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 daring 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 wounded and hospitalized for over a year.

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While in Spain, during the Franco dictatorship, Degrelle maintained a high standard of living and would frequently appear 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.

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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.

In 1994, Léon Degrelle died of cardiac arrest in a hospital in Málaga, aged 88.

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Sources

Liberation Route Europe

Wikipedia Belgium

WWII Database

 

 

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