Leon Degrelle, combat hero of the Second World War, political leader and author.
In the wake of Germany's June 1941 attack against the Soviet Union, Degrelle enthusiastically joined what he regarded as a pan-European crusade to crush Communism. His proposal to raise a volunteer battalion of fellow French-speaking Walloons to ensure a place of honor for Belgium in Hitler's new Europe was quickly accepted by the Germans.
Turning down an invitation to begin as a officer in the newly formed combat unit, he instead chose to start as a private, sharing all the burdens of his comrades. When he left his homeland in August 1941 to begin military service at the age of 35, he had never fired a gun. Nevertheless, he rose through the ranks to become commander of the unit that finally came to be known as the 28th SS Division "Wallonia."
As a result of the extraordinary courage and leadership he showed on the Narva front in Estonia, he became the first non-German to be awarded the coveted Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Hitler personally bestowed the honor on August 27, 1944.
Of the first 800 Walloon volunteers who left for the Eastern Front, only three survived the war, one of them Degrelle, who was wounded seven times during the course of his three and a half years of combat. All told, some 2,500 Walloons fell against the Soviets.
To escape death at the hands of the victorious Allies at the end of the war, he made a daring 1,500-mile flight in a small plane from Norway across Europe to Spain, crash landing on the beach at San Sebastian. Critically wounded, he somehow survived, and then built a new and successful life in exile in Spain, which granted him refuge.
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