Leon Joseph Degrelle (1906 – 1994) was a Walloon Belgian politician, who founded the rightist political party called Rexism, and Waffen-SS officer who fought during World War II. He was born in Bouillon, Wallonia, Belgium, on June 15, 1906. Degrelle studied philosophy and law at a Jesuit college and at the Catholic University of Louvain. Later he worked as a journalist for the conservative Roman Catholic periodical Christus Rex. Inside the Catholic Party he created a militant organization.
As an active anti-communist militant, Degrelle’s extreme ideas inside the Catholic Party clashed with the monarchist conservatives or centrists. After breaking away from the main party, Leon Degrelle founded the Rexist Party. His party received funds and ideological support from German Nazi officials. The 1936’s elections gave the Rexist Party 21 deputies and 12 senators. When Belgium was invaded by the Germans on May 10, 1940, the Rexist Party split over the matter of resistance, and Degrelle was arrested as a suspected collaborator, and evacuated to France. But he was released by the Germans when the Occupation began. He returned to Belgium and proclaimed Rexism to be in close union with Nazism.
After Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Degrelle enlisted in the Walloon legion of the Wehrmacht, which was formed in August 1941, to fight on the Eastern Front. He regarded the war against the Soviet Union as a pan-European crusade to annihilate Communism. But, as he lacked any previous military experience, Degrelle was compelled to join as a private soldier. Nevertheless, due to his command skill, he became an officer. In June 1943, Leon Degrelle, along with the Walloons were transferred from the Wehrmacht to the control of the Waffen-SS, which organized them as the 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien. In September 1944, this Waffen-SS volunteer brigade was restructured and reinforced and became the 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien.
Degrelle fought with bravery on the Eastern Front and was wounded at Cherkasy in 1944. He was promoted in the Schutzstaffel hierarchy after the inclusion of Walloons in the Waffen-SS. At the beginning of 1945, he was made an SS-Obersturmbannführer. He was awarded the Knights Cross and the Oakleaves. After the war, he went to Spain, where he was granted Spanish citizenship under the name José León Ramírez Reina. Leon Degrelle died in Malaga, Spain, in 1994.