Leon Degrelle, before the Second World War was Europe's youngest political leader
and the founder of the Rexist Party of Belgium. During that
cataclysmic confrontation he was one of the greatest heroes on the
Eastern Front. Of Leon Degrelle, Hitler said: "If I should have a
son I would like him to be like Leon."
As a statesman and a soldier he has known very closely Hitler,
Mussolini, Churchill, Franco, Laval, Marshal Petain and all the
European leaders during the enormous ideological and military clash
that was World War Two. Alone among them, he has survived, remaining
the number one witness of that historical period.
The life of Leon Degrelle began in 1906 in Bouillon, a small town in
the Belgian Ardennes. His family was of French origin.
He studied at the University of Louvain, where he acquired a
doctorate in law. He was-and is-also interested in other academic
disciplines, such as political science, art, archeology and Domestic
As a student his natural gift of leadership became apparent. By the
time he reached twenty he had already published five books and
operated his own weekly newspaper. Out of his deep Christian
conviction he joined Belgium's Catholic Action Movement and became
one of its leaders.
But his passion has always been people.
He wanted to win the crowds, particularly the Marxist ones. He
wanted them to share his ideals of social and spiritual change for
society. He wanted to lift people up; to forge for them a stable,
efficient and responsible state, a state backed by the good sense of
people and for the sole benefit of the people.
He addressed more than 2,000 meetings, always controversial. His
books and newspapers were read everywhere because they always dealt
with the real issues. Although not yet twenty-five, people listened
to him avidly.
In a few short years he had won over a large part of the population.
On the twenty-forth of May 1936 his Rexist Party won against the
established parties a smashing electoral victory: Thirty-four house
and senate seats.
The Europe of 1936 was split into little countries, jealous of their
pasts and closed to any contact with their neighbors. He addressed
more than 2,000 meetings, always controversial. His books and
newspaper were read everywhere because they always dealt with the
real issues. Although not yet twenty-five, people listened to him
In a few short years he had won over a large part of the population.
On the twenty-fourth of May 1936 his Rexist Party won against the
established parties a smashing electoral victory: Thirty-four house
and senate seats.
The Europe of 1936 was still split into little countries, jealous of
their pasts and closed to any contact with their neighbors.
Leon Degrelle saw further. In his student days he had traveled
across Latin America, the United States and Canada. He had visited
North Africa, the Middle East and of course all of the European
countries. He felt that Europe had a unique destiny and must unite.
Mussolini invited him to Rome. Churchill saw him in London and
Hitler received him in Berlin.
Putting his political life on the line, he made desperate efforts to
stop the railroading of Europe into another war. But old rivalries,
petty hatreds and suspicion between the French and the German, were
cleverly exploited. The established parties and the Communist Party
worked on the same side: for war. For the Kremlin it was a unique
opportunity to communize Europe after it had been bled white.
Thus, war started. First in Poland, then in Western Europe in 1940.
This was to become the Second World War in 1941.
Soon the flag of the Swastika flew from the North Pole to the shores
of Greece to the border of Spain.
But the European civil war between England and Germany continued.
And the rulers of Communism got ready to move in and pick up the
But Hitler beat them to it and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22,
1941. For Europe it was to be heads or tails; Hitlers wins or Stalin
It was then that from every country in Europe thousands of young men
made up their minds that the destiny of their native country was at
stake. They would volunteer their lives to fight communism and
create a united Europe.
In all, they would grow to be more than 600,000 non-German Europeans
fighting on the Eastern Front. They would bring scores of divisions
to the Waffen SS.
The Waffen SS were ideological and military shock troops of Europe.
The Germans, numbering 400,000 were actually in the minority.
The one million-strong Waffen SS represented the first truly
European army to ever exist.
After the war each unit of this army was to provide their people
with a political structure free of the petty nationalism of the
past. All the SS fought the same struggle. All shared the same world
view. All became comrades in arms.
The most important political and military phenomenon of World War
Two is also the least known: the phenomenon of the Waffen SS.
Leon Degrelle is one of the most famous Waffen SS soldiers. After
joining as a private he earned all stripes from corporal to general
for exceptional bravery in combat. He engaged in seventy-five
hand-to-hand combat actions. He was wounded on numerous occasions.
He was the recipient of the highest honors: The Ritterkreuz, the
Oak-Leaves, the Gold German Cross and numerous other decorations
for outstanding valor under enemy fire.
One of the last to fight on the Eastern Front, Leon Degrelle escaped
unconditional surrender by flying some 1500 miles across Europe
toward Spain. He managed to survive constant fire all along the way
and crash landed on the beach of San Sebastian in Spain, critically
Against all odds he survived. Slowly he managed to re-build a new
life in exile for himself and his family.
For Degrelle philosophy and politics cannot exist without
historical knowledge. For him beauty enhances people and people
cannot improve their lives without it.
This philosophy is reflected in everything he does. In his Spanish
home art blends gracefully with history.
The work of Leon Degrelle has always been epic and poetic. As he
walks in the environment of his home one feels the greatness of Rome
with its marbles, its bronzes, its translucent glass; one feels the
elegant Arabian architecture, the gravity of the Gothic form and the
sumptuousness of Renaissance and Baroque art. One feels the glory of
In this atmosphere of beauty and greatness, the last and most
important witness of World War Two.
and the Crusade for Europe
The Russians came at dawn, the better part of two regiments, men and
tanks silhouetted against the blood-red sun as they moved forward
across the steppe. Huddled among the peasants' 'huts of
Gromovaya-Balka, the men of the Wallonian Legion awaited them,
silently cursing the frozen earth, which had offered implacable
resistance to their entrenching tools.
Against the oncoming Soviet troops-4,000 of them—and the 14 tanks
which accompanied them, the 500 Belgian volunteers who held the
village disposed of no weapons heavier than machine guns. Their only
hope was to hold on until the German command, hard pressed all along
the Samara front, could rush them reinforcements badly needed in
Corporal Leon Degrelle crouched behind the frozen carcass of a
horse, sighting down the barrel of his MG34. He gave no heed to the
bitter cold or to his injured foot, painfully broken two weeks
The Russian artillery shells were already landing in the village,
inflicting terrible casualties when they were on target. Now the
Soviet infantry broke into a run, their blood-curdling battle cry, -Ourrah
pobiecla!, " -Hurrah for victory!," ringing in the ears of the
French-speaking Walloons, drowning out the cries of the wounded and
dying. Degrelle and his comrades began to fire, tearing big gaps in
the ranks of the advancing Russians.
Still they surged forward. They had reached the outskirts of the
village now and were fighting at close quarters with the Walloons.
In the absence of anti-tank artillery or rockets, the Soviet T-34
tanks prowled freely among the huts, gunning down and rolling over
any defenders in their paths.
Suddenly Degrelle was struck in the face by a piece of ricocheting
shrapnel. Blood streamed down his cheeks, but he held his position,
raking the Red infantry with machine-gun bullets as they darted
forward from hut to hut.
The Walloons, gave ground grudgingly, but the more numerous Russians
pushed them back inexorably. As his fellow soldiers retreated to the
other end of the village, Degrelle, his face a bloody mask,
continued to fire.
At length the barrel of Degrelle's machine gun began to overheat,
and the tide of Russian attackers threatened to swamp him. Without
hesitating, Corporal Henri Berkmans, Degrelle's armorer, grasped his
wounded companion by the waist and dragged him across the ice to the
cover of a peasant's hut already crammed with their fellow Walloons.
It was a brief respite. The crew of a Soviet tank had spotted them.
Roaring up beside their temporary haven, the massive T-34 fired
point-blank at the flimsy structure. The first shell blasted through
the hut without hitting the Walloons, who clawed frantically to
tear a hole in the rear wall. Two more rounds roared through the hut
before Degrelle and his comrades got out, miraculously unscathed.
As the remaining Walloons formed a last defensive perimeter, the
Soviet forces regrouped for the decisive assault, eager to apply the
coup de grace to these bothersome accomplices of the hated Germans.
The Russians began to advance once more, and the Walloons, hunched
behind whatever cover they could find, awaited them grimly,
determined to hold off the Russian assailants and their unseen
ally, death, yet a while longer.
All at once the air was pierced by screaming sirens and the
ever-louder roar of airplane engines: Stukas! The shrieking German
dive bombers swooped down on the swarming Reds as pitilessly and
murderously as hawks pursuing field mice. Tank after tank was hit by
exploding bombs sown with unerring precision. The bomb blasts
tossed tank crewmen and foot soldiers high in the air, as if they
Clouds of oily, black smoke billowed from the Russian monsters, now
reduced to burning hulks. With a mighty shout, the men of the
Wallonian Legion rushed forward and drove the Russians from the
Twice more that day, 28 February 1942, the Russians attacked, and
twice more the Belgians, now reinforced by German infantry and
armor, threw them back. When evening fell on GromovayaBalka, 700
Russian soldiers lay dead in its ruins.
The Wallonian defenders had paid a heavy price. Seventy of them had
been killed, among them the gallant Berkmans. Nearly 200 more had
been wounded, reducing the unit's combat strength by half. Shortly
thereafter, their valor would be recognized by the German high
command: 34 soldiers of the Wallonian Legion, including Leon
Degrelle, received the Iron Cross for their defense of
Who was this Degrelle, and what drove him to the side of his
Leon Degrelle was born in 1906 at Bouillon, a small town
near the French border, surrounded by the oak forests of the
Ardennes and dominated by the castle of Godfrey de Bouillon, a
leader of the First Crusade. There his father owned a prosperous
After attending the Jesuit college at Namur, Degrelle entered the
University of Louvain in 1925. He left his studies after several
years to work for Rex (from Christus Rex, Christ the King), a
Catholic publishing house, of which he became director in 1931.
Under Degrelle, Rex churned out a flood of Catholic literature and
propaganda. He himself edited two newspapers, Rex and Vlan, in which
he analyzed the Belgian scene. Soon his writing raised eyebrows in
the Catholic hierarchy.
Life in modern Belgium offered a depressing contrast to the
political and cultural flowering of earlier ages, Degrelle pointed
out. The land which had been an integral part of Charles the Bold's
Burgundy and the empire of the Habsburgs, which had produced
Charlemagne and Charles V, Brueghel and Rubens, Orlando de Lassus
and Francois Cuvillies, had become a European backwater, a pawn of
international finance and balance of power politics.
Degrelle was disgusted by the venality and opportunism which
characterized Belgian politics. The three major parties—the
Catholics, the Liberals, and the Socialists—had come to be nothing
more than the tools of powerful interests, whether the church
hierarchy or big business or big labor. In his publications Degrelle
flayed the party politicians and the establishment they fronted for
In 1935 Degrelle, calling for a national renewal at the expense of
the established interests, founded the Rexist movement. His tireless
campaigning and spellbinding oratory led his group to a stunning
success in the national election of 1936. The new party rolled up
270,000 votes, 11.5 per cent of the total, and elected 12 senators
and 21 deputies.
Confronted by the Rexist challenge, the established parties closed
ranks. Their collusion excluded Rexist deputies from important
parliamentary committees. The controlled news media directed
drumfire of criticism against Degrelle's "extremism" and alleged
lust for power.
In March 1937 Degrelle decided to contest a by-election in Brussels,
which quickly took on the nature of a plebiscite.
The Belgian establishment pulled out all the stops against his
candidacy. The prime minister, Paul Van Zeeland, opposed Degrelle
for the seat, backed by all three parties. The Catholic primate of
Belgium condemned Degrelle and Rexism. The Brussels newspapers
supplied the usual one-sided editorials and reportage.
The outcome was a foregone conclusion. From that point on, the
movement's fortunes declined sharply, although Degrelle did win a
later election. By 1939 only Degrelle and three other Rexists from
the party list sat in parliament. The disillusioned leader turned
his thoughts more and more from the present pettiness of Belgium to
the vision of a reborn Burgundy, stretching from Frisia to the
Rhone, of which Wallonia would be the pivot.
The onset of the Second World War forced the Belgian establishment
to chose between the old order and the new. By making Belgium party
to the anglo-French effort to stifle the European resurgence led by
Hitler and Mussolini, the country's politicians invited the German
invasion of 1940.
The Germans knifed through Belgium with relentless efficiency.
After 18 days of hopeless struggle, the Belgian army was battered
into submission. Meanwhile, the Belgian politicians, after
providently appropriating Belgium's gold reserves and the plates
used to print the nation's money, fled across the channel to
England. There they reconstituted themselves as Belgium's
"legitimate" government and whiled away their exile in luxury and
No sooner had the German armies crossed the frontier than Leon
Degrelle was seized at his home by the Belgian authorities, in
flagrant violation of his parliamentary immunity. In the following
weeks he endured a brutal odyssey through Belgian and French jails.
During his captivity Degrelle lost 30 pounds. Several of his teeth
were broken, and he was deafened in one ear by a particularly
brutal beating administered in his cell at Caen. At last, thanks to
German intervention, Degrelle, who had been given up for lost by his
family and followers, was freed from the French concentration camp
at Vernet, which had been commanded by a Jew named Bernheim.
Upon his return to Belgium, Degrelle found the political prospects
of the Rexist movement and the Wallonian people anything but
auspicious. The Germans naturally favored their Flemish cousins, and
there was little accord between Belgium's Flemings and Walloons.
Furthermore, Degrelle had had little previous contact with Hitler
and National Socialism.
Degrelle considered that any hope of realizing his dream of a new
Great Burgundy depended on the good will of Adolf Hitler. The
Wallonian leader was sure he knew the way to win the former combat
soldier's favor: on the field of battle, fighting side by side with
Germany against a common foe.
Thus, when Germany went to war against the Soviet Union on 22 June
1941, Degrelle was ready. Within two months he had raised a force of
1,000 Wallonian volunteers to join the crusade against Bolshevism.
On 8 August 1941, the Wallonian volunteers departed for Germany. As
they paraded through the Brussels streets enroute to the railway
station, they received an enthusiastic sendoff from their fellow
Rexists. The excitement was heightened by Leon Degrelle's presence
in their ranks. His decision to enlist, made public only the day
before, had stunned his friends and enemies alike.
Married and the father of two young daughters, Degrelle, at 35, was
an unlikely infantryman. His ingenuous, almost cherubic face seemed
to belie his athlete's frame. Despite his political accomplishments,
something of the enfant terrible still clung to him. Besides, he had
never undergone military training, had never so much as fired a gun.
Degrelle's enemies smirked and whispered that the leader of the
Rexists would depart the train at the first stop after Brussels.
The short but arduous apprenticeship in the skills of the combat
infantryman which Degrelle received at Regenwurm, near the Polish
border, more than compensated for his previous lack of military
training. By November 1941 Degrelle found himself lugging 65 pounds
of machine gun and ammunition near Karabinovska, midway between
Dnepropetrovsk and the Donets basin.
In late autumn of 1941 the German advance, after nearly five months
of uninterrupted success, had bogged down in the black, oozing,
sucking mud of Russia. Roads became impassable for heavy vehicles,
and horses and men sank to their thighs in the mire. The Russians
took advantage of the Germans' immobility by stepping up hit-and-run
attacks by partisan guerrillas.
It was against these irregulars that the men of the Wallonian Legion
saw their first action. There were no pitched battles, only short,
running engagements between small units. Nevertheless, they took
their toll. In late November the first legionaries fell on the cold
soil of the eastern Ukraine, far from their Belgian homes.
Shortly after their arrival in Russia, the Belgians were confronted
by an even more ferocious enemy than the Red guerrillas. The Russian
winter of 1941-1942 fell with a fury unmatched in a century and a
half. Temperatures in the Wallonian Legion's zone of operations
dropped to 40 degrees below zero, and the snow piled up to heights
of over six feet.
At the end of November Degrelle and his comrades marched across the
frozen earth to the Donets basin, a center of mining and industry,
where they made their winter quarters. The march across the winter
hell between Karabinovska and Cherbinovka was 50 miles of torture.
Men and animals slipped and slid on vast expanses of ice. Many fell
victims to frostbite. By 10 December the Wallonian Legion, at last
firmly established in Cherbinovka, had lost 150 men to the cold and
Through all the rigors of that terrible winter Degrelle was an
inspiration to his fellow soldiers. He shared in all their trials;
indeed, he bore them with a cheerfulness palatable even to the
chronic grumblers. His poltical authority as chief of Rex was
greatly augmented by his fellowship in arms.
Degrelle's own outlook was being profoundly affected by his
experiences at the front. Any tendency to the egoism which bedevils
the average politician was swept away by a thousand lowly tasks and
duties, performed side by side with men of humble origins who had
once shouted their adulation for him at the cavernous Sports Palace
in Brussels. In the friendly jibing of his fellow infantrymen,
Degrelle became "Modest the First, Duke of Burgundy."
The constant threat of death brought with it a heightened
consciousness and, in the best of men, an increased dedication.
Degrelle wrote, "Before we may have led a banal existence, marked by
concessions to everyday life. The front taught us to love
renunciation. We felt neither hatred nor desire. We had overcome our
bodies and destroyed our ambition. Thus purified, we could devote
ourselves to the cause. And death frightened us no more."
In February 1941 the Walloons got a chance to show their mettle in
heavy combat. The Red Army attempted to exploit a number of
overextended and exposed sectors along the German front. The
Wallonian Legion was in the thick of the fighting, which featured a
sharp contest over the village Rosa Luxemberg and the heroic defense
The February fighting was costly for the Walloons. By the 2nd of
March only two of the unit's 22 officers were fit for duty, and the
Wallonian Legion had been reduced to a third of its original
Reinforced by a new contingent of volunteers from Belgium, the
Legion joined the renewed German offensive in July. The goal was the
rich oil fields of Transcaucasia, vital to refuel the mighty German
The march south across the Don and the Kuban steppe proceeded at a
rapid pace. In the space of a month the Legion advanced 700 miles to
the foothills of the snow-capped Caucasus, marching in a summer heat
that often exceeded 105 degrees.
The Russians offered little resistance until the German forces
reached the passes which lead over the Caucasus to Transcaucasia.
There the Reds battled furiously to deny the enemy their oil.
The Wallonian Legion fought its way up the valley of the Pschich
River, driving toward Sochi, a Black Sea port. Degrelle, who had
been promoted to lieutenant after Gromovaya-Balka, now proved his
ability to lead men in combat as well as in electoral campaigns. His
notions of tactics were hazy, but his unflinching courage in the
face of enemy fire carried one objective after another in the
fierce mountain warfare.
At Pruskaya on 19 August, Degrelle led an attack up a hill bristling
with Russian defenders. At the summit he came face to face with the
Red commander. Both men fired simultaneously. The Russian fell dead
at Degrelle's feet. The Legion continued its advance.
Three days later the Walloons captured the village of Cheryakov.
Degrelle led a sally which blunted the first Red counterattack.
Over the next five days the Wallonian Legion beat off wave after
wave of Russian attackers, until they were relieved.
The German advance stalled once again that autumn. Overextended and
running precariously short of supplies and ammunition, the German
armies were forced to retreat. At the onset of winter the Wallonian
Legion withdrew across the strait of Kerch and up the Crimean
peninsula. As they fell back the Russians were already springing the
trap at Stalingrad.
The Legion's outstanding performance had meanwhile attracted the
interest and admiration of the officers of the elite Waffen SS.
After protracted negotiations between Degrelle and Heinrich Himmler,
the leader of the SS, the Wallonian Legion was inducted into the
Waffen SS. The move was popular among the men. The combat prowess
and prestige of the SS were unmatched and the veterans of
Gromovaya-Balka and Cheryakov felt honored to share it.
Furthermore, membership in the SS, a supranational Aryan order,
would afford Degrelle an important voice in postwar Europe, provided
Germany and her allies were victorious.
In the spring of 1943 the Walloons were dispersed to various SS
training camps. The intangible SS spirit and the all-too-tangible
aches and pains of the most difficult training they had ever
experienced elevated even the battle-tested men of the Wallonian
Legion to an undreamed-of level of endurance, vigilance, and
hardness. When, in November 1943, the Legion was reorganized as the
5th SS Stormbrigade Wallonia, with Major Lucien Lippert its
commander and Degrelle the chief of staff, there was no more
formidable infantry unit in the world.
Shortly thereafter the Wallonian Brigade returned to the front,
which the ever-waxing might of the Red Army had pushed to the west
bank of the Dnieper. The Walloons were posted to a sector near
Cherkassy, which gave its name to a vast salient, some 10,000 square
miles, held by the German 8th Army.
In January 1944 disaster struck. On the 27th two Soviet armies,
Zhukov's in the north and Koniev's in the south, began a drive
around the Cherkassy sector which culminated in their junction at
Zvenigorodka, far behind the German lines. The Cherkassy salient had
become the Cherkassy pocket.
The German command laid plans for a breakout in force to the west.
They concentrated the bulk of their forces near Steblyov, with the
SS Regiment Germania as the spearhead. The Wallonian Brigade was
assigned the vital mission of guarding the rear.
The operation, to which the sober strategists of the Wehrmacht staff
had assigned a five per cent chance of success, put the Walloons to
their greatest test. The Soviets, scenting victory, hammered at the
German flanks, but they drove hardest from the rear, straining for
the breakthrough which would allow them to roll up the retreating
army from behind.
On 5 February, at the village of Starosselye, the thin Wallonian
line nearly buckled. After repelling wave after wave the Walloons
panicked and fled in the face of yet another massive Soviet assault.
The Russian breakthrough was at hand.
At that point Degrelle rode up. Standing on his mud-spattered staff
car as Russian bullets whined past his ears, he exhorted his men to
be worthy of their Burgundian ancestors. Then Degrelle leaped from
the car, seized his rifle, and shouted, "Burgundians, rally to my
luck! You'll see how much the Russians fear me! About face! Forward!
Degrelle's counterattack drove the Russians from Starosselye.
Reinforced that afternoon by two tanks, the Wallonian Brigade clung
to the key strongpoint for four blood-drenched days. On the 8th they
fell back to the Ross canal, and then to Novo Buda, where an
apocalyptic struggle unfolded.
Infuriated by the prospect of their prey's escaping, the Russians
stormed Novo Buda with redoubled fanaticism. The town was raked by
murderous artillery and mortar barrages. Houseto-house fighting of
an intensity not witnessed since Stalingrad turned shops and houses
into abattoirs dripping with gore.
German generals fought and died side by side with privates. Lucien
Lippert, the Wallonian Brigade's brave commander was shot dead
outside a mouzhik's hovel. Men's minds snapped, overwhelmed by
horror and exhaustion.
If the saying be true that fortune favors the brave, Degrelle proved
it amply in the Cherkassy pocket. Always in the thick of the
fighting, he seemed unkillable. Russian bullets nicked him twice at
Starosselye. At Novo Buda a spent mortar fragment lodged between his
coat and his chest, barely breaking the skin. The Reds were thrown
back at Novo Buda. On 18 February 1944, 40,000 German soldiers
streamed through the Russian ring near Lisyanka, due in large
measure to the incredible tenacity of the Wallonian volunteers. Such
heroism did not come cheap. Of the more than 2,000 Walloons who had
arrived at the front the previous November, only 632 came through
the hell of Cherkassy.
A few days later Degrelle was summoned to Adolf Hitler's
headquarters, near Rastenburg in East Prussia. The hero from the
trenches of the First World War pressed the Knight's Cross of the
Iron Cross into Degrelle's hand. In a voice husky with emotion,
Hitler told the Wallonian leader, "If I had a son, I would want him
to be like you."
Against the Fuehrer's wishes, Degrelle returned to combat. The
Wallonian Brigade, which had been decimated at Cherkassy, was
reinforced and expanded to become the nucleus of the 28th SS
Wallonian Division. Transferred to the Baltic front, Degrelle and
his brave Walloons waged an unending succession of desperate
holding actions against overwhelming odds. Across the marshlands of
Estonia and the flat lake country of East Prussia the men of the
Wallonian Division, in ever-diminishing numbers, fought on grimly
until there was no more hope.
Nor did they fight alone. There fought beside them half-a-million
other volunteers, from thirty different European peoples, bound by
Nibelungen fealty to the German Siegfried until the bitter end. They
joined from every walk of life, even to the last days of the war:
peasants and aristocrats, craftsmen and scholars, workers from the
mines and mills and workshops of all Europe.
And many of them died, on the vast and lonely Russian steppe, in the
rubble-strewn alleys of Budapest and Berlin, in a thousand other
places unmarked and forgotten, not sweetly, not decorously, but
excruciatingly: shot, stabbed, frozen, crushed, heads sliced off by
whirling shell fragments, limbs blasted from their torsos, entrails
gushing from their bellies, in every way their fragile bodies could
be riven from their mighty hearts.
Should we ask why, a few have tried to tell. Degrelle, a man of
culture, wrote that it was for Europe, "the Europe of Vergil and
Ronsard, the Europe of Erasmus and Nietzsche, of Raphael and Duerer,
the Europe of Ignatius and Saint Theresa, of Frederick the Great and
Few of the others could have put their reasons into words. Like the
simpler Westerners who came before them, the men who fought and fell
at Tours and Liegnitz, at Acre and Lepanto, the European volunteers,
though driven by the deepest loves and longings, cherished most the
fragments of the Whole: the sunlight playing on a little girl's
blond hair, a favorite spot beneath the willows by the brook, the
fellowship by evening in the village tavern, the fields their
fathers plowed before them, hearth and family, blood and soil. And
though today the bodies of so many of them lie commingled with the
European soil, see to it, White reader, that their spirit shall not
perish from this earth!
Shortly after the Anglo-American armies overran Belgium, the Belgian
government in exile returned to Brussels, the breasts of its
ministers glittering with the medals and orders for "resistance"
which they so freely bestowed on one another. One of the first acts
of Belgium's restoration government was to condemn to death their
old enemy, Leon Degrelle, for defiance to the state.
But Degrelle was able to elude their grasp. Granted political asylum
by the Franco regime, he has lived since the war in Madrid. He
managed to save his medals, which by the war's end included the
Knights Cross and Oak Leaf. He has saved as well the silken banners
of the Wallonian Division. Some day, Degrelle hopes, they will be
exhibited at the Belgium War Museum.
Not long ago a visiting Belgian journalist asked him if he had any
regrets about the war years. Leon Degrelle thought for a moment, and
then gave his reply: "Only that we lost!"
The Story of the Waffen SS
I am asked to talk to you about the great unknown of World War Two:
the Waffen SS.
It is somewhat amazing that the organization which was both
political and military and which during World War Two united more
than one million fighting volunteers, should still be officially
Why is it that the official record still virtually ignores this
extraordinary army of volunteers? An army which was at the vortex of
the most gigantic struggle, affecting the entire world.
The answer may well be found in the fact that the most striking
feature of the Waffen SS was that it was composed of volunteers from
some thirty different countries.
What cause gathered them and why did they volunteer their lives?
Was it a German phenomenon?
At the beginning, yes.
Initially, the Waffen SS amounted to less than two hundred members.
It grew consistently until 1940 when it evolved into a second phase:
the Germanic Waffen SS. In addition to Germans from Germany,
northwestern Europeans and descendants of Germans from all across
Then, in 1941 during the great clash with the Soviet Union, rose the
European Waffen SS. Young men from the most distant countries
fought together on the Russian front.
No one knew anything about the Waffen SS for most of the years
preceding the war. The Germans themselves took some time to
recognize the distinctiveness of the Waffen SS.
Hitler rose to the chancellorship democratically, winning at the
ballot box. He ran electoral campaigns like any other politician. He
addressed meetings, advertised on billboards, his message attracted
capacity audiences. More and more people liked what he had to say
and more and more people voted members of his party into congress.
Hitler did not come to power by force but was duly elected by the
people and duly installed as Chancellor by the President of Germany,
General von Hindenburg. His government was legitimate and
democratic. In fact, only two of his followers were included in the
Later he succeeded always through the electoral process in
increasing his majority. When some elections gave him up to 90% of
the vote, Hitler earned every vote on his own merit.
During his campaigns Hitler faced formidable enemies: the power
establishment who had no qualms whatsoever in tampering with the
electoral process. He had to face the Weimar establishment and its
well-financed left-wing and liberal parties and highly organized
bloc of six million Communist Party members. Only the most fearless
and relentless struggle to convince people to vote for him, enabled
Hitler to obtain a democratic majority.
In those days the Waffen SS was not even a factor. There was, of
course, the SA with some three million men. They were rank and file
members of the National Socialist Workers Party but certainly not an
Their main function was to protect party candidates from Communist
violence. And the violence was murderous indeed: more than five
hundred National Socialists were murdered by the communists.
Thousands were greviously injured.
The SA was a volunteer, non-government organization and as soon as
Hitler rose to power he could no longer avail himself of its help.
He had to work within the system he was elected to serve.
He came in a state of disadvantage. He had to contend with an
entrenched bureaucracy appointed by the old regime. In fact, when
the war started in 1939, 700/0 of German bureaucrats had been
appointed by the old regime and did not belong to Hitler's party.
Hitler could not count on the support of the Church hierarchy. Both
big business and the Communist Party were totally hostile to his
programs. On top of all this, extreme poverty existed and six
million workers were unemployed. No country in Europe had ever known
so many people to be out of work.
So here is a man quite isolated. The three million SA party members
are not in the government. They vote and help win the elections but
they cannot supplant the entrenched bureaucracy in the government
posts. The SA also was unable to exert influence on the army,
because the top brass, fearful of competition, was hostile to the
This hostility reached such a point that Hitler was faced with a
wrenching dilemma. What to do with the millions of followers who
helped him to power? He could not abandon them.
The army was a highly organized power structure. Although only
numbering 100,000 as dictated by the Treaty of Versailles it exerted
great influence in the affairs of state. The President of Germany
was Field Marshal von Hindenburg. The army was a privileged caste.
Almost all the officers belonged to the upper classes of society.
It was impossible for Hitler to take on the powerful army frontally.
Hitler was elected democratically and he could not do what Stalin
did: to have firing squads execute the entire military
establishment. Stalin killed thirty thousand high ranking officers.
That was Stalin's way to make room for his own trusted commissars.
Such drastic methods could not occur in Germany and unlike Stalin,
Hitler was surrounded by international enemies.
His election had provoked international rage. He had gone to the
voters directly without the intermediary of the establishment
parties. His party platform included an appeal for racial purity in
Germany as well as a return of power to the people. Such tenets so
infuriated world Jewry that in 1933 it officially declared war on
Contrary to what one is told Hitler had limited power and was quite
alone. How this man ever survived these early years defy
comprehension. Only the fact that Hitler was an exceptional genius
explains his survival against all odds. Abroad and at home Hitler
had to bend over backwards just to demonstrate his good will.
But despite all his efforts Hitler was gradually being driven into a
corner. The feud between the SA and the army was coming to a head.
His old comrade, Ernst Roehm, Chief of the SA wanted to follow
Stalin's example and physically eliminate the army brass. The
showdown resulted in the death of Roehm, either by suicide or
murder, and many of his assistants, with the army picking up the
pieces and putting the SA back in its place.
At this time the only SS to be found in Germany were in Chancellor
Hitler's personal guard: one hundred eighty men in all. They were
young men of exceptional qualities but without any political role.
Their duties consisted of guarding the Chancellory and presenting
arms to visiting dignitaries.
It was from this miniscule group of 180 men that a few years later
would spring an army of a million soldiers. An army of unprecedented
valor extending its call throughout Europe.
After Hitler was compelled to acknowledge the superiority of the
army he realized that the brass would never support his
revolutionary social programs. It was an army of aristocrats.
Hitler was a man of the people, a man who succeeded in wiping out
unemployment, a feat unsurpassed to this day. Within two years he
gave work to six million Germans and got rid of rampant poverty. In
five years the German worker doubled his income without inflation.
Hundreds of thousands of beautiful homes were built for workers at a
minimal cost. Each home had a garden to grow flowers and vegetables.
All the factories were provided with sport fields, swimming pools
and attractive and decent workshops.
For the first time paid vacations were created. The communists and
capitalists had never offered paid vacations; this was Hitler's
creation. He organized the famous "strength through joy" programs
which meant that workers could, at affordable prices, board
passenger ships and visit any part of the world.
All these social improvements did not please the establishment. Big
business tycoons and international bankers were worried. But Hitler
stood up to them. Business can make profits but only if people are
paid decently and are allowed to live and work in dignity. People,
not profits, come first.
This was only one of Hitler's reforms. He initiated hundreds of
others. He literally rebuilt Germany. In a few years more than five
thousand miles of freeways were built. For the worker the affordable
Volkswagen was created. Any worker could get this car on a payment
of five marks a week. It was unprecedented in Europe. Thanks to the
freeways the worker for the first time could visit any part of
Germany whenever they liked. The same programs applied to the
farmers and middle class.
Hitler realized that if his social reforms were to proceed free of
sabotage he needed a powerful lever, a lever that commanded respect.
Hitler still did not confront the army but skillfully started to
build up the SS. He desperately needed the SS because above all
Hitler was a political man; to him war was the last resort. His aim
was to convince people, to obtain their loyalty, particularly the
younger generation. He knew that the establishment-minded brass
would oppose him at every turn.
And he was right. Through the high ranking officers the
establishment plotted the overthrow of the democratically elected
Hitler government. Known as the Munich Plot, the conspirators were
detected in time. That was in 1938.
On 20 July 1944, Hitler almost lost his life when aristocratic
officers planted a time bomb underneath his desk.
In order not to alert the army Hitler enlarged the SS into a force
responsible for law and order. There was of course a German police
force but there again Hitler was unsure of their loyalty. The
150,000 police were appointed by the Weimar regime. Hitler needed
the SS not only to detect plots but mostly to protect his reforms.
As his initial Leibstandarte unit of 180 grew, other regiments were
found such as the Deutschland and the Germania.
The army brass did everything to prevent SS recruitment. Hitler
bypassed the obstacles by having the interior minister and not the
war ministry do the recruiting.
The army countered by discouraging the recruitment of men between
the ages of 18 and 45. On the ground of national defense, privates
were ordered to serve four years, non-commissioned officers twelve
and officers twenty-five years.
Such orders, it was thought, would stop SS recruitment dead in its
tracks. The reverse happened. Thousands of young men rushed to
apply, despite the lengthy service, more than could be accepted.
The young felt the SS was the only armed force which represented
their own ideas.
The new formations of young SS captivated public imagination. Clad
in smart black uniforms the SS attracted more and more young men.
It took two years from 1933 to 1935 and a constant battle of wits
with the army to raise a force of 8,000 SS.
At the time the name Waffen SS did not even exist. It was not until
1940, after the French campaign, that the SS will be officially
named "Waffen SS." In 1935 they were called just SS. However, 8,000
SS did not go far in a country of 80 million people. And Hitler had
yet to devise another way to get around the army. He created the
Totenkopf guard corps. They were really SS in disguise but their
official function was to guard the concentration camps.
What were these concentration camps?
They were just work camps where intractable communists were put to
work. They were well treated because it was thought they would be
converted sooner or later to patriotism. There were two
concentration camps with a total of three thousand men. Three
thousand out of a total of six million card-carrying members of the
Communist Party. That represents one per two thousand. Right until
the war there were fewer than ten thousand inmates.
So the Totenkopf ploy produced four regiments. At the right moment
they will join the SS. The Totenkopf kept a low profile through an
elaborate system of recruiting reserves in order to keep its
At the beginning of the war the Totenkopf numbered 40,000 men. They
will be sent to 163 separate units. Meanwhile the initial
Leibstandarte regiment reached 2800 and a fourth regiment was
formed in Vienna at the time of the Anschluss.
The young men who joined the SS were trained like no other army in
the world. Military and academic instruction were intensive, but it
was the physical training that was the most rigorous. They practice
sports with excellence. Each of them would have performed with
distinction at the Olympic games. The extraordinary physical
endurance of the SS on the Russian front, which so amazed the world,
was due to this intensive training.
There was also the ideological training. They were taught why they
were fighting, what kind of Germany was being resurrected before
their very eyes. They were shown how Germany was being morally
united through class reconciliation and physically united through
the return of the lost German homelands. They were made aware of
their kinship with all the other Germans living in foreign lands, in
Poland, Russia, the Sudentenland and other parts of Europe. They
were taught that all Germans represented an ethnic unity.
Young SS were educated in two military academies, one in Bad Toelz
the other in Braunschweig. These academies were totally different
from the grim barracks of the past. Combining aesthetics with the
latest technology they were located in the middle of hundreds of
acres of beautiful country.
Hitler was opposed to any war, particularly in Western Europe. He
did not even conceive that the SS could participate in such a war.
Above all the SS was a political force. Hitler regarded Western
countries as individual cultures which could be federated but
certainly not conquered. He felt a conflict within the West would be
a no-win civil war.
Hitler's conception of Europe then was far ahead of his neighbors.
The mentality of 1914-1918, when small countries fought other small
countries over bits of real estate, still prevailed in the Europe of
1939. Not so in the case of the Soviet Union where internationalism
replaced nationalism. The communists never aimed at serving the
interests of Russia. Communism does not limit itself to acquire
chunks of territories but aims at total world domination.
This is a dramatically new factor. This policy of world conquest is
still being carried out today whether in Viet Nam, Afganistan,
Africa or Poland. At the time it was an entirely new concept. Alone
among all the leaders of the world Hitler saw this concept as an
equal threat to all nations.
Hitler recalled vividly the havoc the communists unleashed in
Germany at the end of World War One. Particularly in Berlin and
Bavaria the Communists under foreign orders organized a state within
a state and almost took over. For Hitler, everything pointed East.
The threat was Communism.
Apart from his lack of interest in subjugating Western Europe,
Hitler was well aware he could not wage war on two fronts.
At this point instead of letting Hitler fight Communism the Allies
made the fateful decision to attack Hitler.
The so-called Western Democracies allied themselves with the Soviet
Union for the purpose of encircling and destroying the democratic
government of Germany.
The Treaty of Versailles had already amputated Germany from all
sides. It was designed to keep Germany in a state of permanent
economic collapse and military impotence. The Allies had ratified a
string of treaties with Belgium, the newly created Czechoslovakia,
Yugoslavia, Poland and Rumania to pressure Germany from all sides.
Now in the summer of 1939 the governments of Britain and France were
secretly negotiating a full military alliance with the Soviet Union.
The talks were held in Moscow and the minutes were signed by Marshal
I have these minutes in my possession. They are stupefying. One can
read a report guaranteeing Britain and France of Soviet
participation against Germany. Upon ratification the Soviet Union
was to provide the Anglo-French forces with the Soviet support of
5500 combat planes immediately plus the back up of the entire Soviet
air force. Between 9,000 to 10,000 tanks would also be made
available. In return, the Soviet Union demanded the Baltic states
and free access to Poland. The plan called for an early joint
Germany was still minimally armed at that stage. The French
negotiators realized that the 10,000 Soviet tanks would soon destroy
the 2000 German tanks but did not see that they would be unlikely to
stop at the French border. Likewise the British government was
quite prepared to let the Soviets take over Europe.
Facing total encirclement Hitler decided once more to make his own
peace with one or the other side of the Soviet-British partnership.
He turned to the British and French governments and requested
formal peace talks. His quest for peace was answered by an
outpouring of insults and denunciations. The international press
went on an orgy of hate against Hitler unprecedented in history. It
is mind-boggling to re-read these newspapers today.
When Hitler made similar peace overtures to Moscow he was surprised
to find the Soviets eager to sign a peace treaty with Germany. In
fact, Stalin did not sign a peace treaty for the purpose of peace.
He signed to let Europe destroy itself in a war of attrition while
giving him the time he needed to build up his military strength.
Stalin's real intent is revealed in the minutes of the Soviet High
Command, also in my possession. Stalin states his intent to come
into the war the moment Hitler and the Western powers have
annihilated each other. Stalin had great interest in marking time
and letting others fight first. I have read his military plans and I
have seen how they were achieved. By 1941 Stalin's ten thousand
tanks had increased to 17,999, the next year they would have been
32,000, ten times more than Germany's. The air force would also have
been 10 to 1 in Stalin's favor.
The very week Stalin signed the peace treaty with Hitler he gave
orders to build 96 air fields on the Western Soviet border, 180 were
planned for the following year. His strategy was constant: "The
more the Western powers fight it out the weaker they will be. The
longer I wait the stronger I get." It was under these appalling
circumstances that World War Two started. A war which was offered to
the Soviets on a silver platter.
Aware of Stalin's preparations Hitler knew he would have to face
communism sooner rather than later. And to fight communism he had
to rely on totally loyal men, men who would fight for an ideology
against another ideology. It had always been Hitler's policy to
oppose the ideology of class war with an ideology of class
Hitler had observed that Marxist class war had not brought
prosperity to the Russian people. Russian workers were poorly
clothed, as they are now, badly housed, badly fed. Goods are always
in short supply and to this day, housing in Moscow is as nightmarish
as it was before the war. For Hitler the failure of class war made
class cooperation the only just alternative. To make it work Hitler
saw to it that one class would not be allowed to abuse the other.
It is a fact that the newly rich classes emerging from the
industrial revolution had enormously abused their privileges and it
was for this reason that the National Socialists were socialists.
National Socialism was a popular movement in the truest sense. The
great majority of National Socialists were blue collars. 70°/o of
the Hitler Youth were children of blue collar workers. Hitler won
the elections because the great mass of workers were solidly behind
him. One often wonders why six million communists who had voted
against Hitler, turned their back on Communism after Hitler had
been elected in 1933. There is only one reason: they witnessed and
experienced the benefits of class cooperation. Some say they were
forced to change; it is not true. Like other loyal Germans they
fought four years on the Russian Front with distinction.
The workers never abandoned Hitler, but the upper classes did.
Hitler spelled out his formula of class cooperation as the answer to
communism with these words: "Class cooperation means that
capitalists will never again treat the workers as mere economic
components. Money is but one part of our economic life, the workers
are more than machines to whom one throws a pay packet every week.
The real wealth of Germany is its workers." Hitler replaced gold
with work as the foundation of his economy. National Socialism was
the exact opposite of Communism. Extraordinary achievements followed
We always hear about Hitler and the camps, Hitler and the Jews, but
we never hear about his immense social work. If so much hatred was
generated against Hitler by the international bankers and the
servile press it was because of his social work. It is obvious that
a genuine popular movement like National Socialism was going to
collide with the selfish interest of high finance. Hitler made clear
that the control of money did not convey the right of rapacious
exploitation of an entire country because there are also people
living in the country, millions of them, and these people have the
right to live with dignity and without want. What Hitler said and
practised had won over the German youth. It was this social
revolution that the SS felt compelled to spread throughout Germany
and defend with their lives if need be.
The 1939 war in Western Europe defied all reason. It was a civil war
among those who should have been united. It was a monstrous
The young SS were trained to lead the new National Socialist
revolution. In five or ten years they were to replace all those who
had been put in office by the former regime.
But at the beginning of the war it was not possible for these young
men to stay home. Like the other young men in the country they had
to defend their country and they had to defend it better than the
The war turned the SS from a home political force to a national army
fighting abroad and then to a supranational army.
We are now at the beginning of the war in Poland with its far
reaching consequences. Could the war have been avoided?
Emphatically yes! Even after it had moved into Poland.
The Danzig conflict was inconsequential. The Treaty of Versailles
had separated the German city of Danzig from Germany and given it to
Poland against the wish of its citizens.
This action was so outrageous that it had been condemned all over
the world. A large section of Germany was sliced through the middle.
To go from Western Prussia to Eastern Prussia one had to travel in a
sealed train through Polish territory. The citizens of Danzig had
voted 990/0 to have their city returned to Germany. Their right of
self-determination had been consistently ignored.
However, the war in Poland started for reasons other than Danzig's
self-determination or even Poland's.
Poland just a few months before had attacked Czechoslovakia at the
same time Hitler had returned the Sudetenland to Germany. The Poles
were ready to work with Hitler. If Poland turned against Germany it
is because the British government did everything in its power to
poison German-Polish relations.
Much has to do with a longstanding inferiority complex British
rulers have felt towards Europe. This complex has manifested itself
in the British Establishment's obsession in keeping Europe weak
through wars and dissension.
At the time the British Empire controlled 500 million human beings
outside of Europe but somehow it was more preoccupied with its
traditional hobby: sowing dissension in Europe. This policy of never
allowing the emergence of a strong European country has been the
British Establishment's modus operandi for centuries.
Whether it was Charles the Fifth of Spain, Louis the Fourteenth or
Napoleon of France or William the Second of Germany, the British
Establishment never tolerated any unifying power in Europe. Germany
never wanted to meddle in British affairs. However, the British
Establishment always made it a point to meddle in European affairs,
particularly in Central Europe and the Balkans.
Hitler's entry into Prague brought the British running to the fray.
Prague and Bohemia had been part of Germany for centuries and
always within the German sphere of influence. British meddling in
this area was totally injustified.
For Germany the Prague regime represented a grave threat. Benes,
Stalin's servile Czech satrap, had been ordered by his Kremlin
masters to open his borders to the Communist armies at a moment's
notice. Prague was to be the Soviet springboard to Germany.
For Hitler, Prague was a watchtower to central Europe and an advance
post to delay a Soviet invasion. There were also Prague's historical
economic links with Germany. Germany has always had economic links
with Central Europe. Rumania, the Balkans, Bulgaria, Hungary and
Yugoslavia have had longstanding complimentary economies with
Germany which have functioned to this day.
Hitler's European economic policy was based on common sense and
realism. And it was Hitler's emerging Central European Common Market
rather than concern for Czech freedom that the British Establishment
could not tolerate.
Yet English people felt great admiration for Hitler. I remember when
Lloyd George addressed the German press outside Hitler's home, where
he had just been a guest. He stated: "You can thank God you have
such a wonderful man as your leader!" Lloyd George, the enemy of
Germany during World War One, said that! King Edward the Eighth of
England who had just abdicated and was now the Duke of Windsor also
came to see Hitler at his Berchtesgaden home, accompanied by his
wife, who incidentally had been used to force his abdication. Whey
they returned the Duke sent a wire to Hitler. It read: "What a
wonderful day we have spent with your Excellency. Unforgettable!"
The Duke reflected what many English people knew, remarking on:
"how well off the German workers were." The Duke was telling the
truth. The German worker earned twice as much, without inflation,
as he did before Hitler and consequently his standard of living was
Even Churchill, the most fanatic German-hater of them all, had in
1938, a year before the war, sent a letter to Hitler in which he
wrote: "If ever Great Britain was plunged into a disaster
comparable to the one that afflicted Germany in 1918 I would ask
God that He should send us a man with the strength and the character
of your Excellency."
The London Times reported this extraordinary statement. Friend or
foe, all acknowledge that Hitler was a man of exceptional genius.
His achievements were the envy of the world. In five short years he
rebuilt a bankrupt nation burdened with millions of unemployed into
the strongest economic power in Europe. It was so strong that the
small country that was Germany was unable to withstand a war against
the whole world for six years.
Churchill acknowledged that no one in the world could match such a
feat. He stated just before the war: "there is no doubt we can work
out a peace formula with Hitler." But Churchill received other
instructions. The Establishment, fearful that Hitler's successes in
Germany could spread to other countries, was determined to destroy
him. It created hatred against Germany across Europe by stirring old
grievances. It also exploited the envy some Europeans felt toward
The Germans' high birth rate had made Germany the most populous
country in Western Europe. In science and technology Germany was
ahead of both France and Britain. Hitler had built Germany into an
economic powerhouse. That was Hitler's crime and the British
Establishment opted to destroy Hitler and Germany by any means.
The British manipulated the Polish government against Germany. The
Poles themselves were more than willing to live in peace with the
Germans. Instead, the unfortunate Poles were railroaded into war by
the British. One must not forget that one and a half million Germans
lived in Poland at the time, at great benefit to the Polish economy.
Apart from economic ties with Germany, the Poles saw a chance that
with Germany's help they would be able to recover their Polish
territories from the Soviet Union, territories they had tried to
recover in vain since 1919.
In January 1939 Hitler had proposed to Beck, the Polish leader, a
compromise to solve the Danzig issue: The Danziger's vote to return
to Germany would be honored and Poland would continue to have free
port access and facilities, guaranteed by treaty.
The prevailing notion of the day that every country must have a sea
port really does not make sense. Switzerland, Hungary and other
countries with no sea ports manage quite well. Hitler's proposals
were based on the principles of self-determination and reciprocity.
Even Churchill admitted that such a solution could dispose of the
Danzig problem. This admission, however, did not prevent him to sent
an ultimatum to Germany: withdrawal from Poland or war. The world
has recently seen what happened when Israel invaded Lebanon. Heavily
populated cities like Tyre and Sidon were destroyed and so was West
Beirut. Everybody called for Israel's withdrawal but no one declared
war on Israel when it refused to budge.
With a little patience a peaceful solution would have been found
Danzig. Instead, the international press unleashed a massive
campaign of outright lies and distortions against Hitler. His
proposals were willfully misrepresented by a relentless press
Of all the crimes of World War Two, one never hears about the
wholesale massacres that occured in Poland just before the war. I
have detailed reports in my files documenting the mass slaughter of
defenseless Germans in Poland.
Thousands of German men, women and children were massacred in the
most horrendous fashion by Press-enraged mobs. The photographs of
these massacres are too sickening to look at! Hitler decided to halt
the slaughter and he rushed to the rescue.
The Polish campaign showed Hitler to be a military genius. History
had already started to recognize this most startling of Hitler's
characteristics: his rare military genius. All the successful
military campaigns of the Third Reich were thought out and directed
by Hitler personally, not the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hitler inspired
a number of generals who became his most able executives in later
In regard to the Polish campaign the General Staff had planned an
offensive along the Baltic coastline in order to take Danzig, a plan
logistically doomed to failure. Instead, Hitler invented the
Blitzkrieg or lightning war and in no time captured Warsaw. The
Waffen SS appeared on the Polish Front and its performance amazed
The second campaign in France was also swift and humane. The
British-French forces had rushed to Holland and Belgium to check the
German advance, but they were outwitted and outflanked in Sedan. It
was all over in a matter of days.
The story goes that Hitler had nothing to do with this operation;
that it was all the work of General von Manstein. That is entirely
false. Marshall von Manstein had indeed conceived the idea but when
he submitted it to the Joint Chiefs of Staff he was reprimanded,
demoted and retired to Dresden. The General Staff had not brought
this particular incident to Hitler's attention. On his own, Hitler
ran a campaign along the same lines and routed the British-French
forces. It was not until March 1940 that von Man-stein came into
contact with Hitler.
Hitler also planned the Balkan and Russian campaigns. On the rare
occasions where Hitler allowed the General Staff to have their way,
such as in Kursk, the battle was lost.
In the 1939 polish campaign Hitler did not rely on military textbook
theories devised fifty years ago, as advocated by the General Staff,
but on his own plan of swift, pincer-like encirclement. In eight
days the Polish war was won and over in spite of the fact that
Poland is as large as France.
The eight day campaign saw three SS regiments in action: The
Leibstandarte. the Deutschland and the Germania. There was also an
SS motorbike battalion, a corps of engineers and a transmission
unit. In all it was a comprehensive but small force of 25,000 men.
Sepp Dietriech and his Leibstandarte alone had, after bolting out of
Silesia, split Poland in half within days. With less than 3,000 men
he had defeated a Polish force of 15,000 and taken 10,000 prisoners.
Such victories were not acheved without loss.
It is hard to imagine that from a total of one million SS, 352,000
were killed in action with 50,000 more missing. It is a grim figure!
Four hundred thousand of the finest young men in Europe! Without
hesitation they sacrificed themselves for their beliefs. They knew
they had to give an example. They were the first on the front line
as a way to defend their country and their ideals.
In victory or defeat the Waffen SS always sought to be the best
representatives of their people.
The SS was a democratic expression of power: people gathering of
their own free will.
The consent of the ballot box is not only this; there is consent of
the heart and the mind of men. In action, the Waffen SS made a
plebiscite: that the German people should be proud of them, should
give them their respect and their love. Such high motivation made
the volunteers of the Waffen SS the best fighters in the world.
The SS had proved themselves in action. They were not empty talking
politicians, but they gave their lives, the first to go and fight in
an extraordinary spurt of comradeship. This comradeship was one of
the most distinctive characteristics of the SS: the SS leader was
the comrade of the others.
It was on the front lines that the results of the SS ph training
could really be noticed. An SS officer had the same rigorous
training as the soldiers. Those officers and privates competed in
the same sports events, and only the best man won, regardless of
rank. This created a real brotherhood which literally energized the
entire Waffen SS. Only the teamwork of free men, bonded by a higher
ideal could unite Europe. Look at the Common Market of today. It is
a failure. There is no unifying ideal. Everything is based on
haggling over the price of tomatoes, steel, coal, or booze. Fruitful
unions are based on something a little higher than that.
The relationship of equality and mutual respect between soldiers
and officers was always present. Half of all division commanders
were killed in action. Half! There is not an army in the world where
this happened. The SS officer always led his troops to battle. I was
engaged in seventy-five hand-to-hand combats because as an SS
officer I had to be the first to meet the enemy. SS soldiers were
not sent to slaughter by behind-the-line officers, they followed
their officers with passionate loyalty. Every SS commander knew and
taught all his men, and often received unexpected answers.
After breaking out of Tcherkassy's siege I talked with all my
soldiers one-by-one, there were thousands at the time. For two weeks
every day from dawn to dusk, I asked them questions, and heard their
replies. Sometimes it happens that some soldiers who brag a little,
recieve medals, while others—heroes—who keep quiet, miss out. I
talked to all of them because I wanted to know first-hand what
happened, and what they had done. To be just I had to know the
It was on this occasion that two of my soldiers suddenly pulled
their identity cards from the Belgian Resistance Movement. They had
been sent to kill me. At the front line, it is very simple to shoot
someone in the back. But the extraordinary SS team spirit had won
them over. SS officers could expect loyalty of their men by their
The life expectancy of an SS officer at the front was three months.
In Estonia I received ten new young officers from Bad Toelz academy
one Monday; by Thursday, one was left and he was wounded.
In the conventional armies, officers talked at the men, from
superior to inferior, and seldom as brothers in combat and brothers
Thus, by 1939, the Waffen SS had earned general admiration and
respect. This gave Hitler the opportunity to call for an increase in
their numbers. Instead of regiments, there would be three divisions.
Again, the Army brass laid down draconian recruiting conditions: SS
could only join for not less than four years of combat duty. The
brass felt no one would take such a risk. Again, they guessed wrong.
In the month of February 1940 alone, 49,000 joined the SS. From
25,000 in September 1939 there would be 150,000 in May 1940.
Thus, from 180 to 8,000 to 25,000 to 150,000 and eventually one
million men, all this against all odds.
Hitler had no interest whatever in getting involved with the war in
France, a war forced on him.
The 150,000 SS had to serve under the Army, and they were given the
most dangerous and difficult missions. Despite the fact that they
were provided with inferior hand-arms and equipment. They had no
tanks. In 1940 the Leibstandarte was provided with a few scouting
tanks. The SS were given wheels and that's all. But with trucks,
motorbikes and varied limited means they were able to perform
The Leibstandarte and Der Fuehrer regiments were sent to Holland
under the Leadership of Sepp Dietrich. They had to cross Dutch
waterways. The Luftwaffe had dropped parachutists to hold the
bridges 120 miles deep in Dutch territory, and it was vital for the
SS to reach these bridges with the greatest speed.
The Leibstandarte would realize an unprecedented feat in ten days:
to advance 120 miles in one day. It was unheard of at the time, and
the world was staggered. At that rate German troops would reach
Spain in one week. In one day the SS had crossed all the Dutch
canals on flimsy rubber rafts. Here again, SS losses were heavy.
But, thanks to their heroism and speed, the German Army reached
Rotterdam in three days. The parachutists all risked being wiped out
had the SS not accomplished their lightning-thrust.
In Belgium, the SS regiment Der Fuehrer faced head on the French
Army, which after falling in the Sedan trap, had rushed toward
Breda, Holland. There, one would see for the first time a small
motivated army route a large national army. It took one SS regiment
and a number of German troops to throw the whole French Army off
balance and drive it back from Breda to Antwerp, Belgium and
The Leibstandarte and Der Fuehrer regiments jointly advanced on the
large Zealand Islands, between the Escaut and Rhine rivers. In a few
days they would be under control.
In no time the Leibstandarte had then crossed Belgium and Northern
France. The second major battle of SS regiments occurs in concert
with the Army tank division. The SS, still with their tanks, are
under the command of General Rommel and General Guderian. They
spearhead a thrust toward the North Sea.
Sepp Dietrich and his troops have now crossed the French canals, but
are pinned down by the enemy in a mud field, and just manage to
avoid extermination. But despite the loss of many soldiers, officers
and one battalion commander, all killed in action, the Germans reach
Hitler is very proud of them.
The following week, Hitler deploys them along the Somme River, from
which they will pour out across France. There again, the SS will
prove itself to be the best fighting force in the world. Sepp
Dietrich and the 2nd Division of the SS, Totenkopf, advance so far
so fast they they even lose contact with the rest of the Army for
They found themselves in Lyon, France, a city they had to leave
after the French-German peace treaty.
Sepp Dietrich and a handful of SS on trucks had achieved the
Der Fuehrer SS division spearheaded the Maginot Line breakthrough.
Everyone had said the Line was impenetrable. The war in France was
over. Hitler had the three SS divisions march through Paris. Berlin
honored the heroes also. But the Army was so jealous that it would
not cite a single SS for valor or bravery. It was Hitler himself who
in front of the German congress solemnly paid tribute to the heroism
of the SS. It was on this occasion that Hitler officially recognized
the name of the Waffen SS.
But it was more than just a name-change. The Waffen SS became
Germanic, as volunteers were accepted from all Germanic countries.
The SS had found out by themselves that the people of Western Europe
were closely related to them: the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch,
the Flemish—all belonged to the same Germanic family. These Germanic
people were themselves very much impressed by the SS, and so, by
the way, were the French.
The people of Western Europe had marvelled at this extraordinary
German force with a style unlike any others: if two SS scouts would
reach town ahead of everybody else, on motorbikes, before presenting
themselves to the local authorities they would first clean
themselves up so as to be of impeccable appearance. The people could
not help but be impressed.
The admiration felt by young Europeans of Germanic stock for the SS
was very natural. Thousands of young men from Norway, Denmark,
Flanders, and Holland were awed with surprise and admiration. They
felt irresistably drawn to the SS. It was not Europe, but their own
Germanic race that so deeply stirred their souls. They identified
with the victorious Germans. To them, Hitler was the most
exceptional man ever seen. Hitler understood them, and had the
remarkable idea to open the doors of the SS to them. It was quite
risky. No one had ever thought of this before. Prior to Hitler,
German imperialism consisted only of peddling goods to other
countries, without any thought of creating an ideology called
"community"—a common ideal with its neighbors.
Suddenly, instead of peddling and haggling, here was a man who
offered a glorious ideal: an enthralling social justice, for which
they all had yearned in vain, for years. A broad New Order, instead
of the formless cosmopolitanism of the pre-war so-called
"democracies." The response to Hitler's offer was overwhelming.
Legions from Norway, Denmark, Holland, and Flanders were formed.
Thousands of young men now wore the SS uniform. Hitler created
specifically for them the famous Viking division. One destined to
become one of the most formidable divisions of the Waffen SS.
The Army was still doing everything to stop men from joining the SS
in Germany, and acted as though the SS did not exist. Against this
background of obstructionism at home, it was normal and
understandable that the SS would welcome men from outside Germany.
The Germans living abroad provided a rich source of volunteers. As
there are millions of German-Americans, there are millions of
Germans in all parts of Europe—in Hungary, in Rumania, in Russia.
There was even a Soviet Republic of the Volga Germans. These were
the descendants of Germans who had emigrated two centuries before.
Other Europeans, like the French Huguenots, who went to Prussia,
also shared this type of emigration with the Germans. So, Europe was
dotted with German settlements. The victories of the Third Reich
had made them proud of belonging to the German family. Hitler
welcomed them home. He saw them, first, as a source of elite SS men,
and also as an important factor in unifying all Germans
Here again, the enthusiastic response was amazing. 300,000
volunteers of German ancestory would join, from all over Europe.
54,000 from Rumania alone. In the context of that era, these were
remarkable figures. There were numerous problems to overcome. For
instance, most of the Germanic volunteers no longer spoke German.
Their families had settled in foreign lands for 200 years or so. In
Spain, for instance, I can see the children of my legionaries being
assimilated with the Spaniards—and their grandchildren no longer
speak French. The Germans follow the same pattern. When the German
volunteers first arrived at the SS, they spoke many different
languages, had different ways and different needs.
How to find officers who could speak all these languages? How to
coordinate such a disparate lot? The mastery of these problems was
the miracle of the Waffen SS assimilation program. This homecoming
of the separated "tribes" was seen by the Waffen SS as the
foundation for real European unity. The 300,000 Germanic volunteers
were welcomed by the SS as brothers, and they reciprocated by being
as dedicated, loyal and heroic as the German SS.
Within the year, everything had changed for the Waffen SS. The
barracks were full, the academies were full. The strictest admission
standards and requirements equally applied for the Germanic
volunteers. They had to be the best in every way, both physically
and mentally. They had to be the best of the Germanic race.
German racialism has been deliberately distorted. It never was an
anti-"other race" racialism. It was a pro-German racialism. It was
concerned with making the German race strong and healthy in every
way. Hitler was not interested in having millions of degenerates, if
it was in his power not to have them. Today one finds rampant
alchohol and drug addiction everywhere. Hitler cared that the German
families be healthy, cared that they raise healthy children for the
renewal of a healthy nation. German racialism meant re-discovering
the creative values of their own race, re-discovering their culture.
It was a search for excellence, a noble idea. National Socialist
racialism was not against the other races, it was for its own race.
It aimed at defending and improving its race, and wished that all
other races did the same for themselves.
That was demonstrated when the Waffen SS enlarged its ranks to
include 60,000 Islamic SS. The Waffen SS respected their way of
life, their customs, and their relgious beliefs. Each Islamic SS
battalion had an imam, each company had a mullah. It was our common
wish that their qualities found their highest expression. This was
our racialism. I was present when each of my Islamic comrades
received a personal gift from Hitler during the new year. It was a
pendant with a small Koran. Hitler was honoring them with this small
symbolic gift. He was honoring them with what was the most important
aspect of their lives and their history. National Socialist
racialism was loyal to the German race and totally respected all
At this point, one hears: "What about the anti-Jewish racism?" One
can answer: "What about Jewish anti-Gentilism?"
It has been the misfortune of the Jewish race that never could they
get on with any other race. It is an unusual historical fact and
phenomenon. When one studies the history—and I say this without any
passion—of the Jewish people, their evolution across the centuries,
one observes that always, at all times, and at all places, they were
hated. They were hated in ancient Egypt, they were hated in ancient
Greece, they were hated in Roman times to such a degree that 3,000
of them were deported to Sardina. It was the first Jewish
deportation. They were hated in Spain, in France, in England (they
were banned from England for centuries), and in Germany. The
conscientious Jewish author Lazare wrote a very interesting book on
Anti-Semitism, where he asked himself: "We Jews should ask ourselves
a question: why are we always hated everywhere? It is not because of
our persecutors, all of different times and places. It is because
there is something within us that is very unlikeable." What is
unlikeable is that the Jews have always wanted to live as a
privileged class divinely-chosen and beyond scrutiny. This attitude
has made them unlikeable everywhere. The Jewish race is therefore a
unique case. Hitler had no intention of destroying it. He wanted
the Jews to find their own identity in their own environment, but
not to the detriment of others. The fight—if we can call it that—of
National Socialism against the Jews was purely limited to one
objective: that the Jews leave Germany in peace. It was planned to
give them a country of their own, outside Germany. Madagascar was
contemplated, but the plans were dropped when the United States
entered the war. In the meanwhile, Hitler thought of letting the
Jews live in their own traditional ghettos. They would have their
own organizations, they would run their own affairs and live the way
they wanted to live. They had their own police, their own tramways,
their own flag, their own factories which, incidentally, were built
by the German government. As far as other races were concerned, they
were all welcomed in Germany as guests, but not as privileged
In one year the Waffen SS had gathered a large number of Germanic
people from Northern Europe and hundreds of thousands of Germans
from outside Germany, the Volksdeutsche, or Germanic SS. It was then
that the conflict between Communism and National Socialism burst
into the open. The conflict had always existed. In Mein Kampf,
Hitler had clearly set out his objective: "to eliminate the world
threat of Communism," and incidentally claim some land in Eastern
Europe! This eastward expansionism created much outrage: How could
the Germans claim land in Russia? To this one can answer: How could
the Americans claim Indian land from the Atlantic to the Pacific?
How could France claim Southern Flanders and Rousillon from Spain?
And what of Britain, and what of so many other countries who have
claimed, conquered and settled in other territories? Somehow at the
time it was all right for all these countries to settle foreign
lands but it was not for Germany. Personally, I have always
vigorously defended the Russians, and I finally did succeed in
convincing Hitler that Germans had to live with Russians as partners
not as conquerors. Before achieving this partnership, there was
first the matter of wiping out Communism. During the Soviet-German
Pact, Hitler was trying to gain time but the Soviets were
intensifying their acts of aggression from Estonia to Bukovina. I
now read extracts from Soviet documents. They are most revealing.
Let's read from Marshal Voroshilov himself: We now have the time to
prepare ourselves to be the executioner of the capitalist world
while it is agonizing. We must, however, be cautious. The Germans
must not have any inkling that we are preparing to stab them in the
back while they are busy fighting the French. Otherwise, they could
change their general plan, and attack us.
In the same record, Marshal Choponitov wrote: "The coexistence
between Hitler's Germany and the Soviet Union is only temporary. We
will not make it last very long." Marshal Timoshenko, for his part,
did not want to be so hasty: "Let us not forget that our war
material from our Siberian factories will not be delivered until
Fall." This was written at the beginning of 1941, and the material
was only to be delivered in the Fall. The war industry Commisariat
Report stated: We will not be in full production until 1942. Marshal
Zhukov made this extraordinary admission: "Hitler is in a hurry to
invade us; he has good reasons for it."
Indeed, Hitler had good reasons to invade Russia in a hurry because
he realized he would be wiped out if he did not. Zhukov added: "We
need a few more months to rectify many of our defects before the end
of 1941. We need 18 months to complete the modernization of our
The orders are quite precise. At the fourth session of the Supreme
Soviet in 1939, it is decreed that Army officers will serve three
years and the soldiers will serve four years, and the Navy
personnel, five years. All these decisions were made less than a
month after the Soviets signed the peace treaty with Germany.
Thus the Soviets, pledged to peace, were frantically preparing for
war. More than 2,500 new concrete fortifications were built between
1939 and 1940. 160 divisions were made combat-ready. 60 tank
divisions were on full alert. The Germans only had 10 panzer tank
divisions. In 1941, the Soviets had 17,000 tanks, and by 1942 they
had 32,000. They had 92,578 pieces of artillery. And their 17,545
combat planes in 1940 outnumbered the German air force.
It is easy to understand that with such war preparations going on,
Hitler was left with only one option: Invade the Soviet Union
immediately, or face annihilation.
Hitler's Russian campaign was the "last chance" campaign. Hitler did
not go into Russia with any great optimism. He told me later on:
"When I entered Russia, I was like a man facing a shut door. I knew
I had to crash through it, but without knowing what was behind it."
Hitler was right. He knew the Soviets were strong, but above all he
knew they were going to be a lot stronger. 1941 was the only time
Hitler had some respite. The British had not succeeded yet in
expanding the war. Hitler, who never wanted the war with Britain,
still tried for peace. He invited me to spend a week at his home. He
wanted to discuss the whole situation and hear what I had to say
about it. He spoke very simply and clearly. The atmosphere was
informal and relaxed. He made you feel at home because he really
enjoyed being hospitable. He buttered pieces of toast in a
leisurely fashion, and passed them around, and although he did not
drink he went to get a bottle of champagne after each meal because
he knew I enjoyed a glass at the end of it. All without fuss and
with genuine friendliness. It was part of his genius that he was
also a man of simple ways without the slightest affection and a man
of great humility. We talked about England. I asked him bluntly:
"Why on earth didn't you finish the British off in Dunkirk? Everyone
knew you could have wiped them out." He answered: "Yes, I withheld
my troops and let the British escape back to England. The
humiliation of such a defeat would have made it difficult to try for
peace with them afterwards."
At the same time, Hitler told me he did not want to dispell the
Soviet belief that he was going to invade England. He mentioned that
he even had small Anglo-German dictionaries distributed to his
troops in Poland. The Soviet spies there duly reported to the
Kremlin that Germany's presence in Poland was a bluff and that they
were about to leave for the British Isles.
On 22 June 1941, it was Russia and not England that Germany invaded.
The initial victories were swift but costly. I lived the epic
struggle of the Russian Front. It was a tragic epic; it was also
martyrdom. The endless thousands of miles of the Russian steppes
were overwhelming. We had to reach the Caucasus by foot, always
under extreme conditions. In the summer we often walked knee-deep in
mud, and in winter there were below-zero freezing temperatures. But
for a matter of a few days Hitler would have won the war in Russia
in 1941. Before the battle of Moscow, Hitler had succeeded in
defeating the Soviet Army, and taking considerable numbers of
General Guderian's tank division, which had all by itself encircled
more than a million Soviet troops near Kiev, had reached Moscow
right up to the city's tramway lines. It was then that suddenly an
unbelievable freeze happened: 40. 42, 50 degrees celsius below zero!
This meant that not only were men freezing, but the equipment was
also freezing, on the spot. No tanks could move. Yesterday's mud had
frozen to a solid block of ice, half a meter high, icing up the tank
In 24 hours all of our tactical options had been reversed. It was at
that time that masses of Siberian troops brought back from the
Russian Far East were thrown against the Germans. These few fateful
days of ice that made the difference between victory and defeat,
Hitler owed to the Italian campaign in Greece during the fall of
Mussolini was envious of Hitler's successes. It was a deep and
silent jealousy. I was a friend of Mussolini, I knew him well. He
was a remarkable man, but Europe was not of great concern to him. He
did not like to be a spectator, watching Hitler winning everywhere.
He felt compelled to do something himself, fast. Impulsively, he
launched a senseless offensive against Greece.
His troops were immediately defeated. But it gave the British the
excuse to invade Greece, which up till now had been uninvolved in
the war. From Greece the British could bomb the Rumanian oil wells,
which were vital to Germany's war effort. Greece could also be used
to cut off the German troops on their way to Russia. Hitler was
forced to quash the threat pre-emptively. He had to waste five
weeks in the Balkans. His victories there were an incredible
logistical achievement, but they delayed the start of the Russian
campaign for five critical weeks.
If Hitler had been able to start the campaign in time, as it was
planned, he would have entered Moscow five weeks before, in the sun
of early fall, when the earth was still dry. The war would have been
over, and the Soviet Union would have been a thing of the past. The
combination of the sudden freeze and the arrival of fresh Siberian
troops spread panic among some of the old Army generals. They wanted
to retreat to 200 miles from Moscow. It is hard to imagine such
inane strategy! The freeze affected Russia equally, from West to
East, and to retreat 200 miles in the open steppes would only make
things worse. I was commanding my troops in the Ukraine at the time
and it was 42 degrees centigrade below zero.
Such a retreat meant abandoning all the heavy artillery, including
assault tanks and panzers that were stuck in the ice. It also meant
exposing half a million men to heavy Soviet sniping. In fact, it
meant condemning them to certain death. One need only recall
Napoleon's retreat in October. He reached the Berzina River in
November, and by December 6th all the French troops had left Russia.
It was cold enough, but it was not a winter campaign.
Can you just imagine in 1941 half a million Germans fighting howling
snowstorms, cut off from supplies, attacked from all sides by tens
of thousands of Cossaks? I have faced charging Cossaks, and only the
utmost superior firepower will stop them. In order to counter such
an insane retreat, Hitler had to fire more than 30 generals within a
It was then that he called on the Waffen SS to fill in the gap and
boost morale. Immediately the SS held fast on the Moscow front.
Right through the war the Waffen SS never retreated. They would
rather die than retreat. One cannot forget the figures. During the
1941 winter, the Waffen SS lost 43,000 men in front of Moscow. The
regiment Der Fuehrer fought almost literally to the last man. Only
35 men survived out of the entire regiment. The Der Fuehrer men
stood fast and no Soviet troops got through. They had to try to
bypass the SS in the snow. This is how famous Russian General Vlasov
was captured by the Totenkopf SS division. Without their heroism,
Germany would have been annihilated by December 1941.
Hitler would never forget it: he gauged the willpower that the
Waffen SS had displayed in front of Moscow. They had shown character
and guts. And that is what Hitler admired most of all: guts. For
him, it was not enough to have intelligent or clever associates.
These people can often fall to pieces, as we will see during the
following winter at the battle of Stalingrad with General Paulus.
Hitler knew that only sheer energy and guts, the refusal to
surrender, the will to hang tough against all odds, would win the
The blizzards of the Russian steppes had shown how the best army in
the world, the German Army, with thousands of highly trained
officers and millions of highly disciplined men, was just not
enough. Hitler realized they would be beaten, that something else
was needed, and that only the unshakable faith in a high ideal could
overcome the situation. The Waffen SS had this ideal, and Hitler
used them from now on at full capacity.
From all parts of Europe volunteers rushed to help their German
brothers. It was then that was born the third great Waffen SS. First
there was the German, then the Germanic, and now there was the
European Waffen SS. 125,000 would then volunteer to save Western
Culture and Civilization. The volunteers joined with full knowledge
that the SS incurred the highest death tolls. More than 250,000 out
of one million would die in action. For them, the Waffen SS was,
despite all the deaths, the birth of Europe. Napoleon said in St.
Helena: "There will be no Europe until a leader arises."
The young European volunteers have observed two things: first, that
Hitler was the only leader who was capable of building Europe and
secondly that Hitler, and Hitler alone could defeat the world threat
For the European SS the Europe of petty jealousies, jingoism, border
disputes, economic rivalries was of no interest. it was too petty
and demeaning; that Europe was no longer valid for them. At the same
time the European SS, as much as they admired Hitler and the German
people, did not want to become Germans. They were men of their own
people and Europe was the gathering of the various people of Europe.
European unity was to be achieved through harmony, not domination of
one over the others.
I discussed these issues at length with both Hitler and Himmler.
Hitler like all men of genius had outgrown the national stage.
Napoleon was first a Corsican, then a Frenchman, then a European and
then a singularly universal man. Likewise Hitler had been an
Austrian, then a German, then a greater German, then Germanic, then
he had seen and grasped the magnitude of building Europe.
After the defeat of Communism the Waffen SS had a solemn duty to
gather all their efforts and strength to build a united Europe, and
there was no question that non-German Europe should be dominated by
Before joining the Waffen SS we had known very difficult conflicts.
We had gone to the Eastern front first as adjunct units to the
German army but during the battle of Stalingrad we had seen that
Europe was critically endangered. Great common effort was
imperative. One night I had an 8 hour debate with Hitler and Himmler
on the status of non-German Europeans within the new Europe.
For the present we expected to be treated as equals fighting for a
common cause. Hitler understood fully and from then on we had our
own flag, our own officers, our own language, our own religion. We
had total equal status.
I was the first one to have Catholic padres in the Waffen SS. Later
padres of all demoninations were available to all those who wanted
them. The Islamic SS division had their own mullahs and the French
even had a bishop! We were satisfied that with Hitler, Europeans
would be federated as equals. We felt that the best way to deserve
our place as equals was in this critical hour to defend Europe
equally well as our German comrades.
What mattered above all for Hitler was courage. He created a new
chivalry. Those who earn the order of the Ritterkreuz, meaning the
cross of the knights, were indeed the new knights. They earned this
nobility of courage. Each of our units going home after the war
would be the force that would protect the peoples' rights in our
respective countries. All the SS understood that European unity
meant the whole Europe, even Russia.
There had been a great lack of knowledge among many Germans
regarding the Russians. Many believed that the Russians were all
Communists while in fact, Russian representation in the Communist
hierarchy was less than insignificant. They also believed that the
Russians were diametrically opposite from the Europeans. Yet they
have similar familial structures, they have an old civilization,
deep religious faith and traditions which are not unlike those of
other European countries.
The European SS saw the new Europe in the form of three great
components; central Europe as the powerhouse of Europe, western
Europe as the cultural heart of Europe and eastern Europe as the
potential of Europe. Thus the Europe the SS envisioned was alive and
real. Its six hundred million inhabitants would live from the North
Sea to Vladivostok. It was in this span of 8,000 miles that Europe
could achieve its destiny. A space for young people to start new
lives. This Europe would be the beacon of the world. A remarkable
racial ensemble. An ancient civilization, a spiritual force and the
most advanced technological and scientific complex. The SS prepared
for the high destiny of Europe.
Compare these aims, these ideals with the "Allies." The Roosevelts,
the Churchills sold Europe out in Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam. They
cravenly capitulated to the Soviets. They delivered half of the
European continent to Communist slavery. They let the rest of Europe
disintegrate morally, without any ideal to sustain it. The SS knew
what they wanted: the Europe of ideals was salvation for all.
This faith in higher ideals inspired four hundred thousand German
SS, three hundred thousand Volksdeutsche or Germanic SS and three
hundred thousand other European SS. Volunteers all, one million
builders of Europe.
The ranks of the SS grew proportionately with the growth of the war
in Russia. The nearer Germany was to defeat the more volunteers
arrived at the front. This was phenomenal; eight days before the
final defeat I saw hundreds of young men join the SS on the front.
Right to the end they knew they had to do the impossible to stop the
So from the one hundred and eighty-men strong Leibstandarte in 1933
to the SS regiments before 1939, to the three regiments in Poland,
to the three divisions in France, to the six divisions at the
beginning of the Russian war, to the 38 divisions in 1944, the
Waffen SS reached 50 divisions in 1945. The more SS died, the more
others rushed to replace them. They had faith and stood firm to the
extreme limit. The exact reverse happened in January 1943 at
Stalingrad. The defeat there was decided by a man without courage.
He was not capable of facing danger with determination, of saying
unequivocally: I will not surrender, I will stand fast until I win.
He was morally and physically gutless and he lost.
A year later the SS Viking and the SS Wallonia divisions were
encircled in the same way at Cherkassy. With the disaster of
Stalingrad fresh in the minds of our soldiers they could have been
subject to demoralization. On top of it I was laid down with a deep
sidewound and 102 degree temperature. As general in command of the
SS Wallonia forces I knew that all this was not conducive to high
morale. I got up and for 17 days I led charge after charge to break
the blockade, engaged in numerous hand-to-hand combats, was wounded
four times but never stopped fighting. All my men did just as much
and more. The siege was broken by sheer SS guts and spirit.
After Stalingrad, when many thought that all was lost, when the
Soviet forces poured across the Ukraine, the Waffen SS stopped the
Soviets dead in their tracks. They re-took Charkov and inflicted a
severe defeat on the Soviet army. This was a pattern; the SS would
over and over turn reverses into victories.
The same fearless energy was also present in Normandy. General
Patton called them "the proud SS divisions."
The SS was the backbone of resistance in Normandy. Eisenhower
observed "the SS fought as usual to the last man." If the Waffen SS
had not existed, Europe would have been overrun entirely by the
Soviets by 1944. They would have reached Paris long before the
Americans. The Waffen SS heroism stopped the Soviet juggernaut at
Moscow, Cherkov, Cherkassy, and Tarnopol. The Soviets lost more than
12 months. Without SS resistance the Soviets would have been in
Normandy before Eisenhower. The people showed deep gratitude to the
young men who sacrificed their lives. Not since the great religious
orders of the middle ages had there been such selfless idealism and
heroism. In this century of materialism, the SS stand out as a
shining light of spirituality.
I have no doubt whatever that the sacrifices and incredible feats of
the Waffen SS will have their own epic poets like Schiller.
Greatness in adversity is the distinction of the SS.
The curtain of silence fell on the Waffen SS after the war but now
more and more young people somehow know of its existence, of its
achievements. The fame is growing and the young demand to know more.
In one hundred years almost everything will be forgotten but the
greatness and the heroism of the Waffen SS will be remembered. It is
the reward of an epic.
Journal of Historical Review,
Winter 1982-83 (Vol. 3, No. 4). This essay by Leon Degrelle
(1906-1994), was first presented at the Fourth IHR Conference in
Chicago (Sept. 1982).