The Rexist movement in Belgium, 1940-1944
The Rexist movement led by Léon Degrelle was the principal francophone collaborationist grouping in German-Occupied Belgium during the Second World War. In the 1930s, the Rexists had been a movement on the Catholic right of the political spectrum who advocated the replacement of the outmoded parliamentary regime by a more authoritarian New Order which would enable a return to the spiritual values of the Catholic faith. Soon after the Belgian defeat of May 1940, they emerged as enthusiastic advocates of an agreement with the apparently victorious German invaders and in January 1941 Degrelle publicly declared his support for the Nazi cause. This resulted in a marked decline in popular support for Rex but did not bring it the German recognition which he craved. Only in the summer of 1941 with the formation of a Légion Wallanie which fought with some distinction alongside the German armies on the Eastern Front was the basis created for closer links between the German authorities and Rex. Subsequently, many Rexists were appointed by the Vehrmacht administrators of Belgium to positions of public responsibility and in January 1943 Degrelle announced the abandonment of his former belief in a unitary Belgian state in favour of the absorption of the francophone Walloons into a Germanic empire. During the latter war years, the Rexists were often the target of attacks by Resistance groups and the atmosphere of fear created by these attacks together with the opportunistic efforts of Degrelle to .forge an alliance with the SS led to a progressive radicalization of the movement. By 1944, the Rexists had become a beleaguered marginal grouping who increasingly resorted to violence to counter their many enemies and in September 1944 many Rexists fled from the Allied liberators to exile in the German Reich.