“I am Léon Degrelle, head of Belgian Rexism, before and during World War II […]. And I am a Catholic like you, that’s why I think I am authorized to write to you, like a brother in the faith. Thus began the letter that the “adoptive son of Hitler” wrote to John Paul II, in 1979, on the occasion of the visit that the Pope was going to make to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Eight folios full of reproaches in which the Nazi leader denied the genocide committed by the Third Reich, with its collaboration, during the Second World War.
The Belgian, who signed from his Spanish “exile”, did not beat around the bush in the letter. We are talking about the man who ruled Belgium in the name of Hitler, for four years, in which he dedicated himself to imposing terror through pillage, rape, lynching, murder and the spread of anti-Semitism. In the second paragraph I already asked the Supreme Pontiff: «Was the war really as it was said? What were the offenses, and even the crimes of one and the other? Has not the doctrine of the adversary been lightly or in bad faith [Alemania], attributing some projects and endorsing some acts whose reality may be subject to numerous doubts? ».
The Nazi leader was referring, in effect, to the Holocaust and the Final Solution promoted by the “Führer” to exterminate, mainly, the Jewish race. Something that Degrelle flatly denied to John Paul II in this letter dated May 20, 1979, 18 days before the Pope visited Auschwitz. The explanation is long: “I am afraid that your mere presence in these places will be immediately distorted of their deep meaning and be used by unscrupulous propagandists, who will make them serve their hate campaigns, based on falsehoods, which poison the whole business of Auschwitz for more than a quarter century. Yes, falsehoods. After 1945, the legend of mass exterminations at Auschwitz has spread to the entire world. Countless lies have been repeated in thousands of books, with an increasingly stubborn rage. They have been reissued in colors, in apocalyptic films that furiously scourge not only truth and plausibility, but also good sense, the most elementary arithmetic and even the facts themselves.
Léon Degrelle (Bouillon, Belgium, 1906) had not been any leader. Four decades earlier he had been an officer of the Wallonia Legion, a foreign unit attached to the German SS, in which he stood out as one of his commanders during World War II. He also founded rexism, a branch of fascism in Belgium that achieved great notoriety in Europe and which, when signing the peace, was convinced by the Foreign Minister of the Third Reich, Joachim von Ribbentrop, to flee. He did it from Oslo with the plane of the Nazi Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, with whom he flew in the middle of the night until crashing on La Concha beach in San Sebastián on May 8, 1945.
«The plane arrived in our city short of gasoline, making a forced landing. Six people in German military uniforms were extracted from it. One of them had a high rank with the insignia of a colonel and wore the Iron Cross on her chest. This is the well-known Rexist, head of the Belgian party, Léon Degrelle, ”could be read on ABC the next day. The cross of which this newspaper spoke had been imposed by none other than Hitler, in February 1944. In August of that year, he himself was also awarded the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, a distinction granted only to 883 soldiers in the whole war. At the handover ceremony, he went on to say, “If I had a son, I’d like him to be like you.” Those words were an even greater recognition than military distinction, reflecting the great trust and complicity he had with the “Führer.”
According to his memoirs of 1982, he remained for a time at the Mola Hospital in San Sebastián until Franco wanted to return him to Germany. A pretense restrained with an order that, Degrelle wrote, touched the pride of the dictator: “How little a Christian’s life is worth!” As a result of that phrase, it is believed that he sheltered him in Madrid for a year and, later, he moved to Constantina, a small town in Seville where he was when he wrote his letter to the Pope in 1979. “Certainly, he suffered at Auschwitz. Elsewhere too. All wars are cruel. The hundreds of thousands of atrociously charred women and children at the order of the allies in Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered more horrible ailments than those suffered by the political or resistant deportees (25% of the total population of the camps) and by conscientious objectors, abnormal sexual or criminal (75%), who suffered, and sometimes died, in these fields, “Degrelle was justified.
The Belgian assured in the letter that two thirds of the deportees to the concentration camps did not die because of the gas chambers, which for him had not existed, but because of typhus, dysentery, hunger and waiting endless at the train stations, once the war was over, because the allies had bombed and destroyed the tracks in the last weeks of conflict. “It is possible to think that in some field there was some madman who proceeded with unprecedented experiences of death or monstrous fantasies in torture or murder,” he stressed later, just in case.
For Léon Degrelle, the most devastating record of genocide released in 2017 by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington would be far from reality. This counted 42,500 concentration camps, ghettos and forced labor factories that caused between 15 and 20 million deaths or internees. Mostly Jews, but also members of other groups persecuted by Nazism, such as gypsies and homosexuals. “The figures are higher than we originally thought,” said Hartmut Berghoff, director of the German Historical Institute in Washington. Nor did Degrelle believe in the computation of most studies done since 1945, which spoke of six million. That same year after the end of the war, the Institute of Jewish Affairs in New York already placed those killed between 5,659,600 and 5,673,100. A figure similar to that previously revealed by William Höttl, a former SS member, who stated that the same amount was used by Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the final solution, in 1944.
But Degrelle defended himself before the Pope with several examples: “As regards the alleged cremation at Auschwitz of millions of Jews in ghostly Zyklon B gas chambers, the claims repeated for so many years, in a fabulous campaign, do not resist serious scientific examination. It is far-fetched to imagine that 24,000 people per day in groups of 3,000 could have been gassed at Auschwitz in a 400-square-meter room. Still less, to 700 or 800 in premises of 25 square meters of 1.90 meters high, as has been purported regarding the Belzec concentration camp. In other words, the surface of a bedroom. Would you, Holy Father, manage to put 700 or 800 people in your bedroom? ».
That was the first to be revealed, but until his death in Malaga, in 1994, at 87 years of age, Degrelle made several similar public demonstrations. In 1985, for example, in two interviews with the magazine “Tiempo” and with Televisión Española, he denied the Nazi genocide and ironized about the death camps. “If there are so many Jews today, it is hard to believe that they have come out of the cremation ovens so alive,” were some of his embarrassing words. To which he later added others such as “the Jews always want to be the victims, the eternally persecuted, and if they have no enemies, they invent them”, in addition to expressing their wish that “a new Hitler emerge, with what that means that for the Jewish people in the light of historical experience. ” In 1991, in another letter addressed to King Baldwin of Belgium, he even claimed amnesty for all those who, like him, fought on the eastern front against the Soviet Union from the Nazi lines in 1941.
It’s crazy! This is all crazy! “The old fascist insisted in his 1979 letter.” These gassing, haircutting, tooth extraction and organ cleaning operations carried out on six or seven million Jews, or on fifteen , according to Father Riquet; or over twenty million, more than the Jews existing then in the whole world !, according to the Larousse dictionary, would still follow if the official claims of the manipulators of the history of Auschwitz were admitted. So yes, Holy Father, you would have to cover your nose near the gas chambers and perspire in the heat of the Auschwitz ovens during your mass! “He warned.
Later, however, he said a bit in his obstinate position and, at least, he recognized that “throughout history, atrocities have been committed. Auschwitz will have been neither the first nor the last case. We see it very well in the present hour, when so many defenseless women and children are massacred, crushed in the Palestinian camps by the Israeli aviation, in memory of which a concelebrated mass will never be sung. Numerous powers have abused their power. Many towns have lost their minds. Germany, like everyone else, had its lot of detestable beings, guilty of unacceptable violence. But which country has not had its own? Did not the France of the French Revolution invent terror, the guillotine and drowning in the Loire? ».
Degrelle ended his missive, surprising as it may seem, with a somewhat twisted attempt to reach out to John Paul II: “We are all brothers: the deportee who suffers behind the barbed wire and the fearless soldier twitching on his machine gun. All of us who have survived 1945 must forgive, we must love. From you, the persecuted Pole turned Pope; I, the warrior become persecuted, and the millions of human beings who have lived in one way or another the immense tragedy of the Second World War with our ideals, our longings, our weaknesses and our faults. Life has no other meaning. God has no other meaning ».
Despite the letter, obviously, John Paul II visited Auschwitz on June 8, 1979, to become the first Catholic Pope to go to the largest concentration camp in history. The same one in which more than four million people died atrociously. Upon arrival, he refused the car and wanted to enter and explore the entire compound on foot. Inside, he prayed almost quietly with the five Hail Marys present, and then went to the other concentration camp, Brzezinka, three kilometers away. There, more than half a million people waited for him from the early hours of the morning, to hear the first mass of a Pontiff in an extermination camp: “In the place where human dignity has been trampled so horrendously, it has been achieved victory through faith and love, ”he declared to the crowd.
Benedict XVI did the same on his 2006 apostolic trip to Poland. «Pope John Paul II was here as the son of the Polish people. I am here today as the son of the German people, son of the people over whom a group of criminals came to power through lying promises, in the name of prospects for greatness, for the recovery of the nation’s honor and importance, with welfare provisions and also with the force of terror ». And, ten years later, he was followed by Pope Francis, who also walked in horror in Auschwitz. .