Remi Schrijnen (or Richard; sometimes spelt Remy; 24 December 1921 – 27 July 2006) was a Belgian volunteer in the German army. He was a Flemish Nationalist and the only Flemish volunteer in the SS Flandern to have been awarded the German Knight's cross. He is also one of only a handful of privates to have received the Knights Cross.
Born in Kumtich on 24 December 1921, Schrijnen was a fervent Flemish Nationalist and joined the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond or VNV before the war. He later claimed to have fought violent fights with supporters of Verdinaso. This originally fascist Flemish group led by Joris Van Severen had slowly been turning to Belgian nationalism after the accession of Adolf Hitler, seeing in German Nazism a threat to the culture and language of the Flemish and other inhabitants of the Low Countries. Meanwhile, the VNV became increasingly fascist in nature, and many members believed in collaboration with Nazi Germany to further the Flemish cause.
World War II
After Germany occupied Belgium, the VNV had to compete with ever more radically pro-German groups to find favour with the German administration. After the first failures of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Germany addressed its allies for soldiers to make up its losses in manpower. In order not to be abandoned in favour of more radical groups and of French speaking Rex, the VNV sanctioned the creation of a "Flemish Legion" to operate as part of the German Army.
When first applying as a volunteer to the Flemish legion, Remi Schrijnen was refused because he was too small. Other volunteers called him the "Strumpf-Deutscher." But he showed his courage in the Battle of Leningrad in February 1943. He served as an anti-tank grenadier and was promoted to Unterscharführer in the 4th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Brigade Nederland.
During the Battle of Narva on 3 March 1944, he single-handedly destroyed eleven enemy tanks with a 7.5 cm Pak 40 He was found unconscious and close to death the following day and brought to Swinemünde and eventually Berlin, where he received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and a congratulatory telegram from VNV leader Hendrik Elias. However, the only Wehrmacht Sondermeldung about Schrijnen's action only claimed 7 destroyed tanks ("In der Kämpfen der letzten Tage bei Narwa hat sich der flämische SS-Sturmmann Remi Schrijnen in der SS-freiwilligen Panzergrenadier Brigade "Nederland" durch Abschuss von sieben Panzern besonders hervorgetan").
After the war, the highly decorated warrior returned to Belgium, where he was arrested, tried and symbolically convicted to death. This sentence was immediately commuted to lifelong imprisonment. He was released in 1950 on condition of good behaviour. However, he participated in so called "amnesty marches" (demanding amnesty for his comrades who had fought on the Eastern Front) which often ended in brawls and scuffles with the police. Flemish volunteers were disliked by the people of Belgium, beaten, spit upon and degraded. They defended themselves politically and physically. After one such brawl, in 1953, he was arrested and held in prison for almost two years.
Remi Schrijnen complained: "Not only was I attacked by angry citizens but by police also."
In 1962, he emigrated to the Federal Republic of Germany and took German nationality. Some Belgians and national socialists continued to revere him as "The Last Knight of Flanders" (which was also the title of a book by Allen Brandt on Flemish soldiers in the SS legions).
- Iron Cross
- 2nd class (25 May 1944)
- 1st class (3 August 1944)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (21 September 1944)
- Infantry Assault Badge
- Wound Badge in Gold.
- The Walloon Honor Rexist Badge
- The Tollenaere Honor badge (Tollnaere Gedächtnisabzeichen)
- The Flemish VNV War Merit Award
- Allen Brandt: The last Knight of Flanders. Remy Schrijnen and his SS-Legion „Flandern“ / Sturmbrigade „Langemarck“ comrades on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen PA 1998, ISBN 0-7643-0588-3.
- "REMI SCHRIJNEN (24-12-1921, died 27-07-2006)".
- Stephen Hart & Matthew Hughes. The German Soldier in World War II. p. 90.
- The Walloon Honor Rexist Badge, known as the Blood Order, was instituted in 1941. In November 1944, RFSS H. Himmler authorized the award to be worn on German uniform when the Walloon Army formation was transferred to the Waffen-SS. The bronze badge has the Walloon Bergundy Cross with a sword crossing it surrounded by a circle. The French inscription reads Bravery, Honor and Loyalty.
- The Tollenaere Honor badge was the second most prestigious award and was rendered in two classes silver and bronze, although there is no evidence shown that the silver class was ever worn. The badge honors the death of the VNV Black Brigade Leader Dr. Reimond Tollenaere who was killed in action at Kopzy, near Leningrad on 22 January 1942. The badge shows the Dutch wolf's hook, a small rectangular box with the motto "TROUW" (Loyalty) and a sword in the background crossing it. The bottom part shows a circular ring with the Flemish motto "AANR TOLLENAERE KOPZY JAN 1942," indicating the date and place where he was killed. The VNV Black Brigade members were awarded this badge for loyalty and sacrifice. The badge is cast, semi hollow on the back and has the same style loop rings.
- The Flemish VNV War Merit Award shown on your right is another extremely rare decoration instituted in June 1944. This award is known as the "Eer en Trouw" (Honor and Loyalty) Badge. It was awarded in bronze only for special acts of courage at home or at the Eastern Front. The badge was also awarded for those killed in action or by terrorist. It was die stamped with the two loop style hinge, and mounted on a commemorate plaque.