Special to the JTA the Verbelen Case
Menu JTA Search

Special to the JTA the Verbelen Case

Download PDF for this date

The most accurate records thus far released on the Nazi past of Peter Jean Verbelen come from the original SS documents housed at the BDC (Berlin Document Center) now under American-West German control in West Berlin.

The recently declassified materials on the SD (Sicherheitsdienst, a security/intelligence unit) officer who worked against his fellow Belgians contain largely W-3 and S-3 or personnel files on Verbelen, not the operational Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) dossier of the 430 CIC Detachment of the USFA (United States Forces, Austria) which “ran” Verbelen even after the four-power occupation of Austira. The CIC “precis” reports of the SS documents at the BDC provides the key facts.

The CIC “precis” dated August 15, 1956 — just before the CIC discharged Verbelen from its services–states that “In 1931 SUBJECT (Verbelen, a/k/a Alfred Schwab) completed his high school education in Stuttgart, Germany. ” What was a Belgian student doing at a German gymnasium (the equivalent of an American two-year college)?


The next information about the recently returned student crops up in late 1933 when he had already become active in fascist organizations upon resuming study at Loewen University of Belgium.

The earliest descriptions of the Army records show he was an “extreme nationalist,” “Flemish” and “of the Roman Catholic faith,” typical characteristics of most pro-Nazis in the Low Lands before the Nazi invasion.

(Most significantly, CIC documents in the latter years that do not cite the BDC-originated materials describe Verbelen as having “no religious affiliation.” One must ask why this reference was changed during the course of the CIC’s obviously escalating use of Verbelen.)

In 1935, a small but fanatic band of avowed national socialists whose specialty was armed thuggery (and whose composition was entirely Catholic) was formed called the German-Flemish Working Community (Duitschen-Viaamsche Arbeidsgemeenschap).

Its acronym, Dervlag (The Flag) was its popular name. It actively assisted the Nazi cause even before the invasion. During the German occupation, Dervlag became a major collaborators group with some 50,000 members by 1941.


Verbelen was one of its ranking youth leaders. Dervlag modeled itself after the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth). Its goal was “the complete Germanization of Flanders.” Its rallying cry was: “There is only one leader: Adolf Hitler, no other!”

Verbelen was, according to the BDC-derived documents in U.S. Army intelligece files, deeply “involved in the Flemish Separatist (pro-German) movement” and was even encouraged “to run for the Belgian Parliament on the Separatist ticket but refused because of his youth.”

A member of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) before the Wehrmacht smashed into Belgium, Verbelen belonged to its AO (Ausland Organization) comprised of citizens living in countries outside of the Third Reich.

In fact, according to a BDC-originated document dated June 19, 1956, “SUBJ (Verbelen) was forming a Flemish Sturmbrigade (armed commando) when the occupation of Belgium took place” so as to assist the Nazi invaders of his own homeland. In further fact, Verbelen had become a trained Fifth Columnist after attending gymnasium in Stuttgart.


His treason in behalf of the Third Reich brought him ever-increasing responsibilities. A CIC telex dated February 10, 1966 noted (again from the SS record at the BDC): “Verbelen worked closely with the SS and SD during the German occupation….from 1940-1943 (Verbelen) was a captain and recruiting officer for the German Langemark.” The identification of Verbelen as a captain is in error. He never rose higher than a first lieutenant.

When the Germans swept over Belgium they found Verbelen busily recruiting volunteers for what became the Belgian legion that comprised elements of the Viking Division of the notorious Waffen-SS, a further confirmation of his Fifth Column role.

Verbelen’s Nazi fanaticism can be measured against the fact that only the most committed Flemish volunteers served in the Waffen-SS, most were disillusioned by SS savageries. But not Verbelen or his followers of Dervlag. They did not flinch.

After recruiting for the Waffen-SS, Verbelen was promoted. “From 1943-1945, Verbelen became a member of the SD Hauptamt (headquarters) in Belgium and the head of the Frauenespionage (Women’s Espionage Group)” in the nation’s capital, according to the CIC records. These records, based on captured SS documents, then underscore his main contribution: “His main task was to counteract the Resistance Movement within Belgium.”


What did Verbelen do to “counteract” the Resistance? He specialized in running a net of informers and “turned” members of the anti-Nazi underground against their comrades. He organized and, undoubtedly, participated in raids or “sweeps” on known or suspected Resistance fighters.

According to Belgion sources, Verbelen often participated in wiping out villages suspected of harboring underground members. His name is linked to the atrocities committed at MenseeI-Kiesegem village in 1944 when all males over the age of 12 were deported to death camps on suspicion of hiding Allied pilots.

The standard weapon used by the Partisan fighters who were captured was torture. The SS dungeons in Belgium used medieval and modern devices. The Nuremberg war crimes trials produced evidence about the mechanical flogger used by the SD in the Lowlands and France.

The victim — in Verbelen’s case, always a woman or a young girl, according to the war crimes charges sustained against him in 1947 — was shackled against an upright board. A machine was then calibrated to the exact number of lashed need to kill, and turned on while SD agents waited casually for their victims to “confess.”


Verbelen’s “chief task” against the Resistance necessarily had to bring him into an intimate working relationship with another up and coming SD officer who also used the same SD methods, working out of the identical SD headquarters in Brussels as did Verbelen and eventually — while hiding from war crimes trials that condemned him to death as was the case with Verbelen — worked for the same employer, the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) of the U.S. Army.

Verbelen’s fellow SD colleague in Belgium was none other than Klaus Barbie, according to evidence from both SS and U.S. Justice Department studies of Nazi sources. To be sure, according to the 1983 justice Departiment report on Barbie he preferred to force Resistance fighters to undergo more primitive tortures, like the “door treatment,” as the underground called it. This involved placing the victim’s hand in the doorjam while the door was repeatedly opened and shut.

Barbie’s own SS personnel file, located at the BDC, stated that “Since May of 1940, Barbie has been deployed abroad (Holland, Belgium, France)” (BDC, Barbie File, September, 1944).

The Justice Department report, “Klaus Barbie and the U.S. Government,” concluded on the basis of Nazi evidence (P. 8, Vol.I) that Barbie has been “assigned in Beligium … probably sometime between July 1941 and May 1942” when both Barbie and Verbelen, young Obersturmfuehrers, spent every working hour for 10 months crushing the Belgian Resistance from SD Brussels headquarters out of Section IV of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), the Reich Central Security Office, SS.

As for Verbelen, a 1966 CIC report stated ” When Belgium was liberated, Verbelen withdrew with German forces, leaving his wife and two children behind. Unable to reach Verbelen to take revenge on him, members of the Resistance murdered Verbelen’s family.”

(Tomorrow: Part Three)

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund