Mechelen transit camp-The logistics.

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I know the title may seem a bit disrespectful but it is not meant that way, it was the only way I felt I could describe it.

In the summer of 1942, the Nazis made preparations to deport the Jews of Belgium. They converted the Dossin de St. Georges military barracks in the city of Mechelen (Fr., Malines) into a transit camp. Mechelen, a city of 60,000, was considered an ideal location for this purpose. Located halfway between Antwerp and Brussels, two cities which contained most of the Jewish population of Belgium, the city had good rail connections to the east.

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At the start of the war, the population of Belgium was overwhelmingly Catholic. Jews made up the largest non-Christian population in the country, numbering between 70–75,000 out of a population of 8 million. Most lived in the cities of Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi and Liège. The vast majority were recent immigrants to Belgium who had fled persecution in Germany and Eastern Europe, and, as a result, only a small minority actually possessed Belgian citizenship.

Shortly after the invasion of Belgium, the Military Government passed a series of anti-Jewish laws in October 1940. The Belgian Committee of Secretary-Generals refused from the start to co-operate on passing any anti-Jewish measures and the Military Government seemed unwilling to pass further legislation. The German government began to seize Jewish-owned businesses and forced Jews out of positions in the civil service.

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The first group of Jews arrived in the camp Mechelen from Antwerp on July 27, 1942. Between August and December 1942, two transports with about 1,000 Jews each left the camp every week for Auschwitz-Birkenau. Between August 4, 1942, and July 31, 1944, a total of 28 trains carrying 25,000+ Jews left Mechelen for Poland; most of them went to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Below is a breakdown of the transports, the logistical numbers.I usually don’t like the statistics but if you see the numbers from a relatively unknown and small deportation centre it is just staggering.

Transports from Mechelen to Auschwitz-Birkenau
Deported people per age (above and below 15 years old) and gender. All were Jewish people, with the exception of Transport Z in 1943.

Transports Date Men Boys Women Girls Total
Transport 1 4 August 1942 544 28 403 23 998
Transport 2 11 August 1942 459 25 489 26 999
Transport 3 15 June 1942 380 48 522 50 1000
Transport 4 18 August 1942 339 133 415 112 999
Transport 5 25 August 1942 397 88 429 81 995
Transport 6 29 August 1942 355 60 531 54 1000
Transport 7 1 September 1942 282 163 401 154 1000
Transport 8 10 September 1942 388 111 403 98 1000
Transport 9 12 September 1942 408 91 401 100 1000
Transport 10 15 September 1942 405 132 414 97 1048
Transport 11 26 September 1942 562 231 713 236 1742
Transport 12 10 October 1942 310 135 423 131 999
Transport 13 10 October 1942 228 89 259 99 675
Transport 14 24 October 1942 324 112 438 121 995
Transport 15 24 October 1942 314 30 93 39 476
Transport 16 31 October 1942 686 16 94 27 823
Transport 17 31 October 1942 629 45 169 32 875
Transport 18 15 January 1943 353 105 424 65 947
Transport 19 15 January 1943 239 51 270 52 612
Transport 20 19 April 1943 463 115 699 127 1404
Transport 21 31 July 1943 672 103 707 71 1553
Transport 22a 20 September 1943 291 39 265 36 631
Transport 22b 20 September 1943 305 74 351 64 794
Transport 23 15 January 1944 307 33 293 22 655
Transport Z 15 January 1944 85 91 101 74 351
transport 24 4 April 1944 303 29 275 18 625
transport 25 19 May 1944 237 20 230 21 508
transport 26 31 July 1944 280 15 251 17 563
Total August 1942 – July 1944 10,545 2,212 10,463 2,047 25,267

Transport Z was designated for Roma

Of the 25.267 deported only 1240 survived

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Sources

United States Holocaust Museum

Wikipedia Belgium

 

Christmas in Belgium- ‘White’ Christmas at the Battle of the Bulge

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Bing Crosby sang “I am dreaming of a white Christmas” and made it sound like a magical event.

However for the men stuck in the Belgian Ardennes, a white Christmas was probably the last thing they wanted.But they did get the snow, in fact it was one the coldest and harshest winters on record.

Following are some impressions of Christmas during the Battle of the Bulge.

Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe and his staff celebrate Christmas in the barracks, surrounded by Nazi soldiers. Bastogne, Belgium. Dec. 25, 1944.

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On the road to liberate Bastogne, the 5th Armored Regiment gathers around a tank and opens their Christmas presents. Eupen, Belgium. Dec. 25, 1944.

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Three GI’s proudly display the unit’s Christmas tree. December 1944

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Sergeant John Opanowski of the 10th Armoured Division, emerges from a dug-out built under snow in the Bastogne area.

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Battle of the Bulge

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On December 16 1944, the Germans launched the last major offensive of the war, Operation Mist, also known as the Ardennes Offensive and the Battle of the Bulge, an attempt to push the Allied front line west from northern France to northwestern Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge, so-called because the Germans created a “bulge” around the area of the Ardennes forest in pushing through the American defensive line, was the largest fought on the Western front.

The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard. American forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war. The battle also severely depleted Germany’s armored forces, and they were largely unable to replace them.

Rather then going into too much details about the battle it is better to show it in pictures.

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American engineers emerge from the woods and move out of defensive positions after fighting in the  vicinity of Bastogne.

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Three members, of an American patrol, Sgt. James Storey, of Newman, Ga., Pvt. Frank A. Fox, of Wilmington, Del., and Cpl. Dennis Lavanoha, of Harrisville, N.Y., cross a snow-covered Luxembourg field on a scouting mission in Lellig, Luxembourg, Dec. 30, 1944. White bedsheets camouflage them in the snow.

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German troops advancing past abandoned American equipment

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American soldiers of the 3rd Battalion 119th Infantry Regiment are taken prisoner by members of Kampfgruppe Peiper in Stoumont, Belgium on 19 December 1944.

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An American soldier escorts a German crewman from his wrecked Panther tank during the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge

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British Sherman “Firefly” tank in Namur on the Meuse River, December 1944

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Belgian civilians killed by German units during the offensive

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U.S. POWs on 22 December 1944

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German field commanders plan the advance.

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An American artilleryman shaves in frigid cold, using a helmet for a shaving bowl,

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nfantrymen fire at German troops in the advance to relieve the surrounded paratroopers in Bastogne

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GIs of the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry

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The Belgian Holocaust

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For some reason you don’t hear that much about the Holocaust in Belgium and to be honest I don’t know why that is.

After the Germans conquered Belgium in May 1940, the Belgian government fled to Great Britain and formed a government-in-exile in London. King Leopold III remained in Belgium under house arrest during the German occupation. A German military administration coexisted with the Belgian civil service.

At the start of the war, the population of Belgium was overwhelmingly Catholic. Jews made up the largest non-Christian population in the country, numbering between 70–75,000 out of a population of 8 million. Most lived in the cities of Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi and Liège. The vast majority were recent immigrants to Belgium who had fled persecution in Germany and Eastern Europe, and, as a result, only a small minority actually possessed Belgian citizenship.

Immediately after the occupation of Belgium, the Germans instituted anti-Jewish laws and ordinances.

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They restricted the civil rights of Jews, confiscated their property and businesses, banned them from certain professions, and in 1942 required Jews to wear a yellow Star of David.

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Belgian Jews were also rounded up for forced labor. They worked primarily in the construction of military fortifications in northern France, and also in construction projects, clothing and armaments factories, and stone quarries in Belgium.

On 23 October 1940, the German Military Administration adopted anti-Jewish legislation for the first time.[9] The new laws, similar to the Nuremberg Laws adopted in Germany in 1935, coincided with the adoption of similar legislation in the Netherlands and in France.The laws of 28 October forbade Jews to practice certain professions (including the civil service) and forced Jews to register with their local municipality. On the same date, the German administration announced a definition of who was regarded as Jewish. Jewish-owned shops or businesses had to be marked by a sign in the window, and Jewish-owned economic assets had to be registered.

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From June 1940, a list of Jewish businesses had already been drawn up in Liège

The German administration was responsible for the deportation of the Jews in Belgium. Under the German occupation,In the summer of 1940, some German Jews and political refugees were deported from Belgium to Gurs and St. Cyprien, internment camps in southern France.

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On 14 April 1941, after watching the German propaganda film Der Ewige Jude, Flemish paramilitaries from the Volksverwering, VNV and Algemeene-SS Vlaanderen began a pogrom in the city of Antwerp.

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The mob, armed with iron bars, attacked and burned two synagogues in the city and threw the Torah scrolls onto the street.They then attacked the home of Marcus Rottenburg, the town’s chief rabbi. The police and fire brigade were summoned, but they were forbidden to intervene by the German authorities.

From August 1942, the Germans began deporting Jews, using Arbeitseinsatz (“recruitment for work”) in German factories as a pretext.[14] Around half of the Jews turned up voluntarily (though coerced by the German authorities) for transportation although round-ups were begun in late July. Later in the war, the Germans increasingly relied on the police to arrest or round up Jews by force.

The first convoy from Belgium, carrying stateless Jews, left Mechelen transit camp for Auschwitz on 4 August 1942 and was soon followed by others.These trains left for extermination camps in Eastern Europe. Between October 1942 and January 1943, deportations were temporarily halted;by this time 16,600 people have been deported on 17 rail convoys. As the result of Queen Elisabeth’s (Belgian Queen)intervention with the German authorities.

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In 1943, the deportations resumed. By the time that deportations to extermination camps had begun, however, nearly 2,250 Belgian Jews had already been deported as forced laborers for Organisation Todt, a civil and military engineering group, which was working on the construction of the Atlantic Wall in Northern France

In September, armed Devisenschutzkommando (DSK; “Currency protection command”) units raided homes to seize valuables and personal belongings as the occupants were preparing to report to the transit camp, and in the same month, Jews with Belgian citizenship were deported for the first time.

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DSK units relied on networks of informants, who were paid between 100 and 200 Belgian francs for each person they betrayed.After the war, the collaborator Felix Lauterborn stated in his trial that 80 per cent of arrests in Antwerp used information from paid informants. In total, 6,000 Jews were deported in 1943, with another 2,700 in 1944. Transports were halted by the deteriorating situation in occupied Belgium before the liberation.

The percentages of Jews which were deported varied by location. It was highest in Antwerp, with 67 per cent deported, but lower in Brussels (37 per cent), Liège (35 per cent) and Charleroi (42 per cent). The main destination for the convoys was Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland. Smaller numbers were sent to Buchenwald and Ravensbrück concentration camps, as well as Vittel concentration camp in France.

In total, 25,437 Jews were deported from Belgium. Only 1,207 of these survived the war. Among those deported and killed was the surrealist artist Felix Nussbaum in 1944.

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The Breendonk and Mechelen camps served as collection centers for the deportations.

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Roger Casement-Irish Hero and the Congo

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Roger Casement was born in Sandycove, County Dublin in September 1864 and raised in Ballycastle County Antrim following the death of his parents..

between 1911 and shortly before his execution for treason, when he was stripped of his knighthood and other honours, was an Irish-born civil servant who worked for the British Foreign Office as a diplomat, and later became a humanitarian activist, Irish nationalist, and poet. Described as the “father of twentieth-century human rights investigations”, he was honoured in 1905 for the Casement Report on the Congo and knighted in 1911 for his important investigations of human rights abuses in Peru. He then made efforts during World War I to gain German military aid for the 1916 Easter Rising that sought to gain Irish independence.

On this day in 1916 he was sentenced to death for his part in the Easter Rising.

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However I will not go in to his involvement in the Easter Rising in this blog, my focus will be on his Congo report known as the Casement report.

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The Casement Report was a 1904 document written  detailing abuses in the Congo Free State

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which was under the private ownership of King Leopold II of Belgium.

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This report was instrumental in Leopold finally relinquishing his private holdings in Africa. Leopold had had ownership of the Congolese state since 1885, granted to him by the Berlin Conference, in which he exploited its natural resources (mostly rubber) for his own private wealth.

For many years prior to the Casement Report there were reports from the Congo alleging widespread abuses and exploitation of the native population. In 1895, the situation was reported to Dr Henry Grattan Guinness (1861–1915), a missionary doctor. He had established the Congo-Balolo Mission in 1889, and was promised action by King Leopold later in 1895, but nothing changed. H. R. Fox-Bourne of the Aborigines’ Protection Society had published Civilisation in Congoland in 1903, and the journalist E. D. Morel also wrote several articles about the Leopoldian government’s behaviour in the Congo Free State.

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On 20 May 1903 a motion by the Liberal Herbert Samuel was debated in the British House of Commons, resulting in this resolution: “.. That the Government of the Congo Free State having, at its inception, guaranteed to the Powers that its Native subjects should be governed with humanity, and that no trading monopoly or privilege should be permitted within its dominions, this House requests His Majesty’s Government to confer with the other Powers, signatories of the Berlin General Act by virtue of which the Congo Free State exists, in order that measures may be adopted to abate the evils prevalent in that State.

Subsequently, the British consul at Boma in the Congo, the Irishman Roger Casement was instructed by Balfour’s government to investigate. His report was published in 1904, confirmed Morel’s accusations, and had a considerable impact on public opinion.

Casement met and became friends with Morel just before the publication of his report in 1904 and realized that he had found the ally he had sought. Casement convinced Morel to establish an organization for dealing specifically with the Congo question. With Casement’s and Dr. Guinness’s assistance, he set up and ran the Congo Reform Association, which worked to end Leopold’s control of the Congo Free State. Branches of the association were established as far away as the United States.

The Casement Report comprises forty pages of the Parliamentary Papers, to which is appended another twenty pages of individual statements gathered by Casement as Consul, including several detailing grim tales of killings, mutilations, kidnappings and cruel beatings of the native population by soldiers of the Congo Administration of King Leopold. Copies of the Report were sent by the British government to the Belgian government as well as to nations who were signatories to the Berlin Agreement in 1885, under which much of Africa had been partitioned. The British Parliament demanded a meeting of the fourteen signatory powers to review the 1885 Berlin Agreement. The Belgian Parliament, pushed by socialist leader Emile Vandervelde 

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and other critics of the King’s Congolese policy, forced a reluctant Leopold to set up an independent commission of enquiry.

 

Its findings confirmed Casement’s report in every detail. This led to the arrest and punishment of officials who had been responsible for murders during a rubber-collection expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national who was given a five-year sentence for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese natives).

The forgotten Genocide-Belgian Congo.

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The Congo Free State was a corporate state in Central Africa privately owned by King Leopold II of Belgium founded and recognized by the Berlin Conference of 1885. In the 23 years (1885-1908) Leopold II ruled the Congo he massacred 10 million Africans by cutting off their hands and genitals, flogging them to death, starving them into forced labour, holding children ransom and burning villages. The ironic part of this story is that Leopold II committed these atrocities by not even setting foot in the Congo.

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Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State became one of the greatest international scandals of the early 20th century.

The ABIR Congo Company (founded as the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company and later known as the Compagnie du Congo Belge) was the company appointed to exploit natural rubber in the Congo Free State. ABIR enjoyed a boom through the late 1890s, by selling a kilogram of rubber in Europe for up to 10 fr which had cost them just 1.35 fr. However, this came at a cost to the human rights of those who couldn’t pay the tax with imprisonment, flogging and other corporal punishment recorded.

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Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. Meanwhile, the Force Publique (the gendarmerie / military force) were required to provide the hand of their victims as proof when they had shot and killed someone, as it was believed that they would otherwise use the munitions (imported from Europe at considerable cost) for hunting. As a consequence, the rubber quotas were in part paid off in chopped-off hands. Sometimes the hands were collected by the soldiers of the Force Publique, sometimes by the villages themselves. There were even small wars where villages attacked neighboring villages to gather hands, since their rubber quotas were too unrealistic to fill.

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A Catholic priest quotes a man, Tswambe, speaking of the hated state official Léon Fiévez, who ran a district along the river 500 kilometres (300 mi) north of Stanley Pool: All blacks saw this man as the devil of the Equator…From all the bodies killed in the field, you had to cut off the hands. He wanted to see the number of hands cut off by each soldier, who had to bring them in baskets…A village which refused to provide rubber would be completely swept clean. As a young man, I saw [Fiévez’s] soldier Molili, then guarding the village of Boyeka, take a net, put ten arrested natives in it, attach big stones to the net, and make it tumble into the river…Rubber causes these torments; that’s why we no longer want to hear its name spoken. Soldiers made young men kill or rape their own mothers and sisters.

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One junior European officer described a raid to punish a village that had protested. The European officer in command “ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades… and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross”. After seeing a Congolese person killed for the first time, a Danish missionary wrote: “The soldier said ‘Don’t take this to heart so much. They kill us if we don’t bring the rubber. The Commissioner has promised us if we have plenty of hands he will shorten our service”

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In Forbath’s words: The baskets of severed hands, set down at the feet of the European post commanders, became the symbol of the Congo Free State…. The collection of hands became an end in itself. Force Publique soldiers brought them to the stations in place of rubber; they even went out to harvest them instead of rubber… They became a sort of currency. They came to be used to make up for shortfalls in rubber quotas, to replace… the people who were demanded for the forced labor gangs; and the Force Publique soldiers were paid their bonuses on the basis of how many hands they collected

In theory, each right hand proved a killing. In practice, soldiers sometimes “cheated” by simply cutting off the hand and leaving the victim to live or die. More than a few survivors later said that they had lived through a massacre by acting dead, not moving even when their hands were severed, and waiting till the soldiers left before seeking help. In some instances a soldier could shorten his service term by bringing more hands than the other soldiers, which led to widespread mutilations and dismemberment.

cong_hands_1904(A Congolese man looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter who was killed, and allegedly cannibalized, by the members of Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company militia)

A reduction of the population of the Congo is noted by all who have compared the country at the beginning of Leopold’s control with the beginning of Belgian state rule in 1908, but estimates of the death toll vary considerably. Estimates of contemporary observers suggest that the population decreased by half during this period and these are supported by some modern scholars such as Jan Vansina. Others dispute this. Scholars at the Royal Museum for Central Africa argue that a decrease of 15 percent over the first forty years of colonial rule (up to the census of 1924).

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Fort Breendonk -Concentration camp

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Fort Breendonk was originally built for the Belgian army between 1906-13 as part of the second ring of defenses of the National Redoubt protecting the important port-city of Antwerp.It was covered by a five-metre thick layer of soil for defense against bombings, a water-filled moat and measured 656 by 984 feet (200 by 300 m).

By 1940, Breendonk was already militarily obsolete and was unnecessary for the German occupiers. Soon after the start of the German occupation, the Nazis transformed it into a prison camp which was controlled by SS and other security agencies of Nazi Germany (SIPO and SD in particular) although Belgium itself was under military jurisdiction and controlled by general Alexander von Falkenhausen

Alexander von Falkenhausen

During World War II, the fort was requisitioned by the Germans as a prison camp for detaining Belgian political dissidents, captured resistance members and Jews. Although technically a prison rather than a concentration camp, the Fort was famous for its prisoners’ poor living conditions and for the use of torture. Most prisoners who were detained at the camp were later transferred to larger concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Of the 3,590 prisoners known to have been imprisoned at Breendonk, 303 died or were executed within the fort itself but as many as 1,741 died subsequently in other camps before the end of the war.

 

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On 20 September 1940, the first prisoners arrived. Initially most of the prisoners were petty criminals, people deemed anti-social, or who did not conform to the German race laws. Later on, resistance fighters, political prisoners and ordinary people captured as hostages were detained as well. Another section was used as a transit camp for Jews being sent to death camps in Eastern Europe such as Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The camp was guarded by Flemish as well as German SS units.

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Of the 300 prisoners that died in the camp itself, 185 were executed; many of the rest died of torture, disease or exposure. Most of those that did survive were transported to concentration camps. The German execution poles and gallows, as well as the torture chamber, are preserved in the current museum on the site.

Between 3,500 and 3,600 prisoners were incarcerated in Breendonk during its existence,of whom 1,733 died before liberation.About 400-500 were Jews.Most of the non-Jewish prisoners were left-wing members of the Belgian resistance or were held as hostages by the Germans. In September 1941, the Belgian Communist prisoners held at Breendonk were deported to Neuengamme concentration camp.

Jewish prisoners in Breendonk were segregated from other prisoners until 1942. Thereafter, Jews were transferred to the nearby Mechelen transit camp and deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Upon arrival at the camp, new inmates were brought to the courtyard where they would have to stand facing the wall until they were processed into the camp.

breendonkThey were forbidden to move and any motion was severely punished. In the camp, punishment consisted of beatings, torture in the old gunpowder magazine,hanging or execution by firing squad. Inmates were forced to watch any executions that took place. The camp commander Lagerkommandant Philipp Schmitt was known to set his German Shepherd dog (called “Lump”)loose on the inmates.

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His wife was also known to wander the camp, ridiculing the inmates and ordering punishments at whim. Severe and arbitrary beating occurred daily. During winter 1942-1943, after the German defeat at Stalingrad, it occurred more than once that inmates, mostly Jewish, were forced by the Flemish SS guards to enter into the extremely cold water of the moat and kept there with a shovel. The victims gradually sank or fell into the mud and most of them, after a struggle that could last for over 15 minutes, finally drowned

All the prisoners were subjected to forced labour. The camp authorities wanted the earth that had covered much of the Fort to be removed and shifted to build a high bank around the camp to hide it from outside view. In the few years Fort Breendonk was used by the Nazis, 250,000 cubic metres (8,800,000 cu ft) of soil covering the fort were removed by the prisoners by hand at a gruelling pace.Prisoners only had hand tools to complete this enormous task and the soil had to be transported to the outer wall via hand carts on a narrow gauge railway system. The ground in the camp was often very soggy causing the rails to sink away in the mud. Prisoners were then expected to move by hand the carts filled with dirt, pushing and dragging them back and forth over a distance of more than 300 meters. This regime was imposed for over 12 hours a day, seven days a week, even in the worst of weather conditions. Orders were given only in German, so inmates were forced to learn the basic commands rather quickly or otherwise be punished for failure to obey orders. Prisoners were also forced to salute and stand to attention every time a guard passed.

Accommodation in the fort consisted of the old barracks. Built from thick stone, without windows and with only minimal ventilation, these were extremely cold and damp. Each barrack room only had a small coal burning stove, and providing sufficient heating was nearly impossible. Rooms were originally designed for no more than 38 people, but frequently housed over 50 inmates sleeping in three-tier bunk beds on straw mattresses. The top bunks were highly prized. Inmates only had a single small bucket per room for a toilet during the night, and many of the sick and weakened inmates simply allowed their waste to drop down to the lower levels. This caused much fighting between inmates, which was probably what the guards wanted.

Prisoners were allowed to use the toilet in the given order only twice a day. There were two gathering spaces inside the fort, east and west, each one with a small building, made of brick and without doors, equipped with four holes and one urinal. Only in 1944 a greater facility was added. But to go to the toilet was always done under surveillance, in group and in a hurry: an additional opportunity for the guards to intimidate and humiliate the prisoners.

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Jewish prisoners were segregated from other inmates and housed in specially constructed wooden barracks. These barracks were poorly insulated and over-crowded. Other prisoners were housed in cells, either in small groups or individually. The aim was to isolate certain prisoners for later interrogation and torture.

Food was severely rationed for the prisoners and distributed in different quantities to the various types of inmates. Jews received the least food and water. Prisoners were served three meals a day. Breakfast consisted of two cups of a coffee substitute made of roasted acorns and 125 grams (4.4 oz) of bread. Lunch was usually 1 litre of soup (mostly just hot water). Supper was again 2 cups of a coffee substitute and 100 grams (3.5 oz) of bread.[14] This was far from enough to sustain a human being, especially considering the intense cold or heat, harsh labour and physical punishments the prisoners were subjected to

This harsh treatment of prisoners started to leak outside the Fort to such a degree that the head of the administrative staff of the Military Governor of Belgium Eggert Reeder was compelled to order an inspection of the Fort because Von Falkenhausen “did not want the camp to become known to history as the hell of Breendonk”.

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But the respite was short lived also because the SS seized and forwarded to Germany most of the food parcels sent in by the Red Cross.

Conditions in the camp were so cruel and harsh that those who left alive were so weak that their chances of survival at the final destination were severely hampered. Often prisoners were so sick and weak that they were led straight to the gas chambers or simply died within weeks of their arrival. The regime in the camp was at least as harsh as in an actual concentration camp. On 4 September 1944 the SS evacuated the Fort, and all the remaining prisoners were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp.Fewer than 10 percent of the inmates survived the war.

Particular controversy surrounds the Flemish SS guards of the camp, who so openly and cruelly turned against their fellow countrymen in blind support of their Nazi paymasters.

(the Flemish SS Fernand Weiss, with his mother)

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The artist Jacques Ochs was interned in Breendonk from 1940 to 1942, when he managed to escape. A few of the drawings he made during his time there had survived. He used them after the war to reconstruct scenes of life in the camp, and in 1947 published those in the book Breendonck – Bagnards et Bourreaux (“Breendonck – Slave Laborers and Hangmen“)

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General Anthony Clement “Nuts” McAuliffe

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General Anthony Clement “Nuts” McAuliffe (July 2, 1898 – August 11, 1975) was a senior United States Army officer, who earned fame as the acting commander of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division troops defending Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge towards the end of World War II.

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On December 22, 1944, at about 11:30 in the morning, a group of four German soldiers, waving two white flags, approached the American lines using the Arlon Road from the direction of Remoifosse, south of Bastogne.

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The group consisted of two officers and two enlisted men. The senior officer was a Major Wagner of the 47th Panzer Corps. The junior officer, Lt. Hellmuth Henke of the Panzer Lehr Operations Section, was carrying a briefcase under his arm. The two enlisted men had been selected from the 901st Panzer Grenadier Regiment.

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The Americans defending in that location were members of F Company of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The Germans walked past a bazooka team in a foxhole in front of the Kessler farm and stopped in front of the foxhole of PFC Leo Palma, a B.A.R. gunner. Palma described the officers as wearing long overcoats and shiny black boots. Lieutenant Henke, who spoke English said, “I want to see the commanding officer of this section.” Palma was at a loss for words, but Staff Sergeant Carl E. Dickinson who had been manning a position nearby walked out to the road and called the group over to him. The Germans explained that they had a written message to be presented to the American Commander in Bastogne.

Henke said they would consent to being blindfolded and taken to the American Commanding Officer. In fact, they had brought blindfolds with them. Henke blindfolded Wagner and Dickinson blindfolded Henke. As the blindfolds were being applied, Dickinson was joined by PFC Ernest Premetz, a German-speaking medic of his platoon who offered to serve as an interpreter. However no interpreter was needed.

General von Lüttwitzgeneral-heinrich-freiherr-von-luttwitz dispatched the  party, to deliver an ultimatum. Entering the American lines southeast of Bastogne (occupied by Company F, 2nd Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry), the German party delivered the following to Gen. McAuliffe

The German surrender demand was typewritten on two sheets. One was in English, the other in German. They had been typed on an English typewriter as indicated by the fact that the diacritical marks required on the German copy had been entered by hand.

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According to those present when McAuliffe received the German message, he read it, crumpled it into a ball, threw it in a wastepaper basket, and muttered, “Aw, nuts”. The officers in McAuliffe’s command post were trying to find suitable language for an official reply when Lt. Col. Harry Kinnard suggested that McAuliffe’s first response summed up the situation pretty well, and the others agreed.

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The official reply was typed and delivered by Colonel Joseph Harper, commanding the 327th Glider Infantry, to the German delegation.

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It was as follows:

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The German major appeared confused and asked Harper what the message meant. Harper said, “In plain English? Go to hell.” The choice of “Nuts!” rather than something earthier was typical for McAuliffe. Vincent Vicari, his personal aide at the time, recalled that “General Mac was the only general I ever knew who did not use profane language. ‘Nuts’ was part of his normal vocabulary.”

(Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe and his staff gathered inside Bastogne’s Heintz Barracks for Christmas dinner Dec. 25th, 1944. This military barracks served as the Division Main Command Post during the siege of Bastogne, Belgium during WWII. The facility is now a museum known as the “Nuts Cave”.)

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The artillery fire did not materialize, although several infantry and tank assaults were directed at the positions of the 327th Glider Infantry. In addition, the German Luftwaffe attacked the town, bombing it nightly. The 101st held off the Germans until the 4th Armored Division arrived on December 26 to provide reinforcement.

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For his actions at Bastogne, McAuliffe was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by General Patton on December 30, 1944, followed later by the Distinguished Service Medal.

Immediately after Bastogne, McAuliffe was promoted to Major General and given command of the 103rd Infantry Division on January 15, 1945, his first divisional command assignment, which he retained until July 1945. Under McAuliffe, the 103rd reached the Rhine Valley, March 23, and engaged in mopping up operations in the plain west of the Rhine River. In April 1945, the division was assigned to occupational duties until April 20, when it resumed the offensive. Pursuing a fleeing enemy through Stuttgart and taking Münsingen on April 24. On April 27, elements of the division entered Landsberg, where Kaufering concentration camp, a subcamp of Dachau, was liberated. The 103rd crossed the Danube River near Ulm on April 26. On May 3, 1945, the 103rd captured Innsbruck, Austria, with little to no fighting. It then seized the Brenner Pass and met the 88th Infantry Division of the U.S. Fifth Army at Vipiteno, Italy, thereby joining the Italian and Western European fronts.

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One of the soldiers whom McAuliffe awarded the Silver Star to was the baseball player, Sidney Kohlsachs. However, Kohlsachs would become known for not accepting the medal because, as he put it, “My fallen brothers are much more deserving than I.”

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Cine Rex V2 attack

 

le-rex10It is amazing how big event can sometimes overshadow smaller but nonetheless awful events. A friend of mine had mentioned the event of Cine Rex to me.

On the 16th of December the German launched one last offensive campaign in the Ardennes which is widely know as the battle of the Bulge.

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On Dec. 16 the Germans launched their pincer attack on Antwerp. Half a million German soldiers burst upon 830,000 Americans. For 10 days they advanced.

On that same day  at 15.20, a V-2 rocket fired from the Netherlands by the SS Werfer Battery 500 directly landed on the roof of the cinema during a showing of The Plainsman.

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There were approximately 1,100 people inside the cinema and the explosion killed 567 people including 296 Allied servicemen (194 further servicemen were injured) and 11 buildings in total destroyed.

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The rockets were more then likely launched from the Hague in the Netherlands

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The destruction was total. Afterwards, many people were found still sitting in their seats, stone dead. For more than a week the Allied authorities worked to clear the rubble. Later, many of the bodies were laid out at the city zoo for identification.

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The death toll was 567 casualties to soldiers and civilians, 291 injured and 11 buildings were destroyed. 296 of the dead & 194 of the injured were U.S., British, & Canadian soldiers. This was the single highest death total from one rocket attack during the war in Europe.

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It took nearly a week to dig all the bodies out of the rubble. It was the single highest death total from a single rocket attack during the war.Following the attack all public performance venues were closed and the town council ordered that a maximum of 50 people were allowed to congregate in any one location.

Antwerp had been hit by both V1 and V2 rockets between October 1944 and March 1945

During the V-weapon onslaught, over a period of 175 days and nights, the German launching crews fired more than 4,000 V-1s and more than 1,700 V-2s at greater Antwerp. Of those, 106 V-1s and 107 V-2s hit the heart of the city. During that period more than 3,700 civilians were killed and some 6,000 injured in the provence of Antwerp. Only about 30 percent of the V-2s launched against Antwerp reached the city. The rockets that were off-target kept falling all around the Antwerp area and often very far away from the port area. Several factors come into play for the modest number of V-2s Antwerp suffered each day, but the main reasons were the German bottleneck in their alcohol and liquid oxygen supply and the enormous dispersion of the still imperfect weapon.

In March 1945 TIME magazine had called Antwerp “The City of Sudden Death”

As for the Cinema itself it was rebuilt in 1947 but was demolished in 1995.

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