Association du Mémorial de Rebecq ligne

* Hommage de la République de Tchéquie - Rebecq 19/05/2021: le récit *

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The Fort of Breendonk,

starting point of a tragedy

The Fort of Breendonk is situated in the North of Brussels, in about fifteen kilometers. This place loaded with memory was one of contration camps where showed itself the will of destruction of the individual, having for objective the subjection and the negation of the human person. It is one of Nazi camps the best preserved in Europe.

The fort of Breendonk is a strengthened work the beginning of the construction of which goes back up in 1906. It is a part of the defensive belt of Antwerp, between the strong neighbors of Liezele on the West and Walem in the East. It is not finished yet - but already old-fashioned and is in phase of intensification at the approach of the war.

The invasion of Belgium begins on August 4th, 1914. September 9th, the Head-Quarter of the Général von Besler gives the order to take Antwerp. Breendonk is bombarded for the first time on October 1st, 1914 artillery parts being in 8 or 9 km, beyond the impact of his own artillery. On October 1st, 6th and 8th, the fort of Breendonk cashes 563 missiles of Austrian mortars of 305 mm. Commander of the fort, Wijns is fatally injured in its post. It is only October 9th when the strong capitulum. between the two wars, the Belgian army uses occasionally the fort as the barracks. Breendonk is then chosen to shelter the Head-Quarter of the Belgian army in case of invasion.

On May 10th, 1940 at 8:30 am of the morning, king Léopold III, commander-in-chief, arrives at Breendonk. It is from there that the sovereign sends its proclamation to the country on May 10th. It is there also that he(it) receives commanders(majors) of the seventh French Army placed to the right and the British strengths placed to the left. On May 16th, General Billotte gives the order to abandon the line of defence Antwerp-Namur because the position had become intolerable since the fall of Sedan. In the afternoon of 17, the whole G.Q.G. is transported in the region of Ghent, in Saint-Denis Westrem.

September 20th, 1940 comes the SS-Sturmbannführer (chief warrant officer(major company) SS) Philipp Schmitt at the Fort with its first prisoners. Breendonk becomes then a "SS-Auffanglager" or "a hosting camp" under the supervision of Sicherheitspolizei-Sicherheitsdienst (in summary Sipo-SD), the German political police. During the first year of activity(occupation), the Jews constitute half of the total number of prisoners. From 1942 and the creation of "Sammellager" of the barracks Dossin where the Jews are gathered before their departure eastward and extermination camps, most of the Jews disappear then from Breendonk who becomes little by little a camp for the political prisoners and the Resistance fighters. On September 22nd, 1941, a first convoy of Belgian political prisoners is transferred by Breendonk and by the citadel of Huy to the concentration camp of Neuengamme near Hamburg. Other convoies will follow. Breendonk becomes a transit camp where we stay on average three months before being deported towards concentration camps in Germany, in Poland or in Austria.

The regime established by the Nazis differs hardly from that of a real concentration camp. The malnutrition and the hard labor destroy bodies and spirits. The numerous ill treatments sometimes generate the death of prisoners. Initially, the camp is only guarded by some SS German and a detachment of the Wehrmacht. In September, 1941, Wachtgruppe of SD arrives as additional help: this time, it is not about SS German but mainly of Flemish peoples.

From September, 1940 till September, 1944, approximately 3500 prisoners stayed at Breendonk. The majesty of the site, its dantesque aspect make the symbol immortalizing the memory of the sufferings, the tortures, the death of so many victims. Breendonk, although young by comparison with other was a real camp where the Nazi inhumanity was pushed to its paroxysm.

(Sources: Memorial of Breendonk)

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The entrance towards the unspeakable.

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The SS-Sturmbannführer (major SS) Philipp Schmitt and his SS accomplices.


Les couloirs

The sinister corridors of the fort where the death can arise whenever.

Les couloirs

Les couloirs

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The corridor of the insulation's cells

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It is in this cell that Joseph Mahy spent his detention to Breendonk. Most hard was again going to arrive: Vucht, Sachenhausen and Belsen.

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The cell of insulation n°16, measures only 1,20m / 2m. It had sudden of hard treatments to St-Gilles's prison, but here, the dogs of Commander Schmitt had torn away from him the muscles of his calfs.

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We perceive on the brick of the wall drawings made by prisoners.

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To leave tracks of their passage in these places and so that their families are possibly warned, prisoners register on walls their names and address.

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Another grafitti writes by Joseph Mahy, at the top of the wall of its cell. We can read to it "... Joseph Reb(ecq) rue basse N 53"

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The Remembrance room where are written the names of those who are crossed to Breendonk

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Urns contain ashes stemming from camps where were sent the persons who passed in transit by Breendonk

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The rooms of prisoners and bedsteads on which prisoners were piled up by tens

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The "lavatories"

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The room of torture



The trial of the executioners


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(The trial of the executioners-Le Patriote Illustré-1947)

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(The trial of the executioners-Le Patriote Illustré-1947)

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(The trial of the executioners-Le Patriote Illustré-1947)

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(The trial of the executioners-Le Patriote Illustré-1947)

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(The execution of the executioners-Le Patriote Illustré-1947)



Tribute ceremonies to the victims


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(First tribute ceremonies to Breendonk-Le Patriote Illustré-1947)

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(First tribute ceremonies to Breendonk-Le Patriote Illustré-1947)

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(First tribute ceremonies to Vucht-Le Patriote Illustré-1947)