Pasfoto Meensel Kiezegem.

‘The despair of Meensel-Kiezegem’ in Neuengamme near Hamburg. Sculpture by May Claerhout | SHGL, Zoia Kashafutdinova

Power & Resistance
1940 - 1945
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The Drama of Meensel-Kiezegem

The Second World War

On 11 August 1944, two months after the Allied landings in Normandy, German soldiers and Flemish collaborators surrounded the Flemish-Brabant village of Meensel-Kiezegem. They searched the houses and herded the male occupants together. 71 residents were deported to the German concentration camp of Neuengamme. Only eight returned alive.

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The raid happened after three members of the resistance had shot dead a collaborator from the village on 30 July 1944. His mother swore to avenge her son’s death. Through her contacts with the German occupying forces she was able to mobilise almost four hundred men to ‘teach the village’ – where she herself lived – ‘a lesson’. The results were disastrous.

Not only in Meensel-Kiezegem, but all over the country the German occupation left deep wounds. The Second World War was not only a military but also an ideological conflict. The rift between resistance and collaboration would make itself felt for decades afterwards.


Antwerp, FelixArchief, Frans Claes

After the liberation in September 1944 the Germans continued to bombard Antwerp and surroundings until March 1945 with long-distance rockets, the so-called V-bombs (Vergeltungswaffen or retaliation weapons). Approximately 6,000 Belgians lost their lives as a result of these flying bombs. This is the Tuinbouwstraat in Antwerp, after the bomb struck on 26 October 1944.

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The Second World War

On 10 May 1940 Nazi Germany invaded Belgium. That fitted in with Adolf Hitler’s plans to make Western Europe a single great Germanic empire. The government fled to France and from there to London. After eighteen days King Leopold III and the Belgian army surrendered. The Germans installed a military occupation administration, but kept on the secretaries-general, the governors and mayors to govern the country. With new appointments the occupier generally opted for pro-German candidates.

The occupation was a period of repression, fear and privation for the population. Food and fuel were scarce, citizens saw their freedom of movement restricted, press censorship was introduced and parliament was suspended. For some groups the consequences were even more extreme. From the autumn of 1940 the occupier announced anti-Jewish measures. From 1942 on the Germans picked up Jews during raids. Via the Dossin barracks in Mechelen they were deported to extermination camps. In October 1942 the occupier introduced compulsory labour in Germany. Men and women had to go there and work to keep the war economy operating. Most people simply tried to survive the war, but some sympathised openly with the occupier and others resisted clandestinely.

In September 1944 the Allies liberated most of Belgium. Still, the war was not yet over. In December there was a German offensive in the Ardennes and between September 1944 and March 1945 the German army bombarded Antwerp and Liège with V-rockets. Only on 8 May 1945 did Germany admit defeat.

Focal points

Vlaamse Wacht.

Brussels, Cegesoma/State Archives, 20929

Parade of the Vlaamse Wacht (Flemish Guard) in Antwerp. The Flemish Guard carried out such tasks as guard duties for the army of occupation.



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Some Belgians saw the German occupation as an opportunity. In Flanders the Flemish National League (VNV) had already converted to the New Order in the 1930s. It saw in the occupation a chance to take over power. With help from the Germans the VNV placed its members in important posts and so went along with the National Socialist occupation policy. But other organisations too offered their services to the occupiers. The collaborating groups provided men for (para)military units and security services and undertook many administrative, control and other occupation tasks. From the summer of 1941 on the VNV recruited Flemish volunteers for the war on the Eastern front.

Individual Flemings also opted for National Socialism. They felt a cultural rapport with the German people, pinned their hopes for a better future on Hitler as an authoritarian leader, acted from anti-Semitic convictions or were out for economic advantages. Some entrepreneurs also worked for the Germans and so made large profits.

Between 1944 and 1949 the Belgian legal system prosecuted and punished tens of thousands of citizens for collaboration. But immediately after the liberation the population vented its fury on everyone who had collaborated with the occupying forces or was suspected of having done so. That street repression was etched in the collective memory. Collaboration and its punishment are still a subject of social discussion today.

Lily van Oost.

Brussels, Cegesoma/State Archives

Lily Van Oost (1923-2020) was a member of the Secret Army. She carried out her first missions for the resistance as a courier, later she organised hiding places, weapons transports and monetary payments. In July 1944 she was arrested and deported to Ravensbrück. She survived the war and in June 1945 was able to return home.

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From the autumn of 1940 on more and more people turned against the occupier. They organised themselves in various resistance movements. Spies passed on information on German troops to the Allies. The clandestine press spread anti-German pamphlets. Escape routes smuggled Allied pilots back to Great Britain. Armed groups staged ambushes and attacks. The Secret Army, the Independence Front, the White Brigade/Fidelio, the National Royal Movement and the Armed Partisans were separate organisations, but in practice often worked together locally. Individual men and women also resisted by helping Jews and others in hiding, by frustrating the occupying authorities or by committing sabotage in factories.

The German occupying forces, often helped by informers and collaborators, reacted with severity. Members of the resistance were arrested, tortured, sometimes executed. Many political prisoners were deported, via Fort Breendonk, to concentration camps.

As the war progressed, the German victory became uncertain and the occupation harsher, resistance grew. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 drove Communists into the resistance. Round-upspolice action, in which people, in particular Jews, are driven together and arrested. of Jews in the summer of 1942 and compulsory labour in Germany provision of October 1942, led to more and more people going into hiding, helping those in hiding or joining the organised resistance. In the summer of 1944 the Belgian resistance cells totalled approximately 150,000 members, but the resistance was significantly weaker in Flanders than in Wallonia.

Staf De Clercq.
Ghent, Amsab-ISG, fo013421, Volksgazet

VNV-leader Staf De Clercq (1884-1942) makes a speech on the departure of Flemish volunteers for the Eastern front in the summer of 1941. The symbols on the wall indicate where the loyalty of the VNV lies.

De Vlag.
Brussels, Cegesoma/State Archives, 274133

The German-Flemish Labour Community (Deutsch-Vlämische Arbeitsgemeinschaft, DeVlag) already existed as a cultural association before the war, but during the occupation it revealed itself as a supporter of the Greater Germanic Reich and an ally of the SS.

Brussels, Cegesoma/State Archives, 53506

In the Fort of Breendonk the Germans installed a ‘reception camp’ for political prisoners. Inmates were subjected to inhuman treatment, tortured and sometimes executed. From September 1941 Breendonk became a transit camp from where prisoners were deported to German concentration camps.

Versperringen op het strand van Oostende, 1940-1944.
Brussels, Cegesoma/State Archives, collectie Otto Kropf, DO4AGR – copyright Bundesarchiv

Barbed-wire barriers on the beach at Ostend, 1940-1944.


Verzetslui bewaken de haven.
Evere, Algemene Dienst Inlichting en Veiligheid, Centre de Documentation Historique

Members of the resistance guard a crossroads in the port of Antwerp, 1944.

Brussels, Cegesoma/State Archives, 93210

After the war some 53,000 Belgians were sentenced by military court for collaboration, and another 20,000 lost their political and civil rights. The punishment was as severe in Flanders as in Wallonia. In the photo a sitting of the court-martial of Mechelen (1946), where those accused in connection with Fort of Breendonk were put on trial.

Discover more on this topic

Kinderen van de collaboratie

Bron: VRT archief – 7 nov 2017


Bron: VRT archief – 7 sep 1998

Meensel winteruur

Bron: VRT archief, Panenka – 23 nov 2020

Staf De Clercq
Boulevard – Wereldoorlog II

Bron: VRT archief, Belgisch Leger – 17 dec 1993

Kinderen van het verzet

Bron: VRT archief en anderen – 22 okt 2019


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Manteau, 2012/2022. 

Seberechts Frank
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Polis, 2019. 

Schrijvers Peter
Bastogne: de grootste slag om de Ardennen

Manteau, 2014. 

Van Laere Stefan, Craeninckx Frans & Craeninckx Jozef
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Sterck & De Vreese, 2019. 

Velaers Jan & Van Goethem Herman
Leopold III. De Koning, het Land, de Oorlog

Lannoo, 1994 

Wouters Nico
Oorlogsburgemeesters 40/44. Lokaal bestuur en collaboratie in België

Lannoo, 2005 

Wouters Nico
De Führerstaat. Overheid en collaboratie in België 1940-1944

Lannoo, 2006 


Beerten Els
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Claus Hugo
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De Bezige Bij, 1983. 

De Sterck Marita

Querido, 2014. (15+) 

Hertmans Stefan
De Opgang

De Bezige Bij, 2020. 

Lanoye Tom
De draaischijf

Prometheus, 2022 

Mortier Erwin
De onbevlekte

De Bezige Bij, 2020. 

Olyslaegers Jeroen

De Bezige Bij, 2016. 

Op de Beeck Johan
Het complot van Laken

Horizon, 2019. 

Sax Aline
De hond van Roosevelt

Averbode, 2007. (14+) 

Van Ginderachter Maarten, Aerts Koen & Vrints Antoon (red.)
Het land dat nooit was: een tegenfeitelijke geschiedenis van België

De Bezige Bij, 2015. 

Vanhoeck Roger
Zij zijn God niet

Abimo, 2015. (12+)