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Escaping Nazi Europe Understanding the experiences of Belgian soldiers and civilians in World War II

CegeSoma Public History Meeting (2024-1)

Escaping Nazi Europe Understanding the experiences of Belgian soldiers and civilians in World War II

Conference-debate (in French and Dutch) with guests Bernard Wilkin and Bob Moore.

An interview directed by Pieter Lagrou.


In May 1940, Belgium's armed forces numbered 650,000 men. Soon afterwards, some 225,000 were taken prisoner of war, most of them sent to camps in Germany. While Flemish prisoners were quickly released on Hitler's direct orders, around 100,000 Walloon and French-speaking prisoners remained imprisoned. Their numbers were reduced over time by repatriations for medical or other reasons, as well as by escapes ...

This book recounts the escape attempts of Belgian soldiers and civilians from Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. The authors have chosen to let the escapees speak for themselves, making extensive use of their testimonies preserved in Belgian and British archives.

The book begins with the stories of soldiers who managed to avoid capture in the summer of 1940 and returned home, as well as some who decided to continue the fight and joined the Allied forces in the UK. Next, it takes us on a journey through the lives of prisoners of war who managed to escape from camps or Arbeitskommandos inside the Reich. It analyzes their motivations for escaping, the choices they made about when and how to escape, and the many obstacles they encountered along the way, ...
At first, most escapees simply returned home. Some went on to join resistance movements, while a small minority tried to reach the Allies via Spain and Switzerland, encountering additional problems due to the neutral status of these countries.

Bob Moore and Bernard Wilkin will present these stories of escape, the punishments inflicted on recaptured POWs and the escapees' struggle for recognition in the post-war world. They will both be interviewed by Pieter Lagrou. CegeSoma and the association 'Les Amis du CegeSoma' will be delighted to welcome them on Wednesday 13 March 2024.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Bernard Wilkin is Senior Researcher at the State Archives. He has published several books and articles on the history of war in Belgium and France, including 'Aerial Propaganda and the Wartime Occupation of France, 1914-1918' (2016), 'French Soldiers’ Morale in the Phoney War, 1939-1940' (with Maude Williams, 2017) and 'Fighting for Napoleon: French Soldier’s Letters 1799-1815' (with René Wilkin, 2015).


Bob Moore is Emeritus Professor of European History at the University of Sheffield. He has published extensively on the history of Western Europe in the mid-twentieth century, including in this context 'The British Empire and Its Italian Prisoners of War 1940-1947' (with Kent Fedorowich, 2003), 'Prisoners of War, Prisoners of Peace' (edited with Barbara Hately, 2005) and 'Prisoners of War: Europe 1939-1956' (2022).


Pieter Lagrou holds a PhD in History and teaches contemporary history at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He has published widely on contemporary conflicts, international justice and nationalism in Europe. He is notably the author of 'The Legacy of Nazi-occupation. Patriotic Memory and National Recovery in Western Europe, 1945-1965' (2000). He also published with Martin Conway and Henry Rousso, 'Europe's Postwar Periods: 1989, 1945, 1918 : Writing History Backwards' (2018).