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Belgium WWII – Quid novi ?

Bell removal - Schaerbeek May 1944, photo no. 83411, copyright CegeSoma/State Archives

Spring is the time of plans and projects… and even though this one is virtual, let us take a look at what is new on the website www.belgiumwwii.be.

80 years ago...

Several articles are chronological in nature. In other words, they briefly remind us of the events that shaped the beginning of the year 1943, from the declaration that Walloons were 'Germanic people' (17 January) to the strafing of the Gestapo building by Jean de Selys-Longchamps (20 January), the attack on the 20th convoy (19 April) and the protest of the Belgian bishops against the seizure of church bells (15 March) by the occupiers. Descriptions of all these events and numerous others can be accessed via the timeline on the website.

Biographical journeys

The biographical dimension of the conflict is particularly highlighted in the new articles published online. To everyone interested in the history of Liège – the “Cité ardente” (Fiery City) – we can recommend the articles about Fernand Dehousse (and the Rassemblement démocratique et socialiste wallon) and Joseph Bologne, first socialist mayor of the city. These notes form an excellent addition to the text about the city of Liège under the occupation. The story of another equally controversial mayor, Albert Moortgat, is also developed. Moortgat was a brewer and chief magistrate of the municipality of Breedonk. Complementing the recapitulatory article about the courageous attack on the 20th convoy, the website also contains information about the key figures of this unique event. Youra Livschitz, Robert Maistriau and Richard Altenhoff, who is often considered as the fourth man involved in the operation. The personality of Luc Somerhausen, resistance fighter and co-architect of our institution, is also further highlighted. In the series about ‘destinies of war’, we present a new article about the resistance fighter Nelly Vos, whose story was also extensively told in the documentary “Nelly & Nadine” of 2022. Two key players in the difficult issue of provisioning – Emiel De Winter and Etienne Woestyn – are also presented and the topic of provisioning and food shortages is extensively covered in an article in the section about occupied Belgium on our website.

Repression of collaborators

Three articles pick up on and further develop the theme of the judicial punishment of collaboration with the enemy: the first one cover the historical precedents and the legal basis for these policies, the second one is a quantitative assessment and the third one highlights the different aspects of this policy, ranging from the judicial to the administrative. These articles complement earlier contributions. They enable us to get a clearer picture of the policies that were implemented by the Belgian state in the wake of the occupation. These policies indeed still stir up controversy and have led to false claims, while research has never ceased to advance and today gives a more nuanced picture of the legal context and the practices of the different official bodies involved.

The Resistance and its legacy

Now more than ever, the memory – or rather the absence of memory – of the Resistance was addressed within the framework of the commemorations of 8 May. This issue had already been examined in a video in our section ‘5 key questions’ dedicated to the Resistance. Two new articles lay the basis for a continuation of these debates: A first one about the history of the museum of the Resistance opened in 1972, which shall re-open its doors in 2024 after a full refurbishment. The second one was published in the section ‘debates’ and deals with the process of creating heroes (‘heroization’) orchestrated through the latest celebrations of 8 May.

A collective work

Today, the website Belgium WWII offers some 800 articles. Over 120 authors from all Belgian universities have contributed. The objective remains the provision of reliable and accessible articles about the history of Belgium during the Second World War. The content of the website is constantly being updated. And the website is also the fruit of the work of numerous volunteers and trainees who help translate texts and publish them online. Thank you to all of you for making this possible!