Resistance in Belgium - partial history or history in parts? First part of a duo of papers on the historiography of the Resistance in Belgium
One can quite easily observe that the books of History are not written with ‘the same ink’ in the North of the country and in the South. Indeed, regarding the historiography about the Resistance, it becomes clear that it is more numerous in the language of Molière than of Vondel... This discrepancy is currently being partly adjusted however. Still, it remains not less interesting to put this historiography of the Resistance (or Resistances) in perspective as well as its authors who, generation after generation, presented certain common features.
Their writing in some cases started prematurely, already under the occupation, by the resistance fighters themselves. After the Liberation, these writings took the form of books or press articles. They were often apologetic in nature, defending their own cause, deliberately or not, and propagated a healthy Belgian patriotism. Texts and authors that can be categorised as such are, for example, 'Mourir Debout' (1944) by Fernand Demany, 'Dans le Maquis' (1944) by Fernand Desonay, and - although a bit later - the small 'Panorama de la Résistance belge' (1948) by Camille Joset. The last one was a representative of the Christian community and expert on the matter, having been in the Resistance in 1914-1918 and having co-founded the radically pro-Belgian Mouvement National Belge (MNB) in 1940.
The very voluminous 'Livre d’Or de la Résistance', sponsored by the “Commission de l’Historique de la Résistance” under the aegis of the Ministry of National Defence stands out from the lot. Thanks to (or despite) such sponsorships, this Livre d’Or turned out to be much more of a qualitative bulk of documents than a glorifying hagiographical work. This bulk was collected and edited over four years by archivist-secretary Léopold Lejeune and published as-is in 1948, with all its conceptual limitations. But it had the merit of presenting the various aspects of the history of the Resistance in Belgium in a condensed manner. A supplementary note: As a former member of the MNB, Lejeune mainly focused on the underground movements that thrived at the time (MNB, AS, …) and much less on those that “smelled like trouble” in these Cold War times (Front de l’Indépendance or Partisans Armés communistes)…
Despite these shortcomings, the Livre d’Or would remain an essential reference for at least two decades. In this time, a number of interesting additions - in historiographical terms - would nevertheless be penned by other former MNB members (who were still setting the tone in this field then). In this context, one can mention 'Le Passage de l’Iraty' (1962) by William Ugeux, and especially 'La résistance belge 1940-1945' (1968) by Henri Bernard. While the first work is autobiographical with a near-philosophical perspective, the second one is a quite sound synthesis work. Its author was a professor at the Royal Military Academy and a bright mind. Within this rather (and sometime very much) unanimous-patriotic collection, the work of a young American researcher named Kilpatrick Tanham stands out. This early work (1951) was initially a doctoral thesis about the Belgian Underground Movement, an external perspective detached from the internal context of Belgium with its sometimes alienating insinuations, and probably represents the first true matter-of-factly - even “surgical” - approach to this topic.
Therefore, it is probably no coincidence that this work would only be translated into French after twenty years, under the auspices of ULB. We are then in the year 1971. At the time, in the very early 1970s, an actual scientific analysis of the Resistance phenomenon starts to emerge among Belgian researchers, as we will see later.
(To be continued in the next edition)