In this topic I will continue my general series on the era of fascism and World War 2. I will very briefly look at the birth of Belgium as a state and the issues it faced, before assessing how far fascism did or did not penetrate Belgian politics in the 1930s. I will also look at the standard Belgian coinage on the eve of war, so that we can see to what extent it changed under the Occupation.
Note: text in blue is largely taken from Wikipedia, though I have occasionally abridged it.
The Belgian Revolution of 1830 led to the secession of the southern provinces - mainly the former Southern Netherlands - from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. These provinces then established an independent Kingdom of Belgium. The people of the Southern Netherlands were mainly Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons. Both peoples were traditionally Roman Catholic, whilst the Northern Dutch were mainly Lutheran Protestants. Many liberals regarded King William I's rule as despotic. There were high levels of unemployment and industrial unrest among the working classes.
On 25 August 1830 riots erupted in Brussels and shops were looted. Uprisings followed elsewhere in the country. Factories were occupied and machinery destroyed. Order was restored briefly after William committed troops to the Southern Provinces but rioting continued and leadership was taken up by radicals, who started talking of secession. Dutch units saw the mass desertion of recruits from the southern provinces, and pulled out. The States-General in Brussels voted in favour of secession and declared independence. In the aftermath, a National Congress was assembled. King William refrained from future military action and appealed to the Great Powers. The resulting 1830 London Conference of major European powers recognized Belgian independence. Following the installation of Leopold I as "King of the Belgians" in 1831, King William made a belated military attempt to reconquer Belgium and restore his position through a military campaign. This "Ten Days' Campaign" failed because of French military intervention. Not until 1839 did the Dutch accept the decision of the London conference and Belgian independence by signing the Treaty of London.
Issues of language and religion had been two of the issues behind the creation of Belgium. In terms of power and influence, the Francophone Walloons were now dominant in the new state. In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, French reigned: it was spoken in the wealthy coal-rich south and was the language of the Francophile elite, while the Flemings were the underdogs. For that reason, most Walloons favoured a unitary state: they were in effect simply Belgian nationalists, who approved of Wallonian predominance.
The Great Crash occurred in 1929, but in 1932 Belgium's three traditional and moderate political parties won 90% of the vote in the general election. In those days the main Belgian parties were not split along linguistic lines – that did not happen until the 1960s and 1970s. The effects of the Great Depression came late to Belgium and were less severe than elsewhere. However, the deflationary policies of the coalition of the Catholic and Liberal parties, under Prime Minister Paul van Zeeland of the Catholic Party, exacerbated the situation. In the general election of 1936, the Labour Party won around a third of the votes, becoming the biggest party, but it went into a government of national unity with the Catholic and Liberal parties, and Paul van Zeeland remained prime minister. Given decree powers, van Zeeland tackled the economic crisis by devaluing the currency and resorting to expansive budgetary policies. Nonetheless, by this stage, there was still some anger at politicians and bankers, who some considered responsible for the depression and also to have profited from it. At this point a new face entered the political arena: Léon Degrelle.
After studying at a Jesuit college and later for a law doctorate, Léon Degrelle worked as a journalist for the conservative Roman Catholic periodical "Christus Rex" ("Christ the King"), where he was attracted to the ideas of the Frenchman Charles Maurras and his "Action française". A reactionary pro-Catholic and monarchist movement, Action française was highly elitist and disapproved of "the masses", but it is regarded as proto-fascist because of its belief in "direct action": violence. Its members used to beat up political opponents in the street, a tactic later enthusiastically adopted by fascists. Degrelle led a militant tendency inside the Belgium Catholic Party, which he formed around his newspaper. Though he would later become an infamous pro-Nazi collaborator, at this point he was not a fully-fledged fascist. Degrelle clashed with the mainstream Catholic Party members, and the Rexist group separated itself from the Catholic Party in 1935.
The ideology of Rex called for the "moral renewal" of Belgian society through the dominance of the Catholic Church, and by forming a corporatist society and abolishing liberal democracy. It idealised rural life and traditional family values. The Rexist party also vigorously denounced corruption in Belgian politics, thanks to which it stirred politics up in 1936, and its leader's supposed charisma gave rise to the punning phrase, "Rex appeal!" However, Belgian women were not allowed to vote in those days. Initially Rex gained considerable popularity and won 11.5% of the votes in the 1936 general election, making it the fourth-strongest force in Parliament. Though authoritarian and not totalitarian, the party increasingly made use of fascist-style rhetoric, which was a fashionable meme in those days. Later Degrelle ran in the April 1937 Brussels by-election against Prime Minister Paul van Zeeland of the Catholic Party. By this time the worst of the Depression was over, and the Spanish civil war had alerted people to the dangers of fascism. Van Zeeland was supported by all the other parties, even the Communists, and the Catholic Church of Belgium intervened, calling Rexism "a danger to the country and to the Church". Degrelle was decisively defeated: he lost by 20% to 80%.
Only after this defeat did Rex openly embrace anti-Semitism and anti-parliamentarism, following the Nazi model, but its popularity now declined sharply. In the 1939 election, Rex's share of the votes fell to 4.4%, and it lost 17 of its 21 seats, mostly to the Catholic and Liberal parties.
In October 1936 Degrelle had made a secret agreement with the VNV, the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (Flemish National Union). Both movements strove for a corporatist system, but the VNV wanted to separate Flanders from Belgium and unite it with the Netherlands. The Flemish side cancelled the agreement after just one year. Rex and VNV both received subsidies from Hitler and Mussolini, who, with typical cynical opportunism, aimed to destabilise Belgium by a policy of "divide and rule".
The Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV: Dutch for "Flemish National Union" or "Flemish National League") was a nationalist Flemish political party in Belgium, active between 1933 and 1944. It was founded by Staf de Clercq. The party was authoritarian and reactionary in outlook and though it adopted some fascist airs, prior to World War 2 it was not genuinely fascist. It aimed to separate Flanders from Belgium and to unite it with the Netherlands to form a Greater Netherlands, termed Dietschland, nowadays spelled "Dietsland" ("Dutchland"). Verdinaso was a similar movement, but it was not a party and did not take part in elections. Flemish nationalists had a variety of options: some favoured more autonomy within the unitary state. Some favoured a federation of Flanders and Wallonia. The more extreme Flemings dreamed of a Greater Netherlands, which would include all the Dutch-speaking peoples. They referred to this concept as Dietschland, which is nowadays spelled as Dietsland. The smallest version of Dietsland would include a unified Netherlands and Flanders. A larger version would include French Flanders, and sometimes even Luxembourg and / or the Frisians of Germany.
Fascism was never a serious internal threat in the Belgium of the 1930s. Democratic politics survived the Depression with little difficulty. The real threat was external, as Nazi Germany became ever more aggressive.
King Leopold III had come to the throne in 1934, determined to maintain Belgium's policy of neutrality. Under his reign, a new design series of coins was issued in 1938 and 1939. They looked rather modern compared to the old-fashioned, often allegorical and rather French-looking designs of the 1920s. As usual, they catered for Belgium's linguistic division by including legends in French, spoken by the Walloons, and Dutch, spoken by the Flemings. België and Belgique are, respectively, the Dutch and French words for Belgium.
Below you see the two versions of the 5 centimes design. One side shows the royal monogram, which includes a capital L for Leopold and its mirror image, while the other side shows the coats of arms of the cities of Arlon, Gent and Liège. Both coins are the same size - the images are not to scale.
The 10 centimes coins feature the arms of the cities: Antwerp, Hasselt and Namur.
25 centimes - cities: Brugge, Bruxelles/Brussel, and Mons.
The 5, 10 and 25 centimes coins were designed by Oscar Jespers. In Belgium, he was a very famous and well-known artist.
The 50 centimes of the series exists only as a French-language version dated 1939. The upper image is courtesy of www.ibelgica.be. The lower image shows a trial strike, courtesy of www.numisbids.com. The arms belong to the provinces of East Flanders, Hainaut and Luxembourg.
According to the Royal Mint of Belgium, the 50 centimes coin of 1939 was never put into circulation, because of the difficulties caused by the outbreak of war.
The 1 franc coin shows the arms of the provinces of Limburg, Namur, and West Flanders.
The 5 francs features the arms of the provinces: Antwerpen, Brabant, and Liège.
The 50 francs coin featured a portrait of King Leopold III, and this time the arms of all the nine provinces were represented.
Britain and France declared war on Germany in September 1939, following the German invasion of Poland, but no major land operations occurred in Western Europe during the period known as the Phoney War in the winter of 1939–1940. The French and British governments tried to persuade Belgium to join them, but King Leopold III and his government refused, maintaining Belgium's neutrality. Belgium considered itself well-prepared against a possible invasion by Axis forces. During the 1930s the Belgian government had made extensive preparations to deter and repel a German invasion, such as had occurred in 1914. On 9 October 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered plans to be made for an invasion of the Low Countries (Benelux), to use them as a base against Great Britain and to pre-empt a similar attack by the Allied forces, which could threaten the vital Ruhr Area.
On 10 May 1940, the Wehrmacht invaded Belgium. On the first day of the offensive, the principal Belgian strong point of Fort Eben-Emael was overwhelmed by a daring paratroop operation. The defensive perimeter was therefore penetrated before any French or British troops could arrive. After a short battle, Belgium was overwhelmed by the numerically superior and better-prepared Germans. Nevertheless, the Belgians prevented the British Expeditionary Force from being outflanked and cut off from the coast, enabling the evacuation from Dunkirk. After his military surrender, Leopold (unlike Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, in a similar predicament) remained in Brussels to surrender to the victorious invaders, while his entire civil government fled to Paris and later to London.
On 24 May 1940, Leopold, having assumed command of the Belgian Army, met his ministers for the final time. They urged the king to leave the country with the government. Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot reminded him that capitulation was a decision for the Belgian government, not the king. The king indicated that he had decided to remain in Belgium with his troops, whatever the outcome. The ministers took this to mean that he would establish a new government under the direction of Hitler, potentially a treasonous act. Leopold thought that he might be seen as a deserter if he were to leave the country: "Whatever happens, I have to share the same fate as my troops." Leopold had long had a difficult relationship with his ministers, acting independently whenever possible, and trying to circumvent and even limit their powers.
French, British, and Belgian troops were encircled by German forces at the Battle of Dunkirk. Leopold notified King George VI by telegram on 25 May 1940 that Belgian forces were being crushed, saying "the assistance that we give to the Allies will come to an end if our army is surrounded". Two days later, Leopold surrendered the Belgian forces to the Germans. Prime Minister Pierlot spoke on French radio, saying that the king's decision to surrender went against the Belgian Constitution, since he had acted without his ministers' advice. Pierlot and his Government believed this created an impossibilité de régner and that regency and guardianship should be provided by the united Chambers. It was now impossible, however, to summon the Belgian Chamber of Representatives or Belgian Senate, or to appoint a regent. After Leopold's surrender, the British press denounced him as "Traitor King" and "King Rat", and French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, aware that the Battle of France was probably already lost, accused Leopold of treason.
Leopold's surrender was also decried by Winston Churchill. In the House of Commons on 4 June 1940 he said: "At the last moment when Belgium was already invaded, King Leopold called upon us to come to his aid, and even at the last moment we came. He and his brave, efficient army, nearly half a million strong, guarded our left flank and thus kept open our only line of retreat to the sea. Suddenly, without prior consultation, with the least possible notice, without the advice of his ministers and upon his own personal act, he sent a plenipotentiary to the German Command, surrendered his army and exposed our whole flank and means of retreat."
Shortly after the surrender of the Belgian army, the Militärverwaltung in Belgien und Nordfrankreich (a "Military Administration" covering Belgium and the two French departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais) was created by the Germans with Brussels as administrative centre. Germany annexed Eupen-Malmedy, a German-speaking region given to Belgium under the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. The Military Government was placed under the control of General Alexander von Falkenhausen, an aristocrat and career soldier. Under von Falkenhausen's command, the German administration had two military units at its disposal: the Feldgendarmerie ("Field Gendarmerie", part of the Wehrmacht) and the Gestapo (the "Secret State Police", part of the SS). The section of the Military Government that dealt with civil matters, the Militärverwaltungsstab, commanded by Eggert Reeder, was responsible for all economic, social and political matters in the territory.
Before leaving the country in 1940, the Belgian government had installed a panel of senior civil-servants, the so-called "Committee of Secretaries-General", to administer the territory in the absence of elected ministers. The Germans retained the Committee during the occupation; it was responsible for implementing demands made by the Militärverwaltungsstab. The Committee hoped to stop the Germans becoming involved in the day-to-day administration of the territory, allowing the nation to maintain a degree of autonomy. The Committee also hoped to be able to prevent the implementation of more radical German policies, such as forced labour and deportation. In practice, the Committee merely enabled the Germans to implement their policies more efficiently than the Military Government could have done by force.
To celebrate the annexation of Eupen-Malmedy, Nazi Germany issued two stamps: "Eupen-Malmedy German again".
By June 1940, Nazi Germany also controlled France, the Channel Islands, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway and Denmark, as well as much of central Europe. It must have seemed as if the Nazis would dominate Europe forever, and the citizens of the occupied territories had to decide how to live their lives under the New Order.
Some Nazis, such as Heinrich Himmler, dreamed of an "Aryan Commonwealth", in which Germans, Scandinavians and the Low Countries would all be equal. Hitler, however, was a German nationalist first and foremost, and a very petty, cruel and vindictive one. Non-German territories would either be annexed to Germany or occupied and exploited.
The small Belgian authoritarian or semi-fascist parties reacted in different ways. The leader of Verdinaso proscribed the production of any pro-Nazi literature by his members, but he himself was killed by French troops who had identified him as an extremist. Verdinaso now fell apart, with some becoming collaborators and others joining the resistance. De Clercq, the leader of the rival VNV, immediately went over to the Nazis. Hitler was reluctant to give too much power to any Belgians, but he enjoyed playing divide and rule with the two linguistic groups. It became clear that the Nazis favoured Flemings, however, and this caused resentment among the Walloons. Below you can see the geographical extent of Flanders and Wallonia.
King Leopold was keen to find an accommodation with Germany in 1940, hoping that Belgium would remain as a unified and semi-autonomous state within a German-dominated Europe. In November 1940, Leopold visited Hitler to ask for Belgian prisoners of war to be freed. An agreement was not reached and Leopold returned to Belgium.This fueled the belief that Leopold, who had expressed anti-Semitic views before the war, was collaborating with the Nazis rather than defending his country's interests. During the war, Leopold was held under house-arrest in the Palace of Laeken.
Attempts by the government-in-exile to pursue Leopold to defect to the Allied side were unsuccessful. He consistently refused to publicly support the Allies or to denounce German actions such as the deportation of Belgian workers. In 1941, while still incarcerated, he married Mary Lilian Baels, undermining his popularity with the Belgian public who disliked Baels and considered the marriage to discredit his claim to martyr status. Despite his position, Leopold remained prominent in the occupied territory, and coins and stamps continued to carry his portrait or monogramme. In January 1944, Leopold was moved to Germany where he remained for the rest of the war.
The German administration had competing objectives of maintaining order while extracting material from the territory for the war effort. The German government levied the costs of the military occupation on the Belgians through taxes, while also demanding "external occupation costs" (or "Anti-Bolshevik charge") to support operations elsewhere. In total, Belgium was forced to pay nearly two-thirds of its national income for these charges.
As in all occupied countries in Europe, food, fuel and clothing were strictly rationed by the German authorities. Even with the stringent rationing, the food and materials which civilians should officially have been entitled to were not always available. A significant black market also existed in the country, supplying food illegally at very high prices to those that could afford it. Information and the press were strictly controlled by the German government and news was greatly restricted.
From 1941, occupation issue coins began to circulate. They were made of zinc, even though it quickly corroded, so that the more important metals could be used for the war effort. With one or two exceptions, the coin designs were the same as before the war. In countries where the monarch had fled, such as Norway and the Netherlands, a new design series was introduced, but in Denmark and Belgium, where the monarchs had stayed with their people, the Nazis allowed the royal emblems to exist as before.
Below you see both versions of the zinc 5 centimes.
Here is a 10 centimes coin of 1942, with the Dutch legend appearing first. These are not pretty coins.
Here is a 25 centimes coin of 1942, with the French legend appearing first.
Here is a 25 centimes coin of 1942, with the Dutch legend appearing first. Notice the corrosion.
Here we have a 1943 franc, Dutch language first. It now has a very different design on both obverse and reverse. I like the lion, but the "L" for Leopold is filled with an over-elaborate and rather ugly motif.
Here is a 1942 version showing the French language first. I do like that acorn at the top of the design.
Another new design now for the 5 francs, which is also in zinc. The King now faces to the right. I do not like the motif that fills the numeral 5 on the reverse. It is once more over-elaborate and ugly.
Here we see a rather poor example of the obverse of the 5 francs, this time with the Dutch for "King of the Belgians".
In the exergue you see the surname of the designer, Marcel Rau.
Here is a reminder of the King's portrait on the obverse of the pre-war 50 francs.
After Belgium was invaded, the Rexist Party was split over the matter of resistance. Its leader, Degrelle, proclaimed reconstructed Rexism to be in close union with Nazism. Degrelle started contributing to a Nazi news source, Le Pays Réel. In August 1941 Degrelle joined the Walloon legion of the Wehrmacht, which was raised to fight against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front.
Here you see Degrelle in Nazi uniform.
In December 1941 the Wallonian Legion issued a set of four military field stamps. The man on the 100 francs stamp resembles Degrelle.
Here a miniature sheet of the stamps refers to the Legion of Walloon Volunteers against Bolshevism.
There was also a Flemish Legion of Waffen-SS volunteers. They also issued a set of military field post stamps in December 1941. The designs hark back to the medieval Flemish Knights, symbolically linking their war-like spirit to that of the Flemish division of the Waffen-SS. These are very interesting designs, but the reality is that many of these volunteers later froze to death on the Eastern front.
These stamps were also produced in miniature sheets, which incorporated in their border the lion from the flag of Flanders.
After the Belgian defeat, around 225,000 Belgian soldiers (around 30% of the total force mobilised in 1940) who had been made prisoners of war were sent to concentration camps in Germany. The majority of those in captivity (145,000) were Flemish, and 80,000 were Walloons. Most had been reservists, rather than professional soldiers, before the outbreak of war and their detention created a large labour shortage in civilian occupations.
As part of their Flamenpolitik (Flemish policy), the Germans began repatriating Flemish prisoners of war in August 1940. By February 1941, 105,833 Flemish soldiers had been repatriated. Gradually, more prisoners were released, but 67,000 Belgian soldiers were still in captivity by 1945. Many prisoners of war were forced to work in quarries or in agriculture and around 2,000 died in captivity.
Before 1941, Belgian workers could volunteer to work in Germany; nearly 180,000 Belgians signed up, hoping for better pay and living conditions. The numbers, however, proved insufficient. Despite the protest of the Secretaries-General, compulsory deportation of Belgian workers to Germany began in October 1942. At the beginning of the scheme, Belgian firms were obliged to select 10% of their work force, but from 1943 workers were conscripted by age class. 145,000 Belgians were conscripted and sent to Germany, most to work in manual jobs in industry or agriculture for the German war effort. Working conditions for forced workers in Germany were notoriously poor. Workers were paid little and worked long hours, and those in German towns were particularly vulnerable to Allied aerial bombing.
Following the introduction of compulsory deportation 200,000 Belgian workers (dubbed réfractaires) went into hiding for fear of being conscripted. The réfractaires were often aided by resistance organisations, such as Organisation Socrates run by the Front de l'Indépendance, who provided food and false papers. Many réfractaires went on to enlist in resistance groups, swelling their numbers enormously from late 1942.
Below you see a Belgian charity stamp that was issued in aid of Belgian prisoners of war. It shows a home-sick prisoner writing to his family.
In mid-1940, nearly 56,000 Jews were living in Belgium out of a population of roughly 8 million. Many had fled to Belgium to escape recent persecution in Germany and elsewhere, meaning that only a minority were Belgian citizens. Most of the Jewish population was focused in communities in the towns of Brussels and Antwerp.
Anti-Jewish legislation (along the lines of the German Nuremberg Laws or French laws on the status of Jews) was enacted in October 1940, a few months after the German occupation. Several pogroms took place in 1941, notably in Antwerp, and economic assets belonging to Jews were seized. In May 1942, wearing of the yellow Star-of-David badge became compulsory for Jews in Belgium.
From June 1942, as part of the "Final Solution", Jews living in Belgium were ordered to report to the Mechelen transit camp. Those who did not do so voluntarily were rounded up by the police. Between August 1942 and July 1944, a total of twenty-six railway convoys deported 25,000 Jews and 350 Roma from Belgium to eastern Europe. Most were sent to the Auschwitz death camp, although others went to camps at Bergen-Belsen and Vittel. Of the 25,000 deported, over 24,000 were killed. Fewer than 1,000 were still alive by the time Allied forces liberated the camps.
The former Belgian army fort at Breendonk, near Mechelen, was requisitioned by the Nazis and used for detainment and interrogation of Jews, political prisoners and captured members of the resistance. Of the 3,500 people incarcerated in Breendonk between 1940 and 1944, 1,733 died. Around 300 people were killed in the camp itself, with at least 98 of them dying from deprivation or torture.
Below: a decent family, persecuted. Did any of them survive the horrors of the Holocaust, I wonder.
1943 was the year of Stalingrad. It could only be a matter of time before the Nazis were defeated. Yet still some Flemings were eager to fight in the "battle for European civilisation against Asiatic bolshevism" - as Nazi propaganda put it. Another set of military field post stamps was issued for the Flemish Legion:
5 Francs - Blue-green - Otto the Great.
10 Francs - Orange-red - Joseph II of Austria.
15 Francs - Black-brown - Maria Theresia of Austria.
20 Francs - Lilac-pink - Maximilian of Austria.
50 Francs - Orange-brown - Charlemagne.
100 Francs - Blue - Charles V.
It is one of the most astonishing sets of stamp designs I have seen, with the SS flash included among the bygone emperors. Superb graphic art produced in the service of the shabbiest ideals. Go figure.
Resistance to German occupation came from all levels and regions of Belgium and quarters of the political spectrum, chiefly in the form of helping Allied airmen escape, and numerous lines were set up to organise this effort; for instance the Comet line which evacuated an estimated 700 Allied servicemen to Gibraltar. The Comet Line had a series of safe houses throughout Belgium. Allied airmen were given civilian clothes and were frequently moved from house to house, staying with Belgian families who supported the resistance. The resistance would aid the airmen by giving them false papers and guiding them to either neutral or Allied occupied territory.
As elsewhere, sabotage was employed against enemy military and economic assets, with railway lines and bridges being common targets. The activities of Groupe G, a small student resistance cell based in Brussels, alone are estimated to have cost the Nazis 10 million man-hours of labour to repair damages done. Direct attacks on German troops and military installations were rarer, yet one estimate puts the number of German soldiers killed by the Belgian resistance in 1941 as higher than in all of France.
The resistance were instrumental in saving Jews and Roma from deportation to death camps, for instance the attack on the "Twentieth convoy" to Auschwitz. Many Belgians also hid Jews and political dissidents during the occupation, with one estimate putting the number at some 20,000 people hidden during the war. There was also significant low-level resistance, for instance in June 1941, the City Council of Brussels refused to distribute Stars of David badges. Certain high-profile members of the Belgian establishment, including Queen Elizabeth and Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines, spoke out against the German treatment of Jews.
Nevertheless, Belgian civilians were often subject to retaliation by paramilitaries and German forces for resistance activity. In August 1944, 20 civilians were killed by Rexist paramilitaries in a reprisal for a single attack on a Rexist politician in the Courcelles Massacre.
Members of the Belgian Armee Blanche (the Belgian underground resistance) retrieving a tube containing arms and ammunition, that the Allied forces dropped by parachute.
A final Flemish Legion set was produced in 1944 but never issued, because the end was near. The set exists in both perforated and unperforated varieties. The glamour and camaraderie that these propagandistic stamps depict is in sheer contrast to the death and destruction that Nazism brought to millions.
Belgium was liberated late in 1944 by Allied forces, including British, Canadian, and American armies. Leopold III's brother, Charles, the Count of Flanders, was appointed Regent, pending a decision about whether the King would be able to regain his former position on the throne. In February 1945, Achille Van Acker replaced Pierlot as Prime Minister. The resistance was disarmed, and many of its members and other Belgians who had remained in the country during the occupation were mobilised into the regular Belgian army in 57 "Fusilier Battalions". These battalions served in several battles on the western front. 100,000 Belgians were fighting in the Allied armies by VE Day.
General Courtney Hodges' U.S. First Army liberated the region south of Brussels and Maastricht in early September 1944. While two corps of the First Army were concentrated elsewhere, VIII Corps occupied a long stretch of the front from the area south of Liège, across the Ardennes and into Luxembourg. The length of the deployment meant that the Corps' front line was only lightly defended, leaving it vulnerable.
Following a few months of relative calm in Belgium, on 16 December 1944 the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive with over a quarter of a million soldiers. Antwerp was the ultimate objective of the German offensive, but the German advance stalled before the Meuse River, at Celles near Dinant, and was pushed back in furious fighting over a period of six weeks in bitterly cold weather by American, British and Belgian troops. Belgian towns and civilians in the Ardennes suffered during the offensive as homes were reduced to ruins, and there were instances of German troops shooting civilians. Around 90% of the town of La Roche-en-Ardenne was destroyed during fighting. By 4 February 1945, the country was reported to be free of German troops.
In the six months following Allied liberation, Belgian towns were widely targeted by the unpiloted German V-Bombs. A total of 2,342 of these rockets (mostly of the more advanced V-2 type) fell in a 10-mile radius around Antwerp alone. A post-war SHAEF report estimated V-Bombs had been responsible for killing 5,000 people and injuring a further 21,000, mostly in the cities of Liège and Antwerp.
The period after liberation also saw a wave of prosecutions of those suspected of collaboration during the war. 400,000 Belgians were investigated for collaboration of whom 56,000 were prosecuted. Nearly 250 were executed. Léon Degrelle, despite being sentenced to death, managed to escape to Francoist Spain, where he remained until his death in 1994.
This 2 francs coin, made of zinc-coated steel, was issued in 1944 by the Allies. Does anybody know the story behind it?
In December 1944, Hitler issued an order annexing the whole of Belgium and Northern France to Germany, even though he was no longer fully in control of them.
After the experience of World War II, Belgium abandoned its neutral stance in international politics, in favour of military, political and economic integration.
The political crisis surrounding Leopold III's role during the occupation, and whether he could return to the throne, polarized Belgian public opinion in the years following the war between Catholics, notably in Flanders, who broadly supported his return, and Socialists, in Wallonia and Brussels, who were strongly opposed to it. After a general strike and an indecisive referendum, the king resigned in favour of his son, Baudouin, in 1950.
NOTE: Some of the zinc occupation-style coins shown were issued as late as 1947, also dated 1947.
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