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Belgium under Nazi Occupation

Started by <k>, March 16, 2017, 11:13:09 PM

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Walloon miniature sheet.jpg

Here a miniature sheet of the stamps refers to the Legion of Walloon Volunteers against Bolshevism.
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Waffen-SS, Flemish Legion: military field post stamps of 1941.

Flemish Legion miniature sheet.jpg

Flemish Legion miniature sheet.

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.
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Belgium 1942.JPG

Belgian stamp, 1942.

A Belgian charity stamp of 1942, issued in aid of Belgian prisoners of war.

It shows a home-sick prisoner writing to his family.

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.
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Belgian Jews wearing the star of David.jpg

Belgian Jews wearing the star of David.

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.
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Flemish Legion miniature sheet 1943.jpg

Waffen-SS, Flemish Legion: military field post stamps, 1943.

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".

That was how Nazi propaganda termed it.

Above, 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.
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Belgian resistance at work.jpg

Belgian resistance at work.

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.
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Flemish Legion 1944-.jpg

Flemish Legion 1944.jpg

Waffen-SS, Flemish Legion: military field post stamps, 1944.

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.
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Liberation for Belgium.jpg

Liberation for Belgium.

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.
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Belgium 2 francs 1944.jpg

Belgium, 2 francs, 1944.

This 2 francs coin, made of zinc-coated steel, was issued in 1944 by the Allies.

In December 1944, Hitler issued another order.

It claimed to annex the whole of Belgium and Northern France to Germany.

This was despite the fact that he was no longer fully in control of them.
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Leopold III with his son Baudouin.jpg

Leopold III with his son Baudouin.

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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