The Fortress of Breendonk was created at the beginning of the 20th century as part of the outer ring of defences of the Reinforced Fortress of Antwerp. In the early months of the First World War, it was heavily shelled. The fortress of Liezele, four kilometres away, and the fortress of Walem, eight kilometres away, also received heavy fire. Despite its history and role in the Great War, the fortress of Breendonk is mainly known for its use by the German occupiers as a Nazi horror camp in the Second World War. Every year, more than 100 000 visitors come to visit this memorial.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the end of the “Great War”, an exhibition is running in the first four rooms of the memorial, where one can learn about the origins of Antwerp’s belt of forts, the occupation and the battles around Fort Breendonk. In addition, by the end of 2018, an original emergency residence from that period was rebuilt within the enclosure.
Already during the war, the Belgian government made plans to tackle the problem of the housing shortage: in September 1916, the King Albert Fund (KAF) was established. The housing shortage was considerably underestimated. At the end of 1919, the KAF, created for this purpose built 850 houses in the entire country, while 78,937 were needed. Organisationally, the fund faced great challenges. Soon it would pass on tasks such as planning, location, transport and allocation to the municipalities.
In Willebroek, more than 700 homes were completely or partially destroyed. Various factors such as the return of refugees, but also the increased number of marriages contributed to the housing shortage. The first ‘barracks’ were erected in 1919, but in order to alleviate the initial need, the town council also erected other shelters, including tents. After World War I, a total of 129 emergency houses were built in Willebroek. The last emergency housing in Willebroek was located at Gezondheidstraat 6. It was demolished in September 2016 by the 11th Battalion Genie from Burcht. The emergency housing was moved to the Provincial Technical School of Boom where students of the woodwork department repaired it before it was moved permanently to the site of Fort Breendonk.