The erection of the memorial

The National Memorial of the Fortress of Breendonk was created by law in 1947. Although not all Belgian political prisoners were imprisoned in Breendonk during the occupation, the infamous reputation of the former Auffanglager meant that the legislator wanted to make Breendonk a permanent symbol of remembrance for all those who suffered or lost their lives during the war.

On 11 June 1946, the socialist member of parliament Gaston Hoyaux submitted a first bill to the Belgian Chamber of Representatives.  As a former prisoner of Breendonk and of the Buchenwald concentration camp, he expressed the wish to erect, on the remains of the fortress, on this “sacred site”, a “Monument to the memory and recognition”.  This place should become “an active and permanent centre of wide civilian propaganda”.

The bill followed the traditional legislative route: discussion in the Commission of National Defence, discussion of the amendments, approval in the Senate.  On 10 July 1947, the House of Representatives passed the law by an absolute majority (167 votes ON 169, two members abstained).

On 19 August 1947, Prince Charles signed the law creating the National Memorial of the Fort of Breendonk.  The Memorial became an autonomous public institution, managed by a board of directors in which former prisoners or their successors were widely represented.

The law clearly defines the dual mission of the Memorial: on the one hand, to “ensure the permanent preservation of the buildings and works of the Fortress” and, on the other hand, to “take all useful measures so that the memory of the Fortress of Breendonk and of the events that took place here remain alive in the spirit of the nation, foster its citizenship and promote the patriotic education of young people”.  From the outset, the law laid down the educational mission of the Memorial.

On 16 October 1947, the list with the names of the first trustees of the newly established memorial was published. Among them were the following former prisoners of Breendonk or their successors:

Georges CANIVET (President of the Association of Former Prisoners of Breendonk),

Gaston HOYAUX (author of the bill, former prisoner of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen),

Jules JODOIGNE (ex-prisoner of Vught and Sachsenhausen)

Paul LEVY (journalist with the national broadcasting company I.N.R.),

Xavier RELECOM (former prisoner of Sachsenhausen),

André SIMONART (professor at the University of Louvain, former prisoner of Buchenwald)

Albert VAN ROY (town clerk of Willebroek)

and

Hilda SEVENS (former prisoner of Ravensbrück and widow of the Antwerp substitute prosecutor Dirk Sevens, who died in the Breendonk camp as a result of severe torture).

After some time, the members of the board of directors were replaced, in view of their age, by non-veterans.

Until the creation of the War Heritage Institute on 1 May 2017, the
Memorial was cared for by the Board of Governors. The last members of
the Board were:

Chairman : Mr Baudouin SOMERS, Lt-General, Rtd, Honorary Aide-de-Camp of the King

Vice Chairman : Mr Denis HARDY, General Major of the Air Force, Rtd

The Governor of the Province of Antwerp: Mrs Cathy BERX
The Mayor of the Community of Willebroek: Mr Eddy BEVERS

The representatives of the Royal Army  and Military History Museum: Mrs Christine VAN EVERBROECK and Mr Piet DE GRYSE

A member appointed by nomination by the French Community: Mr Joël MATHIEU
A member appointed by nomination by the Flemish Community:Mr Martin RUEBENS
A member appointed by nomination by the German speaking Community: MrHerbert RULAND

Members appointed by nomination by the Ministry of Defence:

Mr Vital CRAENINCKX

Mr Senator Francis DELPEREE

Mr Fred ERDMAN

Mr Jean CARDOEN

Mrs Linda MOREAU-SEVENS

Mr Franky BOSTYN

Mr Edmond EYCKEN

The Inspector of Finances at the Ministry of Defence was by law involved in the activities of the Board.

 

The Presidents

Baron André SIMONART
Baron Paul M.G. LEVY
Mrs Linda MOREAU – SEVENS
Prof. em. Roger COEKELBERGS
Lt-gen. Rtd Baudouin SOMERS
1947 – 1975
1975 – 1997
1997 – 2000
2000 – 2011
2012 – 2017
On 1 May 2017, Mr Piet VELDEMAN was appointed director a.i. Department II, external sites and the daily management came in the hands of Mr Dr Dimitri RODEN who passed the torch to Herbart BEYERS on 1 May.

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