Who are we?
A visit to the National Memorial of the Fortress of Breendonk is a memorable and unforgettable experience. An extensive trail introduces you to the history of the origins of the fortress and its evolution into the infamous SS-Auffanglager Breendonk. You will visit the areas where the prisoners of Breendonk endured their ordeal: the so-called tunnel, the casemates converted into prison chambers, the cells, the wooden ‘Jew barracks’, the yard, the shower and latrine room, the torture chamber, the execution yard, the ‘cattle wagon’, etc.
A place of memory
The horrors of Nazism and concentration camps did not spare Belgium. The Fortress of Breendonk is a moving and telling proof of this. Today it is one of the best preserved camps in Europe.
Breendonk is only a cog in the concentration camp world, a world in which human dignity no longer counted.
Between September 1940 and September 1944, approximately 3,600 prisoners lived in Breendonk. This figure corresponds to less than 10 percent of the approximately 40,000 political prisoners recognised in Belgium after the war. The fortress of Breendonk is a symbol of the suffering and death of all victims of Nazism.
The memorial hall contains the names of the prisoners of Breendonk and urns containing the ashes of those who did not survive the camps. These urns come from Auschwitz, Banjica, Buchenwald, Dachau, Dora, Gross-Rosen, Flossenburg, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Natzweiler, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, Stutthof, Treblinka, Theresienstadt, Vught and an urn which reads: “Ziema Z Prochani pomodordowanych w obozach koncentracyjnych w Oswyecimiu-Majdanku- Treblince-Stutthofie-Gross-rosen”, which means: earth with ashes of people murdered in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka, Stutthof and Gross-Rosen. They keep alive the memory of all Belgians who perished during deportation in the Nazi camps and invite visitors to reflect. Several museum rooms inform you about the origins of the fortress and its role in the “Great War”, the occupation, the network of Nazi concentration camps or give you the chance to meet the prisoners of the Auffanglager Breendonk during the Second World War.
A Noble Goal
The history of Breendonk, the war and the conflicts in the post-war period do not encourage optimism. Yet we bring a message of hope as envisaged by the inspirers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our goal: to defend and respect the rights enshrined in the Declaration.
An open Meeting Place
Breendonk is an open spot that addresses itself first and foremost to all those who in one way or another fought for freedom, resisted oppression or became victims of blind racism and fanaticism: veterans, resistance fighters, prisoners of war, deportees, Jewish resistance Fighters, victims of the Shoah and many others. Moreover, we address everyone who subscribes to the democratic ideal.
The Fortress of Breendonk is a place where the historical ties between Flemings, Brussels citizens, Walloons and Europeans can be strengthened, irrespective of mutual disagreements and individual interests.
In this context, we would like to quote the testimonies of two former prisoners who stayed in room 6:
Léon-Ernest Halkin, number 2470, professor of history at the University of Liège and resistance fighter.
“All social classes, all professions, all opinions are represented. The Flemings forgive the Walloons for not being Flemings, the manual workers do not scorn the intellectuals too much, and the faithful can pray without provoking the irony of the Communists. The same spirit brings all these people closer together and unites them, equal as they are for the Germans and for death. I dare not call it patriotism, but rather a desire for freedom. Gradually, the common agony creates a true intimacy; social dividing walls come down, prejudices disappear, mistrust dissipates, and beautiful friendships are forged, despite the infinitely antipathetic framework in which we have to live.”
The atmosphere described by the Catholic Halkin is confirmed by the Communist Jacques Grippa :
“The general impression of the room where I stayed was one of admirable solidarity, which still moves me today. Workers, craftsmen and intellectuals, hostages, “bourgeois” and armed resistance, non-believers and believers, men of all persuasions…We shared the same total rejection of Nazism and its barbarity. George Hebbelinck, Jean Moetwil, Jean Blume, Léon Halkin, André Simonart, Norbert Van Eynde, Vital Delattre: I should mention them all, my friends from room 6.”
The Memorial also provides a forum for art in which artists creatively recount history. A fine example is the work by Martine Jansen, ‘Those who died in Breendonk’, which symbolises the 301 prisoners who died. Various artists have exhibited their work in the Memorial. In addition, the fortress regularly hosts theatre plays, film screenings, lectures, musical performances, historical evocations, and so on. All this is done in close cooperation with the Friends of Fort Breendonk.
Pedagogy is an important aspect of our mission. Every year the Memorial welcomes 75,000 to 80,000 pupils and students. During the visit, we offer the youngsters the information they need to form an accurate picture of the horrors that occurred at the fortress during the Second World War. A combined visit to Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen will also make it possible to shed light on the typical characteristics of racial persecution in addition to the political persecution highlighted in Breendonk.
The Memorial also organises seminars to enable teachers to prepare for their visit to the Memorial. Teachers who are interested in this should contact the site administrator (firstname.lastname@example.org or 03 860 75 26).
On our website, you will find a “teacher’s corner” where you can download various documents such as a plan of visit, audio-visual testimonials and the pedagogical dossier (in pdf format).
The works of Wilchar, Ochs, Diluck, Iancelevici and other former prisoners of Breendonk are exhibited in the fortress. In cooperation with the Friends of Fort Breendonk, the Memorial organises all kinds of cultural events that are in line with our objectives and ethical values.