The Second World War and the liberation of Brussels

The Second World War and the liberation of Brussels

Like the whole of Belgium, Brussels suffered the occupation and the horrors of war. The capital experienced occupation, resistance, collaboration, worry and finally deliverance with the liberation in September by Allied troops. In 2019 and 2020, Brussels hopes to celebrate the liberation and the scenes of joy that punctuated it.

  • An occupied country

    On 10 May 1940, the German army began its invasion of Belgium, conquering most of the forts of the Albert Canal (which links Liege and Antwerp). The Belgian Army fought bravely but after 18 days of combat, Leopold III surrendered.

    Occupied, Belgium suffered the consequences of the enemy's presence: economic looting, rationing and restrictions of all kinds, particularly food restrictions, compulsory labour (first in Belgium and then in Germany), raids on Jews, etc.

  • War in Brussels

    Not being on the front line, the capital was not involved in the fighting itself. However, by virtue of its status, the German authorities quickly installed their headquarters and those of the Military Administration in Belgium and Northern France, headed by General von Falkenhausen. In Belgium, the Germans opted to maintain local administration, placing it under the supervision of a military authority. Over time, the administration would be infiltrated by people who complied with the enemy and even collaborators.

    Having succeeded illustrious mayor Adolphe Max in 1939, Liberal Joseph Vandemeulebroeck was ousted from his position because he was too patriotic for the enemy's taste. Deported to Germany, he was replaced for a time by Jules Coelst; but in 1942, the occupier brought together the 19 municipalities under the same administrative entity ("Grand-Brussels") and appointed collaborator Jean Grauls at its head.

  • Resistance vs collaboration

    True to their reputation, the people of Brussels organised a resistance. The "Front de l'Indépendance" was formed in Schaerbeek, bringing together a thousand people who were active in a wide variety of ways. These included the formation of structured and armed militias ready to emerge during liberation and fighting the psychological battle through the production of graffiti and the printing of leaflets and newspapers (see in particular the humorous "fake Le Soir" of 9 November 1943). False documents were produced, a highly effective intelligence service was established and sabotage campaigns were organised, with collaborators executed.

    In contrast, collaboration infiltrated a series of political movements and parties: the New Order (reform of politics and society from a right-wing and authoritarian perspective), the Flemish nationalist movement (VNV party), Rexist Party, etc.

    The liberation of Brussels took place on the evening of Sunday 3 September 1944, with the arrival of British troops, flanked by a Belgian corps, the Piron Brigade, known for its participation in the Normandy landings. The troops arrived through the Chaussée de Mons and the Ninove Gate and marched through Brussels, in an atmosphere of widespread jubilation.

    The liberation would be preceded by sometimes difficult moments, such as the Allied bombardments of sensitive sites (e.g. Schaerbeek training station) or the burning of the courthouse by the Germans to destroy evidence and testimonies.