Nationaal Gedenkteken van het Fort van Breendonk / Mémorial National du Fort de Breendonk
- National Memorial Fort Breendonk
- Fort van Breendonk Nationaal Memoriaal
In the early 20th century, Belgium set about creating a line of fortified defences to protect the port and city of Antwerp. One of the forts in this defensive ring was built at Willebroek. However, as most of the land on which it was built was in fact located within the boundaries of local council area of Breendonk, the structure was eventually named Fort Breendonk.
During the Second World War, the fort became a detention camp, the Auffanglager Breendonk, for prisoners of the Sicherheitspolizei-Sicherheitsdienst (SIPO-SD). Initially, the camp was guarded by a handful of German SS and a detachment of the Wehrmacht. In September 1941, however, the number of SS guards increased, many of whom belonged to the Wachgruppe, a Flemish SD unit.
At first, the prisoner population at Breendonk was rather diverse: it was made up of Jews, political prisoners, as well as common law prisoners and black marketeers. In 1942, when the Nazis began systematically exterminating the Jews of Europe, most Jewish prisoners at Breendonk were sent to the «SS-Sammellager» (transit camp) at the Kazerne Dossin before being deported to the extermination camps in the east. Consequently, Breendonk primarily became a camp for political prisoners and members of the Resistance.
In the summer of 1941, the number of prisoners increased to such an extent that the SS planned to transfer some of the prisoners to other concentration camps. On September 22, a first convoy of approximately one hundred prisoners left for Neuengamme near Hamburg. From then on, Breendonk became a transit camp: whenever an increase in the number of prisoners made the camp unmanageable, the SS deported a convoy of prisoners to Germany, the Netherlands, Austria or Poland. In total, 3,500 prisoners, including 48 women were subjected to the “Hell of Breendonk” by the end of the war. Around half those imprisoned in the fort did not survive the war.
On 19 August 1947, a bill was passed by the Belgian Parliament, which allowed for the creation of the Memorial of Breendonk. According to the law, the primary objective of the institution is to preserve the place with its buildings and its contents as a reminder of what happened there.
A complete renovation of the exhibition area, respecting the historical site and introducing new exhibition technologies was carried out in 2003. The aim of these renovations was to ensure that the Memorial would continue transmitting its message of tolerance, respect and human rights to future generations.
Since 2017, the memorial has been part of the War Heritage Institute.
It is possible to consult the archives during the Memorial's opening hours (Monday to Friday 9:30am to 5:30pm), but an appointment must be made beforehand.
Memorial Fort Breendonk website consulted on 23/07/2019
Pierre-Alain Tallier (dir.), Gertjan Desmet & Pascale Falek-Alhadeff, Sources pour l'histoire des populations juives et du judaïsme en Belgique/Bronnen voor de geschiedenis van de Joden en het Jodendom in België, 19de-21ste eeuw, Brussel, ARA-AGR/Avant-Propos, 2016, 1,328 p.