In northern Belgium, Flanders exudes history from the middle ages in the medieval cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, and from both World Wars that left many scars behind. During WWII, the Battle of the Scheldt raged in the region between October 1944 and November 1944. The port of Antwerp became an ideal landing ground for supplies and it helped the Allies to continue their advance towards Germany. Flanders housed a couple of Nazi camps that turned into stirring sites of remembrance: Fort Breendonk, former concentration camp, became a symbol perpetuating the memory of the suffering; Kazerne Dossin, formerly a transit camp to concentration camps in Germany, tells the story of persecution and deportation. In Oostende, you can find a unique combination of cultural history and natural recreation at Atlantikwall Raversyde. In Leopoldsburg, the Liberation Trail will bring you to an impressive German war cemetery and to all the important WWII-heritage sites of the region.
Located in eastern Belgium on the border with the Netherlands and at a short distance from Germany, the municipality of Leopoldsburg became, in September 1944, the headquarters in advance of Operation Market Garden. Today Leopoldsburg’s Liberation Trail presents all the important WWII heritage sites in the vicinity. In addition, a brand new World War II museum is currently being developed: the Liberation Garden Museum should open its doors in May 2020.
In the course of 1944, Belgian cities suffered more and more from the devastating and methodic Allied bombings. The air raids aimed at the strategic points occupied by the Germans, but did not avoid cities adjoining these points. Numerous civilians were killed. The city of Kortrijk was bombed three times.
Originally built to defend Antwerp, Fort Breendonk was a Nazi concentration camp from September 1940 till September 1944. Around 3,500 prisoners passed through this camp. Fort Breendonk is one of the best conserved concentration camps in Europe and is a symbol that perpetuates the memory of the suffering, the torture and the death of so many victims.
The For Freedom Museum shows the bleak times of the Second World War in a dazzling, realistic way.
The German War Cemetery in Lommel is the largest German military cemetery in Western Europe, outside of Germany. Just over 39,100 German soldiers were buried here. Most of them fell during WWII but a small part of the 16 acres holds 542 graves from WWI that were formerly buried in a cemetery in Leopoldsburg, Belgium.
“For our freedom and yours” – reads the inscription in Polish, French and Flemish. It is carved on the wall of memory, crowned with a six meter tall cross. It is located in the biggest Polish cemetery in Belgium. Those who lie there fought just for that.
The Atlantikwall Raversyde in Oostende, Belgium features over 60 bunkers, observation posts and artillery positions of the German ‘Atlantikwall’, the defence line constructed by the Germans during WWII. The open-air museum is spread over two kilometres and constitutes one of the best preserved parts of the Atlantic Wall. The museum also displays uniforms and equipment used by the garrison.
The first stage of the attack on the Breskens pocket in 1944 was a crossing of the Leopold Canal, just east of where it met up with the canal de derivation de la Lys. The attack started on 6 October, under support of several dozens of Wasp flamethrower carriers.
Wanting to commemorate the 1st Armoured Division, the city of Sint-Niklaas ordered a monument from Zygmunt Dobrzycki, a Polish sculptor and painter renowned in France and Belgium. That is how the most original of the monuments commemorating general Maczek’s soldiers was created.
In July 1942 Kazerne Dossin (Dossin Barrack), a former military base in Mechelen, was designated Sammellager, a transit camp for Jews, Roma and Sinti. Between July 1942 and September 1944, thousands of Jews and gypsies were transported from here to concentration camps in Germany. Nowadays, Kazerne Dossin is a Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights.
The respect Polish pilots enjoyed during the Second World War was well earned, as evidenced by winning a battle during the last major air offensive of the Luftwaffe in 1945 on New Year’s Day.