Belgium was invaded by German forces on 10 May 1940, and it surrendered on 28 May on the orders of King Leopold III. The King stayed in Belgium, but the Prime Minister and many cabinet members fled the country for London, where they set up a government-in-exile. The German occupiers formed a military administration (for Belgium and Northern France), led by Alexander von Falkenhausen, which was replaced by a civil administration in July 1944. Belgium was liberated in September of that year, although fighting and bombing continued until May 1945.
During the occupation, about 57,000 Jews were registered in Belgium by the German occupier, out of a population of over 8 million. At most 10 per cent of those Jews were Belgian citizens; the rest were mostly recent immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. Over 90 percent of the Jewish population resided in Brussels and Antwerp. Shortly after the German invasion of 10 May 1940, the Belgian government arrested a few thousand German (and Austrian) nationals, including Jews, and sent them to camps in France, where the Jews among them were included in the deportations from France. Anti-Jewish legislation was enacted in October 1940 and became worse in May 1941, when the economic plundering began. In April 1941, a pogrom took place in Antwerp, organized by local anti-Jewish organisations. In May 1942, the Yellow Star became obligatory. Then in June 1942, Jews were summoned to present themselves in the new transit camp Dossin, in Mechelen (a town between Antwerp and Brussels) through an Arbeitseinsatzbefehl (work order). In the summer of 1942, the German police forces and their collaborators went to look for the Jews themselves, with large raids taking place in Brussels and Antwerp. Deportations began on 4 August 1942 and lasted until 31 July 1944. From the Dossin camp, a total of 26 convoys left, mainly to Auschwitz with some small ones to Bergen-Belsen and Vittel in France. Overall more than 25,000 victims were sent out. The vast majority perished in the camps.
II. Archival situation
The National Archives of Belgium and the State Archives in the Provinces, in short the State Archives, are a federal academic establishment that forms part of the Belgium Federal Science Policy Office. The institution includes the National Archives in Brussels, which holds records of the Ministries and the Foreign Police, and 18 State Archives that are distributed throughout the country. Next to the state archives, there are collections in private archives and museums.
CEGESOMA, the Centre for Documentation and Research on War and Contemporary Society, a federal research centre, was founded in 1969. It holds important Holocaust collections, such as the archives of the Devisenschutzkommando, the records of the trial against von Falkenhausen, the Tätigkeitsberichte of the Military Administration and important files from the former Military Prosecutor’s Office. The Directorate-General for War Victims is an institution of the Federal Public Service for Social Security. It is not an archival institution, but nevertheless holds one of the largest and most important collections on the Holocaust in Belgium from a victim perspective. On the perpetrator side, there is the archive of the Military Prosecutor’s Office, which includes all the post-war trial records. Besides the national institutions, there are some important city (and communal) archives, such as those of Brussels, Antwerp, Liège, Charleroi and Ghent. In the Flemish part of the country, city archives and legal archives are generally better preserved than in the rest of Belgium.
The Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels holds important victim sources, as do some remembrance organizations such as the Auschwitz Foundation and the Foundation of Contemporary Memory, which collect testimonies. Last but not least, there is the Kazerne Dossin: Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights, located in the buildings of the former transit camp Dossin in Mechelen, which holds important copied as well as original material on the Holocaust, such as the archives of the Association of Jews in Belgium.
For further reference:
Martens, Stefan & Sebastian Remus, Frankreich und Belgien unter deutscher Besatzung 1940-1944; die Bestände des Bundesarchiv-Militärarchivs Freiburg (Stuttgart: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 2002).
Van den Eeckhout, Patricia & Guy Vanthemsche (eds.), Bronnen voor de studie van het hedendaagse België, 19e-21e eeuw (Brussels: Koninklijke commissie voor geschiedenis / Commission royale d'histoire, 2009, 2nd revised edition).
Beaujouan, Guy, Anne-Marie Bourgoin, Pierre Cézard, et.al., La France et la Belgique sous l'occupation allemande, 1940-1944. Les fond allemands conservés au Centre historique des Archives nationales (Paris: Centre historique des Archives nationales, 2002).
For information on the content and structure of the EHRI national reports, please consult the introduction.