Last updated on 03/09/2019
Traces of WWII in Brussels
The four long years under German occupation was bound to leave a mark. Commemorative plaques, street names, memorials - whether we realize it or not, the WWII infiltrates the daily life of all people in Brussels. Let’s dive into the past...
During WWII, Brussels came to a halt under the German administration. Violent and widespread rationing, requisitions, persecution, and deportation seized the city. The occupation took the life of 947 Brussels citizens.
On September 3, 1944, British troops followed by the Belgian Piron brigade overcame the strongholds that blocked Brussels. The next day, the Germans left the city. “Radio Belgique” announced from London the liberation of the capital of Belgium.
Since 1945, the face of Brussels has significantly changed. Yet there are still some traces of this somber period.
In memory of the Jews
Edifices in memory of the Holocaust and the Jewish people are present in Brussels. We will start with the cobblestone-sized memorials called stolpersteine. The concept came from Berlin artist Gunter Demnig and consists of a commemorative stone in front of the last home of Jewish victims. The cobblestone is mounted on a brass plate that indicates the name of the martyr, his or her birthday, and the place of death. You can count seventy of this type of memorial in Brussels, and about 40 more are expected to be placed in October 2014.
In Anderlecht at the corner of Rue Emile Carentier and Rue des Goujons is the National Memorial for Jewish Martyrs in Belgium. The walls are covered in 23,838 engravings of the names of Jewish Belgians who were deported to Mechelen between August 4, 1942 and July 31, 1944.
At Rue de Lenglentier, a commemorative plaque reminds us of the Jewish people of the Marolles neighborhood, victims of Nazism and racism.
Gestapo headquarters, Avenue Louise
You’ve probably passed by these houses on Avenue Louise a thousand times without knowing their history. A dark past lingers in the basements under some of these houses. After having resided at number 453 for quite a while, the Headquarters of the Gestapo was moved to number 347 of the same avenue in 1943. Many Jews would pass through this address, tortured to death in the basement of these two buildings. The underground walls are marked with messages, goodbyes, and signature of prisoners. This property has been classified since January 2014.
In Schaerbeek, there is a location called the “Shooting Enclosure”, currently a small cemetery where the bodies of 365 Belgian heroes from both the World Wars rest. Originally, the site was a training zone for military units stationed in Brussels. During WWII, 261 members of the resistance were shot by the Nazis here. At the end of the conflict, the section of land where the bodies fell was transformed into a memorial ground, the “Enclos des Fusillés”, or the Shooting Enclosure.
Hitler’s burial in the Marolles
On September 10th, the people of the Marolles neighborhood in Brussels buried the war in their own way. The inhabitants organized a false burial of Hitler in front of a huge crowd - a pivotal historical moment that Brussels inhabitants remember every time they pass by the “funeral” spot located on Rue de la Prévoyance.
Many of the streets in Brussels were renamed after the war in honor of prominent figures in the conflict. This is the case for the Place des chasseurs Ardennais, Avenue Brigade Piron, Avenue Winston Churchill, and Avenue Franklin Roosevelt.
Maybe you didn’t know that the Montgomery square and the statue are in memory of Marshall Bernard Montgomery. On September 3, the tanks belonging to this British general advanced all the way to Brussels where they, along with the Colonel Piron’s brigade, liberated the city.
In the heart of the Solbosch campus, the Free University of Brussels commemorates the Groupe G. The Group G was a resistance group that attended this Brussels alma mater, and their memorial consists of a square surrounding a monument erected in their name.
Apart from General Montgomery, another major figure of the Allied Forces was present in the capital. General Eisenhower, commander in chief of the Allied Forces in Europe, passed through Schaerbeek where he was named an honorary citizen. Later on he would attend the inauguration of the avenue named after him. A commemorative plaque pays tribute to him as well.
The dome of the Palais de Justice
When the Allied Forces stormed Brussels, the Germans fled. But they didn’t leave before setting fire to the cupola of the Palais de Justice which contained a series of important documents. The dome of this huge building could not withhold and collapsed to the earth. After the war, the architect Storrer took care of the restorations which were finished in 1948. The building gained 2.5 meters in height and the cupola took on the domed shape that we know today.