GENERAL ARTICLES

Flanders Fights

Belgium, terribly scarred by the battle against Nazi oppression, is being swept today by a great new wave of faith in victory

FRANS VANDEWALLE June 15 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

Flanders Fights

Belgium, terribly scarred by the battle against Nazi oppression, is being swept today by a great new wave of faith in victory

FRANS VANDEWALLE June 15 1943

Flanders Fights

Belgium, terribly scarred by the battle against Nazi oppression, is being swept today by a great new wave of faith in victory

GENERAL ARTICLES

FRANS VANDEWALLE

JOHN MALONEY

WE BELGIANS have learned the full meaning of Adolf Hitler’s New Order in Europe.

His master race has gutted our nation, robbed our families of most of our food, denied us medicines we need to save the lives of our children, broken up our homes, shot our intellectuals, closed our universities, stripped the nation of its greatest art treasures, and then asked us to look upon National Socialist gangsters as having “saved” us from England, the democrats and the Jews.

The occupation of Belgium proved to be one of the best examples of systematic looting in Germany’s long history of pillage and marauding. Machines were stripped from our factories. Our cattle and horses were driven across the German frontier in great herds. Reich Army trucks backed up to warehouses where boxes and bales were loaded for quick transportation across the border without bothering to examine contents. Control of Belgian businesses and corporations was secured through forced sales of stock in exchange for worthless paper currency or uncollectible balances in Berlin

But these years, despite the horrors they brought to our nation of less than 9,000,000 persons, have proved that Hitler’s Nazi spies, his Gestapo, his concentration camps and his pet gauleiters have been unable to break our spirit or quench the faith in a United Nations victory that is sweeping over our country today.

When I escaped from Belgium in a fishing boat purchased from its French owner somewhere between Dunkirk and Lorient, German civilians and battle-weary soldiers were showing definite signs of uneasiness. The civilians were keeping extra stores of gasoline on hand for quick flight before the expected invasion. Official notices had been given Nazi personnel of such services as the railways, utilities or civil administrations that they were to leave for Germany at the first hint of Allied landings.

At Ostend streets leading to the boardwalk had been blocked by brick walls. Russian prisoners of war had been rushed in for forced labor on coastal defenses.

A new “invasion siren” with a sound quite different from air-raid warnings had been installed

and tested atYpres, and bridges along the river Meuse had been mined.

On our side, and plainly indicating that the expectation of invasion was not confined to Nazis, secret instructions had been issued to loyal Belgians. These enable them hastily to mark traitors’ homes so that local quislings can be accounted for quickly and efficiently.

Faith in a United Nations victory literally has kept thousands of my countrymen alive for the past 12 months when starvation has been sweeping over the land and German brutality has reached a new high. We have watched our burgomasters, our educational leaders and our most prominent citizens led away for torture or to face firing squads. We could do nothing while watching the conquerors rob our fields to feed more of their kind and tag each Belgian pig to prevent legit imate owners from using it to feed his starving children. But each atrocity and each theft carefully has been catalogued. In every Belgian heart there is a stoic determination to see that punishment eventually overtakes this race of international outlaws. We Belgians shall not care if Germans are not handled like fine porcelain when this war is over.

We had ample reason to believe we knew the Germans as conquerors from our World War 1 experiences. We realized they could be more brutal than any other occidental race. Yet we were not

prepared mentally for the legions of fanatics and human monsters that Adolf Hitler loosed upon us after Dunkirk. Now, after we rid ourselves of them this time, let anyone try to convince us—and the world that accounts of Nazi atrocities in this war were nothing but hate-stirring propaganda!

Belgium, about the size of the State of Maryland, is the most thickly settled country in Europe. It averages 712 persons per square mile, and could be described as a federation of cities and towns, since our burgomasters literally ran the country. Because they with their aldermen almost unanimously refused to co-operate with the Nazis, Lt.-Gen. von Falkenhausen, the Nazi military governor, at once ordered the dissolution of municipal councils “because they failed to understand the exigencies of the times.” This in itself was contrary to the Hague Convention which forbids forces of occupying armies to change laws having to do with civilians of occupied countries.

The costs of occupation have shattered the economy of every home, every municipality and the framework of every Belgian business. Costs levied by Berlin far exceed actual costs of army maintenance and, therefore, become a war contribution, again strictly forbidden by the Hague Convention.

More appalling still is the fact that the excess of occupation expenditures over real army costs has been used to purchase property or controlling interest in Belgian inst itutions through forced sales. In

other words, Belgian pockets have been picked clean to provide funds for German highjacking of our most desirable property.

The German Price

ACCORDING to German source figures, annual occupation costs exceed 15,000,000,000 francs —far in excess of the pre-war annual Belgian budget and representing approximately 30% of our national income. On the basis of conservative estimates competent authorities compute actual occupation costs at less than 6,000,000,000 francs annually. Thus the Nazis have a surplus of

9,000,000,000 francs with which to carry out this thievish infiltration into Belgian business.

To this enormous sum must be added Germany’s creditor balance in favor of Belgium resulting from forced commercial transactions between the two countries. This includes the goods requisitioned or seized by military authorities, amounting to

14,000,000,000 francs, and damage to houses, railroads and public buildings during the 1940 campaign, equalling another 13,000,000,000 francs. Thus the invasion and two years of occupation have cost our country more than 55,000,000,000 francs— a sum equalling all expenses incurred by the state during its 110 years of freedom and independence.

All Belgium is on the verge of starvation. As a result medical reports on the deterioration of the people’s health make us wonder how our little nation is to survive the war. Consistent with Hitler’s announced policy that all non-German populations of Europe shall starve before the Nazis are weakened by hunger, he has been taking everything out of the country that could be moved. In most families meat is unobtainable for as long as a month. Potatoes, normally a staple food in Belgium, have almost disappeared from markets although the official daily ration is half a pound per person. Bread, when obtainable, is made from a mixture of sawdust, wheat, rye and potato flour, and is damp and indigestible. As a spread, instead of butter or margarine, brown sugar is mixed with beer and cooked, sometimes with baking powder. Eggs are supplied only to a few children and expectant mothers, but few are available since the Germans deliberately cut the number of hens in Belgium from

12,000,000 to 3,000,000. (No Belgian has the right to possess more than one hen, whether she lays or not.) I have even seen dressed carcasses of cats cn sale at Liege for 30 francs each.

Because of low calorie content of available foods, tuberculosis, scurvy, rickets and even eye infections are becoming prevalent. The number of T.B. cases trebled in one recent six-month period. Loss of body weight among children, even in rural areas, is alarming. Most adults too have lost from 20 to 40 pounds. Despite provisions—on paper—for extra rations expectant and nursing mothers do not get half enough nourishment. Premature births have more than doubled. Pulmonary tuberculosis has increased until sanitaria are unable to accommodate one third of those who apply for treatment.

An incomplete survey throughout Belgium showed that there were at least 64,000 cases of tuberculosis in various forms among our 8,300,000 population. The alarming aspect of the survey was that children or youths under 21 comprised 87% of these disease victims. Beds can be found in sanitaria for the most desperate cases only by releasing others who still are convalescent.

Medical supplies of all kinds are almost impossible to obtain. At the Brussels Military Hospital, where I was a patient, I saw men and young boys die from lack of drugs and scarcity of food. Our “big” meal of the day consisted of one potato and one other vegetable.

The morgue in the St. Pierre Hospital in Brussels rarely is able to accommodate the dead. On one occasion a friend reported that 40 bodies had overflowed into the corridors to await removal for burial. This is no pretty picture, is it? But we Belgians have faced such scenes and facts now for nearly three years.

A Nazi-controlled Ghent newspaper editorially placed blame for Belgian starvation and coal Continued on page 44

Flanders Fights

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shortages by saying that “today the two most important questions for workmen are how to find food and, having found it, how to pay for it. Still another problem”—the editorial continued—“is how to obtain coal so that families can he kept warm enough to survive a hard winter. We admit that due to the dastardly British blockade many Belgian mothers are forced to tell their children there is nothing but crumbs to eat, and no coal to keep them warm.”

Swiss Hospitality

TOURING the first 18 months after JLr Belgium’s occupation the Swiss people earned our everlasting gratitude by taking hundreds of undernourished Belgian children for vacations in their homes and institutions. There the children had an opportunity to recuperate from months of starvation and to regain at least a partial new lease on life. The Germans stopped this by saying that transportation was not available.

Last summer a train bringing Italian workmen to Brussels was returning to Milan empty and Nazi authorities were persuaded to allow 227 children to he sent to Lausanne aboard it. On their arrival Swiss editorial writers exclaimed in horror at the emaciated faces and shrunken bodies. Most of the children were found to he tubercular or otherwise ill and had to be sent for hospitalization at Montana before they could he allotted to Swiss homes.

To offset Swiss hospitality Germans offered Belgian youth holidays in the Reich. Significantly enough, all these so-called “holidays” were offered during harvest season. Their hosts were to be German farmers.

Several months ago adults were forbidden to ride trains or trams from cities into the country because they were making illegal purchases from farmers and gardeners. After the restriction they sent their children, but the Nazis caught on and stopped this too. Now it is not unusual to see children of former well-to-do families going about begging scraps, particularly around garrisons, messes, bakery shops and railway stations.

The Nazis are demanding 8,000 I cattle and 4,000 pigs from Belgian

farmers monthly. While there is a theoretical allowance of meat for home consumption from this quota Belgians almost never see the meat. Brussels slaughterhouse records for July 26, 1942, show why: Of 175 cattle slaughtered there that day, 150 were requisitioned by Germans. All horses long ago were confiscated and oxen and cattle are being used for farm work. Now the exorbitant monthly demands for beef to feed the Nazis are forcing farmers to give up these work animals. A regulation exists prohibiting Germans from requisitioning sick or injured cattle. To utilize this loophole Belgians frequently break the leg of their cow before offering it on Nazi-controlled markets.

Many of us have wondered how Mr. Herbert Hoover could have handled any food distribution plan, as he generously attempted to do, after we witnessed a few Nazi tricks. Some months ago Belgian authorities were allowed to purchase potatoes and condensed milk from Denmark and Switzerland for ill persons or child-welfare institutions. On arrival in Belgium these hard-bought goods were seized by Germans and directed to workers’ canteens and industrial centres. On another occasion, and with Lt.-Gen. von Falkenhausen’s permission, the pseudo-Belgian Government was allowed to exchange a small amount of coal for Italian rice. When the Italians delivered it the rice again was seized. A delegation complained to the Nazi-appointed secretary-general of the Department of Agriculture. “The German authorities,” he said, “have deemed it mattered first to care for all workers who supply the Reich Army and economy. The remainder of the population will have to be content with what is left.” Which is nothing, of course.

* * *

Last summer the Belgian Federation of Lawn Tennis was forced to modify its tournament rules. Sets of five no longer, are allowed because players do not have sufficient strength to complete them without dangerous strain. Issues now are decided after the third set. Women and children under eighteen are forbidden to play long sets. After their first set there must be a rest of

three minutes; after the second set, five minutes. Since tennis is not a favorite sport of small income groups these revised rules indicate that all classes in Belgium are suffering.

In an effort to stimulate a hunt for scrap, the Germans a few months ago decreed that Belgians must deliver to central locations amounts of copper and nickel in proportion to their 1939 taxes. Most homes had to be stripped of plumbing and electric fixtures to meet the arbitrary quotas. Those who could not comply were forced to make a disproportionate cash contribution to the metal fund. This is only one of many ways they have found to fleece us.

Black markets in Belgium almost exclusively are Nazi monopolies. It is possible at times and through certain intermediaries to buy almost anything one desires, provided one has the money. I know saboteurs who bought hand grenades and sufficient dynamite to blow up bridges or factories from German soldiers. Of course they are taking chances on being trapped. But there are ways of ascertaining whether the seller is a pigeon or a disgruntled Nazi who already has gone too deeply into grand larceny to squeal.

Many cases are on record where Belgians under obvious Gestapo surveillance have been able to obtain travel papers allowing escape into France and ultimately to England by paying heavy bribes or transferring property left behind to dishonest benefactors. As in other occupied countries, particularly Czechoslovakia, France and Poland, many persons known to possess tangible wealth are arrested on trumped-up charges and released or assisted in escaping on payment of demanded sums. We in Europe realize from actual experience that most Gestapo officers are either murderers or thieves, and one quickly learns into which category they fall.

Even when transportation is authorized, which is seldom, we find it almost impossible to travel in our own country. Coastal regions are closed to nonmilitary personnel, of course, and it takes one several days to get a permit to travel from Brussels to Antwerp on business. Local gauleiters are not entirely to blame. There is simply not enough space on trains to accommodate even the limited travel allowed.

This is understandable when one realizes that, of the 4,200 locomotives on Belgian railways at the time of the occupation, the Germans have taken away all but 1,000, and of 120,000 coaches and goods cars, only 30,000 are left. (Most of these coaches and locomotives were taken east to the Russian front.)

Germans are exceptionally rude to Belgians on trains and in buses. Soldiers pile indiscriminately into secondand first-class carriages although by order of their own chiefs they are supposed to travel third.

Walloon-Nazis

THE German policy of “divide and conquer” has not been so successful as the Nazis hoped. There always have been political disagreements between Walloons in our north and Flemish-speaking citizens along the

French border. The Nazis persuaded a few Walloons to take seats in the Government. But no one with any weight or following accepted. A few Walloon-Nazis were enticed into going off with the Reichswehr to “fight the Communists.” But discouraging reports of their treatment and high death rate soon stopped much volunteering.

Nazi reports, I have learned since escaping, had it that when the notorious traitor Leon Degrille left for the Russian front, white roses were strewn before his little band of fellow traitors. The truth, as I saw it, was that when marching down the Boulevard du Jardin Botannique to the Gare du Nord in Brussels he and his men were heavily guarded to prevent their being assaulted by angry citizens. Crowds seeing them off hissed and cursed until the miserable quislings actually cringed.

The Germans viciously withhold food cards from those who will not work on Nazi war projects. But German efforts fully to utilize Belgian workers still have failed significantly. Mine strikes are frequent despite ruthless penalties invoked. Naturally our miners have no incentive to work underground in dangerous places when they realize that 70% of the coal they mine is sent to Germany or Italy. The German administration in Belgium in 1916 wrote that, “By using necessary force it was possible to send desired numbers of workers to desired working posts, but once on the spot it was not possible to induce them to work diligently.” Too bad for the Nazis that they do not remember that report. They are getting even less co-operation now.

Der Deutsche Volkswirt claims that 190,000Belgians are employedin German industry, but admits they are “not very willing workers.” Eighty per cent of these workers are married men with children back home. They only could be induced into the Reich on threat of all food stoppage. German press reports say that these men have been able to send 800,000,000 francs (about $27,000,000) back home. The workers’ families may have gotten part of that amount, at least, but if so it was actually the same as paying themselves. It was a clearinghouse deal, and ruinous to the Belgium economy, for the National Bank of Belgium had to pay the amounts out against absolutely uncollectible credit in Berlin.

The situation of the Belgian working class is tragic beyond description. They are at the mercy of the German war machine. Before the occupation trade unions were organized on a solid and common-sense basis and their press was very influential. The Germans, of course, immediately banned the unions. Unemployment exchanges were forced to give up lists of all unemployed persons, particularly those of the skilled trades, all of whom were given tempting offers of employment in Germany proper. If they refused, as most did at first, their ration cards were cancelled. All workmen were given glowing accounts of conditions inside the Reich and of the salaries they would receive. They were told

that, once they had accepted the offers, they would be free to return if not satisfied.

After their arrival in Germany all promises to “volunteer” workmen were broken. Taxes reduced their wages to half. Lengths of contracts were doubled by decree of local authorities. Belgian workmen were assigned hardest tasks in industrial plants. They were sent to districts most liable to bombings—irrefutable proof of this being the large number of Belgians already killed in Germany.

By August, 1942, hundreds from the Brussels regions had been returned suffering from bomb injuries. Few of them had received proper medical treatment. They reported that they were not allowed to go into shelters during raids but were forced to keep working. To prevent the uninjured from returning they were refused valid passports and exit permits.

When I left Belgium a new decree had just been issued ordering that in concerns employing more than five persons, bachelors, divorced men and widowers should give up their jobs and positions to married or wounded men and report to unemployment offices for assignment—to Germany, of course.

Forced Labor

IN BELGIUM itself occupation officials and local quislings at first could not hire watchmen to guard buildings occupied by civil officials or German gauleiters. They solved this problem by appointing arbitrarily a nearby resident as official watchman of individual buildings. They made them responsible with their lives for the building’s safety.

Similarly on railways workmen were made personally responsible for theirtrain’ssafearrivalat destinations with German Army supplies. Sometimes prominent Belgians are carried aboard the trains, after public announcement of the fact, and held as hostages to be shot instantly without trial in case of sabotage.

My people at home, like civilians in all occupied countries of Europe today, have come to know Nazi vices and the extent of their crimes more, I believe, than men who have met them in open battle. The average German fighting soldier is of a far higher type than the scum and misfits picked out indiscriminately or sent in to govern us. But we are not taking these indignities or suffering these injustices like meek lambs.

Today the struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed is pursuing its secret but relentless course. Belgians have been driven to such desperation that they are willing, even eager, to take the most foolhardy chances to thwart defense efforts of the Germans. The 25 to 75 prominent Belgians executed by Nazi firing squads or hanged each month for resistance or sabotage should be convincing proof of this statement. But the train wrecks, the industrial explosions, the short-wave radios and the underground press go on, despite tortures and executions.

Fifty Opposition Papers

THE underground newspapers themselves are playing a very significant part in Belgian opposition

plans. There are more than 50 of them in operation. They reach all Belgians with surprising frequency— even the quislings whose own treacherous acts are recounted in their columns for all to see. Sixty men and women by German announcement have been executed in connection with useless attempts to stop the publications. Five hundred persons are in jail for distributing them. But the presses roll on.

Libre Belgique, revived from World War I days, made its second appearance August 15, 1940, shortly after the invasion Its editor, “Peter Pan*” took his name from the statue in a Brussels park. The newspaper La Légion is devoted almost entirely to preparing readers in fifth column tactics against the arrival of The Day for Belgians. As the underground circulation increases—it now is estimated to be 900,000—the circulation of Nazi-controlled publications declines. Le Pays Réel, semi-official | Nazi newspaper, has dropped from j

24.000 to 10,000 circulation. Le j Nouveau Journal, published by quisj ling-editor Paul Colin, dropped from

70.000 to 35,000 as a result of an underground newspaper campaign against it. Belgians were ashamed to be seen reading or carrying it in public.

Reports which I have received from inside Belgium in recent months testify to the continued high morale of my countrymen. But these same informants also brought word of increasing German uneasiness as news came in daily of fresh United

BRITISH EMPIRE FLAGS

These are the countries which are represented in the selection of flags of the British Empire appearing on page 10. How many did you know?

1. United Kingdom

2. Canada

3. Australia

4. South Africa

5. New Zealand

6. Southern Rhodesia

7. Nigeria

8. Bahamas

9. Northern Rhodesia

10. Newfoundland

11. Kenya

12. Tanganyika

13. Gold Coast

14. Ceylon

15. Malta

16. Gibraltar

17. Bermuda

18. India

19. British Guiana

20. Aden

21. Trinidad

22. Fiji

23. Cyprus

24. Zanzibar

25. Barbadoes

26. Jamaica

27. British Honduras

28. Irish Free State

29. Nyasaland

30. Governor of Northern Ireland

31. Somaliland

32. Palestine

Nation reinforcements and the opening of new fronts, coupled with German losses in Russia and defeat in Africa. Not the least source of worry are constant reminders in secret newspapers that the Belgian case against German injustices and atrocities is being kept up to date. Many quislings who jumped on the Nazi bandwagon when its success seemed inevitable are beginning to court friends they threatened with imprisonmentor execution a few months ago. But we who have suffered do not forget so easily.