World War II


World War II
   The forces of Germany's Third Reich launched a surprise attack on Belgium on 10 May 1940. Air raid sirens rang in Brussels and antiaircraft guns opened fire at 5:17 am. Bombs fell at Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Etterbeek, Evere, and Schaerbeek, and, on 11 May, they were dropped in the vicinity of the railway stations of Nord, Midi, and Schaerbeek. Water and gas conduits were laid bare on the rue du Progrès. By 12 May the city was largely deserted—only a few trams ran, schools closed, and a large percentage of the inhabitants fled south and west. British troops crossed Brussels toward the east and recrossed the city on 16 May, when the bridges across the Willebroeck and Brussels-Charleroi canals were blown. Brussels was declared an open city and the German Sixth Army under General Manfred von Reichenau entered in the late afternoon of 17 May. Adolf Hitler came to the city on 1 June.
   Following the Belgian surrender of 28 May, refugees returned slowly and daily life grew increasingly harsh with the object becoming one of simple survival as the war progressed. The citizenry endured rationing, conscription for work in Germany, ubiquitous identity checks, and factory closures. The Université libre de Bruxelles closed. The only means of locomotion were walking, bicycling, and using the trams, many of which were requisitioned and sent to Germany.
   In an effort to secure sympathetic administrators, the occupying authorities issued a decree lowering the age limit of municipal officials, replacing aldermen with fascist collaborators. Burgomaster Joseph van de Meulebroeck was dismissed on 1 July 1941 for refusing to deliver the oath of office to new officials. On 24 September 1942, a promulgation was issued creating Greater Brussels (Gross Brüssel), an amalgamation of the 19 communes of the agglomeration. Jean Grauls, governor of the province of Antwerp, was appointed burgomaster of the grouping. A policy of promoting Dutch-language interests was pursued using propaganda employing slogans such as "Brussels, Flemish territory to be reconquered."
   Early in the occupation, the Germans strove to present a favorable image. In the summer of 1940 concerts by regimental bands at the place de Brouckère and place Rogier were regularly held. Still, resistance slowly coalesced. A demonstration on 11 November 1940 at the tomb of the unknown soldier was broken up, and, after several attacks against Germans on 2 January 1943, sanctions were imposed. Theaters and concert halls were closed, sports matches canceled, and nighttime tram service suspended. The sanctions were lifted on 29 January.
   Collaborationists were countered by resisters. The newspaper Le pays réel, the organ of Rexism, was met by such clandestine publications as La Libre Belgique and La Voix des Belges, among others. SS brigades Flanders and Wallonia marched through the city streets. Jewish residents were deported. Underground groups, such as the Armée secrète and the Front de l'Indépendence, the latter based in Schaerbeek, printed literature, engaged in sabotage, sheltered and evacuated Jews and downed Allied flyers, and, near war's end, fought in the streets.
   Fleets of Allied bombers and fighters in the skies overhead became a regular sight as the war progressed. Brussels was bombed by both sides. Following the occupation, English bombs fell on the rue Antoine Dansaert on 18-19 August 1940, killing seven. Bombings occurred on 7 September 1943, when a formation of the U.S. Eighth Air Force accidentally bombed Ixelles killing 342 people, on 10 April 1944, and on 2, 8, and 11 May 1944, on the last of which the rail stations and port were damaged.
   Brussels was liberated on 3 September 1944 by the first battalion (infantrymen) and the second battalion (armor) of Welsh Guards. Wildly joyful celebrations broke out, which were repeated at war's end on 8 May 1945 (V-E Day).
   See also Raindorf, Maurice.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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