Plan of the Fort
To follow are some answers to the questions most frequently asked to the Memorial historians.
According to our current knowledge, the information we have is listed below chronologically:
On 19 February 1941, a prisoner named “Flitser” (we don’t know his real identity) escaped.
On 16 June 1941, René Van Maele escaped but was arrested again later.
Unknown date: Marcus Feit (16/11/1911; enrolled at Breendonk on 20/06/1941) escaped but was later arrested and deported from the Dossin barracks in Convoy VII to Auschwitz.
Unknown date: Jacques Frydman, the camp tailor, reported after the war that a prisoner, Herschel, helped escapees by supplying civilian clothes.
On 5 or 6 August 1942, according to his own statement, Max Kauffman (11/11/1904; Breendonk: 17/06/1942 – 6/08/1942) escaped from the camp.
On 30 October 1942, Isaac Trost (5/10/1910; Breendonk: ? – 29/10/1942) attempted to escape while Richard De Bodt was being moved to Willebroek but lost his life in doing so.
On 2 August 1943, Gustaaf Van den Eynde, from Leuven, escaped from the camp, according to his statement after the war. His version of facts is confirmed by his friend Lucien Landeloos (5/11/1923; Breendonk: 16/06/1943 – 25/11/1943). He escaped via the drainage network, which was undergoing building work at the time.
On 11 January 1943, Samson Swaab (7/07/1915) attempted to escape during a transfer between the Dossin barracks and the Breendonk fort. He was injured but survived his injuries and also the war.On 19 December 1943, Marcel Demonceau (10/12/1914) escaped from the isolation cells but was caught by the guard. He was very badly beaten up by the SS and handcuffs were fixed to the wall of his cell to stop him trying to escape again. He was finally shot by the Occupier.
According to our latest estimates, 17 different nationalities were detained at Breendonk :
- Bulgaria: 1 prisoner
- Canada: 1 prisoner
- Germany: 83 prisoners
- Denmark: 2 prisoners
- Yugoslavia: 4 prisoners
- Finland: 1 prisoner
- France: 115 prisoners
- Great Britain: 9 prisoners
- Hungary: 8 prisoners
- Italy: 10 prisoners
- Luxembourg: 2 prisoners
- Netherlands: 63 prisoners
- Austria: 30 prisoners
- Poland: 264 prisoners
- Romania: 20 prisoners
- USSR: 94 prisoners
- Spain: 2 prisoners
Records on most of these people are kept in Belgium's General Archives (Rue de Ruysbroeck 2, 1000 Brussels; Tel.:02/513 76 80) in the Foreigners Section.
Breendonk was principally a male internment camp. 3-4% of the prisoners were women, a total of around 130. A large majority of this number came from a group of around 100 women imprisoned during the summer of 1942. One of these was Mala Zimetbaum, a Jewish woman from Antwerp who, after her internment at Breendonk, was deported from Malines to Auschwitz. She escaped from Auschwitz with her companion but was caught and executed.
The women at Breendonk were often placed in isolation cells or in separate barracks. They did not have any privileges over the men and some were tortured.No young children were imprisoned at Breendonk, although there were a few adolescents. Jacques Frydman, for example, was 16 years and 10 months at the time of his internment with his father and two older brothers. Pierre Stippelmans was 18 years old.
There was never a gas execution chamber or a crematorium at Breendonk, nor in any other Nazi internment camp in Belgium.
The large chimneys that can be seen on the fort were actually used for extracting smoke and vapours from the kitchen.
There were gas execution chambers at the six Nazi centres for exterminating the Jewish people: Auschwitz, Chelmno (Kulmhof), Sobibor, Majdanek, Treblinka and Belzec. Smaller gas chambers were also present at some concentration camps in Germany.Crematoria were present in nearly all Nazi concentration camps, apart from Bergen-Belsen, which was a quarantine camp.
During the summer of 1941, two Jewish prisoners committed suicide: Jakob Kiper (24/12/1895; Breendonk: 6/01/1941 – 11/06/1941) and Richard Zylberstein (10/12/1919; Breendonk: 15/01/1941 – 28/08/1941).
Ludwig Juliusberger (29/09/1893) also attempted to kill himself but was stopped by the camp guards. He later died from the ill treatment he suffered.
Jacques Ochs’ testimony: “Julius Berger, a Berlin journalist, used to publish pamphlets against the regime. He was about thirty-five years old, tall, slim and well proportioned. He was very cultured, had studied law and lived for a long time in Paris where he had frequented intellectual circles.
He left his homeland at the time of the terror. As he was German, he was put into concentration camps at the start of the war by the Belgians. After the disasters of 1940, he fell into the hands of the Gestapo. This was how he ended up at Breendonk, at about the same time as me. He began to suffer very quickly... especially as he was keen to demonstrate his independent spirit.
One day, he complained about the lack or poor quality of the bread, and was accused of “Meuterei”, or mutiny. He was made to dig his own grave, but was not shot; his martyrdom continued (...)
Tormented by terrible hunger, he would have eaten anything! (...)
He didn’t even react to the blows, he was literally lifeless.
Like so many others, he tried to end his miserable existence by drowning himself in the ditch surrounding the fort, but he was pulled out. He was put into solitary confinement again. Even the soldiers took pity on him and passed him a few crusts of bread. But it was too late, and in death he too found deliverance.”
In total, relatively few suicide attempts were recorded. Despite the dreadful conditions, the prisoners showed evidence of an extraordinary vitality and survival instinc.
The prisoners at Auffanglager (detention camps) did not wear the white and blue striped suits of the concentration camps.
When they arrived at the camp, the SS found a stock of Belgian soldiers’ uniforms. They removed the distinctive markings and distributed them to the prisoners. Upon arrival, the prisoners had to hand over their civilian clothes and were given this uniform in exchange (trousers, jacket, cap and shoes). Their detention number was on the left side of the chest together with a fabric strip denoting the reason for their arrest.
The shoes deteriorated very quickly and so the prisoners were allowed to keep their own shoes. From 1943 onwards they were given clogs.
No. Hitler visited Belgium from 6 to 28 June 1940 but did not come to Breendonk (which was not yet an SS-Auffanglager at that time!).
Although Belgium was governed by a military administration under the orders of General von Falkenhausen, the Breendonk fort was in the hands of the Sipo-SD, i.e. the SS. On 9 September 1941, the Militärverwaltungschef Reeder, one of the chief figures in the German military administration of occupied Belgium, inspected Breendonk. On the 24th of the same month, his deputy von Craushaar followed, with the Sipo Head, Canaris. These visits did not result in any improvement in the prisoners’ fate.
This cross is inspired by the swastika, a very ancient, sacred Eastern symbol in Hinduism and Jainism. The symbol had a positive meaning before Hitler misappropriated it. He used the swastika turned to the right, at a 45° angle on a white background, bordered with red. The cross represents struggle, the white symbolises purity (the National Socialist party and the Aryan race) and the red represents the social side of Nazism. These were also the colours of the German Empire.
When the moat was dug, the fort was buried under an enormous mass of earth for two main reasons: to protect it from direct hits and to camouflage it from the enemy.
People who were shot or hanged were placed in wooden coffins and taken by ambulance or truck to a cemetery. At first they were taken to Beverlo, then to the Tir National cemetery in Schaerbeek (Brussels).
Upon liberation, some of the bodies were returned to their families.
In 1945, the moat was completely emptied. There are therefore no objects relating to the Second World War remaining in the moat.
No. Breendonk was a transit camp for other Nazi camps and prisons. The great majority of prisoners were deported after their time at SS_Auffanglage-Breendonck. Jews were deported from the Dossin barracks in Malines to Auschwitz, while political prisoners were deported to other camps in Germany (Dachau, Buchenwald etc.), the Netherlands (Vught) or Austria (Mauthausen).
Some prisoners had long deportation journeys, such as Jean Taillard (01/01/1897), who was arrested on 4 September 1941 by the Gestapo in Brussels, probably after being denounced by his concierge, who was a member of the Rexist party (the Belgian fascist party). He had been taking part in a secret meeting concerning the publication of a clandestine newspaper, “Vérité”. From 4 September 1941 until 5 May 1942 he was held at Saint-Gilles prison. From 5 to 8 May 1942, he was imprisoned in Breendonk camp and was then deported by convoy from Willebroek station with 120 other detainees to Mauthausen, where he was held from 11 May 1942 until 8 November 1942 under No. 99.309. On 8 November 1942 he was transferred to Dachau where he was held until 20 October 1943. He left the camp for Natzweiler where he was held from 23 October 1943 until 5 September 1944 as a “Nacht und Nebel” detainee. When the Allied troops arrived in September 1944, the camp was evacuated and Jean Taillard was sent to Dachau on 5 September (Allach). He only stayed there a few days before going back to Mauthausen again, then was sent to the Mauthausen-Solvay-Kalk sub-camp, where he was liberated. He was repatriated on 24 May 1945, by plane to Merville (France) then by train to Tournai (repatriation centre). In total, he survived 1,329 days of detention (44 months).