(55) Statement by a Member of the German Security Police : In an appendix bellow is an extract of a statement made by a member of the Security Police who is in the hand of the Belgian police. This statement confirms the stories of former prisoners.
(56) Visit to Breendonk (1945) : It is suggested that the readers of this report visit this camp as it is impossible to convey the real atmosphere of this place on paper. There they will see scratched on the walls of the rooms and the cells calendars, names, messages and drawings of the head of Christ. Many of these messages were scratched out by the Germans but many still remain.
(57) Tir National : This is a large barrack with rifle ranges. It is in Brussels. Nurse Edith Cavell was executed at the Tir National during the 1914-1918 war. Her statue which was erected outside the barracks after the last war was destroyed by the Germans in 1940. It is estimated that about a thousand people were shot here during the German occupation of this war, the victims being brought from different prisons throughout Belgium. The prisoners were tied to posts and shot from a range of about fifteen yards. The Director, Major Wastelain, found three of these posts “in situ” after the Germans had left. He also found in a small shed some fifty posts ready as replacements.
(58) There are two cemeteries at the Tir National where some three hundred and sixty people are buried. Major Wastelain has found a list of people buried in one of these cemeteries and has thus been able to identify the graves. The graves in the other cemetery are marked with numbers only. It must be remembered, however, that all the victims were not buried in these two cemeteries, many of the bodies being taken off to unknown destinations.
(59) Particulars of Germans and Collaborators Mentioned in the Report : With regard to Breendonk, reference has already been made to the names of the permanent staff (paragraph 11 and Appendix bellow) and also some of the head men of the rooms (paragraph 55 and Appendix bellow). The names of all other Germans and Collaborators in this report or in any of the appendices are shown at Appendix bellow.
Some of the People who were imprisoned, Ill-treated, Tortured or Killed in Breendonk
Part 1 – Breendonk Concentration Camp
# 001 : M. M. Bouchery : Ex-ministrer of the Transport and First President of the House of Representatives in Belgium. Died in Brussels in November 1944 as a result of ill-treatment during his imprisonment.
# 002 : O. Van Kersbeek : Councilor of Malines and ex-member of the Parliament. Died 2 weeks after his release as a result of ill-treatment.
# 003 : A. Heyndels (11 Kolvenierstraat, Vilvoorde) : Communist Senator. Now Prisoner in Germany
# 004 : J. Booremans (161 rue des Frères Trymans, Tubize) : A member of Parliament. Now Prisoner in Germany
# 005 : G. Fromont : A member of Parliament and Burgomaster or Willebroek. He was imprisoned from February 1 1941 to June 28 1941. He was accused of sabotage. He lost 44 Lbs (22 Kgs) during his imprisonment. He saw a Jew beaten to death. He himself was beaten many times and made to crawl using his elbow only. He does not know why he was released.
# 006 : Jacques Ochs : Directeur of the Academy of Fine Arts in Liège. Was imprisoned in Breendonk from December 6 1940 to February 20 1942. His crime was being a Jew.
# 007 : Franz Fisher (Place Gambline de Meux, Brussels) : A member of Parliament, Leader of the Socialist Party and Honorary Member of the Brussels Press (Serials #001 to #006 were imprisoned in Breendonk at the same time with Fisher). M. Fisher was only imprisoned for 8 weeks in 1941. For his account of life in the camp see bellow.
# 008 : A. Denis (23 rue Joseph Berger, Genappe) : Son of Lt Gen Denis, a former Minister of War. Is a notary and President of the Belgian Red Cross. For his account of life in the camp see bellow.
# 009 : C. Lemaitre (6 Boulevard d’Ypres, Brussels) : Postman. Was imprisoned with 41 other Brussels postmen on September 1 1942. Was released after 9,5 months imprisonment. For his account of life in Breendonk and his complaint to the Public Prosecutor, Court of Brussels, see bellow.
# 010 : P. E. Hermans : Head Postman of Brussels. Executed
# 011 : Martial Van Schnelle : An Olympic swimmer. Was a member of the Belgian Underground. Was imprisoned, tortured and executed. He was executed whilst Lemaitre was in Breendonk.
# 012 : Pierre Crockeart
# 013 : Jacques Bonneval
# 014 : J. Tissen : Brussels postmen imprisoned with Lemaitre (009). They all died from blows received from Fernand Wijss, one of the Belgian SS guards.
# 015 : Sebastien Degreef : Sorter in Brussels post office. Imprisoned with Lemaitre. Died from blows received from Fernand Wiess.
# 016 : Albert De Pondt : Brussels postman. Died as a result of ill-treatment.
# 017 : Jean van Boven (Antwerp) : Died of blows received from Fernand Wijss
# 018 : Louis Spanbock (2 Avenue de Conge, Brussels) : Was imprisoned in Breendonk for 13 months from October 3 1940. He has a small scar in his head and is deaf in one ear as a result of being beaten. His wife is at present in prison in Germany and his small child died as a result of neglect by the Germans. He was in Breendonk with Paul Levy (019). His prisoner number is 18 and Levy is 19. Spanbock is a Jew.
# 019 : Paul Levy (442 Avenue Georges Henri) : He was born in Brussels in 1910. He was a well-known broadcaster in Belgium being Chief Editor of the Commentators of the Belgian Broadcasting Agency. He was a professor at the Ecoles des Hautes Etudes de Belgique and a member of the Royal Central Commission of Statistics. He was arrested by the Gestapo on September 18 1940. He was accused of (a) being an anti-German before the War (b) having supported the May 1940 Campaign in a anti-German manner (c) having written an injurious letter to the German Authorities when he refused a German request to broadcast. He was sent to Breendonk on November 29 1940 and released on November 20 1941 after a BBC announcement that he had died of ill-treatment during captivity. He was transfered to the camp infirmary before his release. He escaped from Belgium in April 1942 and made his way to England arriving in July 1942. He returned to Belgium after the liberation, having written articles, given lectures and done broadcasts on Breendonk during his stay in England. An account of his experiences is available bellow.
# 020 : Antoine Abbeloos (627 Ch. de Mons, Anderlecht) : A garage proprietor. He was imprisoned for 14,5 months because he had sent some of his cars to help the Red Cause during the Spanish War. Weighed 5 stones 10 lbs when released in November 1941. When he arrived in Breendonk he together with with some other prisoners was kept standing at attention for 48 hours. No toilets facilities were available. Those who fell with fatigue remained on the ground and were not removed. He saw many of his fellow prisoners killed, e.g. one boy who was struck by a German, attached with his tormentor and was immediately shot: one Jew was knocked on the head whilst working and killed for no apparent reason.
# 021 : Mme B. Paquet (rue du Zéphyr, Woluwé St Lambert) : The wife of a Belgian Officer who was killed early in the war. She was arrested in August 1940. She was arrested as a result of a Dr Decortes having declared that he had seen a British and French officer in civilian clothes at her house. After being interrogated she was released 7 days after arrest. She was re-arrested in December 1942, and was sent to Breendonk. It is believed that only 7 women were sent to Breendonk, she being one of them. No women war-dresses were there and she was looked after only by men. She was sentenced to dead and send to Germany but was sent back to Brussels for further questioning. She was in hospital and was liberated when the British Army arrived. An extract from a statement she made – bellow.
# 022 : Louis Weill (rue de Marche 130, Schaerbeck) : Was Reuter Correspondent in Brussels. He was imprisoned in Breendonk from May 12 1941 to May 29 1942 during which time he attempted to commit suicide (by cutting their veins in his wrist) rather than endure the ill-treatment he was receiving. He was released owning to the fact that he was developing tuberculosis. He is a very sick man having a tube in his side. He is a Jew.
# 023 : Maurice Rime (21 rue de la Procession, Anderlecht) : Was imprisoned along with 70 other men from the Ministry of Labour. He kept in Breendonk from April 2 to June 1 1943, during which time he was ill-treated. On one occasion he was given a severe thrashing across the back. He was nearly dead when he was relieved and did not expect to recover. He is still being treated by a doctor.
# 024 : Alphonse Faeck (13 rue Martha, Brussels) : Was in Breendonk April 2 to June 3 1943. He was a tram conductor. He does not know why he was imprisoned and why he was released. His physical and mental condition were so bad that he was unable to speak for several months after his release. He is still to weak to work.
# 025 : Emile Marchand (rue Ronsard 20, Anderlecht) : A hunch-back now aged 61 who is General Secretary of the Workers Association. He was imprisoned from April 2 1942 to November 12 1943 for refusing to work for the Germans. He was placed on a table and his hands and ankles bound; then he was whipped until he was black and blue. He saw a man who was to weak to lift any more stones fall over. One of the German guard jumped on his stomach until he was dead. He weighed 5 stones when he was released.
# 026 : Alois De Peare (256 rue du Tilleul, Schaerbeck) : A poor man who is now 70 years of age. He was imprisoned for 4 months in 1941 from 22 July to 22 November. He belongs to no political party and has no idea why he was taken into custody. His ankle was broken by a blows from a rifle. He has terrible scars on his thigh – a legacy of the camp. His stories of ill-treatments correspond with these received from other prisoners. He was never interrogated and no charge was proffered against him.
# 027 : Broune (69 rue Antoine Beart, St Gilles) : A Russian who refused to work for the Germans. He his still in bed but is slowly recovering.
# 028 : Dr Adolphe Singer (53 rue de la Levure, Ixelles) : An Austrian doctor who was in Breendonk from March 3 1941 to March 31 1944 and was employed in the camp infirmary for about 1,5 years. You will find bellow 2 interviews from Dr Singer. He is referred to in paragraphs 29, 51 and 52 of the report. Dr Singer’s name must not be used in the Press.
# 029 : Victor Trido (Commissaire de Police, La Louvière) : Was in Breendonk from December 31 1942 until April 1943 being accused of sabotage. His personal belongings were stoled in the camp. He was kicked by De Bodt the SS guard, and had a big wound on his leg which refused to heal. He was beaten practically every day. On 3 occasions, he was singled out for special punishments : on the 1st, he received 20 strokes with the lash from the SS Wijss and was left covered with blood; on the 2nd, he received 15 strokes with a lash and 15 strokes with a rod from SS Wijss and SS De Bodt; on the 3rd, he was placed between the shafts or a barrow and was beaten for 20 minutes until he was covered with blood. He states that 20 men were shot on January 6 and 21 on January 13 1943. He states that he saw about 12 men buried alive one day in February or March 1943. He is publishing a book on his experiences in the camp.
# 030 : T. Frankignoulle (34 rue de Parme, St-Gilles) : Was imprisoned from April 2 to May 21 1943, after which he was transferred to the Citadelle de Huy where he remained 3 months. An account of his experiences will be published bellow.
# 031 : Vatere Van Hove (99 Av Roodabake, Schaerbeck) : Employed on the Brussels’ Trams. He was in Breendonk from April 2 until August 1943. He had been selling Newspapers for the resistance movement. He was very badly treated and has terrible scars on his body which will not heal because up owing to his blood being in such a bad state. He was in the torture chamber once during which time he was tripped naked and beaten. He saw the pulley in the torture chamber (see paras. 10 and 42). He saw many dying and others who were shot. A man hanged himself during the time he was there rather endure the hardships of the camp.
# 032 : Major Stiers : A regular officer of the Belgian Army who was imprisoned in Breendonk for 4 to 5 months. He was sent to Germany in February 1944. (see bellow, statement of A. Denis)
# 033 : Albert Van Roy : Town clerk from Willebroek. Imprisoned from 1 February to June 28 1941 with the Burgomaster (see # 005). He was subjected to the usual treatment. His hands were scratched by one of the SS Guard and the wounds turned septic as he could not get any treatment. Whilst he was imprisoned his house was looted by the Garrison. The German Commandant stoles his car when he fled to Germany at the beginning of September 1944.
# 034 : Victor Van Hamme (162 Av Rogier, Brussels) : He was arrested with 41 other postmen. He was detained in Breendonk from September 1 1942 until February 1 1943. He weighed 76 kilos (11 stones 3 lbs) before he entered the camp and only 42 kilos (6 stones 9 lbs) when he was released. His health is bad and he has now tuberculosis. He states I was arrested without reason and taken to Breendonk where the Gestapo accused me of being a Communist which was completely untrue as I had never belonged to the Communist Movement. I was beaten there nearly every day and I had to carry a heavy bag of stones with which I had to exercise until I could not lift myself from the ground. I was then beaten until blood issued from my mouth and ears. I received a blow with a shovel which left a scar on my head and from which I still feel pain at the present day. I also received blows in the region on my thighs which today prevents me from walking fast.
# 035 : M Emile Scieur (27 Rue Massart Monceau s Sambre) : Entered Breendonk on December 2 1942, and left on December 17 1934. For details of his stay see (bellow).
# 036 : Raymond Hanard (422 Chausée de Bruxelles Bruxelles) : Aged 50. Was imprisoned at Breendonk from Dec 23 1942 to Jul 3 1944. He lost 52 lbs in weight during his imprisonment. He was accused of terrorism. He was struck frequently.
# 037 : Emile Renard (Police Inspector of Jumet) : He was imprisoned in Breendonk on December 12, 1942 and finally released on July 3 1943. Was accused of being a terrorist and hiding arms and ammunition. An extract from his statement is given bellow.
Part Two – Imprisoned in Places other than Breendonk
# 038 : Paul de Rudder (130 Rue de Palais Bruxelles) : A young man who was arrested on March 16 1944 on a charge of espionage. He was interrogated and tortured. He was released from Keverloo Coup near Brussels on the liberation. For an account of his experiences see bellow.
# 039 : Major Van Roosbroeck (96 Rue Paul Devigne Schaerbeck) : (Now in No. 10 Auxiliary Hospital, Rue de la Poste, Brussels) He was arrested in May 1942 and accused of having organized the departure of Belgians to England. He was locked up in St Gilles Prison and later Merksplas. He was released in May 1943. Three weeks after being released he was rearrested and locked up in St Gilles. He was then sent to Merksplas and later to the Wapten Coup near St Omer. In all places he was tortured and subjected to brutal treatment. He was released in Jan 1944. Since this time he has been in the hospital. It is improbable that he will recover. For an account of his experiences see bellow.
#040 : Hubert Genis (9 Rue de Duc, Brussels) : Was arrested on February 18 1944. He was interrogated at HQ of the Field Police in Rue Traversière, Brussels, and later transferred to the Caserne St Anne at Laeken. He was tortured. He was in the train in Brussels station which contained prisoners when the Germans intended to take to Germany. Owing to the speed of the Allied advance and sabotage the train did not start (see Report Paragraph 3). All the Germans fled and the prisoners were freed. For an account of his experiences see Appendix bellow.
# 041 : R. Defonseca (20, Rue de Montenegro, Brussels) : A police officer at St Gilles. In 1942 and again in 1943 he was arrested as a hostage and imprisoned at Louvain and at Huy. Was re-arrested in Feb 1944 when convalescing from an operation. He was taken to Caserne St Anne, Laeken and tortured. He was on the prisoner’s train with Genis (serial # 040). For an account of his experiences see bellow.
# 042 : Mme Aulotte (354, Chaussée de Bruxelles, Forest) : She was denounced by a Belgian, seized by the GESTAPO in March 1944 and tortured. Was in the prisoners’ train for Germany which did not start (see serial # 040). For an account of the tortures see Appendix bellow.
# 043 Lt Baron Albert Greindl (Sureté de l’Etat, Room 403, Shell Edg., Brussels) : He was caught in France after coming from England. Was imprisoned at Peroignan and tortured. Was later transferred to Fresnes near Paris where he was again tortured. Was released on August 18 when Paris was liberated. For an account of his experiences see Appendix bellow.
# 044 : Jean Baptiste Charbin (Rue de la Borne, Brussels) : Was denounced to the Gestapo by a Belgian as an agent of the Allies. He was tortured in St Gilles Prison, Brussels. He was on the train bound for Germany which failed to start (see Serial # 040). For an account of his experiences see bellow.
# 045 : Hubert A. H. Laude (Rector Colonial University Antwerp) : He was denounced to the Gestapo as a member of the underground movement and arrested in Antwerp on August 26 1944. He was condemned to death on September 1. On September 3 he was put on a train for Germany where he was to have been shot. Owing to no engine being available to pull this train and the speed of the Allied advance he was liberated when British troops entered Antwerp (see paragraphs 3 of the report). For details of this story see Appendix bellow, Mr. Laude was disabled in the 1914-1918 war.
# 046 : Léon Joseph Ernould (107 Rue Garard, Ixelles) : Arrested by the Secret Field Police on March 9 1944, being accused of receiving arms by parachute. He was liberated by the arrival of the British troops on September 5 1944. For an account of his experiences see Appendix bellow.
# 047 : Emile Labbé (23 Rue Jules Bouillon, Brussels) : Arrested in 1943 and taken to St Gilles Prison. Interrogated and brutally treated. For an account of his experiences see Appendix bellow. Mr Labbé is now 34 years old.
# 048 : Abbé Jules Quientet (7 Rue Grande, Paturages (Mons) : Was arrested on June 25 1943 and charged with assisting parachutists. He was freed from the train in Brussels station which was to convey off prisoners to Germany (see serial # 040 above). For an account of his experiences see Appendix bellow.
Statement made by Franz Fischer on Breendonk Concentration Camp, Breendonk, Belgium
Translated from French
I have been asked to write a detailed report on the living conditions and the treatment of prisoners interned in the concentration camp of Breendonk, during the German occupation of Belgium. Obviously, in this modest account, a complete picture cannot be given, nor is it even possible to give approximately correct figures of the numerous victims of the barbaric measures that were incarcerated in this prison; of those who succumbed as a result of the harsh and difficult slave work that was inflicted on them; or the brutalities, beatings and tortures they had to suffer; of the systematic malnutrition that made them perish, and particularly of the purely physical tortures that caused so many deaths among them. Nor am I counting those who were shot or hanged, often without any trial whatever. But the number of victims of this hard and horrifying imprisonment that lasted for more than four years is surely in the thousands, and the number of those who perished at Breendonk or after having left it is in the hundreds.
It is possible, and in any case highly desirable that the Belgian government should be able to make an inquiry into this question. Meanwhile, it was morally necessary that the authoritative voice of those were able to reconstruct the memory of their stay at Breendonk should be heard. Already a large quantity of literature of authentic documentary statements is in the course of production and the author of this account will publish, the course of the next few days, a volume of memories of his captivity in that prison. (The Hell of Breendonk and Scenes relived. Labor Edition, at Brussels). This is therefore less of a complete and detailed report than the relating of a few episodes that happened in captivity and quoted here more as examples with which I would like to make known to those in Great Britain, who wish to take an interest in these painful and tragic facts dealing with the reign of cruelty and terror that the NAZI denomination imposed on the Belgian people.
What was the prison of Breendonk ?
An ancient, abandoned fort on the first military defenses of Antwerp. Situated alongside the Brussels-Antwerp autostrade, about a kilometer from the large industrial district of Willebroeck. This military building had been abandoned owing to its strategical uselessness and its unhealthiness, for the antique casements were cold and damp and allowed water to penetrate.
It had first been decided, at the beginning of the German occupation to make it into a concentration amp for the Jews whom the Gestapo were tracking down everywhere and with whom they had filled to overflowing the Belgian prisons. But very soon hostages were also brought there, political prisoners and Belgian personalities who were considered undesirable. And then when Germany declared war on the Soviet Republic, Communists or anyone with any kind of Communist sympathies were sent there. Among this number were some who had no Communist sympathies whatever, but who had been denounced as such to the NAZIS, mostly anonymously.
For my part, I was incarcerated in Breendonk for more than two months, after which I was transferred for eight weeks to the cellular prison of St Gilles, near Brussels, without having been tried or even questioned. For this was the custom in these imprisonments. The majority of those miserable beings who were there were in complete ignorance as to why they were held. There were some who remained there months and years. Hundreds of others after a fairly long stay were set to camps in Germany. And very many came out of that hell in coffins; they had not been able to withstand the horrible treatment, the wounds and illnesses not cared for, or they had just simply been killed.
It would be hard to name all the personalities who underwent this hard and cruel detention at Breendonk. I only want to remember certain names among them, those that I met during my own captivity. These were : M. M. Bouchery ex Minister of Transport and first Vice-President of the House of Representatives of Belgium; Van Kersheek, Councillor at Malines and ex Member of Parliament; the Advocate General and the Chief of the Malines Police Force; the Communist Senator Eyndels and Bottermans the Member of Parliament; Fromont the M. P. and burgomaster of Willebroek; the President of the Polish Club of Belgium; the famous artist Jacques Ochs, director of the Academy of Fine Arts at Liège; a Belgian Officer whom I am told was General Langlier; the Reverend Father Gouchert, Director of the Catholic Institute (Arts et Métiers) at Lille; M. Levy the most popular of all broadcasters in Belgium; etc.
All these personalities had to undergo the very same regime as all the other prisoners, had to do the hardest of all forced labor, had the same under-nourishment and suffered the same bad treatment. M. Bouchery is still ill as a result of his ill-treatment and sufferings (Note : he has died since this statement was written) and his colleagues from Malines, M. Van Kersheek died sometime after his liberation, worn out by the privations and physical sufferings as well as the mental ones.
The Hunger Diet
Everything was organized to bring about that slow death caused by utter exhaustion. Here is a list of the food that we were given : for a whole day two pieces of dry bread, one at five in the morning, the other at five in the afternoon. This represented all told a weight of about one hundred grammes; in addition at two o’clock, a bowl of soup. And that was all. During a short time the prisoners had been authorized to have sent to them, from outside, parcels of food of six kilos a fortnight, but when I arrived at the camp this ‘favour’ had been abolished, the excuse being given that Communist literature could have been hidden inside these parcels. In this way the prisoners could naturally be seen losing weight, but those who were caught eating grass, like sheep do, to satisfy their hunger, were put into solitary confinement, I being among that number.
All prisoners, regardless of who and what they were, from six in the morning, in shifts of two hours, had to accomplish, without interruption, without stopping for a single second and without lifting their heads, the most difficult labor. They had to level off banks with shovels, push trucks laden with earth or do the same work with wheel-barrows, they had to carry large stones extracted from the bank, and finally, a job reserved for the very oldest and most infirm, the breaking of bricks into small pieces. All this punctuated by beatings with whips and sticks, meted out by the supervisors and soldiers when the work was not progressing quickly enough. For hours on end one could only hear the brutal yells that were supposed to stimulate this force labor, one could also hear the dull thuds of the sticks connecting with the bodies, and the painful moaning of the victims. Late on, another torture was reserved for those who were too weak to carry out the work. Cells still to be seen at Breendonk a little larger than telephone cabins were built for them, and they were obliged to remain standing for twelve consecutive hours and if they weakened they would be beaten.
At times, particularly when we were undergoing a collective punishment, in which the camp’s three hundred prisoners had to continue their work after their eight hours, men could be seen to fall like flies and their comrades would pick them up and take them to an unclean casemate, where all the sick were piled and which, ironically, was called the infirmary. But more often than not, in the early morning, one could see prisoners sadly carrying oblong boxes : they were the coffins of the unfortunate ones who had succumbed to similar sufferings. After some time, they were not even worried about giving these victims a decent burial. They were all buried together in the camp very secretly. It was thus that fifty Jewish prisoners were buried under a small hillock that can be seen at Breendonk.
Wounds, Murders and Tortures
Have I said that punches and kicks were the rule in this accursed camp ? Sometimes was added, under the pretext of collective punishment, the denial of all food for a whole day. But all this was nothing to what happened in that back room, in the guard house, which one only passed with shudders. It was there that the original cells were built and prisoners were thrown in them who were considered insolent, or who at work had not obeyed the brutal orders that were shouted to them and which they usually did not understand since they were always in German.
I got to know these cells the very same day on which I was liberated. I was made to go through a room with large barred cages all around it, similar to cages that are found in zoos. When I passed the poor prisoners gripped the bars of their cages to try to enter into conversation with me. But I also was put in a cell, without light and without air where I could not hold myself straight. This torture luckily only lasted an hour. By what follows, I was able to admit, as anyone who visits Breendonk must admit, the executioners had perfected their methods.
Narrow solitary confinement cells have been built, so small that one could hardly stand, a room for ‘reflections’, where to get confessions, the unfortunate ones had to undergo first the cold bath, then the boiling hot one and finally there was a torture room with all the implements for maiming the flesh and breaking the bones complete with a gutter to let the blood run away. It is quite true that close by all this, in a sinister enclosure, there are the execution posts and the scaffolds for those that were hanged. He who will not believe this, let him go and see for himself.
If I were asked to denounce the culprits of these atrocities, I would answer that in the very first place, the most guilty is the regime. The most humane of the officers who guarded us, assured me that it was by similar methods, in their own concentration camps, that the Nazis had been able to quell the thousands of German adversaries, of whom they had rid the Reich. But it was obvious that the actual executioners in this abominable system of repression at Breendonk put a sadistic zeal in their work and they also are held responsible. Are names wanted ? You can well imagine that our torturers did not identify themselves to please us. The Camp Commandment was a certain Major Schmidt. A man who was impassive and insensitive, who would pass by us with disdainful air and who did not seem to be worried by our martyrdom.
But he had given the reins to a brute who directed all the labor, he would shout insults and would swear in the face of everyone, he would strike the prisoners with his riding whip or with his gloves, and it was he who gave out all those orders of torture. This horrible and grotesque character went under the name of Lieutenant Polsum. Is it his true name ? I could not say, but he remained a sufficient number of years at Breendonk for him to be identified. Try to seize him in Germany and make him pay the price for the immense number of his crimes against humanity. Crimes that he committed in the camp of famine and torture.
I certify that this account is authentic and true.
(signed) Franz Fischer
Belgian Member of Parliament
Honorary President of the Brussels Press
Notes by the compiler of the report :
1. No other evidence of bodies being buried in Breendonk has been produced, nor have excavations revealed any bodies.
2. It is considered that Lieutenant Polson is really Lieutenant Prauss.
Statement made by A. Denis Regarding the Reprisals Camp of Breendonk
Translated from French
Dante in his work entitled ‘The Inferno’ says in so many words ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’.
The fort of Breendonk was destined to receive those political detainees classified by the Germans in the category of Terrorists. This category included in their mind every type of resistance to the occupants and particularly the pro-British, who wore on their prison uniform a special sign (white and red bar), the other detainees wearing different signs according to their classification. This visual sign enabled the guards to inflict on the different detainees every kind of annoyance and cruelty without having to examine the particular case of each one.
There were two types of detention : (1) complete isolation and (2) communal. The workers in the latter category were compelled to do the most laborious tasks under inhuman conditions; loading wagons (about thirty a day) to be conducted and unloaded for filling up pits under the guard of the German and Belgian Nazis (VNV Flemish and Rexist Walloons) who were provided with lashes with which they beat the detainees. When to their mind a detainee did not work fast enough, as a punishment they placed on his back an army pack filled with bricks and weighing about thirty kilos, with which, under the blows of the lash, they had to do the same work as the others. These unfortunates were drilled and martyrised continually; they wore clogs and had to march to attention before the guards, jumping in the air at each step.
The Life of Detainees in Complete Isolation (Solitary Confinement)
Brought to the Fort handcuffed, the detainee was taken to an office where he was searched and where every object in his possession was taken away from him. All these operations, which took place at the Fort, were done with the face to the wall against which for the slightest thing he was knocked by a blow in the neck. The search finished, a blue sack, without any opening and descending as far as the belt, was placed on the head of the detainee who was conducted by an SS to a cell.
Description of the Cells
Area one meter by two, only one opening : a door, with a small peep-hole, and provided with an outside bolt padlocked. The ceiling of the cells was formed by a grate which allowed to penetrate the air already fouled by those other detainees who lived communally. A plank fixed to the wall by a hook (which manipulated from the outside of the cell rendered it mobile and allowed it to be lowered to form a bed) constituted along with a bucket the entire furniture of the cell. It was constantly damp, water percolating from the walls. In the extension of the central passage from which the cells jutted off were two windows, closed and blacked-out in such a manner that neither air nor daylight would penetrate.
A few hours after entering the cell the detainee was conducted, as indicated above, to the clothing store where his clothes were taken from him and where he received a pair of trousers and a cap (which it was forbidden to wear but had to be carried in the belt of the trousers), also an army jacket bearing the signs referred to above and his prison number in large figures and in addition, a pull-over, a blanket and a hand towel. After this procedure, the detainee was re-conducted back to his cell. Only in his cell could the detainee rid himself of his pack which he handed over to the NAZIS who came for it.
Life of the Prisoners
Reveille at 0600 with an immediate fixing of the plank to the wall. From reveille until bed time, which was at 2000, that in fourteen hours without being able either to sit down or squat or lean against the wall, the prisoner was obliged to remain standing, the guard opening at every moment the peep-hole of the door and each time the prisoner had to stand to attention and yell out ‘Eins’. The suffering caused by the fatigue was indescribable and had a very bad effect on the health. Fifty strokes of the rod was the immediate punishment for any breach of the rules.
At 0730, the prisoner received a bowl of so-called coffee which with that given him at 1700 was the only drink given him during the entire day. Suffering from thirst was permanent.
At 0830 the SS took the prisoners from their cells, one at a time, and conducted them to the latrine to empty their buckets; to go there, it was necessary to follow various interior passages where the prisoner was beaten up both by his own warder and the warder of the preceding or following prisoner. Certain of these warders forced their prisoner to strike another prisoner with the bucket he was carrying. The Nazi warders used to hit the prisoners in the face with their fists, kick their bodies and strike them with chains, pieces of wood, etc.
About 1100 the principal meal of the day, composed of a bowl of soup, was distributed.
At 1700 the prisoner received a bowl of ersatz coffee, a ration of bread, a potato or a salted sardine and the equivalent of a thimbleful of butter. The food was prepared by the prisoners but furnished by the Belgian authorities, who did what they could, but not only was the quantity totally insufficient but also the quality.
At 2000 the plank was unscrewed and the prisoner could at last rest. The prisoner left his cell only to empty his bucket (during which time he was beaten up regularly) at that time and before returning to his cell he could in a fashion wash himself at the ablutions installed in one of the passages. In order to do so, the prisoner rid himself of his sack, rapidly threw his jacket on the ground and put his head under the tap, not even having the time to wash his hands, for the NAZI warder considered this was all that was required. Whilst this took place the prisoners face was against the wall, so he was not able to recognize the guard who came along and continued to beat him up. Replacing the sack on his head, picking up the bucket with one hand and his jacket with the other, the prisoner was led back to his cell under the blows of the Nazi warder.
Several times a week both the cell and the prisoner were searched by three NAZIS, who took advantage of each occasion to beat up the prisoner thoroughly, this being in addition to the daily punishment. Once a week the prisoner received some clean linen which was in rags, and was conducted with a sack on the head, to the showers, which he passed through by himself so as not to be able to see any other prisoner and where he had to put on his clothes whilst he was still wet, as insufficient time was allowed for washing himself. Any relaxation supposedly humanitarian only took place for form’s sake. Each prisoner dreaded having to leave his cell for he knew the ill-treatment which awaited him.
At the time of his entry to the Fort, the prisoner had a so-called medical examination by the German M. O., the examination lasting four seconds. The prisoner, naked but with his head covered by a sack, passed through a passage and across an open yard, where after waiting, he was brought before the doctor. The doctor merely made the prisoner open his mouth and applied his stethoscope in the neighborhood of the heart; never had the prisoner an opportunity of being looked after by a doctor either for illness or wounds contracted at the camp.
The prisoner was generally held seven to eight weeks before being interrogated, this period being intended to weaken him physically, so that his moral resistance would be less when the Nazi officials of the Gestapo came to the camp to interrogate the prisoners. These interrogations were carried out in the presence of Nazis of the camp who were there to assist the interrogators in their mission, that is to say, to make the prisoners talk by striking them with a bludgeon on the head and the face and all over the body, including the groin. The stubborn prisoners were taken to the torture room situated in the cellars of the Fort. The sufferings of these unfortunate was such that, from their cells, the prisoners heard them scream and moan inhumanly, sometimes for hours.
Furthermore, in the Fort were a number of ferocious police dogs. The Nazi jailers saw that the prisoners passed near these dogs and were bitten each time by them. During my first night at the Fort, a prisoner two cells away from mine managed to get out of his cell intending to escape or die; he was caught five meters from his cell and chained and delivered over to the dogs. When he lost consciousness (which was many times), the German NAZIS on guard jumped, both feet together, with their big nailed boots on the victim, whose cries of agony were heard for hours before he died.
Life of the Prisoners Communally
In addition to the facts already set out above, further confirmation was given me by a prisoner from Breendonk, whom I met in the cells at the prison of St Gilles and who is at present in Germany, if he has not been shot. He is Major Stiers, an officer of the Belgian Regular Army and of the Colonies, who left for Germany at the beginning of February 1944 without having been judged and after having passed four to five months at Breendonk, and as long at St Gilles. He informed me that he had many times during his stay at Breendonk attempted suicide rather than endure the ill-treatment and tortures imposed upon the prisoners.
He had been confronted with the only two famous so-called Spaniard named Annir, or Anita, informer and mistress of De Sitter, alias Capt Willy, etc., one of the heads of the German Counter-Espionage in Belgium, having to his credit the discovery of the leading members of the pro-allied organizations in Belgium; he started certain resistance movements, subsidizing them and furnishing them with arms, causing the Patriots to visit the stores for arms supposed to have arrived from England (one of these depots or stores was thus visited by one of my friends, a villa full of arms at Stockel).
A book recounting the ordinary prison life at Breendonk will shortly be published and has been written by the Deputy Fischer, who lives at Place Gemblinne de Neux Brussels. (Note : This book has now been published).
The articles which appear in the ‘Moustique’ can be considered as being perfectly true and sincere. I recall a story of Major Stiers. He told me that he had seen the Nazis at a time when there were too many prisoners in the camp, force them, by lashing them with a hide whip to crawl in the water, in the middle of winter, then force them to remain immobile for hours in the cold until they died.
Speaking generally, a prisoner afflicted with any kind of illness was destined to die through lack of care. I can speak from experience having had a festering bruise behind the ear for four weeks, the result of a blow from a fist, and I only received the attention of a German orderly every four or five days when he came to see if my wound had developed into a mastoid, which would have caused my death in very little time.
To sum up Breendonk was a hell for those who passed through there.
(signed) A. Denis
Compiler’s Note : ‘Moustique’ Referred to Above is a Belgian Magazine.