Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

Holocaust Research Project

Subscribe to Holocaust Research Project: eMailAlertsEmail Alerts
Get Holocaust Research Project via: homepageHomepage mobileMobile rssRSS facebookFacebook twitterTwitter linkedinLinkedIn

Blog Feed Post

The Holocaust in Belgium - Breendonck

The Breendonck

Internment Camp in Belgium


German troops outside the main entrance to the Breendonck camp

The camp known as Breendonck was located in the village of Breendonk, about 20 km outside of Mechelen. Built in 1906 the fortress was erected near the junction of the Antwerp – Brussels and Mechelen – Dendermonde roads, as part of a chain of fortifications.


The fortress fell during the German invasion in 1914 and later it became the general Headquarters of the Belgian Army. In May 1940 Breendonck was briefly used as the General Headquarters of King Leopold III, leading the Belgian armed forces.


After Belgium's surrender to the Germans the fortress was transformed into an internment camp by the Nazis (primarily as a transit camp for transport to Auschwitz). It gained a grim reputation as a place of torture and interrogation of a wide variety of prisoners.


This fortress surrounded by a moat, consists of a building measuring 200 by 300 meters and can still be seen today, as a museum and memorial.The museum is only a part of the entire complex. There are different rooms with displays detailing the Nazi-occupation of Belgium, the SS rule at Breendonk, as well as to the post-war trials of the executors.


In the former showers and  kitchen works of art can be seen that was made by the prisoners.


Breendonck as an internment camp


At the end of August 1940 the Germans turned the fortress into a Polizeihaftlager and three weeks later, on 20 September the first group of detainees, numbering twenty persons, mostly “politicals”   and Jews of foreign nationality, were brought to the camp.


The camp was under the control of the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) and was run by SS men, with Wehrmacht personnel serving as guards. At the end of 1941 they were joined by Belgian SS men. Among the Belgian SS –men were Wijss, De Bodt, and Pellemans, who were renowned for their cruelty.


The physical conditions at Breendonk were among the worst in Western European camps. In addition, the camp commanders subjected the prisoners to terrible cruelty and violence.


Philip Schmitt

During the first year of the Occupation, the Jews made up half the total number of prisoners. From 1942 onwards and the creation of the internment camp at the Dossin barracks where the Jews were assembled before their departure towards the east and the extermination camps, most of the Jews disappeared from Breendonk, which gradually became a camp for political prisoners and members of the Resistance.


The first commandant of the camp was Sturmbannfuhrer Philip Schmitt, who was followed in 1943, by an Austrian Karl Schonwetter.


The officer in charge of forced labour was Untersturmfuhrer Artur Prauss, who had the reputation of being the most cruel person in the camp staff. The camp commandant came directly under the authority of the Security Police chief for Belgium and Northern France, Konstantin Canaris, and then of his successor Ernst Ehlers.


In the initial phase conditions in the camp were reasonably tolerable, and the Jewish prisoners were not separated from the non-Jews. But at the end of 1940 this changed, and the “Aryan” prisoners were put into separate living quarters, although both groups continued to work side by side.

Read more here: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/breendonck.html

The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team


Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2009

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Holocaust Research Project

The aim of H.E.A.R.T is to inform and educate people about the Holocaust and the extermination programs conducted by the Nazi regime throughout Europe during the Second World War.

H.E.A.R.T research and material is contributed from a group of independent Holocaust researchers who devote their spare time to research for the production of this website and other forms of related publications, such as leaflets and books.

H.E.A.R.T is run by its trustees and directors, who manage the daily administration of the website, review all research materials, fact checking, and addressing any required corrections.

Most materials presented on the H.E.A.R.T website originate in Poland, Germany, the former Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom as well as from private sources in the USA and other countries.

H.E.A.R.T currently accepts no new membership however we do maintain affiliations with educational institutions and private associations that contribute articles, photos, rare documents, etc.

Contributed text and pages will appear on the website as a "Guest Publication" with the author maintaining full copyright to the submitted text however page design and layout is owned by © H.E.A.R.T. All other material presented on this website is subject to H.E.A.R.T copyright however all pages may be used “Freely” providing the source is credited as the following:

"Courtesy of the Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team www.HolocaustResearchProject.org " © H.E.A.R.T www.HolocaustResearchProject.org