Belgium in 1940

With the act of Leopold III, which finds unanimous reactions (stigmatized in the French chamber by Reynaud in violent terms, in less vivid terms by Churchill to the Municipalities, the 28 itself is declared without legal value by the Belgian government who took refuge in Paris and two days later this declaration is ratified by the surviving deputies gathered in Limoges), also for Belgium a double story opens: occupation and collaboration on the one hand, resistance on the other.

Belgium, which emerged from the short campaign with minor damage, apart from the destruction of Louvain and Tournai, passed under the direct control of General von Falkenhansen, who very soon found his collaborators for propaganda in Henri De Man, Robert Poulet and Paul Colin, for the police and the recruitment of an anti-Bolshevik legion in L. Degrelle’s rexism and in the Vlahamsch Nationaal Volkspartii by Gustave De Clercq. While the general secretaries of the various ministries, to which a law of May 10, 1940 had entrusted the executive power, were placed under the control of the civil governor Raederer who found an excellent collaborator in the secretary of the interior, the Flemish Romsée, the Germans gave themselves to resurrect the ancient ethnic antagonism by constantly supporting the Flemish element. The king, in turn, who had retired to the castle of Laeken declaring himself a prisoner, soon came out of all secrecy and voluntarily went to Berchtesgaden on November 16, 1940 to confer with Hitler: in the conversation Leopold III did not limit himself to a purely administrative and humanitarian level (rationing, return of prisoners, etc.), but passed to the political one (maintenance of the dynasty, etc.).

On the other hand, however, there is the immediate reaction of the Congo, whose governor Ryckmans himself refused to obey the king’s order on 28 May (it is in the Congo that the Gilliart brigade is formed which later takes action against the troops on the Sudanese border), and the transfer of the government to London, to which – after having overcome a momentary perplexity caused by the French capitulation and with an adventurous escape from Spain – Pierlot and Spaak came together on 24 October 1940. With 1941 an internal resistance was also formed, which created both national formations (such as the Armée secrète, of purely military origin and officially recognized by the government in exile in 1942, the Front deindépendance of communist origin, the Mouvement national belge with a conservative tendency), both of regional formations such as in Wallonia the Armee de la libération and in Flanders the Brigade blanche and later the Mouvement national royaliste, which combines the reason for the resistance with that of safeguarding the rights of Leopoldo III. Well-known collaborators such as Paul Colin, Robert Poulet and G. De Clercq were, between 1942 and 1943, eliminated by men of the resistance. The clergy themselves enter the struggle boldly, even if the high hierarchies remain on positions that lend themselves to ambiguous interpretations: Cardinal van Roey, spokesman of Leopold III, if on March 21, 1943 he protested in a courageous pastoral against the compulsory work decreed by the Germans, in April 1944, while the aerial preparation of the Allied landing in Europe was beginning, it also rose up against the Allied bombings, which had become very heavy especially in the Liege area. For Belgium 2015, please check

With the entry of the allied troops and the Piron national brigade into Brussels and Antwerp (5-6 September 1944), the Belgian liberation took place, on which, however, the threat of von Rundstedt’s counter-offensive still weighs for weeks. On 21 September the parliament, given the imprisonment of the king who was transported to Germany, appoints his brother Carlo as regent and on the 27th the new Pierlot cabinet was created. This brings about an important monetary experience with the Gutt measures (currency exchange with drastic curtailment) and with the van Acker measures a no less important legislation on social security (December 28); but he is forced to suffer the very rough impact of the resistance, reluctant to return to legality: the crisis, which leads to the withdrawal of the three communist ministers (November 16), it is resolved only with the direct intervention of the allied military authorities. Harshly fought by the socialists for its coal and rationing policy and attacked on February 7, 1945 in a parliamentary interrogation by the liberals and communists, the Pierlot government resigned without waiting for the vote of the chambers. This causes an immediate detente in the workers ‘camp, where the miners’ strike ceases, and the formation of a van Acker cabinet (11 February 1945) which continues the formula of national union. This, equipped with special powers for the problems of nutrition, work and purification, obtained after a rather lively conflict with the Catholics, achieves a consolidation of the international position of Belgium, above all with the economic agreements concluded with France by Spaak on 23 February 1945 on the model of the Benelux; but in April new strikes come to hinder its action in the mining sector and soon with the German capitulation the real thorny question arises (v.leopoldo iii, in this App.) which – after a very short period of euphoria (trip of the regent and members of the cabinet to Salzburg, in May) – evolves rapidly, breaking the national union with the government (resignation of Catholic ministers on 17 July 1945). However, the general constructive work of the van Acker government does not stop: it carries out Eyskens’ financial projects on 12 October, on 20 October important economic-financial agreements in Washington, on 12 December an agreement with England for the delimitation of the Belgian occupation zone in Germany.

Belgium in 1940

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