Breendonk (Belgium)

Aerial view of the camp

The fort of Breendonk is located along the ancient highway Brussels - Antwerp. It is perhaps the only camp which remains totally intact because at first Breendonk was a military fort and the buildings are built using concrete. For the German occupation administration, Breendonk was a "waiting" camp (Auffangslager) designed to receive Jews and political prisoners before their transfer to Germany. The first prisoners arrived on September 20th, 1940. In the beginning, the conditions of life were very difficult but still tolerable. But after the German troops invaded Russia (June 1941), the German SS guards were reinforced by Belgian SS’s and the regime became quickly inhuman. The lack of food became so severe that several prisoners tried to eat grass. Executions by hanging or shooting were common. The cruellest Belgian SS guards were Wijss, De Bodt and Pellemans.

The gallows..

The prisoners had to live in bunkers built of concrete. These bunkers were very cold and damp and the Nazis provided only two sanitary tubs for over twenty prisoners. Medical care was deficient. Later on, because of the growing crowd, additional wooden sheds were built.

A total of over 3.500 persons were imprisoned at Breendonk, but the number of prisoners simultaneously present never exceeded 600. The regime was worse than in most other Nazi camps because the number of prisoners to keep watch on and to harass was small. Tortures, beltings, hangings and shootings were common in Breendonk. It is unsure how many prisoners died or were killed in Breendonk but recent research estimates their number at about 300.

Breendonk had been evacuated a first time on May 6th, 1944 and all the prisoners transferred to Germany. On the following days more members of the resistance were imprisoned in Breendonk. The camp was eventually closed on August 30th, 1944 and all the prisoners transferred to Vught in Holland and later to Germany. The Allied troops arrived at Breendonk on September 3rd 1944. The camp was empty.

The fort of Breendonk was transformed in National Memorial in 1947. It is located not far from the centre of Willebroek, a small village about 15 miles from Brussels. Opening hours are 9.30 am to 6 pm from April 1st to September 30th and 9.30 am to 5 pm from October 1st to March 31st. The Memorial is closed on January 1st and on December 25th (mailing address: Mémorial National du Fort de Breendonk, B - 2830, Willebroek, Belgium Tel.: +32 (03) 886 62 09). Web site: