I have noted before that I am a Holocaust educator. As part of my ongoing researches, I have visited many of the sites associated with the dark events of the Nazi era. One of these is the Belgian fortress of Breendonk.
Breendonk was constructed as a military fortification in the years immediately before the First World War. But it is more notable as a Nazi prison during the Second. Over three and a half thousand people were imprisoned, or transported through the facility. Many of these later died in concentration camps deeper within the Reich.
On visiting the fortress today, it is notable that it is an official Belgian memorial and museum. It is imposing, and as one approaches the main gates over the moat, you are met with the eerie sign which translated says anyone passing that point will be shot.
The inner gates are thick, and one moves through a tunnel to the inner precincts. Here rows of cells can be found, along with latrine blocks and dining facilities. There is a solitary cell section, and it is a moving memorial marking out the suffering committed there.
The guard’s dining area is troubling. In Holocaust education, it is accepted practice to not glorify the perpetrators in any way. But the mess hall still bears the death head ans swastika logo on the wall, prominent over the head table.
The outer quarters in inner wall area are bordered by the moat. This area while peaceful, and somewhat beautiful today still have their tragic past as a backdrop. The watchtowers along the moat are reminders of this.
It was a moving few hours as I explored the facility. The town surrounding has some cafes, and things to do, but the real thing to see is the museum and grounds.