Fort van Breendonk (Nazi Concentration Camp)

Willebroek Travel Blog

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The sign says "STOP! Who continues will get shot!" (in german, dutch and french)
This week an American friend of mine visited me and we went visit various places in Belgium, I'll probably talk about some of them later but first I wanted to talk about what I did yesterday. I visited the Breendonk Fort, in Willebroek, near Mechelen, in the Antwerp province of Belgium.
The fort was originally built at the start of the 20th century part of an impressive series of forts all around Antwerp, as part of a general plan of the Belgian government at the time to fortify antwerp so that it could be used as a stronghold in case the capital Brussels was ever captured by an enemy army. This was the case in the first world war, but wasn't very succesful since the german army managed to attack Antwerp directly and avoid taking on the strongest forts untill after the capture of the city.
back to the entrance


In the second world war, military forts like Breendonk had become useless from a military point of view (due to advances in air-combat). When the fort was captured by the Germans in WWII it became a concentration camp. Various opponents of the nazi regime in Belgium were imprisoned here: resistance fighters, communists, jews, even mailmen that refused to censor letters. It wasn't a death camp like Auschwitz but still many people died due to execution, starvation or extreme torture. To honour these people the fort became a monument soon after the end of the war, because of that the fort is one of the best preserved concentration camps and it looks pretty much the way it looked in 1944.

A visit to the fort costs 6 euros (or less due to various reductions) and includes an audio guide that really helps to explain every aspect about the different rooms, people and events in the camp.
The fort is surrounded by walls, water, more walls, guard towers, and barbed wire
You can drive there by car or take the train to Willebroek and walk about 15 minutes from the station to the fort. I didn't really know what to expect from the visit, but it left a big impression, especially walking through a tiny cold hallway in the (nearly deserted) fort and arriving in the torture room was a bone-chilling experience. The guards would always leave the door of the torture room open so that all other prisoners could hear the screams.

I noticed that most of the vistors in the fort were foreign, and I had never really considered going there untill my American friend asked me if we could go there, she had learned about Breendonk in her university courses in berkeley. One of the reasons for its relative obscurity in Flanders might be that it is a place that also makes us question ourselves.
the sign on the wall says "My honor is loyalty" in german
Some of the worst sadists in the camp were not Germans (allthough they were there too) but members of the Flemish SS. So it is not a simple "bad nazis vs nice belgians" story and that might make it an unpopular destination, but I think that makes it an even more interesting destination. Most of the prisoners were flemish too, so I think people should visit it and realize that every society has good and bad people.

If you live in or near Belgium I strongly suggest you go visit it, it is an experience you won't easily forget, I could talk a lot more about what happened in the camp but it's better to go there yourself and experience it there.
Adrian_Liston says:
Very interesting, I didn't know this place existed. We'll have to go visit one day.
Posted on: Jul 12, 2009
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The sign says STOP! Who continues…
The sign says "STOP! Who continue…
back to the entrance
back to the entrance
The fort is surrounded by walls, w…
The fort is surrounded by walls, …
the sign on the wall says My hono…
the sign on the wall says "My hon…
entrance to the fort
entrance to the fort
Inside the fort
Inside the fort
hallway with the cells
hallway with the cells
up to 5O people slept in one room
up to 5O people slept in one room
as a punishment people had to stan…
as a punishment people had to sta…
room to the torture chamber
room to the torture chamber
the torture chamber, there was a s…
the torture chamber, there was a …
outside
outside
guard towers
guard towers
barbed wire with the fort in the d…
barbed wire with the fort in the …
List of people who were executed h…
List of people who were executed …
Willebroek
photo by: lamadude