Another interesting place to go and visit on a cold day, is the Fort Breendonk. It’s located in Breendonk and Willebroek, near Mechelen. It’s a military fortification which is best known for its role as a Nazi prison camp during the World War II. So best not visiting this memorial on an empty stomach… or maybe that’s the best time to visit it.
The Fort was originally built for the Belgian army in the early 1900 as part of the second ring f defenses of the National Redoubt protecting the important port-city of Antwerp. It was covered by a 5m thick layer of soil for defense against bombings, a water-filled moat and measured 200 by 300 meters.
During World War II, the fort was used by the Germans as a prison for detaining Belgian political dissidents, captured resistance members and Jews. Although it was technically knows as a prison, and not a concentration camp… it was famous for its prisoners’ poor living conditions and for the use of torture. Most of the prisoners who were taken to Breendonk were later transferred to bigger concentration camps in Eastern Europe – at least, those who survived Breendonk. Of the 3.590 prisoners known to have been imprisoned here, 303 died or were executed within the fort itself but as many as 1.741 died in other camps before the end of the war.
During your visit to the Fort, you get an audio guide, which explains you the history of the Fort, who was kept captive here and who worked here as a guard. You get a glimpse of how the daily life in the camp would’ve been like. It’s an awful long tour – definitely if you’re doing it in the winter, because most of the parts are on the outside and, if not, the building doesn’t contain a lot of warmth neither… And ifw e’re already having cold, with a coat, a scarf and gloves… I don’t think I can imagine how it must have been like with a worn out clothes – or no clothes at all – waiting in line outside to get an ice cold shower.
It’s a dark history, but a history that may never be forgotten.
For more information, just click here.
In the neighborhood
We also drove by Fort Liezele, but it was closed during the time we visited the area. But if you would like to see another fort, more information can be found here.
If you want to see a bit more of the neighborhood, some other places to go and visit are The Castle d’Ursel, which has a nice park around it. It’s not always open, so for more information, just go here.
After all the visitations you can drive up towards De Notelaer, which was also built by the owner of the castle a lot of years ago. Here you can go for something to drink and something to eat. Opening hours can be found here.