The museum is near Antwerp, which is almost two hours away by train, so my school wanted us to be there early. I got there at 7:15, and we loaded onto the travel bus. It was close to a two hour train ride, so I popped in my headphones, put on some music, and fell right asleep. We got to Malines around 9:30, but apparently that was too early. Our tour wasn't until 10:30, so we all went to a Panos (kind of like a Subway but worse) and got coffee.
Our group split into two and we started off with the tour. The first floor was about the lives of Jewish Belgians before the war.
They had to register as Jews or face penalties
Every wall was covered with photos of the over 25,800 people who passed through Malines.
Some were of silhouettes, some of young children.
A photograph of the entrance into Auschwitz-Birkenau
This transport really stuck with me. 1000 people left on Transport 4. One (Simon Gutfreund, age 18) escaped, but was later captured and sent to Auschwitz in the next transport. 82.5% were immediately gassed upon arrival. Of the 104 men and 71 women who weren't gassed immediately, none survived.
Every transport would wait in this room before being shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were 28 transports. It was only until you sat on the chairs could you hear the names and ages of all of the victims, and they sounded like they were whispering in your ear. While you were standing in the room, you could only hear voices, but as soon as you sat down, it was as if they were speaking right into your ear. Only 5% of those who passed through Malines survived past 1995.
After our visit, we ate lunch and then headed to Breendonk, which was about 15 minutes away.
Fort Breendonk was used in WWI, but by WWII it was considered obsolete. When the Nazis occupied it, they turned it into a forced labor prison camp.
Whoever passes this limit will be shot.
So much barbed wire
Respect these placesMen suffered so you could live free
Swastika with the official motto of the SS
My friend Loïc standing against the wall, as prisoners had to do when they were being processed
They had to stand for a long time, some up to ten hours, and if they moved, they would be severely beaten.
The camp commander Lagerkommandant Philipp Schmitt was known to set his German Shepherd dog (called "Lump") loose on the inmates.
Inside one of the interrogation cells
Inside an interrogation cell, looking out. This was what the prisoners saw while they were trapped here
Each bunk had 3 levels, each level had to accommodate 4 men. There were 48 men in each room.
The torture chamber and its hook.
Men were handcuffed and the hook was attached to the handcuffs and then raised. Because their hands were behind their backs, their arms would be contorted into painful positions. Doctors were there, but only to make sure the prisoner wouldn't die prematurely.
Posts where they would assassinate the prisoners
Much more barbed wire.
It was truly a humbling experience going to Breendonk, and I couldn't stop talking about it with my family. I hope you and I have an opportunity to visit more of these places, so we never forget this part of history.