The revelation has sent a shockwave through Wallonia where it was widely thought that only Flemish collaborators assisted German soldiers in war crimes. “Hopefully this shock will lead to more research into what happened in Poland, also in Wallonia” says historian Frank Seberechts.
“Papy était-il un nazi?” (Was granddad a Nazi?) is the name of the documentary aired on RTBF TV. Researchers discovered that Flemish and Walloon soldiers who fought on the eastern front were involved in atrocities in northern Poland.
Several camps linked to the Stutthof concentration camp needed to be evacuated as the Red Army advanced. Historian Frank Seberechts, who looked into the activities of Flemings who volunteered for the eastern front, speaks of 6,000 people, especially Jewish women, who were marched to their deaths.
In January 1945 in temperatures of minus 30°C these people had to march in thin camp clothing, wrapped in a blanket or wearing cardboard shoes. German SS soldiers accompanied them as did Walloon and Flemish members of Organization Todt, a paramilitary organisation that built roads and bridges for the German army. The organisation included camp guards.
Prisoners were marched to Königsberg (Kaliningrad). “They stayed in Königsberg for a number of days, without much to eat or drink, locked in cellars. Several hundred or thousand people perished as a result of the cold and hardship or were shot or beaten by guards” says Seberechts.
“Those that survived - some 2,000 to 3,000 people - were marched to the coast. Individual groups were herded into the sea. They were shot or grenades were thrown at them. Of the 6,000 that started the journey only a couple of dozen people survived.”
The number of Belgians who took part in the atrocity was probably fewer than 30. On their return to Belgium they were convicted of collaboration and bearing arms, but not as a result of their participation in his atrocity. Frank Seberechts researched the war crimes of Belgians on the eastern front. He says, also in Flanders there used to be little knowledge about what happened. In Wallonia even less research has been conducted into this atrocity, where a stronger resistance received more attention. The historian also points to a different political approach to collaboration in Flanders and Wallonia and says this too had an impact on the nature of scientific research.