A new era for commemoration in Meensel-Kiezegem
2016 will become an interesting year in Meensel-Kiezegem (Belgium). The two organizations active in the commemoration of the Second World War are merging into “Meensel-Kiezegem ‘44”. This way they continue to engage in the commemoration and remembrance of the tragical happenings in the village during the Second World War.
Meensel-Kiezegem is a small municipality in the town of Tielt-Winge, about 40km from Brussels in Belgium. At the end of the Second World War the tension rose between collaboration and resistance, which led to two raids on the 1st and 11th of August, 1944. Just before the liberation of the region, most victims were deported to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp. The outcome of both raids was terrifying: 4 people were murdered on the spot, 63 inhabitants died in the Nazi Concentration Camps. Only 28 hostages (including 9 women and children) were able to survive this tragedy. Due to this heavy toll, the village is mentioned together with Oradour-sur-Glane and Lidice as one of the one of the worst affected communities in Europe during WWII.
Shortly after the liberation a new organization in Belgium was established by survivors and descendants of the victims of the Nazi-Regime, under the umbrella of ‘Nationale Confederatie van Politieke Gevangenen en Rechthebbenden van België’ (National Confederation of Political Prisoners and Beneficiaries in Belgium).
A local department of the NCPGR was established in Meensel-Kiezegem, focusing on the annual commemoration of the victims. Until this day, an annual ceremony is held on the first Sunday between the 1st and 11th of August. In 2000 an informative office was erected, telling the story of the raids.
The Meensel-Kiezegem ’44 Foundation
20 year ago, a group of war orphans from Meensel-Kiezegem was having the idea to document the happenings of Meensel-Kiezegem ’44 in a movie based on the book of Oktaaf Duerinckx. This film group evolved into the Meensel-Kiezegem ’44 Foundation. A statue was erected in the former gardens of the SS in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial, called ‘The Desperation of Meensel-Kiezegem’, during the first of many Commemoration Journeys. Also a local Museum was founded focusing on the story of the deported victims to Nazi Concentration Camps.
Despite the like-minded goals of both organizations, they kept working side-by-side for many years due to different views of the boards. The NCPGR Meensel-Kiezegem focused on the annual ceremonies, while the Meensel-Kiezegem ’44 Foundation placed more effort on education and maintaining international partnerships in Germany.
This changed in the spring of 2015. Stimulated by the local municipality of Tielt-Winge, the opportunity rose to join both museums into a genuine commemoration site, a new cultural and tourist hotspot for the region. This we were able to use as a point of contact to bring both boards even closer together, which ultimately resulted in a merger.
Remembrance, Commemoration & Research
On November 23, 2015 the newly merged organization was established by the name of N.C.P.G.R. Meensel-Kiezegem ’44. The new association has three priorities: remembering, commemorating and research:
• Remembering via the annual ceremonies and trips to Germany;
• Commemoration with the musea and the traveling exposition through Europe;
• Research by publishing new found historical evidence regarding the Meensel-Kiezegme case on a periodic basis.
The merger also led to a rejuvenation of the board, which today includes heirs of the 2nd, 3d and even 4th generation. This way Meensel-Kiezegem is ready for a new era in commemoration, more the 70 years after the tragical events.
Tom Devos is a young entrepreneur and coordinator of the research centre of N.C.P.G.R. Meensel-Kiezegem ’44. During WWII his great-grandfather died in the Neuengamme Concentration Camp after having been deported from Meensel-Kiezegem. Tom is already the 4th generation putting effort in the remembrance of the victims of the Nazi-regime in Meensel-Kiezegem.