Belgium 2019 travel blog

Walking to the market at Theux

Theux market

street in Theux

Countryside just outside of Theux

Prisoner barrack room

Prison passageway

Walls of Breendonk

Torture room


September 12, Thursday

A sunny morning. We headed for Fort Breendonk, built in the early 1900s to help defend Antwerp. In World War II, the Nazis appropriated and expanded it into a prison for resistance fighters, political prisoner and Jews. It was infamous for its prisoners' poor living conditions and for the use of torture. Of the 3,590 prisoners known to have been imprisoned at Breendonk, 303 died or were executed within the fort itself but as many as 1,741 died subsequently in other camps before the end of the war. It is now a national memorial site, the best preserved Nazi prison in existence.

Entering the prison between barbed wire fences and through the gaping door set in the grey concrete walls is the beginning of a tour through a very grim reality. The audiotape tour took us from room to room - barracks, latrines, torture chamber, execution site, isolation cells - giving information and firsthand accounts of life in the prison. There were photographs of cruel treatment of people that had to have been taken by the Nazis themselves, the only explanation of that being they never expected that the Third Reich could fall and they would be called to account (Many of the Breendonk overseers were put on trial and executed for war crimes). Information and photos about the prisoners was displayed to bring them into focus as people, not the dehumanizing numbers that were their only identity in the prison. It was a sombre experience, but one designed to preserve the memory of those who suffered there and to serve as a warning “Lest We Forget.”

We spent two hours at the prison. The full tour, had we listened to every part of the audiotape and read every display, was three hours. We took a break at a nearby brasserie, then drove to Theux. Theux is a pretty town that holds a market every second Thursday in the month. We circled to find a parking spot and displayed the blue parking card, which we had purchased in Spa, to secure two free hours of parking. The market itself was very small and offered mostly local food products like sausage, cheese and lentils, none of which could be taken back to Canada. There were crafts like woven baskets, fabric bags and finely-crocheted necklaces, bracelets and scarves. Unfortunately, baskets don’t easily fit in suitcases. The rest of the kiosks were mostly food stalls. We circulated through the kiosks and sampled some of the wares. The olive tapenade was delicious and I liked the goat cheese sausage, which Pam spurned. We wandered back to the car, popping into a couple of the stores.

Back home, we again had a quiet evening.



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