lettres d'adieu des résistants de Belgique exécutés en 1940-1944

The farewell letters of the Belgian resistance fighters executed in 1940-1944

  • Access et consultation : The collection is open during the opening hours of the reading room. Its content is freely available.
  • Reproduction :  The content of the collection can be freely reproduced in the reading room. For any reproduction request by the CegeSoma teams, practical information is available here.
  • Research tools : List of names

Collection description :

Since the summer of 2013, Cegesoma has gathered, in a single document collection (n°AA 2346), nearly 600 letters or extracts of letters written by 383 men (and only one woman!) a few hours before they were put to death by the occupier during the Second World War. These shocking documents are an exceptional testimony to the way in which the resistance fighters fear their death or, at least, what they want it to appear. More broadly, they provide very interesting clues to the perception of death in the Western world in the middle of the 20th century.

The success of the search for these letters, which began in 2009 with a view to producing a scientific article on the subject, owes much to the richness of Cegesoma's collections. Indeed, the last writings of about 230 resistance fighters and/or executed hostages were disseminated there. A multitude of letters could also be found thanks to the many responses to the call issued on our website in March 2009, to the information provided by Gert Prins, historian at the War Victims Service, and to several files kept at the Breendonk Memorial, most of which were related to the German military chaplain in chief for Belgian prisons, Otto Gramann.

As a result, Cegesoma now has 539 letters, generally reproduced in their entirety (481), and 49 banknotes scribbled on the back of pious images addressed to Bishop Gramann, all distributed in 384 nominative files. These also often include book excerpts or press articles praising the merits of the victims. A list of the latter is associated with the description of the collection in the Pallas online catalogue. In addition, a table available in the reading room provides for practically each of the 380 persons identified the date of birth, the language of the letter(s), the age at death, the date, place and type of execution, the number of letters, the extent of their return, as well as references to the sources used.

It can be seen that nearly 90% of these torture victims were between 18 and 41 years of age and that 71% spoke French. The letters found come mainly from shootings in Belgium (350 cases), in particular from the citadel of Liège (137 cases) and the Tir national de Schaerbeek (98 to 105 cases).

The table above also provides additional information - for example on the background of the resistant fighters - for the 101 cases on which the above-mentioned article was based. An in-depth analysis of the farewell letters written by these hundred men (and woman) also indicates that behind the different ways in which the resistant fighters dealt with their imminent death there is a dominant attitude: resignation. To reach this state and ward off the anguish of nothingness, the condemned person presents an idealized image of themselves, intended to become for the friend or relative, the survivor, that of the loved one in a deeply intimate relationship. To keep this bond, the dying person calls upon religion and/or homeland. Their involvement in public space against the occupier, most often the effective cause of their death sentence, thus serves to build an image of heroes of the resistance in which, they hope, each member of their community can project themselves; and, in this way, maintain a close link with them and prevent them from disappearing into oblivion.

In a way, this documentary collection protects the victims from what they feared the most – from being forgotten.

For more information :

  • Fabrice Maerten & Emmanuel Debruyne, “En guise d’adieu. Les dernières lettres des résistants et assimilés de Belgique, exécutés par l’occupant lors des deux guerres mondiales”, in Bruno Curatolo & François Marcot, Écrire sous l’Occupation. Du non-consentement à la Résistance. France-Belgique-Pologne 1940-1945, Rennes, 2011, p. 371-386.