Home » News » Lives turned topsy-turvy, forever

Lives turned topsy-turvy, forever

'Lily van Oost, 1937' - Copyrights Arch. Famille de Gerlache de Gomery - van Oost. Copyright: all rights reserved.

As we all know, the war and the occupation have deeply and lastingly affected the lives of millions of Belgians. For most, it was essentially a matter of surviving and protecting their families. For others, the troubles of the conflict would shake or even annihilate the values at the heart of their lives. These individual fates allow us to better understand the reality of the war.

In the course of the past weeks, several new articles on the Belgium WWII website have focused on some of these individual life journeys, an opportunity to immerse oneself in stories of lives forever marked by the war. One such a story is about the commitment of Lily van Oost, known by her married name, de Gerlache (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/destins-de-guerre.html). This young woman from a privileged household was not yet 17 when her life took a dramatic turn for the worse, as German soldiers took up residence inside the family home. She would soon join the Resistance. In late July 1944, she eventually got arrested. One month later, she was deported to Ravensbrück, just days before the liberation of Belgium by the Allies. As one can imagine, these eight months of deportation would profoundly mark her life. Claire Pahaut has written a very moving portrayal of this exceptional woman.

And there are more touching life stories, like that of Alice Cheramy (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/destins-de-guerre/alice-cheramy.html), born to a modest family from Farciennes. After her discrete but determined involvement in the intelligence service Clarence, she would become a prominent figure within “Leopoldist” circles, partisans of Leopold III. Her unique life story was as so many others also marked by the occupation. Fabrice Maerten relates us her journey. For others, the war signifies the continuation of earlier commitments. This was the case for Communist militant Jacques Grippa (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/personnalites/jacques-grippa.html) and for Catholic journalist William Ugeux (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/personnalites/william-ugeux.html). But sometimes, as Alain Colignon reminds us, the war throws people off the tracks, disrupting a journey that seemed well marked out. This is how the revolutionary socialist Walter Dauge (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/personnalites/walter-dauge.html) would end up in the murky waters of the New Order and eventually become the acting mayor of Flénu, shortly before falling under the bullets of the Resistance.

These are but a few of the new stories to be discovered on the Belgium WWII website. Other biographies further enrich the site. For example the ones of historian Guillaume Jacquemyns (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/personnalites/guillaume-jacquemyns.html) and his important studies of the conditions of survival of the Walloon working class, or of  Resistance fighters Albert Mélot (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/destins-de-guerre/albert-melot.html) and Marcel Demonceau (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/personnalites/marcel-demonceau.html), and last but not least the controversial story of King Leopold III (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/personnalites/leopold-iii.html).

In short, biographies to discover unique life experiences which help us to better grasp the impact of WWII on the Belgian population.  Many more stories can be discovered on our website. Do not hesitate to dive (or dive again) into it!

Chantal Kesteloot