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The peculiar summer of 1940

Réfugiés durant l'exode, 1940, © State Archives

We have availed ourselves of the lockdown to publish a whole range of articles on our website Belgium World War II. By browsing from page to page, you can now get an overview of some of the major issues that rose at the beginning of the war and the occupation... With this newsletter we invite you to discover some of the old and new articles about this period. The proposed journey on our website is neither mandatory nor exhaustive however. Feel free to browse through the website as you wish.

On 28 May 1940, the Belgian army surrendered. This marks the beginning of a long period of occupation that stretched over four years. For a better understanding of this period, it is essential to revisit the day of 10 May 1940. When browsing through the timeline on the website (under the events heading accessible via the menu: https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/evenements.html), you will find that it was on this date that the so-called “suspects of 10 May 1940” were arrested while tens of thousands of Belgians fled – among which public officers and politicians. The issue of what was later qualified as an abandonment of post (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/evenements/1940-05-10-abandon-de-poste.html) would have a major impact on the manner in which the Belgian public administration works. In the long term, this would also become a motive for the exclusion of a number of local officials who would then be replaced by others who championed the new order (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/bourgmestres-de-guerre.html).

However, before the implementation of this policy, i.e. the events of May, the Battle of Belgium (the 18 Day’s Campaign) (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/campagne-des-18-jours-la-une-guerre-de-retard.html) took place and the massive exodus of Belgians whose minds were still haunted by the massacres of civilians in summer 1914  (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/exode-de-1940-l-la-debacle-d-un-etat.html). This period also marks the onset of a profound rift between King Leopold III (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/personnalites/leopold-iii.html) and the Belgian government before the famous meeting of the Belgian parliament in Limoges on 31 May 1940 (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/limoges-mai-40-la-colere-impuissante-d-un-parlement-dans-la-debacle.html).

The summer of 1940 shall forever remain a peculiar moment in history. The German military administration got established (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/administration-militaire-allemande-militarverwaltung.html). Various key players attempted to form a government, while elsewhere the college of secretary-generals held its first meeting (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/secretaires-generaux.html) and the economic recovery was on the agenda (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/doctrine-galopin.html).

The Resistance was still at its inception stage (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/resistance.html), yet here and there, initiatives were undertaken (https://www.belgiumwwii.be/belgique-en-guerre/articles/wallonie-libre-la.html). But this is another story...

We will get back to you in fall with new interesting suggestions. Enjoy summer!

Chantal Kesteloot