History students visit Breendonk concentration camp

The Grade 10 history classes went to Breendonk recently, which was used by the Nazis as a concentration camp in World War II. Each student wrote a reflection on this impressive and humbling field trip.

Christopher’s reflection: “Our Grade went to Breendonk detention Camp. It is located in the proximity of Antwerp, as it was originally a fort in the Belgian defence lines. However, when the Nazis occupied Belgium in WW2, the fort was transformed into a detention camp for political prisoners, Jews and other “Non-aryans”. While we visited the camp today, I learnt that 3500 people were detained in Breendonk during the second world war. Evnthough this camp was small compared to Auschwitz, I still felt intimidated and awestruck at the crimes that had been done there. I personally found the torture chambers the most chilling, as the original “tools” were still where the Nazis had left them 70 years ago.

I would definitely return to Breendonk because I couldn’t look at everything in detail, and I didn’t have quite enough time for exploring. I would definitely recommend visiting Breendonk to anyone who is interested in WW2/the Holocaust as actually being there is completely different to reading about it.”

 

Another student wrote:

“As part of our social studies topic on World War 2, Grade 10 received the opportunity to visit Fort Breendonk with Mme Froidcoeur, Mr MacDonald and Principle V. The fort near Antwerp was used by the Germans as a prison camp after they invaded Belgium in 1940. The experience gave us a horrifying reality of the appalling way prisoners were treated by the Nazis. Having been built by the Belgians in 1909, it originally served as a way to protect Antwerp and its port from foreign invaders. It had been abandoned for some time before it was turned into a prison.

Throughout the tour, we were shown a number of rooms and areas around the prison where the prisoners endured their everyday life, along with an explanation from a tour guide about what it was used for. Each element of the tour told a different story of the torture that inmates would experience every day. 3500 prisoners passed through the camp while it was being used, and hundreds were killed; some were executed, many more were starved or over-worked to death. A prisoner would have been unlucky to be chosen for execution or additional punishments such as torture, but all of them were forced to work to extreme lengths throughout the entire day, performing labours such as building huts in order to accommodate more inmates. Food was extremely limited, a few slices of bread and possibly some watery soup was served every day. We were shown the rooms where the inmates slept, each designed to accommodate 40, but crammed with 100 people. Toilet facilities was a single bucket in each room, and many were infested with parasites. However, the most vivid experience for me was seeing the room in which inmates would be taken to be interrogated and tortured. The tools that the Nazis used for this had been left inside on the table, and we were given a very graphic explanation as to the methods they use to gain answers from members of the resistance, many of whom had useful information. Some were even executed; over the years of Fort Breendonk’s use, around a hundred prisoners were taken outside at 6 in the evening, and either hanged or shot by firing squad. The tour ended on this note.

If you are thinking of visiting Fort Breendonk or any other Nazi prison camp, I think that although it can be a very disturbing experience, it is also important to learn the history of the world, in order to ensure our future generations don’t make the same mistakes as past ones have. Especially as a student. Overall, you will not regret a visit to this camp.”