Lost in TimeZedelgem POW camp—fading from memory and into the earth
Removed from collective memory, a forgotten black page from the post-WWII past. Memory of the thousands of the German prisoners of war held by the Allies here is virtually non-existent. The Zedelgem POW camp has been crumbling and fading into the weeds. Conditions at the camp cannot compare in any way to what prisoners of Nazi Germany were forced to endure. Still, conditions here were bleak at best.
Our interest in Zedelgem is in the internment there of Baltic POWs who had served in the Waffen-SS units on the Eastern Front resisting the Soviet re-invasion of their homelands. For the Latvian Legionnaires held there, it is a microcosm of the post-WWII experience which remains with us, now 75 years later: labeled as Nazis, their self-help organization Daugavas Vanagi—founded in the camp—denounced by the Soviets and in popular Nazi-hunting literature to this day as harboring and protecting Hitler's Holocaust perpetrators.
In The History of the German prisoners of WW2 (Zur Geshichte der deutschen Kriegsgefangenen des 2. Weltkrieges), Helmut Wolff writes that the condition of the POWs was so poor that it sparked rumors that a prior film about the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen was actually shot in Belgian POW camps.
As one might expect from Wolff's account regarding the Germans who inhabited the other Zedelgem camps alongside the Latvians, life was grim:
Most Latvian soldiers in Germany were at first kept in British prisoner-of-war camps in Germany. In the fall of 1945 most of them were transferred to a POW camp 2227 at Zedelghem in Belgium. They had naively expected the Western Allies to understand the reasons why they had fought on the side of the Germans. Instead of understanding, they at first received beatings, and occasionally they were used for live target practice by the guards. They were released during 1946 when the Western Allies concurred that the Latvians were not Nazis despite their SS uniforms.
— Visvaldis Mangulis in Latvia in the Wars of the 20th Century
We will be examining the lives and times of those held here and what remains of the Zedelgem camp in its ruins, in memory, and in lore.
Our graphic is a fragment depicting the life of Saint Nicholas, healing the sick and saving a drowning seafarer, from a twelfth-century bas relief adorning the baptismal font in the Church of Saint Lawrence in Zedelgem.
|||"... und ihre sichtbar schlechte physische Verfassung haben zugleich auch Übertreibungen und Gerüchte geweckt, die darin gipfelten, das der den Kriegsgefangenen vorgeführte Film über das KZ Bergen-Belsen in Wahrheit in den PoW-Camps Belgiens gedreht worden sei!"|
|||At Tournai font|
Updated: July, 2018