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.
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 rumours that a prior film about the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen was actually shot in Belgian POW camps:
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 Latvians held there, it is a microcosm of the post-WWII experience which remains with us, now 72 years later: labelled 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 harbouring and protecting Hitler's Holocaust perpetrators.
As one might expect from Wolff's account regarding the Germans who inhabited the camp prior to the Latvians, life was grim:
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 folklore and propaganda.
Our graphic above is of a bas relief at St. Lawrence Church in Zedelgem.
We first became aware of efforts to preserve Zedelgem some 14 years ago. First was preservation of the physical camps themselves, an effort supported by the town council. There was also an initiative to recognize the Flemish soldiers who fought communism on the Eastern front—this was more problematic as Russia continues to denounce anyone who is anti-Soviet in WWII (or anti-Russian-regime today) as a Nazi. Finally, there was a private initiative to publish a history of the the camp, the town, the events, and the history surrounding them. Together, these were to create a lasting memorial to both Flemish and Baltic soldiers who died at the Eastern Front. We hope to gather and share more current information on these efforts.
Some of the original Zedelgem POW camp web site at this URL (in Dutch) is preserved online:
www.zedelgem-pow-camp.be at archive.org
Please contact us if you are interested in contributing materials to this heritage site, assisting with translations, or with supporting the Zedelgem projects.