Kingdom of Belgium, 1922-1957. Archive of military service papers and identification cards of Sergeant Major René Jules Charles Wege of Liège, a Walloon Belgian who was held captive by the Germans as a political prisoner of war for 53 days in 1941. Comprises 7 printed military documents completed in manuscript, bearing stamps and signatures, and including 4 small portrait identification photographs. All documents are in French, a single exception being the POW recognition card which is in both French and Dutch. Documents range in size, the smallest card being a single leaf measuring approximately 8 x 10.5 cm, and his personal army booklet being 21 pages and measuring approximately 10 x 14.5 cm. Together with a manuscript copy of a sympathetic letter received from the wife of a deceased German soldier, written in English, during or following the Second World War.
Attached to the Belgian Army from the age of twenty-one, volunteering later in the Liberation Army to fight against the German occupation, then the Armed Resistance Forces, and being active in the clandestine sabotage efforts of the ‘Union Nationale de la résistance’, this gallant Sergeant was awarded the Resistance Army medal, and the Commemorative Medal of the 1940-1945 War (Médaille commémorative de la guerre 1940-1945).
This fascinating and informative lot of military documents belonging to a surviving World War II Political POW taken by the German Gestapo outlines his valorous service in the fight for his nation’s liberation. Further biographic research is warranted in terms of the Belgian Sergeant’s captivity, release, and unexpected benevolence towards a German officer.
Sergent Major René Jules Charles Wege, born 1901 in Liège, entered the Belgian Army 30 November 1922, serving for one year. He joined the volunteer forces 1 February 1936, serving until 26 December 1945, during which time, in April and May he was taken prisoner by the German Army. On 13 June, after a recovery period, he returned, and served until 31 March 1957. He received veteran’s military pension from April 1957.
In 1941 The German secret state police was targeting resistance groups in Belgium, infiltrating the resistance network with informants to betray participants and to examine resistance publications for intelligence. They took over the former Belgian army Fort Breendonk, near Mechelen, which was used for torture and interrogation of political prisoners and members of the resistance. Around 3,500 inmates passed through the camp at Breendonk where they were kept in extremely degrading conditions. Around 300 people were killed in the camp itself, with at least 98 of them dying from deprivation or torture. It is probably that Sergeant Wege was a victim of this prison camp, as it was situated only one hour from Liège.
The archive includes the following:
A Political Prisoner of War identification card [No. 162.052] issued to Wege by the ‘Ministère de la reconstruction’ in recognition of 53 days in captivity from 2 April to 29 May 1941. Complete with his photograph. Excerpts: “Carte de Prisonnier Politique 1940-1945: Wege, René J.C…. a été prisionnier politique ayant subi un captivité de 2 avril 41 au 29 mai 41, 53 jours…”
Three cards stamped and signed, issued to Wege pertaining to his membership in the clandestine Armée de la Libération [Belgian Liberation Army].
The Sergeant’s personal military book and his statement of services card detailing his assignments with the Belgian Army during the Second World War, each with an identification photograph. With the Resistance Army, from 10 May to 11 June 1940 Wege was with the 12 ième régiment de ligne (an infantry unit of the Belgian armed forces). In the spring of 1941 he was a captive in German hands. From 10 February 1943 to 14 October 1944 he was attached to the Résistant armé (Armed Resistance Forces). From 24 September 1944 to 17 December 1944 he was assigned to the Auditorat Militaire de Liège (Military auditors of Liege), and from 18 December 1944 to 8 May 1945 to the 1006 ième Compagnie des transports automobiles (a battalion designed to sabotage German transport lines).
A summary of his military service , dated 31 May 1966, issued at his request by the Ministry of Defence, signed and stamped
An uplifting note from a German widow, which reveals that in spite of his captivity and any ill-treatment at the hands of the Germans, Wege held no prejudice against the common folk. The note reads as follows,
“It is my heartfelt desire to thank you for your sympathy with my sorrow at the loss of my husband, The honour you did to him a German is proof to me that it only needs personal contact to establish relations of mutual esteem. This will be a ray of light in my dark hour. [signed] Mrs. Sophie Hahn”
The Belgian Resistance (Résistance belge, Belgisch verzet) refers to the resistance movements opposed to the German occupation of Belgium during World War II. Aside from sabotage of military infrastructure in the country and assassinations of collaborators, these groups also published large numbers of underground newspapers, gathered intelligence and maintained various escape networks that helped Allied airmen trapped behind enemy lines escape German-occupied Europe. The resistance included both men and women from both Walloon and Flemish parts of the country.
German forces invaded Belgium, which had been following a policy of neutrality, on 10 May 1940. After 18 days of fighting, Belgium surrendered on 28 May and was placed under German occupation. During the fighting, some 600,000 or more Belgian men (nearly 20% of the country’s entire male population) served in the military, many of whom were made prisoners of war and detained in camps in Germany, although some were released before the end of the war.
Many of the first members of the Belgian resistance were former soldiers, and in particular officers, who, on their return from prisoner of war camps, wished to continue the fight against the Germans out of patriotism. Most of the resistance was focused in the French-speaking areas of Belgium (Wallonia and the city of Brussels), although Flemish involvement in the resistance was also significant. Around 70% of underground newspapers were in French, and 60% of political prisoners were Walloons, as was Sergeant Wege.
In 1941 the Germans requisitioned the former Belgian army Fort Breendonk, near Mechelen, which was used for torture and interrogation of political prisoners and members of the resistance. Around 3,500 inmates passed through the camp at Breendonk where they were kept in extremely degrading conditions. Around 300 people were killed in the camp itself, with at least 98 of them dying from deprivation or torture.
L’Armée de la Libération était un mouvement de la résistance intérieure belge durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale né à la fin de l’année 1940 dans la mouvance des démocrates-chrétiens. L’armée belge de la Libération est fondée à Liège, par des militants qui en recrutèrent les membres au sein des mouvements de jeunesse et des syndicats démocrates-chrétiens. L’A.L. s’appuiera également sur un important contingent issu des forces de police ou de la gendarmerie. Ses membres s’occupent avec la presse clandestine: édition du journal La Vérité, le renseignement, rendre le secours aux réfractaires, aux clandestins, et aux populations juives, ainsi que le sabotage.
Liège is a major city and a municipality in of Belgium, located in the province of the same name, and is part of the Walloon region (mostly French-speaking). Walloons are a distinctive ethnic community of French-speaking people who live in Belgium, principally in Wallonia. Important historical and anthropological criteria (religion, language, traditions, folklore) bind Walloons to the French people. More generally, the term also refers to the inhabitants of the Walloon Region. They speak regional languages such as Walloon (with Picard in the West and Lorrain in the South).