From 1938 – 1945, the Nazis invaded and occupied over twenty countries.
This section uses case studies to illustrate the experiences of some of the countries occupied or allied with Nazi Germany.
From 1938 – 1945, the Nazis invaded and occupied over twenty countries.
This section uses case studies to illustrate the experiences of some of the countries occupied or allied with Nazi Germany.
Under the terms of the Munich Pact, the Sudetenland, a region in the north of Czechoslovakia, was incorporated into the Greater German Reich from the 1 October 1938.
Just six months later, Hitler broke the terms of this pact and invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. On the 15 March 1939, Hitler declared a new state, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. This became an occupied territory under German control.
The southern part of Czechoslovakia became Slovakia, an independent fascist dictatorship. Slovakia collaborated with Nazi Germany.
Oppression and persecution
Jews were persecuted in all parts of Czechoslovakia under Nazi rule.
Prior to the start of the Second World War, over 350,000 Jews lived in Czechoslovakia. Of these, approximately 118,000 lived in the area that became known as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
After the German takeover, Jews soon became subject to a number of discriminatory laws, similar to those in place in Nazi Germany. These laws mostly focused on the exclusion of Jews from society and limiting their everyday actions, such as where they could work.
In November 1941, Reinhard Heydrich ordered the creation of the Theresienstadt Ghetto to the north of Prague. Jews from all over Czechoslovakia began to be deported to and concentrated in this ghetto.
The ghetto became dual purpose. It was also used as a transit camp , with the first transport of people departing from Theresienstadt to the east on 9 January 1942. In total, approximately 88,000 people were deported to Auschwitz, and 33,000 people died from the unsanitary conditions and starvation in Theresienstadt alone.
At the end of the Second World War, just 14,000 Jews remained alive in German occupied Czechoslovakia. Approximately 263,000 Jews had been murdered by the Nazis.
Prior to the invasion of Poland on the 1 September 1939, the country was home to just over three million Jews. By 28 September 1939, Poland had been defeated and divided up between the Nazis and Soviets as per the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact .
The western area of Poland was annexed into the Greater German Reich. The Soviet Union occupied the eastern section.
On 23 October 1939, the area not annexed to Germany or to the Soviet Union was placed under the control of a German administration led by Hans Frank . This administration was called the General Government , and contained approximately one and a half million Jews.
Oppression and persecution
The majority of the Polish population were brutally suppressed. Many Poles were forced to move in order to make room for ethnic Germans, a small proportion of the Polish population who were named Volkdeustche, meaning German blood. Thousands of Polish leaders and resisters were arrested, tortured and killed.
Antisemitic attacks and measures began immediately. In the part of Poland incorporated to Germany, around 300,000 Jews fled to Soviet controlled territories. On 21 September 1939, Reinhard Heydrich issued an order that the remaining 1.8 million Jews should be expelled to the General Government. Forced deportations began on 21 November 1939.
On 23 November 1939, Hans Frank decreed that all Jews residing in the General Government had to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David. Prior to this, Frank had ordered that all Jewish males be sent for forced labour, and Jewish businesses be seized. From January 1940, Jews were also forbidden to use trains, except by special permit.
The first ghetto was established on 8 October 1939, in Piotrakow Trybunalski, sixteen miles south of the central Polish town of Łódź.
Throughout 1940 and 1941, the Nazis established hundreds of ghettos as the German armed forces invaded lands across Europe.
The ‘Final Solution’
Between 1939 and 1945, the Nazis established hundreds of concentration camps and forced labour camps across Poland.
In June 1941, German armed forces invaded Soviet controlled eastern Poland. As the German Army fought its way eastwards, mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen , followed behind, carrying out the mass extermination of Jews living in these areas.
Following the Wannsee Conference of January 1942, the Nazis started to implement their ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’.
Chełmno was established as the first of six main extermination camps in Poland on 7 December 1941.
In the spring of 1942, three other extermination camps at Sobibór , Bełżec and Treblinka were established as part of Aktion Reinhard . The concentration camps complexes at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek were also expanded and developed into extermination centres.
Jews who had previously been held in ghettos within occupied Poland were transported to their deaths in the extermination camps. The ghettos within the General Government were liquidated. By the summer of 1944 only the Łódź Ghetto remained.
Three million Polish Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the occupation of Poland.
In addition to this figure, three million non-Jewish Poles were also murdered at the hands of the Germans.
The German Army invaded France on 10 May 1940.
On 22 June 1940, the French surrendered and signed an armistice with the Nazis. France was then divided in two zones.
Northern France was occupied and controlled by Germany.
The unoccupied southern zone came under the control of a new French Government led by Marshal Phillipe Pétain . Established in the spa town of Vichy, the government and area became known as Vichy France.
General Charles de Gaulle, who opposed Pétain’s surrender to the Germans, fled to Great Britain and set up a French government-in-exile.
In the summer of 1940, approximately 350,000 Jews were living in France. More than half this Jewish population were not French citizens, but refugees who had fled Nazi persecution in other countries.
Theoretically, the Vichy Government was independently governed. However, in reality, the Vichy Regime was subject to a large amount of pressure from the Nazis to implement Nazi policies, and often collaborated with them to achieve this.
The Vichy government were soon pressurised by the Nazis to persecute Jews.
Initially, the Vichy Government’s antisemitic measures were directed against Jews who were refugees, or of non-French origin.
However, in April 1942, Pierre Laval joined the Vichy Government as the Prime Minister. Laval pushed the Vichy Regime to fully collaborate with the Nazis. From this point onwards, all Jews were targeted, irrespective of their citizenship.
Oppression and persecution
Almost immediately after the German invasion, Jews living in both the occupied zone and in Vichy France were subjected to antisemitic measures.
In the occupied zone of France, Jews were treated similarly to those in Poland, and faced immediate persecution by the occupying Nazi forces. Many were dismissed from their jobs and their freedom of movement was restricted. From June 1942, the Nazis forced Jews to wear the Star of David.
Throughout the summer of 1942, the Nazis started to arrest Jews for deportation to the east. Following this, they restricted the movements of the remaining Jewish community for future arrests. These arrests were typically carried out by French police.
The Vichy government also passed antisemitic laws.
In October 1940, a decree was passed defining who was a Jew and limiting their involvement in French society.
In March 1941, the Vichy authorities set up an Office for Jewish Affairs. Jewish property and businesses also became confiscated under ‘ Aryanisation ’ laws, leaving people homeless and without work. From 1942 onwards, French Jews started to be deported from the Vichy zone.
During the war approximately 80,000 Jews were deported from France.
Of these, 70,000 were sent to Auschwitz. The remainder were sent to Majdanek , Sobibór and Buchenwald .
By the end of the war just 2,000 of those who were deported had survived.
On 10 May 1940, the German Army invaded the Netherlands.
Within four days, after witnessing the bombing of Rotterdam and the threat of the same in Amsterdam, the Dutch army surrendered.
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands fled to Great Britain, where she established a government-in-exile.
Hitler ordered the creation of a German civil administration in the Netherlands under the command of the SS.
Oppression and persecution
After Hitler came to power in 1933, many German Jews began to emigrate to the Netherlands. The Netherlands had remained a neutral power during the First World War, and so many German Jews believed that they would be safe from persecution there.
The Netherlands was home to 140,000 Jews, with approximately 75,000 Jews living in the capital, Amsterdam.
Immediately following the Nazi occupation, antisemitic measures were implemented by the Nazis.
Between September and November 1940, Jewish newspapers were closed down, Jewish civil servants were sacked and the assets of all Jewish businesses were registered. Following this, Jewish students were also expelled from schools and universities.
In January 1941, all Jews living within the Netherlands were ordered to register themselves with the SS. A total of 159,806 persons registered, including 19,561 born of mixed marriages. The total also included approximately 25,000 Jewish refugees from Germany.
In the second half of 1941, the Joodse Raad was forced to provide lists of Jews to work in forced labour camps for the German war effort.
In January 1942, persecution escalated as the Nazis ordered the concentration of Jews in Amsterdam.
In July 1942, the Germans began transporting Jews who had gathered in Amsterdam to Westerbork, a camp in the north-east of the Netherlands. Westerbork was a transit camp , and Jews were then transported again to extermination camps in the east.
The Dutch police actively collaborated and assisted the German authorities in the rounding up of Jews on the streets or in their homes. Dutch railway workers also administered and operated the trains in which Jews were deported to and from Westerbork.
The last train left Westerbork for Auschwitz-Birkenau on 3 September 1944, by which time 107,000 Jews had been deported. Of this number, only 5,200 people survived.
The Nazis soon realised that their antisemitic actions would not be able to be easily implemented without resistance from the population of the Netherlands.
In early February 1941, a fight broke out in a café between Jews and the occupying German police. In response to this fight, the Germans arrested 389 young people and transported them to Buchenwald . Many of the Dutch population were outraged at this open show of brutality. In response, many Dutch workers went on strike on the 25 February 1941. The strike was violently suppressed by the Nazis, forcing the Dutch population back to work.
Some of the Dutch population also actively involved themselves more covertly by hiding some Jews from the Nazis. In total, 25,000-30,000 Jews managed to go into hiding assisted by the Dutch underground. Of this number, two-thirds managed to survive.
Romania was not occupied but allied with Nazi Germany from 1940 onwards, collaborating with them in policy and in the war.
Romania had a long history of antisemitism, particularly in the east of the country.
In September 1940, the Romanian King, King Carol II, was forced to abdicate and the fascist General Ion Antonescu took power. Antonescu’s regime was known as the National Legionary State. Antonescu also brought members of the Iron Guard into government, a far-right, and highly antisemitic political party.
In November 1940, Romania officially entered the Second World War when it joined the Axis Alliance . Romania actively assisted the Nazis in the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Romanian army and police forces collaborated with the Nazis helping to plan and carry out the murders of thousands of Jews. They also acted independently to carry out several barbaric executions and pogroms in annexed or occupied territories. In total, German and Romanian troops, with assistance from local Romanians and Ukrainians, murdered over 160,000 of Romania’s Jews.
By 23 August 1944, Antonescu’s government was overthrown by an antifascist group called the National Democratic Bloc. The new government signed an agreement with the Soviet Union that formally acknowledged that Romania was no longer allied with Germany.
Oppression and persecution
The Iron Guard, the political party brought into government by Antonescu, initially led the physical attacks on Jews in Romania. Jews were beaten up in the streets, and often killed as a result of random attacks on their homes and businesses.
The Antonescu government also escalated prior antisemitic laws implemented by previous governments to restrict every area of Jewish life. Jews were banned from owning any type of rural property. Jewish businesses were nationalised . Jews were excluded from almost every profession of work, and all areas of education (both as teachers and students). From the 27 July 1941, Jews were not allowed to travel.
In July 1941, Romania set up its first concentration camp , Chișinău . More camps soon followed, such as Bogdanovka , where over 40,000 Jews perished at the hands of the Romanian authorities.
Some 420,000 Jews who had previously lived in Romania died during the Holocaust.
Shortly after the Nazis came to power, the Hungarian government, led by Miklós Horthy , built an alliance with Nazi Germany. Following Germany’s occupation of Austria and then Czechoslovakia, Hungary regained territorial gains which they had lost after the First World War. This combined with a rise in sympathy for fascism and Nazi ideas in Hungary, encouraged the country to join the Axis Alliance in November 1940.
In line with the Nazis policies towards Jews, in 1941 the Hungarian government deported approximately 20,000 non-Hungarian Jews to Ukraine, where they were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen .
However, until 1944, the Hungarian government refused to deport Hungarian Jews, despite the range of brutal antisemitic laws they enacted.
When it became clear that the Nazis would not emerge from the war victorious, the Hungarian government attempted to pull out of the alliance with Germany, and sought an armistice with the Allies.
In response, in March 1944, Germany invaded and occupied Hungary. The Nazis set up a new government loyal to Germany.
Miklós Horthy did not resign under the German occupation of Hungary, but instead helped to appoint a new government who were more submissive to the Nazis demands.
Adolf Eichmann was deployed to Hungary on the 19 March 1944 to carry out the extermination of its Jewish population. Eichmann aimed to deport more than 800,000 people to the camps in the east. Despite the likelihood of defeat in the war by this stage, genocide was still a priority for the Nazis. Arriving with just a few German staff, Eichmann was reliant on the collaboration of the Hungarian authorities to achieve this aim. The Hungarian authorities cooperated enthusiastically with Eichmann’s plans.
In little over two months, over 200 camps and ghettos were created and filled with the Jewish population.
437,402 Hungarian Jews were deported in 56 days between May and July 1944, primarily to Auschwitz, where almost all of them were murdered.
Although the Hungarian authorities did not actively deport Hungarian Jews until the occupation of Hungary in 1944, harsh antisemitic policies were in place. Between 1920 and 1944, over 300 antisemitic laws were passed.
From 1938, the persecution of Jews increased significantly as Hungary strengthened its ties with Nazi Germany. The law known as the First Jewish Law was passed on 29 May 1938. This law limited the number of Jews in many professions and companies to a maximum of 20%.
In 1939, a law forced all Jewish men of military age to join the Hungarian Labour Service .
On 5 May 1939, the Second Jewish Law passed. This law defined Jews as a race rather than a religion: any person with two or more grandparents was regarded as a Jew. The law also banned Jews from working for the government and further restricted their employment in other areas.
On 8 August 1941, the Hungarian government passed the Third Jewish Law. This law prohibited marriages between Jews and non-Jews.
Following the Nazi occupation in 1944, the persecution of the Jews turned actively murderous. Almost immediately, Jews had to wear a Star of David on their clothes and their movement was restricted. Telephones and radios were confiscated, and Jewish property and businesses were seized. During April, the Jews of Hungary were forced into ghettos, where they were soon deported to extermination camps in the east.
Hungary was liberated by the Soviet army during April 1945. By this time, approximately 568,000 Hungarian Jews had perished during the Holocaust.
Ukraine was a republic under the control of the Soviet Union. It had a large Jewish population, of approximately 2,700,000 Jews.
In June 1941, following the launch of Operation Barbarossa , the Ukraine was invaded by Nazi Germany and quickly became occupied. Erich Koch became the Reichkommissar, or leader, of the region, which became formally known as Reichkommissariat Ukraine on the 20 August 1941.
After twenty years of Soviet rule, and the famine and terror of 1932-1933, many in the Ukraine were hopeful that the Nazis would bring economic revival to the country.
The Ukrainian Jewish population were fearful, however, having heard reports of the Nazi persecution in Germany and beyond. Many Ukrainian Jews attempted to flee the advancing army. However, the lack of transportation and speed of the advancing army meant that escape was difficult.
Adolf Hitler declared his intentions for the country in a speech in October 1941, ‘In twenty years the Ukraine will already be a home for twenty million inhabitants besides the natives. In three hundred years, the country will be one of the loveliest gardens in the world. As for the natives, we’ll have to screen them carefully. The Jew, that destroyer, we shall drive out’.
The invasion of the Soviet Union was seen as not only a military attack but also an ideological one. The Soviet Union was portrayed in Nazi propaganda as the ultimate enemy, the home of communism and Jews. This attitude was reflected in the actions of the Nazis in occupied Ukraine.
From the very beginning, propaganda was instigated against the Jews. During the bombing campaign that followed the invasion of the Ukraine, leaflets were dropped over Ukrainian towns and cities. They aimed to get Soviet Army soldiers to surrender, and were extremely antisemitic. The leaflets stated that there was no reason to fear the invading Germans, as the real enemy were communist Jews.
Shortly after their occupation, the Jewish population were forced into Jewish quarters and ghettos and placed under supervision. This was a temporary measure. Soon after being forced into ghettos, the SS, Einsatzgruppen, the German Army, the Ukrainian police and local collaborators, started the mass murder of Ukrainian Jews.
The ‘Final Solution’
Unlike in Poland where camps were more common, many of the victims of the Holocaust in the Ukraine were shot in or nearby their home towns by the Einsatzgruppen which swept across the country following the German army.
The local population were usually aware of what was happening, and in many cases assisted the Nazis in carrying the murders out.
On arrival, the Einsatzgruppen would initially target and murder Jewish men aged 17-45. These men were seen as an immediate threat who had to be instantly destroyed.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Jewish population were forced into ghettos or specific areas. These men, women and children would then be taken from the ghetto in the following days and weeks, marched or transported to the edge of the city or town, and shot.
Victims were often told they were going to do agricultural work, and were forced to dig their own graves.
In the city of Zhytomyr, 180,000 Jews were murdered this way in over two years from the summer of 1941 to the autumn of 1943.
On 29 and 30 September 1941, in the capital city of Kiev, the Babi Yar massacre took place. Over the course of two days, 33,771 Jews were massacred in a mass shooting at the Babi Yar ravine by the Ukraine police and Einsatzgruppe C. The massacre was one of the largest single mass killings that the Nazis and their collaborators carried out.
These types of mass murder took place alongside spontaneous killings, public hangings and beatings, and medical experiments, where many local Nazis experimented the most effective ways to commit mass murder.
In total, historians estimate that around one million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust in the Ukraine.
There was significant collaboration between the Ukrainians and the Nazis throughout the occupation of the Ukraine and the Holocaust.
Ukrainian police actively collaborated with the Einsatzgruppen in the murder of the Jewish people. Some served as camp or ghetto guards, others helped to round up Jews, and others participated in shooting them.
Civilians also collaborated with the Nazis, either through committing antisemitic attacks of their own, or by joining one of the paramilitary services. Examples of this collaboration can be seen in the Lvov Pogroms , where 7000 Jews were murdered, and many other were raped and beaten by Ukrainian nationalists.
Many Ukrainians were antisemitic prior to the Holocaust and the Nazis actively encouraged and expanded this feeling, often blaming acts of war, such as arson or mass shootings, on Jews.
Invasion and occupation
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Greece initially remained neutral .
On 28 October 1940, Greece was invaded by fascist Italy, who were allied with Nazi Germany through the Axis Alliance . Italy wanted to use the war as an opportunity to expand their territory.
Greece resisted the Italian invasion and, at first, were successful in pushing the Italian troops back into Albania. However, on 6 April 1941 German troops, supported by the Bulgarian and Hungarian armies, arrived to provide back up to the Italian forces, and by May 1941 Germany occupied the country.
After fleeing to Crete, the Greek King King George II and the Greek government formed a government-in-exile in Egypt.
Germany divided the country and its islands in three separate areas: one German (the territory of Macedonia in Northern Greece as well as some islands, including most of western Crete), one Bulgarian (the territory of Thrace, which bordered the south of Bulgaria), and one Italian (the rest of the islands and the south of mainland Greece).
Oppression and persecution of Jews
Before the Second World War, Greece was home to a large, well-established and historic community of approximately 72,000 Jews. During the Axis occupation of Greece, Jews were treated differently depending on which occupation zone they lived.
In the Bulgarian occupation zone, the authorities complied with German directives to arrange for the Greek Jews in their area to be brought to assembly centres. In March 1943, 4,200 Jews were handed over to the German authorities. Once in German custody, these Jews were deported to Treblinka extermination camp , where they were murdered.
The situation in the Italian occupation zone was different. The Italian authorities ignored and refused to comply with German demands to hand over the Jews living in their zone of occupation. As a result, the Greek Jews living under Italian rule were protected from deportation – until Italy surrendered to the Allies on 8 September 1943, and Germany took control of their zone.
In the German occupation zone (and, after 8 September 1943, the areas formerly occupied by Italy), Jews were subjected to intense persecution, including restrictions on the jobs they were allowed to hold, forced labour, requirements to live in ghettos, and eventually deportation to extermination camps. Between 20 March and 19 August 1943, over 40,000 Jews were deported from Salonika, Greece’s largest pre-war Jewish community, to Auschwitz-Birkenau . Similar actions were taken in Corfu, Athens and other places on the Greek mainland.
Under increasing pressure from the Allied forces after the Soviet invasion and subsequent liberation of Romania, the Germans withdrew from mainland Greece in October 1944. On 18 October 1944, the Greek government-in-exile returned to Greece and was reinstated .
In total, it is estimated that between 60,000-70,000 Greek Jews (81% of Greece’s pre-war Jewish population) were murdered in the Holocaust. Fewer than two thousand of the Greek Jews who were deported from Greece survived the Holocaust.
Following the occupation, vast quantities of items such as food and fuel were plundered from Greece to help the German war effort. During this time, Greece was also subjected to the Allied naval blockade, which sought to stop any goods from entering Nazi occupied countries in order to weaken the German economy.
As a result of these measures, a famine broke out during the winter of 1941-1942. Across Greece, hundreds of thousands of people began to die from starvation.
To help those affected by the famine, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (known as Oxfam) was founded in Britain in 1942 and campaigned for the Allied naval blockade to be lifted. While at first Britain was reluctant to lift the blockage out of a fear that the Germans would plunder any food sent to help the Greeks, in February 1942 a compromise was eventually reached and shipments of grain were allowed safe passage from neutral Turkey.
In total, it is estimated that approximately 300,000 Greek citizens died from starvation during the Second World War.
Circumstances of Occupation
Norway was invaded by Germany on the 9 of April 1940. The Norwegians had been relatively unprepared for an attack, hoping to remain neutral in the war as they had been in the First World War. However, Hitler saw Norway as a key part of his war strategy, as the country could provide naval bases to use against Britain in the North Sea.
The Norwegian army officially surrendered on the 10 of June, and King Haakon VII as well as most of the government escaped to London. The Nazis treated the Norwegians slightly better than other Occupied countries’ populations, as they saw them as a superior race due to their Viking origins
After the Nazi victory was announced, the local Norwegian National Socialist party Nasjonal Samling led by Vidkun Quisling attempted to stage a coup over the radio to take over the country’s government. The Nazis put a stop to this attempt, and instead put in place a ‘hybrid’ style of co-governance in Norway. They appointed Josef Terboven to oversee a Reichkommissariat, a German governing body to administer Norway, but also included Quisling and his party in the government. Qusiling was eventually appointed ministerial president in March 1942.
The occupation of Norway differed from other occupied countries in Western Europe, such as the Netherlands, as it was unique for the local fascist party to be given such a large role in government. However, the Reichkommissariat under Terboven still had the ultimate say over matters
Martial law was never imposed in Norway, mainly because the high number of German troops proportional to the population of the country deterred most violent forms of resistance. As part of his naval strategy Hitler stationed between 100,000 and 400,000 soldiers in Norway during the occupation. Hitler wanted to secure naval bases in Norway to use against the British in the North Sea. However, the new National Socialist police in Norway known as the Stapo arrested and imprisoned over 40,000 Norwegians including Jews and detained them in concentration camps such as Grini near Olso, and Falstad near Trondheim.
Persecution of Jews
There were approximately 2,100 Jews in Norway out of a total population of 3 million in 1940, including many German and Austrian refugees who had fled there in the early 1930s.
In the early years of the occupation there were only a few measures targeting Jews in Norway, and these were often met with resistance from the Norwegian population. On the 10 of October 1940, radios belonging to Jews were confiscated by the German Security Police. In June 1941 the Nasjonal Samling party proposed a law prohibiting the marriage of those with ‘Norwegian blood’ with Jews and people from Lapland, but the law was met with much protest, including by the Bishop of Oslo, and was never passed.
The initial registration of Jews in Norway only took place in January 1942, two years later than similar measures in France and the Netherlands. There was little opposition to the measure, and a total of 1,563 Jews were registered, with their identification papers marked with a large J.
1942 marked an increase in the persecution of Jews in Norway. On 25 October 1942 the authorities arrested all male Jews over the age of fifteen living in Trondheim, home to second largest community of Jews in Norway after Oslo. Shortly after a law was passed implementing the confiscation of all Jewish property.
Between the 26 and 27 of October 1942, 260 more male Jews were arrested in Oslo, and eventually deported by boat to Germany. A month later in the night of the 25 to the 26 of November, all remaining Jews including women and children were arrested and brought to the ship Donau that would carry them to Germany then Auschwitz.
Deportations of Jews in Norway all took place through boats to Germany, where they were then transferred to Auschwitz. Though approximately 930 Jews escaped Norway to Sweden with the help of the Swedish resistance, in total about 770 Jews were deported from Norway, and only 34 survived. This means that about half of the population of Jews who registered in Norway were deported. In Western Europe, only the Netherlands and Germany had a higher percentage of murdered Jews.
On the 10 May 1940, the German army invaded Belgium: the Belgian army officially surrendered on the 28 May 1940. King Leopold III of Belgium remained in the country under house arrest.
Occupied Belgium was run by a German military commander who oversaw Belgium and northern France, General Alexander von Falkenhausen. The executive branch of this government was made up of Belgian members of the civil service , a similar structure to the government in the occupied Netherlands.
From May 1940 a Belgian government in exile was established in London, serving mostly to coordinate resistance activities.
On 6 October 1942, the German occupying authorities implemented compulsory forced labour . 300,000 Belgians ended up working in Germany.
Oppression and Persecution
Before the war between 65,000 and 70,000 Jews lived in Belgium, 90 per cent of them in Antwerp and Brussels. Many German Jews had fled to Belgium when Hitler rose to power in 1933, meaning that only ten per cent of the pre-war Jewish population was Belgian, the rest were foreign or stateless.
In the summer of 1940, some German Jewish refugees and political prisoners were deported from Belgium to Gurs and Saint Cyprien, both transit camps in the south of France.
On the 28 October 1940 the first anti-Jewish law was passed by the German occupying authorities. The law determined who exactly was defined as a Jew; prohibited Jews who had fled Belgium in May 1940 from returning; removed Jewish civil servants from their jobs, and obligated Jewish businesses to register themselves. The German military authority also ordered the creation of a Jewish council , the Association des Juifs de Belgique.
By December 1941, Jewish children were no longer allowed in Belgian schools, and the Association des Juifs de Belgique was asked to create its own schools. From 27 May 1942, all Jews aged over six years old had to wear the Star of David.
Between the 15 and 16 of August, the first mass arrests of foreign Jews took place in Antwerp, and similar arrests took place in Brussels between the 3 and 4 September. Jews were rounded up and sent to transit camps , the largest one being the Dossin camp in the city of Mechelen. On the 4 August 1942, 998 Jews were deported from Dossin to Auschwitz, the first of 28 deportation convoys. The German occupying authorities deported approximately 25,000 Jews from Belgium, from Dossin, but also from the camp of Breendonk.
Less than 2,000 Jews returned, meaning 43 per cent of Belgium’s pre-war Jewish population was murdered in the Holocaust.
Resistance to the Nazi occupation was widespread in Belgium. Much of the resistance activities involved helping Jews avoid deportation by going into hiding. Over 25,000 Jews in Belgium avoided deportation in this way.
Many of these resistance networks focused on hiding Jewish children, and the largest one was the Comité de Défense des Juifs (CDJ). The CDJ eventually grouped most Jewish resistance groups in Belgium. It created an extensive bureaucracy for forging identity papers and ration cards, a network of hiding places for Jewish children, and worked to warn Jews about impending deportations. The CDJ succeeded in hiding around 2,400 Jewish children from the Nazis.
Clandestine Jewish resistance also derailed a few trains transporting Jews from the Dossin camp to Auschwitz in 1942 and 1943, allowing around 500 prisoners to escape.