Number of Soldiers: 600
Number of Fallen: 250
On the eve of the outbreak of World War II, Belgium had a small Army that numbered about 600 thousand soldiers and comprised 18 Infantry Divisions, 2 Mechanized Divisions and another 2 semi Mechanized. It also possessed about 250 aircraft (half of them scout airplanes), most of which were obsolete. This, of course, was not a force that could match the might of the German Army, which invaded Belgium through the Ardennes, on 10 May 1940, while bypassing the Belgian Army’s fortifications. After a short period of time, on 28 May, this Army surrendered at the order of King Leopold III, who remained in occupied Belgium while his Government fled abroad, and, on 31 October 1940, was recognized in London as a Belgian Government in Exile. In Belgium, a German Military Government was established and General Alexander von Falkenhausen was appointed to lead it.
As early as the year 1938, thousands of Jews sought to enlist in the Army, but because of the fact that most of them did not have Belgian citizenship (of the roughly 90 thousand Jews who were living in Belgium on the eve of the war, less than a tenth held this country’s citizenship) many were prevented from enlisting. Overall, about 600 Jews were serving in the Belgian Army on the eve of the eruption of the war. The most senior Jewish Officer in the Army – General Ernst Wiener – was captured by the Germans and became a symbol of the spirit of resistance to them even as he sat in jail. Jewish Officers of various ranks served in the Belgian Army’s General Staff, and so was the case in Field Units.
The Government in Exile in Britain raised a Belgian Army in Exile, which included a Brigade (the “Brigade Piron”, named after its Commander) of about 2,000 soldiers. This Brigade was transferred to France in August, 1944, and participated in the liberation of Belgium and in the Battle of Arnhem. Small Belgian Units were also raised within the frameworks of the British Special Air Service (SAS), Royal Air-Force and Navy, and they took part in the fighting in Western Europe. Jews in various capacities, officers as rank soldiers, served in these units. Jewish women officers and soldiers served there as well. After the war, many of them reached senior positions in the Jewish Community in Belgium.
Brussels and Antwerp were liberated by the Allies’ Armies in the first days of September, 1944, and in early November Belgium in its entirety was already free. And yet, the Germans, in their Winter Offensive of December, 1944, occupied areas of southeast Belgium once again and it was not until January, 1945, that the last of the Germans were driven away and Belgium permanently liberated.
Many Jews enlisted at the outbreak of the war and took part in it within the ranks of the Belgian Regular Army and also in framework of the Belgian Army in Exile under the Allies’ disposition.