I recently got the remark that I seem to be deeply hung up on the topic of The Second World War.
The remark sort of sounded like an incrimination. Like I had no right or no business immersing myself in this topic.
This person doesn’t know me, so he doesn’t know this is just a minor obsession of mine.
But yes, I do live with it. My earliest memories are connected to this topic. My father talked about it, my grandfather talked about it. There was still widespread resentment towards the Germans when I was a child. Not just resentment. Some people’s sentiments swung the other way. Our neighbour was very proud of the fact that he shared his birthday with Hitler. He and other Belgians I have met continue to believe Hitler was a military genius who only lost the war because his generals betrayed him. This is patently untrue of course.
My grandfather played soccer with the skulls of British soldiers killed when the Germans bombed the local church in our village of Erembodegem. They didn’t want the British to use it as an observation post for their artillery.
The yard of the house I grew up in was used as a German field hospital.
My grandparents on my mother’s side developed a life long obsession with food because there were shortages during the war. As a child my grandfather had to flee to France. After the war he was stationed in Germany as the commander of a tank and explosives expert. He learned German there and had a nice career working for Volkswagen later.
My first toys were plastic Second World War era soldiers.
My great grand parents on my father’s side lost their lemonade factory during the war.
The ar was mentioned in countless movies, documentaries, series, talk shows, books, newspapers… Am sure it came to my attention at least once a week.
When I was 11 the principal of my school allowed me to teach the subject.
I have written articles on the subject and a play set against the backdrop of the battle of Stalingrad.
So yes, this topic is part of me, and I have deep emotional connections to it, even if I hadn’t been born yet when the conflict was raging.
For those still willing to learn something about the human experience:
The German campaign against Belgium lasted 18 days. Our King Leopold III surrended. Because he chose not to flee he had to abdicate after the war. During the invasion about 6,000 Belgians got killed, close to 16,000 were wounded and 200,000 were captured.
The French heavily criticized Belgium for throwing in the towel so fast, but they themselves wouldn’t last that much longer as the German Blitzkrieg slashed through them like butter.