UPDATE: I've meanwhile visited this place and will post an updated, extended chapter here as soon as I find the time ...
A former fortress, originally built as part of the defensive fortifications around the nearby city of Antwerp, Belgium
. During the country's occupation by Germany
, the fort was used as a prison and as a transit camp in the Holocaust
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
Fort Breendonk, constructed from 1909, is a typical brick fortress of the type that was still deemed crucial for defence purposes at the time. It did indeed see some action in World War One
– and in continued to be in military use between the wars.
However, it earns its place on the dark tourism map through its (mis-)use by the Nazis during the German
occupation of Belgium
, when the place was turned into a dungeon for political prisoners and a transit camp for Jews who were later deported to the death camps
in the east during the Holocaust
As such it was in use from September 1940 to September 1944, when it was liberated (and then used to imprison collaborators, and subsequently served as a state prison for a brief period). A comparatively small place, it is estimated that some 3500 victims of the Nazis passed through Breendonk, about half of whom did not survive.
Today it is one of Belgium
's premier Holocaust & resistance memorials (together with its partner institution in Mechelen's Dossin barracks
). It was turned into a memorial as early as 1947, has been a place of pilgrimage of former inmates ever since, and since a 2003 make-over has been a state-of-the-art informational memorial too.
What there is to see:
Primarily it is the building itself that exudes the grim atmosphere that prevails here and makes it such a dark site. Parts of it are not dissimilar to the Theresienstadt
memorial site in that respect (which originally was a fortress too) …
Inside, there are former cells, bunk accommodations for inmates, a torture room, etc. and long dank corridors … – outside the moat with its fence and watchtowers are impressive, as are the squat fortifications, the courtyards and the executions site.
Informational labelling/texts are usually in four languages (at least Flemish-Dutch and French, but mostly in English and German too). Audio guides in the same four languages are available.
in northern Belgium
, ca. 12 miles (18 km) south of Antwerp, on the A12 towards Brussels, which is ca. 15 miles (25 km) further south. Address: Brandstraat 57, B-2830-Willebroek.
Access and costs: easy to get to by car; a (mid price) admission fee is charged.
Details: To get there you can take a train or bus to Willebroek and walk, but it really is best reached by car (free parking) – the site is just off exit 7 of the main A12 motorway between Brussels and Antwerp. When using a GPS requiring a street address, don't use the memorial's official address but enter "Rijksweg" and follow the signs once you see them.
Admission: 11 EUR regular – concessions apply to under 18-year-olds, students, senior citizens, soldiers as well as for groups; admission is free for former political prisoners and veterans.
Opening times: daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Christmas Eve/Day, New Year's Day and on the annual 'day of pilgrimage' at the end of August or early September – enquire for the exact date if necessary)
Time required: The official recommendation says that you should allow two hours – but you may want to spend longer than that for a thorough visit.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
- Breendonk 01 - gate
- Breendonk 02 - bridge
- Breendonk 03 - watchtower
- Breendonk 04 - going in
- Breendonk 05 - guard
- Breendonk 06 - dummy Nazi
- Breendonk 07 - long dark corridor
- Breendonk 08 - commodification
- Breendonk 09 - dorm
- Breendonk 10 - living quarters
- Breendonk 11 - claim that the living conditions of the inmates at the fort are crammed but bearable
- Breendonk 12 - isolation cell
- Breendonk 13 - not especially comfy
- Breendonk 14 - deep in the casemate
- Breendonk 15 - coffin
- Breendonk 16 - courtyard
- Breendonk 17 - in the barracks for Jewish inmates
- Breendonk 18 - exterior of the fort and camp
- Breendonk 19 - concrete and barbed wire
- Breendonk 20 - forced labour relics
- Breendonk 21 - steel domes
- Breendonk 22 - execution site
- Breendonk 23 - mass toilets
- Breendonk 24 - wash room
- Breendonk 25 - stables
- Breendonk 26 - workshop
- Breendonk 27 - exhibits
- Breendonk 28 - computer workstations
- Breendonk 29 - concentration camp clothes
- Breendonk 30 - concentration camps memorial room
- Breendonk 31 - back at the bridge
- Breendonk 32 - rail carriage
- Breendonk 33 - deportation train
- Breendonk 34 - extra exhibition by the visitor centre
- Breendonk 35 - covering post-war trials
- Breendonk 36 - outer barbed-wire fence