Nazi-occupied Belgium: The testimony of Leon van der Essen

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Nazi-occupied Belgium: The testimony of Leon van der Essen

Post by David Thompson » 04 Nov 2004 01:49

This testimony is taken from the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal (IMT), vol. 6, pp. 534-554. The proceedings are available on-line at the Avalon Project of the Yalue University Law School at:
M. FAURE: May it please the Tribunal, I should like to call the witness, Van der Essen.


[The witness, Van der Essen, took the stand.]

M. FAURE: What is your name?

VAN DER ESSEN (Witness): Van der Essen.

THE PRESIDENT: Do you swear to speak without hate or fear, to say the truth, all the truth, and only the truth?

Raise your right hand and say "I swear."


THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down, if you wish.

M. FAURE: M. Van der Essen, you are a professor of history in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Louvain?


M. FAURE: You are the General Secretary of the University of Louvain?


M. FAURE: You have stayed in Belgium during the whole period of the occupation?

VAN DER ESSEN: To the end; from the end of July 1940 1 never left Belgium.

M. FAURE: Can you give information on the destruction of the Library of Louvain?

VAN DER ESSEN: It will be remembered that in 1914 this library, which was certainly one of the best university libraries in Europe, containing many early printed books, manuscripts and books of the 16th and 17th centuries, was systematically destroyed by means of incendiary material by the German soldiers of the 9th Reserve Corps, commanded by General Von Ston.
This time, in 1940, the same thing happened again. This library was systematically destroyed by the German Army; and in order that you may understand, I must first say that the fire began, according to all the witnesses, during the night from the 16th to the 17th of May 1940 at about 1:30 in the morning. It was on the 17th at dawn that the English Army made the necessary withdrawal maneuver to leave the Q. W. line of defense. On the other hand, it is absolutely certain


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that the first German troops entered on the morning of the 17th, only about 8 o'clock. This interval between the departure of the British troops, on the one hand, and the arrival of the Germans on the other, enabled the latter to make it appear as if the library had been systematically destroyed by the British troops. I must here categorically give the lie to such a version. The library of the University of Louvain was systematically destroyed by German gunfire.

Two batteries were posted, one in the village of Corbek, and the other in the village of Lovengule. These two batteries on each side systematically directed their fire on the library and on nothing but the library. The best proof of this is that all the shells fell on the library; only one house near the library received a chance hit. The tower was hit 11 times, 4 times by the battery which fired from Lovengule, and 7 times by the battery which fired from Corbek.

At the moment when the Lovengule battery was about to begin firing the officer who commanded it asked an inhabitant of the village to accompany him into the field; when they arrived at a place from where they could see the tower of the library, the officer asked, "Is that the tower of the university Library?" The reply was "Yes." The officer insisted, "Are you sure?" "Yes," replied the peasant, "I see it every day, as you see it now."

Five minutes later the shelling began, and immediately a column of smoke arose quite near the tower. So there can be no doubt that this bombardment was systematic and aimed only at the library. On the other hand, it is also certain that a squadron of 43 airplanes flew over the library and dropped bombs on the monument.

M. FAURE: M. Van der Essen, you are a member of the official Belgian Commission for War Crimes?


M. FAURE: In this capacity you investigated the events of which you speak?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, indeed.

M. FAURE: The information which you have given the Tribunal, then, is the result of an inquiry which you made and evidence by witnesses which you heard yourself?

VAN DER ESSEN: What I have just stated here is most certainly the result of the official inquiry made by the Belgian War Crimes Commission, assisted by several witnesses heard under oath.

M. FAURE: Can you give information on the attempt at nazification of Belgium by the Germans, and especially the attempt to undermine the normal and constitutional organization of the public authorities.


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VAN DER ESSEN: Certainly. First, I think it is interesting to point out that the Germansviolated one of the fundamental principles of the Belgian Constitution and institutions, which consisted of the separation of powers, that is to say, separation of judicial powers, of executive powers, and legislative powers; because in the numerous organizations of the New Order, which they themselves created either by decree or by suggesting the creation of these organizations to their collaborators, they never made a distinction between legislative and executive powers. Also, in these organizations freedom of speech for the defense was never, or very little, respected. But what is much more important is that they attacked an organization which goes far back in our history, which dates back to the Middle Ages; I mean the communal autonomy which safeguards us and safeguards the people against any too dangerous interference on the part of the central authority. This is what happened in this domain: It would be sufficient to read, or to have read for a short time, the present day Belgian newspapers, to observe that the burgomasters, that is to say the chiefs of the communes, the aldermen of the principal Belgian towns, such as Brussels, Ghent, Liege, Charleroi, and also of many towns of secondary importance-all these aldermen and burgomasters are either in prison or about to appear before courts-martial.

That shows sufficiently, I think, that these burgomasters and these aldermen are not those who were appointed by the King and by the Belgian Government before 1940, but all of them were people who were imposed by the enemy by means of groups of collaborators, VNV or "Rexists."

It is of capital importance to establish that fact, because the burgomaster, as soon as he was directly responsible to the central authority -- in other words, as soon as the Leadership Principle was applied -- could interfere in all kinds of ways in the administrative, political, and social life. The burgomaster appointed the aldermen; the aldermen appointed the communal officials and employees, and the moment the burgomaster belonged to that Party and was appointed by that Party, he appointed as communal officials members of the Party who could refuse ration cards to refractory people, or order the police to give, for instance, the list of Communists, or of those suspected of being Communists; in short, they could interfere in almost any way they wished, and by every possible means, in the communal life of Belgium.

If we examine the big towns and the small towns, we can say that everywhere there was truly a veritable network of espionage and interference following the events or acts of which I have just informed you.


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M. FAURE: It is true, then, to say that this meddling by the Germans with the administration of the communes constituted a seizure of Belgian national sovereignty?
VAN DER ESSEN: Certainly, since it made the fundamental principle of the Belgian constitution disappear, that is to say, the sovereignty that belongs to the nation and more especially to the Communal Council which appointed aldermen and burgomasters. From then on it was impossible for them to make themselves heard in the normal way, so that the sovereignty of the Belgian people was directly attacked by the fact itself.

M. FAURE: Since you are a professor of higher education, can you give us information concerning the interference in education?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, sir, certainly.

First, there was interference in the domain of elementary and secondary education through the General Secretary of Public Education, on whom the Germans exercised pressure. A commission was set up which was entrusted with the task of purging the text books. It was forbidden to use text books which mentioned what the Germans did in Belgium during the 1914-18 war; this chapter was absolutely forbidden. The booksellers and publishing houses could still sell these books, but only on the condition that the bookseller or library should tear out this chapter. As for new books which had to be reprinted or republished, this commission indicated exactly which ones should be cancelled or removed. That was serious and alarming interference with primary and secondary education.

As regards higher education, the interference was unleashed, so to speak, from the very beginning of the occupation; and first of all, for motives which I need not explain here but which are well known, in the free University of Brussels.

The Germans first imposed on the University of Brussels a German Commissioner, who thus had in his hands the whole organization of the university and even controlled it, as far as I know, from the point of view of accountancy. Moreover they imposed exchange professors. But serious difficulties began the day when, in Brussels as elsewhere, they required that they should be informed of all projects of new appointments and all new appointments of professors, in the same way as the assignment of lecture courses and other subjects taught in the university. The result was that in Brussels, by virtue of this right which they had arrogated, they wished to impose three professors, of whom two were obviously not acceptable to any Belgian worthy of the name. There was one, notably, who, having been a member of the Council of Flanders during the occupation of 1914-18, had been condemned


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to death by the justice of this country and whom they wanted to impose as a professor in the University of Brussels in 1940. Under these conditions the university refused to accept this professor, and this was considered by the occupying authorities as sabotage.

As a penalty, the President of the Board of the University, the principal members of the board, the deans of the principal faculties, and a few other professors, who were especially well known as being anti-Fascists, were arrested and imprisoned in the prison of Witte with the aggravating circumstance that they were considered as hostages and that, if any act whatsoever of sabotage or resistance occurred, they, being hostages, could be shot.

As far as the other universities were concerned, as I have just said here, they wished to impose exchange professors. There were none at Louvain because we refused categorically to receive them, the more so as it appeared that these exchange professors were not, primarily, scholars who had come to communicate the result of their researches and their scientific work, but a great many of them were observers for the occupying authorities.

M. FAURE: In this connection, is it true that the Belgian authorities discovered the report made by one of these so-called "invited" professors?

VAN DER ESSEN: That is indeed the case. The Belgian authorities got hold of a report by Professor Von Mackensen, who was sent as an exchange professor to the University of Ghent. In this report -- drawn up with infinite care and which is extraordinarily interesting to read because of the personal and psychological observations which it contains concerning the various members of the faculty of Ghent -- in this report we see that everyone was observed and followed day by day, that his tendencies were labeled, that a note was made as to whether he was for or against the system of the occupying power, or whether he had any relations with students who were N.P. or Rexists. The slightest movements and actions of all the professors were carefully noted; and I add, with great care and precision. It was almost a scientific piece of [...] occurred, they, being hostages, could be shot.

M. FAURE: M. Van der Essen, I described this morning to the Tribunal various incidents which occurred in the University of Louvain, of which you were the General Secretary. Therefore I should like you to tell the Tribunal briefly the actual facts connected with these incidents, especially, those connected with the imprisonment of the Rector Monseigneur Van Wayenberg.

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, indeed, sir. Serious difficulties began in the University of Louvain after the appearance of the decree of compulsory labor of 6 March 1943, by which students of the


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university were forced to accept compulsory labor. I would add, not in Reich territory, but in Belgium. But this action, which was held out to the university students as a sort of privilege, was entirely unacceptable to Belgian patriots for the simple reason that, if the university students accepted to go and work in the Belgian factories, they automatically expelled workmen, who were then sent to Germany as the students took their place.

That was the first reason why they did not wish to work for the enemy; the second was because, from a social point of view, they wanted to show solidarity with the workers, who suffered very much because the students had refused. At least two-thirds of the students of Louvain refused to do compulsory work. They became refractory, the classes became empty, they hid themselves as best they could, and several went into the Maquis.

The German authorities, when they saw the way things were going, demanded that the list of students be given to them, with their addresses, so that they could arrest them in their homes or, if they couldn't find them, they could arrest a brother, or sister, or father, or any member of the family in their place. This was the principle of collective responsibility which was applied here the same as in all other cases.

After having used gentle means, they resorted to blackmail and ended up by adopting really brutal measures. They renewed the raids, they dismissed Dr. Tschacke and Dr. Kalische, I think, and many others. They ordered searches to be made in the university offices to lay their hands on the list of students; but as this list was carefully bidden, they had to go away empty-handed. It was then that they decided to arrest the Rector of the University, Monseigneur Van
Wayenberg, who had hidden the lists in a place known only to him. He declared that he alone knew the place so as not to endanger his colleagues and the members of the faculty.

One morning in June two members of the Secret Police from Brussels, accompanied by Military Police, came to the Hall. They arrested the rector in his office and transferred him to the prison of Saint-Gilles in Brussels, where he was imprisoned. Shortly afterwards he appeared before a German tribunal which condemned him to 18 months imprisonment for sabotage. To tell the truth, he was in jail for only 6 months, because the doctor of Saint-Gilles saw that the rector's health was beginning to fail and it would be dangerous to keep him longer if one wished to avoid a serious incident, also because of the many petitions by all sorts of authorities. Thus the rector was freed. However, he was forbidden to set foot on the territory of Louvain; and they enjoined the university to appoint, immediately, another rector. This was refused.


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M. FAURE: Very well. Is it true to say that the German authorities persecuted, more systematically, persons who belonged to the intellectual elite?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, there can be no doubt as to this. I might give, as examples, the following facts:

When hostages were taken it was nearly always university professors, doctors, lawyers, men of letters, who were taken as hostages and sent to escort military trains. At the time when the resistance was carrying out acts of sabotage to railways and blowing up trains, university professors from Ghent, Liege, and Brussels, whom I know, were taken and put in the first coach after the locomotive so that, if an explosion took place, they could not miss being killed. I know of a typical case, which will show you that it was not exactly a pleasure trip. Two professors of Liege, who were in a train of this kind, witnessed the following scene: The locomotive passed over the explosive. The coach in which they were, by an extraordinary chance, also went over it; and it was the second coach containing the German guards which blew up, so that all the German guards were killed.

On the other hand, several professors and intellectuals were deported to that sinister camp of Breendonck, about which you know, some for acts of resistance, others for entirely unknown reasons; others were deported to Germany. Professors from Louvain were sent to Buchenwald, to Dora, to Neuengamme, to Gross-Rosen, and perhaps to other places too. I must add that it was not only professors from Louvain who were deported, but also intellectuals who played an important role in the life of the country. I can give you immediate proof. At Louvain, on the occasion of the reopening ceremony of the university this year, as Secretary General of the University, I read out the list of those who had died during the war. This list included 348 names, if I remember rightly. Perhaps some thirty of these names were those of soldiers who died during the Battles of the Scheldt and the Lys in 1940, all the others were victims of the Gestapo, or had died in camps in Germany, especially in the camps of Gross-Rosen and Neuengamme.

Moreover, it is certain that the Germans hated particularly the intellectuals because, from time to time, they organized a synchronized campaign in the press to give prominence to the fact that the great majority of intellectuals refused categorically to rally to the New Order and refused to understand the necessity for the struggle against bolshevism. These articles always concluded by stressing the necessity of taking measures against them. I remember well certain newspaper articles which simply proposed to send these intellectuals to concentration camps. There can be no doubt therefore that the intellectuals were deliberately selected.


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M. FAURE: I shall ask you no questions on anything relating to deportations or to camps, because all that is already well known to the Tribunal. I shall ask you, when replying to the following question, not to mention deportation.

Now, my question concerns the whole of the atrocities which were committed by the Germans in Belgium and, especially, at the time of the December 1944 offensive by the German armies. Can you give information concerning these atrocities?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, sir. As a matter of fact, I can give you exact and detailed information, if necessary, on the crimes and atrocities committed during the offensive of Von Rundstedt in the Ardennes, because as a member of the War Crimes Commission I went there to make an inquiry, and I questioned witnesses and survivors of these massacres; and I know perfectly well, from personal knowledge, what happened.

During the Von Rundstedt offensive in the Ardennes they committed crimes which were truly abominable in 31 localities of the Ardennes, crimes committed against men, women, and children These crimes were committed, on the one hand, as it happened elsewhere and as it happens in all wars, by individual soldiers, so I shall let that pass; but what I particularly want to stress are the crimes committed by whole units who received formal instructions, as well as crimes committed by known organizations; if I remember rightly, I think they were called Kommandos zur besonderen Verwendung, that is to say, commandos with special tasks which operated unchecked not only in the Belgian Ardennes but which also committed the same kind of crimes, carried out in the same way, in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

As regards the first, the crimes committed by whole units, I should like merely to give one very typical example, in order not to take up the time of the Tribunal. It happened at Stavelot, where about 140 persons -- the number varies, let us say between 137 and 140 -- first it was 137, then they discovered some more bodies -- about 140 persons, of whom 36 were women and 22 were children, of which the oldest was 14 years and the youngest 4 years, were savagely slaughtered by German units belonging to SS tank divisions, one the Hohenstaufen Division, the, other the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division. This is what the divisions did. We have full information about this from the testimony of a soldier who took part in it. He was arrested by the Belgian Security Police. He deserted during the Von Rundstedt campaign, dressed himself as a civilian, and then worked as a laborer on an Ardennes farm. One day as he was working stripped to the waist, he was seen by Belgian gendarmes, who saw by the tattooing on


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his body that he was an SS man. He was immediately arrested and interrogated.

This is the method used by the soldiers of the Hohenstaufen Division. There was a line of tanks, some were Konigstiger (Royal Tigers), followed and preceded by Schutzenpanzer. At a certain moment the ObersturmFuehrer of this group stopped his men and delivered them a little speech telling them that all civilians whom they encountered should be killed. They then went back to their tanks, and as the tanks advanced along the road, the Obersturmfuehrer would point to a house.

Then the soldiers entered it with machine guns in their hands. If they found people in the kitchen, they killed them in the kitchen; if they found them sheltering in the cellar, they machine-gunned them in the cellar; if they found them on the road, they killed them on the road. Not only the Hohenstaufen Division, but also the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division, and others acted in this manner on formal orders according to which all civilians were to be killed.

And what was the reason for this measure? Precisely because, during the retreat in September, it was mainly in that part of the Ardennes that the resistance went into action and quite a number of German soldiers were killed during that retreat. It was therefore to revenge this defeat, to avenge themselves for the action of the resistance, that orders were given that all civilians should be killed without mercy during the offensive launched in this region.

As far as the other method is concerned, this is still more important from the point of view of responsibility, for it concerns persons commanding troops of the Sicherheitspolizei, that is to say, of the Security Police, who in most villages they came to immediately set about questioning the people as to those who had taken part in the resistance, about the secret army, where these people lived, whether they were still there or whether they had fled. In short, they had special typed questionnaires with 27 questions, always the same, which were put to everyone in the villages to which they came.

Here again I shall proceed as I did in the first case. In order not to take up too much of the Tribunal's time, I shall simply give the example of Bande, in the Arrondissement of Marche. At Bande one of these SD detachments, the officers of which said they were sent especially by Himmler to execute members of the resistance, seized all men between 17 and 32 years of age. After having questioned them thoroughly and after sorting them out in a quite arbitrary manner -- they didn't keep any people belonging to the resistance, for most of them had never taken part in it; there were only four who were members of the resistance -- they led them away along the road from Marche to Basteuil with their hands


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raised behind their heads. When they reached a ruined house, which had been burned down in September, the officer who commanded the detachment posted himself at the entrance of the house, a Feldwebel joined him and put his hand on the shoulder of the last man of the third row who was making his way towards the entrance to the house; and there the officer, armed with a machine gun, killed a prisoner with a bullet in the neck. Then this same officer executed in this manner the 34 young men who had been kept back.

Not content with killing them, he kicked the bodies into the cellar; and then fired a volley of machine gun bullets to make sure that they were dead.

M. FAURE: M. Van der Essen, you are a historian; you have taught scholars; therefore you are accustomed to submitting the sources of history to criticism. Can you say that your inquiry leaves no doubt in your mind, that these atrocities reveal that there was an over-all plan and that instructions were certainly given by superior officers?

VAN DER ESSEN: I think that I can affirm it, I am quite convinced that there was an over-all plan.

M. FAURE: I would like to ask you a last question: I think I understood that you yourself were never arrested or particularly worried by the Germans. I would like to know if you consider that a free man, against whom the German administration or police have nothing in particular, could during the Nazi occupation lead a life in accordance with the conception a free man has of his dignity?

VAN DER ESSEN: Well, you see me here before you, I weigh 67 kilos, my height is 1 meter 67 centimeters. According to my colleagues in the Faculty of Medicine that is quite normal Before the 10th of May 1940; before the airplanes of the Luftwaffe suddenly came without any declaration of war and spread death and desolation in Belgium, I weighed 82 kilos. This difference is incontestably the result of the occupation. But I don't want to dwell on personal considerations or enter into details of a general nature or of a theoretical or philosophical nature.

I should like simply to give you an account -- it will not take more than 2 minutes -- of the ordinary day of an average Belgian during the occupation.

I take a day in the winter of 1943: At 6 o'clock in the morning there is a ring at the door. One's first thought -- indeed we all had this thought -- was that it was the Gestapo. It wasn't the Gestapo. It was a city policeman who had come to tell me that there was a light in my office and that in view of the necessities of the


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occupation I must be careful about this in the future. But there was the nervous shock.

At 7:30 the postman arrives bringing me my letters; he tells the maid that he wishes to see me personally. I go downstairs and the man says to me, "You know, Professor, I am a member of the secret army and I know what is going on. The Germans intend to arrest today at 10 o'clock all the former soldiers of the Belgian Army who are in this region. Your son must disappear immediately." I hurry upstairs and wake up my son. I make him prepare his kit and send him to the right place. At 10 o'clock I take the tram for Brussels. A few kilometers out of Louvain the tram stops. A military police patrol makes us get down and lines us up -- irrespective of our social status or position -- in front of a wall, with our arms raised and facing the wall. We are thoroughly searched, and having found neither arms nor compromising papers of any kind, we are allowed to go back into the tram. A few kilometers farther on the tram is stopped by a crowd which prevents the tram from going on. I see several women weeping, there are cries and wailings. I make inquiries and am told that their men folk living in the village had refused to do compulsory labor and were to have been arrested that night by the Security Police. Now they are taking away the old father of 82 and a young girl of 16 and holding them responsible for the disappearance of the young men.

I arrive in Brussels to attend a meeting of the academy. The first thing the president says to me is:

"Have you heard what has happened? Two of our colleagues were arrested yesterday in the street. Their families were in a terrible state. Nobody knows where they are."

I go home in the evening and we are stopped on the way three times, once to search for terrorists, who are said to have [been] Red, the other times to see if our papers are in order. At last I get home without anything serious having happened to me.

I might say here that only at 9 o'clock in the evening can we give a sigh of relief, when we turn the knob of our radio set and listen then to that reassuring voice which we hear every evening, the voice of Fighting France: "Today is the 189th day of the struggle of the French people for their liberation," or the voice of Victor Delabley, that noble figure of the Belgian radio in London, who always finished up by saying, "Courage, we will get them yet, the Boches!" That was the only thing that enabled us to breathe and go to sleep at night.

That was an average day, a normal day of an average Belgian during the German occupation. And you can well understand that we could hardly call that time the reign of happiness and felicity


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that we were promised when the German troops invaded Belgium on 10 May 1940.

M. FAURE: Excuse me, M. Van der Essen. The only satisfaction that you had was to listen to the London radio; this was punished by a severe penalty, if you were caught, I suppose?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, it meant imprisonment.

M. FAURE: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Are you finished, M. Faure?

M. FAURE: No more questions, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: General Rudenko? The American and British prosecutors?

[Each indicated that he had no question.]

THE PRESIDENT: Do any of the defendants' counsel wish to ask any questions?

DR. EXNER: You have been speaking about the university library at Louvain. I should like to ask something: Were you yourself in Louvain when the two batteries were firing at the library, and at the library only, in 1940?

VAN DER ESSEN: I was not in Louvain, but I should say this: Louvain was in the K. O. line, that is in the very front line; and the population of Louvain was obliged by the British military authorities to evacuate the town on the 14th so that nearly all the inhabitants of Louvain had left at the time when these events took place and only paralytics and sick persons, who could not be transported and who had hidden in their cellars, were left; but what I said concerning these batteries, I know from the interrogation of the two witnesses who were on the spot just outside Louvain. The library was not set on fire from within, but shelled from without. And these witnesses of whom I speak lived in these two villages outside the town where the batteries were located.

DR. EXNER: Were there any Belgian or British troops still left in the town?

VAN DER ESSEN: The Belgian troops were no longer there. They had been replaced by the British troops when the British had taken over the sector and at the time when the library was seen to be on fire. The first flames were seen in the night of the 16th to the 17th at 1:30 in the morning. The British troops had left. There remained only a few tanks which were operating a withdrawal movement. These fired an occasional shot to give the impression that the sector was still occupied by the British Army.

DR. EXNER: So there were still British troops in the town when the bombardment started?


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VAN DER ESSEN: There were no longer any British troops; there were merely a few tanks on the hills outside Louvain in the direction of Brussels, a few tanks which, as I said, were carrying out necessary maneuvers for withdrawal.

I would have liked to add a few words and to say to the very honorable Counsel for the Defense that, according to the testimony of persons who were in the library -- the ushers and the janitors not a single British soldier ever set foot in the library buildings.

DR. EXNER: That is not surprising. At the time the German batteries were firing were there still British batteries or Belgian batteries firing?


DR. EXNER: So all was quiet in the town of Louvain; the troops had left; the enemy was not there yet, and the batteries didn't fire?

VAN DER ESSEN: That was the rather paradoxical situation in Louvain; there was a moment when the British had left and the Germans had not yet arrived; and there remained only the few ill persons, the few paralytics who could not be moved and who were left behind in cellars. A few other persons remained too: the Chief of the Fire Service and Monseigneur Van Wayenberg, the Rector of the University, who had brought the dead and the dying from Brussels to Louvain in the firemen's car and made the journey several times. There was also my colleague, Professor Kennog, a member of the Faculty of Medicine who had taken over the direction of the city.

DR. EXNER: Do you know where these German batteries were located?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, indeed. One was located at Corbek and the other at Lovengule, one on the west side and one on the north side. The only shell hits on the tower of the library were four hits from the east side and seven from the north side. If there had still been British or Belgian batteries, the shells would have come from the opposite side.

DR. EXNER: Can you tell me anything about the caliber of these batteries?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, we saved the shells and at present they are in the Library of Louvain, or rather in what serves as a library for the university. There are four shells and two or three fragments of shells.

DR. EXNER: And do you know the name of the peasant who was supposed to have been asked by a German officer whether that was really the University of Louvain? Do you know the peasant personally?


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VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, indeed, his name is M. Vigneron.

DR. EXNER: Do you know the peasant yourself? Do you know him?

VAN DER ESSEN: I do not know him personally. It was the librarian of the university who had a conversation with him and who induced the War Crimes Commission to interrogate this peasant.

DR. EXNER: You are a member of that commission yourself?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, I am ready to declare that I took no direct part in the inquiry concerning the Library of Louvain, just as Monseigneur the Rector and the librarian took no active part in the inquiry concerning the Library of Louvain. It was made by an officer of the judicial delegation who acted alone and quite independently upon the order of the Prosecutor of Louvain, and we kept entirely out of the matter.

DR. EXNER: Have you seen the official files of this commission?

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, certainly.

DR. EXNER: I am surprised they weren't brought here. Tell me, why did the director of the library or the person who was directly concerned not go, after the occupation of the town, to the mayor or to the commander of the town?

VAN DER ESSEN: I don't think I understand the question very well.

DR. EXNER: When the German Army came, a town commander was appointed. Why didn't the mayor of the town, or the Director of the University Library go to the town commander and tell him about these things?

VAN DER ESSEN: Why didn't he tell him about these things for the very simple reason that at that time everything was in complete disorder and there was hardly anybody left in the town, and on the other hand as soon as the German Army arrived, it systematically closed the entrance gate of the library so that the Belgians could not make any inquiry. Then two German inquiry commissions came upon the scene. The first worked on 26 May 1940 with an expert, Professor
Kellermann of the School of Technology in Aachen, accompanied by a Party man in a brown shirt. They examined what was left and they summoned before them as witnesses the Rector of the University and the Librarian. From the very beginning of the inquiry they wished to force the rector and the librarian to declare and admit that it was the British who had set fire to the library. And as a proof, this expert showed shell cases saying, "Here, sniff this, it smells of gasoline and shows that chemicals were used to set fire to the library." Whereupon the


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Rector and the Librarian of the University said to him, "Where did you find this shell case, Mr. Expert?" "In such and such a place." "When we went by that place," said the rector, "it wasn't there." It had been placed there by the German expert. And I will add, if you will permit me, because this is of considerable importance, that a second inquiry commission came in August 1940, presided over by a very distinguished man, District Court of Appeal Judge Von Neuss. He was accompanied this time by the expert who had directed the inquiry into the firing of the Reichstag. This commission again examined everything, and before the rector and another witness, Krebs, from the Benedictine Abbey of Mont-Cesar, they simply laughed at the conclusions of the first commission, and said they were ridiculous.

DR. EXNER: You have said that the library building had towers. Do you know whether there were artillery observers in these towers?

VAN DER ESSEN: You ask whether there were artillery observers? All I can say is that the rector had always opposed this from the beginning, and he certainly would have opposed any attempt of this kind, knowing that the' presence of artillery observers in the tower would obviously provide the enemy with a reason to fire on the library. The rector knew this and he always said to me, "We must be extremely careful to see that British soldiers or others who might take the sector do not go up in the tower." I know from the statements of the janitor that no Englishman, no British soldier, went into the tower. That is absolutely certain. As for Belgians, I must confess that I cannot answer your question, as I don't know.

DR. EXNER: It would not be so very amazing, would it, if the university library had been hit by German artillery. After all, it has happened that the libraries of the Universities of Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Breslau, Cologne, et cetera, have been hit. The only question is whether this was done deliberately, and here it occurs to me that the peasant ...

VAN DER ESSEN: The peasant ...

DR. EXNER: I would like to ask you: Was there any mention in these inquiries as to the motive which might have induced the German Army to make this an objective?

VAN DER ESSEN: All the evidence seems to indicate, and this was the conclusion arrived at by the commission, that t he motive, I will not say the main motive, because there is no certainty in this sort of thing-that the motive which is very probable, almost certain, for the destruction of the library was the German Army's desire to do' away with a monument which commemorates the Treaty of Versailles. On the library building there was a virgin wearing a helmet crushing under her foot a dragon which symbolized the


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enemy. Certain conversations of German officers gave the very clear impression that the reason why they wished to set fire systematically to this building was their desire to get rid of a testimony of the defeat in the other war, and above all, a reminder of the Treaty of Versailles. I may add that this is not the first time that the Germans have destroyed the University of Louvain.

DR. EXNER: You believe that the commander of that battery knew that?

VAN DER ESSEN: There is very interesting testimony which I should like to submit to the honorable Counsel for the Defense. On the day when the batteries were installed, the two batteries which I mentioned, I spoke to a tax collector, a civil servant, who lived in a villa on the road to Roosweek, a few kilometers from Louvain. That afternoon some German high ranking officers came to his house to ask for hospitality. These officers had with them a truck with all the necessary radio apparatus for sending wireless orders to the German artillery to fire. These officers installed themselves in his house, and dinner was naturally served to them, and they invited him to sit with them. After hesitating a moment, he accepted, and during the meal there was a violent discussion. The officers said, "These Belgian swine" -- excuse my using this expression, but they used it -- "at any rate they did put that inscription on the library." They were referring to the famous inscription "Furore Teutonica" which in fact was never on the library; but all the German officers were absolutely convinced that this inscription "Furore teutonica diruta, dono americano restituta" (destroyed by German fury, restored by American generosity) was on the building, whereas, in fact, it never has been there. However, I am quite willing to admit that in Germany they might have believed that it was there; and the very fact that there should have been a discussion among the officers in command of these two batteries, seems to prove that if they directed the fire onto the library, it was in order to destroy this monument. It was probable that they wanted to get rid of a monument which, according to their idea, bore an inscription which was insulting to the German Army and the German people. That is the testimony which I can give to the honorable Counsel for the Defense. I give it as it is.

DR. EXNER: You mean that the captain who commanded this battery knew about that inscription! I don't believe it.

VAN DER ESSEN: Certainly.

DR. EXNER: Thank you.

DR. STAHMER: Witness, you have said that 43 airplanes flew over the library and dropped bombs on it. As you told us yourself, in reply to Professor Exner's question, you were not in the town at the time; where did you get that information?


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VAN DER ESSEN: As I have already said, it is not my testimony which I am giving here, because for my part I have none; but it is the testimony of the lawyer, Davids, who had a country house at Kesseloo.

This lawyer went out in the morning to look at the sky. He had a considerable number of refugees in his home, among them women and children, and as- airplanes were continually overhead he had gone out in the morning to see what was going on. He saw this squadron of airplanes which he counted-remember he was an old soldier himself-and there were 43 which were flying in the direction of the library; and when they arrived over the library, exactly over the gable at the farthest point from the house of the witness, they dropped a bomb, and he saw smoke immediately arise from the roof of the library. That is the testimony on which I base the statement I just made.

DR. STAHMER: So it was just one bomb that hit the library?

VAN DER ESSEN: We must distinguish here, sir, between artillery fire and bombs which are dropped by planes. From a technical point of view, it seems absolutely certain that a bomb from a plane hit the library, because the roof has metal covering and this metal roofing is quite level, except in one part where it caves in. We consulted technicians, who told us that a metallic surface would never have sunk in to such an extent if it had been hit by artillery fire and could only have been caused by a bomb from a plane.

DR. STAHMER: How many bombs in all were dropped by airplanes?

VAN DER ESSEN: As the witness was at a height dominating the Louvain area from where he could see the library on the plain, it was impossible for him to count exactly the bombs which these planes dropped. He only saw the bombs fall. Then he saw the smoke which arose from the roof of the library. That's all I have to say concerning this point.

DR. STAHMER: How many bomb hits were counted in the city?

VAN DER ESSEN: On this point I can give you no information, but I know that some airplanes passed over the library quarters in a straight line going north to south. These bombs, at that time, in May 1940, damaged, but not very seriously, the Higher Institute of Philosophy, the Institute of Pharmacy, and a few other university buildings; also a certain number of private houses.

DR. STAHMER: When were the bombs dropped, before the artillery fire or afterwards?

VAN DER ESSEN: The bombs were dropped before and afterwards. There were some air raids. I myself was present during a


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terrible air raid on the afternoon of 10 May 1940 by a squadron of seven planes.

I am not a military technician, but I saw with my own eyes the planes -which dive-bombed the Tirlemont Bridge. The result of this bombing was that a considerable number of houses were destroyed and 208 persons killed on the spot, on the afternoon of 10 May 1940.

[A recess was taken.]

THE PRESIDENT: Do any of the other Defense Counsel wish to cross-examine?

HERR BABEL: Witness, when did you last see the university building; that is, before the attack?

VAN DER ESSEN: Before the fire? I saw it on 11 May 1940.

HERR BABEL: That is to say, before the attack?

VAN DER ESSEN: Before the attack.

HERR BABEL: Was it damaged. at that time, and to what extent?

VAN DER ESSEN: On 11 May absolutely nothing had happened to the library. It was intact. Until the night of the 16th to 17th of May, when I left, there was absolutely no damage.

HERR BABEL: Apart from the hits on the tower, did you notice any other traces of artillery fire on the building?

VAN DER ESSEN: On the building I don't think so. There were only traces of artillery fire ...

HERR BABEL: From the fact that only the tower had been hit, couldn't it be thought that the tower and not the building was the target?

VAN DER ESSEN: When I said that the tower was struck, I meant only the traces that could be seen on the walls, on the balcony of the first story, and on the dial of the clock. Apart from that, nothing could be seen on the building for the simple reason that the building had been completely burned out inside and nothing could be seen on the charred walls. But it is absolutely certain that either a bomb from a plane or an artillery shell -- I personally think it was the latter -- hit the building on the north side, after the fire. The trace of shell fire can be seen very visibly. It is just here that the fire began. Witnesses who saw the fire of the Abbey of Mont Cesar. . . .

HERR BABEL: After the fire, when did you see the building for the first time?

VAN DER ESSEN: After the fire, in July 1940.

HERR BABEL: That is, much later?


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VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, but still in the same condition. Nothing had been done to it. It was still as it was originally.

HERR BABEL: Do you know whether, while the building was burning, an attempt was made to stop the fire and save the building?

VAN DER ESSEN: It is absolutely certain that attempts were made to stop the fire. The Rector of the University, Monseigneur Van Wayenberg, told me himself and has stated that he sent for the firemen, but the firemen had gone. Only the chief and two members of the fire brigade were left, and all the water mains at that time were broken as a result of the bombardment. There was no water supply for several days.

HERR BABEL: Did German troops take part in these attempts to save the building?

VAN DER ESSEN: No, they were not there yet.

HERR BABEL: How do you know that? You weren't there.

VAN DER ESSEN: But the Rector of the University did not leave the town of
Louvain. The rector was there and so was the librarian.

HERR BABEL: Did you speak to the rector on this question, as to whether German troops took part in the attempt to save the building?

VAN DER ESSEN: I spoke to the rector and to the librarian. In my capacity as General Secretary of the University I discussed with the rector all general questions concerning the university. We discussed this point especially, and he told me categorically that no soldier of the German Army tried to fight the fire.

HERR BABEL: You also have spoken about the resistance movement. Do you know whether the civilian population was called upon to resist the German troops?

VAN DER ESSEN: Where? In the Ardennes?

HERR BABEL: In Belgium?

VAN DER ESSEN: In Belgium the resistance was mainly composed of the secret army, which was a military organization with responsible and recognized commanders, and wore a distinctive badge so that they could not be confused with simple francs-tireurs.

HERR BABEL: Do you know how many German soldiers fell victims to the resistance movement?

VAN DER ESSEN: How German soldiers fell victims to this resistance? I know very well because everywhere in the Ardennes the resistance went into action, and legally, with chiefs at their head, carrying arms openly, and with distinctive badges. They openly attacked the German troops from the front.


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HERR BABEL: That was not my question. I asked you if you knew roughly how many
German soldiers became victims of that resistance movement?

VAN DER ESSEN: I don't understand what is implied by the question of the honorable Counsel for the Defense.

HERR BABEL: That is not for you to judge, it is for the Tribunal.

VAN DER ESSEN: Does the honorable Counsel for the Defense mean the events of the Ardennes which I alluded to a while ago, or does he speak in a quite general sense?

HERR BABEL: The witness in his statements had himself brought up the question of the resistance movement, and that is why I asked whether the witness knows.. .

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Babel, the witness has already answered the question by saying that he cannot say how many Germans were killed by the resistance movement.

HERR BABEL: But he can say whether a certain number of Germans did fall victims to the resistance.

VAN DER ESSEN: There were real battles.

HERR BABEL: The witness will also be able to confirm that the members of the resistance are today considered heroes in Belgium. From what we have read in the papers and from what has been brought up here, these people who were active in the resistance movement are now considered heroes. At least I could draw that conclusion.

THE PRESIDENT: Will you' please continue your examination.

HERR BABEL: Witness, you have said, if I understood you correctly, that you lost 15 kilograms weight.

VAN DER ESSEN: Yes, indeed.

HERR BABEL: What conclusion did you draw from that fact? I could not quite understand what you said.

VAN DER ESSEN: I simply meant to say that I lost these 15 kilos as a result of the mental suffering which we underwent during the occupation, and it was an answer to a question of M. Faure on whether I considered this occupation compatible with the dignity of a free man. I wanted to answer "no," giving the proof that as a result of this occupation we suffered much anguish, and I think the loss of weight is sufficient proof of this.

HERR BABEL: During the war, I also, without having been ill, lost 35 kilos. What conclusion could be drawn from that, in your opinion?



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THE PRESIDENT: Go on, Dr. Babel, we are not interested in your experiences.

HERR BABEL: Thank you, Sir. That was my last question.

THE PRESIDENT: Does any other Counsel wish to ask any questions? [There was no response.] M. Faure?

M. FAURE: I have no questions.

THE PRESIDENT: The witness may retire.

[The witness left the stand.]

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