The Twenties
World War II, 1940-1945

Belgium 1929-1940

A.) Foreign Policy

In 1935, Belgium established diplomatic ties with the USSR. In 1936, ally France being ruled by a popular front government, and in Germany Hitler sending German troops into the (demilitarized) Rhineland unresponded by the powers, Belgium cancelled her defensive treaty with France (of 1920) and returned to a policy of NEUTRALITY. For a short time, the Belgian government even feared a French attack (1936). Hitler guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium and the Netherlands in 1937. Belgium was granted a seat in the League of Nations Security Council in 1937.
On Aug. 23rd 1939 - the day Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the German-Russian Non-Aggression Pact - Belgium, together with the Netherlands, Luxemburg and the Scandinavian countries, called for the preservation of peace in Europe.
World War II broke out on September 1st 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. Belgium continued to regard itself neutral. In 1939 Belgium established economic relations with Falangist Spain.
Until May 10th 1940, despite Germany and France being at war with each other, there was no fighting on the western front (the DROLE DU GUERRE, PHONEY WAR or SITZKRIEG). Then the German armies again disrespected the neutrality of their western neighbours, invading the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and France on May 10th.
Notwithstanding Belgium's official neutrality, individual Belgians, even military officers, volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

B.) Domestic Policy

Belgium suffered considerably during the Great Depression. Political forces rejecting the political system strengthened : In 1933, the Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond (Flemish National Union) established as a successor to the Front Party. The Verbond had fascist features, but distanced itself from the Nazis in 1938.
In accordance with HENDRIK DE MAN's PLAN VAN ARBEID (plan of works), the Belgian government lead by PAUL VAN ZEELAND pursued a policy of state-financed public projects in order to reduce unemployment and stimulate the national economy.
In 1939, King Leopold III, addressing the cabinet, demanded a revision of the constitution limiting the authority of parliament and extending that of the monarch.
In front of a bleak economic background, the ultra-nationalist REXIST party lead by LEON DEGRELLE, openly advocating authoritarian government and rejecting parliamentarian democracy, gained in popular support (11.6 % of the votes in 1936).

C.) The Economy

In the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, also in Belgium factories closed and unemployment rates went up, from 1.9 % in 1929 to 23.5 % in 1932. In 1933, Belgium adapted the PLAN VAN ARBEID (plan of works) by HENDRIK DE MAN to overcome the economic crisis; the plan is based on state-financed public works. In 1935 the Belgian Franc was devalued. By 1936, the economic situation had considerably improved (unemployment rate 16.8 %, in 1937 even 13.8 %). In 1938, the situation worsened again.
During the Phoney War, Belgium secretly established a large stock of grain, which it intended, her neutrality being respected and the war intensifying, to sell to her former allies. This stock proved invaluable when the country was occupied by the Germans.
Antwerpen hosted the World Expo in 1930, Brussels in 1935.
Life expectancy of the average Belgian reached 58 years on the eve of World War II (Quetelet 2005).

D.) Intellectual Life

In 1933 HENRI STORCK directed the documentary Misery in the Borinage. In 1937, Historian HENRI PIRENNE's (-1935) posthumously published essay Mahomet et Charlemagne pleaded for dating the beginning of the Middle Ages at the time of the Muslim conquest of the Western Mediterranean (8th century) rather than the Germanic invasion of the Roman Empire in the 5th century.
In 1938, C. HEYMANS was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Belgium : History, from infoplease, encyclopedic, scroll down
Leopold III, King of Belgium, from Famous Belgians, encyclopedic.
Inter Bellum, from History of the 2nd Belgian Grenadiers
Biography of Hendrik de Man, from International Institute of Social History
History of Belgium from
Het conflict SAP - Van Zeeland 1934-1940 en de weerslag op de Belgische politiek. (The Conflict SAP - van Zeeland and its reflection on Belgian politics), online dissertation by Karel Van Nieuwenhuyse, Leuven 1997, in Dutch
Comte Rodolphe de Hemricourt de Grunne, Flying Officier, (Belgian) Royal Air Force (Volunteer in Spanish Civil War), from De "Vieilles Tiges" van de Belgische Luchtvaart; bilingual French/Flemish language page
1938: Spaak comes to the aid of Hitler's Germany , 1940: The SP/PS chairman works for the nazi's, from Ludo Martens, The true history of the Socialist Party (From Workers Party of Belgium Website)
Claire Quetelet, De evolutie van de levensverwachting in Belgie, 18de - 20ste eeuw (The Evolution of Life Expectancy in Belgium, from the 18th to the 20th century), thesis Univ. Gent 2005, in Dutch
DOCUMENTS Proces Verbaux du Conseil du Ministres, 1916-1949 (protocols of sessions of the Belgian cabinet), from the Belgian State Archives, a very large databank, downloadable, in French
Belgian banknotes, from Currency Museum and from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
Message de Paul CLAUDEL de l'academie francaise, ancien Ambassadeur de France en Belgique, a propos de la mort de Sa Majeste la Reine Astrid. August 30th 1935, from French Embassy, Belgium, in French
Belgica Colen 1830-1930, by M. Schouppe, Flemish publication on Belgium's 100th anniversary
Leon Trotsky¡¯s Letters to Belgium (1929-1938), posted by
Images World Exhibition Brussels 1935, No.1, No.2, No.3, No.4, from GVA
Image : Argument between Socialist and 'Realist' election campaign teams turns violent, 2 dead, May 22/23 1936, from GVA
Image : Arrival of Basque children, refugees from Spanish Civil War, in Antwerpen, from GVA
REFERENCE Fascism in Belgium, p.1206 in John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe
Article : Belgium, in : Statesman's Yearbook 1932 pp.676-688, 1937 pp.710-722 [G]
Article : Belgium, in : Americana Annual 1930 pp.101-103, 1931 pp.103-104, 1932 pp.101-103, 1933 pp.92-94, 1934 pp.106-107, 1935 pp.93-95, 1936 pp.84-86, 1937 pp.72-74, 1938 pp.76-78, 1939 pp.82-84, 1940 pp.67-69 [G]
Article : Belgium, in : New International Year Book 1930 pp.93-95, 1932 pp.94-96, 1933 pp.90-92, 1934 pp.84-86, 1935 pp.78-81, 1938 pp.86-89, 1939 pp.70-73, Events of 1940 pp.63-67 [G]
Article : Belgium, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1932 pp.104-107, 1933 pp.79-81, 1934 pp.87-90, 1935 pp.81-83, 1936 pp.71-74, 1937 pp.67-71, 1938 pp.69-72, 1939 pp.59-62, 1940 pp.58-61 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on August 24th 2007

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