Like the other children in La Roche, Andrée Collin was eagerly looking forward to Christmas of 1944. In September the Americans had liberated the Belgian town from Nazi occupation. There were plans for a banquet and a ball on 25 December. Hitler’s counteroffensive in the Ardennes brought a nightmare instead.
Andrée Collin was only nine in 1944. But she was old enough to know that war meant fear. Peace and the presence of the American liberators transformed her life. She felt safe again in her home at the foot of La Roche’s medieval castle. And her father and mother – a businessman and a hatmaker – were busy making plans for a bright future.
Nothing had been more horrifying to Andrée than to witness the surprise return of German tanks just days before Christmas. But things were getting worse soon. To stop the Germans, the Allies decided that La Roche’s roads had to be destroyed. The day after Christmas, American bombers pulverized the bridge over the Ourthe and nearby buildings. On 27 December the aircrafts returned, determined to wipe out the rest of Andrée’s town. In the panic that followed, the girl became separated from her mother.
When the bombs stopped exploding, Andrée and her father climbed out of their shelter. Fires were raging across town. Dust made the sky invisible. Her father became angry when Andrée slipped away to rescue her doll from the ruins. “And mom?” Andrée insisted as she clutched her doll. “Where is mom?” “She’ll be fine,” her father said soothingly. “She has her fur coat on and some food in a bag.” But as the girl and her father tried to get their bearings, news reached them that Andrée’s mother lay dead in the rubble. For the Collin family, Christmas would be a time of darkness forever.
The Museum of the Battle of the Ardennes tells the story of the battle and liberation of La Roche and nearby villages on the left bank of the River Ourthe during the allied counteroffensive between 3 and 16 January 1945. In 1944-1945 the town of La Roche was almost completely destroyed and 114 inhabitants were killed.
The Bastogne War Museum represents a new way to remember the Second World War in Belgium. It offers a fresh perception in a modern and interactive framework of the causes, events and consequences of the Second World War, with a special focus on the Ardennes counteroffensive: the Battle of the Bulge.
The Bastogne Barracks Museum was opened in 2010. It is located in the barracks that accomodated the Allied Headquarters during the Ardennes Offensive in 1944. Restored parts of the barracks exhibit a collection of materials used in the fighting. The so called Nuts-basement shows the office where General McAuliffe spoke the famous word ‘Nuts’,that had a major influence on the outcome of the Offensive.
Houffalize was a strategically located crossroads on the Ourthe River, right in the center of the Bulge, south of Liège and just north of Bastogne. The German troops occupied the town from 20 December 1944 to 16 January 1945. The Allied planes struck Houffalize many times. 189 Civilians died and 350 habitations were devastated.
On 2 September 1944 allied troops crossed the Belgian border at diverse places. The process of liberation went fast: in ten days a large majority of the country was liberated. But it did not put an end to the German occupation. Two months later Hitler surprised the Allies with his last offensive: the Battle of the Bulge.