- Point of Interest
- Rue des Martyrs 20, Courcelles, Belgique
In the morning of 18 August 1944 twenty Belgian civilians were killed at the town of Courcelles by members of the Rexist Movement, a group of ultra right Belgian civilians. After the Normandy landings in June 1944, tensions between German authorities, collaboration movements and the Resistance grew more intense, in particular in the Wallonian province Hainaut.
During the Courcelles Massacre, also known as the Rognac Massacre, of 18 August 1944 twenty Belgian citizens were killed by ‘Rexists’.The Rexist Party, or Rex, was a far-right, catholic and nationalist political party, founded by Léon Degrelle in 1935. During the German occupation of Belgium the Rexists opted for collaboration with the Nazis and members of the movement obtained important positions within the Belgian State. The party officials became an important target for the Belgian Resistance and from January 1944 the number of attacks against Rexists increased: their houses were devastated, lists of their names were spread and on 8 July 1944 Léon Degrelle’s brother was murdered. In reprisal sympathisers of Rex committed a series of bloody attacks on civilians.
On 17 August Oswald Englebin, the Rexist Mayor of Charleroi, his wife and his son were murdered by the Resistance. In response the following night showed an outburst of unprecedented violence: fires, arrests, murders. Twenty hostages, including policemen, doctors, architects, lawyers and various civil officials, were locked up in the cellar of a house in Courcelles. Among them also Canon Pierre Harmignies, Doyen of Charleroi since 1938. During the night he comforted his companions in misfortune and – it is said – spoke his last words : “I die and we all die for that peace reigns in the world, and the men love one another.”
At dawn all twenty hostages were killed in cold blood. Among the killers were the main national leaders of Rex, in particular Victor Matthys, Louis Collard and Joseph Pévenasse. Of the 150 participants of the massacre, 97 were identified, 80 were arrested and tried by the Belgian justice. On 10 November 1947 27 of them were executed.
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.