German prisoners of war put to work





More than 250,000 German prisoners of war were present on Belgian soil at the end of the war. Tens of thousands were put to work, mainly in the mines as part of the famous Bataille du Charbon. More than 2,000 were employed in the heart of the Ardennes.

In October 1945, a prisoner of war camp with a capacity of 1,000 men opened in Poix-Saint-Hubert. It was located on vacant land near the ruins of the old Chimay Chemicals factory. Belgian soldiers were guarding them. The camp depended on the regional command of the prison camps of Liège. The prisoners there were in charge of collecting mine wood, which was used to shore up the galleries. The work was hard, but the work commandos were more modest than in the mines, so the atmosphere was more familiar. In fact, even though this was forbidden by the Geneva Convention, some prisoners also took part in mine clearance work. This was also the case at the Belgian coast. Several prisoners lost their lives. Others would also help with clearing and reconstruction, especially in Bastogne. 

Two other large so-called forest camps were created in the region in December 1945: in Vielsalm, close to the Chasseurs Ardennais barracks, and in Elsenborn. There were also various small camps. Sometimes prisoners were housed directly in the homes of the inhabitants, where they worked on farms that, in this way, benefited from cheap labour. Not surprisingly, the first contacts were not easy. Disturbances broke out here and there. The memory of the recent Battle of the Bulge remained very fresh in memory, but as the months went by, resentments faded and some former German prisoners of war even settled in the region. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of them returned to Germany in 1948.