Belgium / Landmark

The Institut Notre-Dame de Bastogne




Although Bastogne was liberated on 10 September 1944, classes at the Institut Notre-Dame school were only partially resumed in November. A few weeks later, the school found itself at the heart of the Ardennes offensive, launched on 16 December 1944.

The day after the offensive, the last pupils who could still do so returned home. After the 18th, it became impossible to leave the city. On the premises of the Institut Notre-Dame (Our Lady’s Institute) school, there were still a few hundred students and about 50 sisters, soon to be joined by about 600 to 700 civilians. Several spaces were arranged in the cellars, such as the ‘red corridor shelter’, referring to the colour of the paving stones, or the ‘grey corridor shelter’, referring to the walls. The sisters took shelter in the boiler room.

On 20 December, the German forces bombed the town. A piece of shrapnel passed through the coal cellar and struck the ciborium, then fatally injured Sister Emmanuel Didier, the superior. She was the first civilian casualty of the offensive. Another sister was seriously injured in the leg. The town was completely surrounded, but Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe refused to surrender, calling the German request for capitulation “Nuts!”. In addition to civilians who took refuge there, there were also wounded American soldiers. One classroom was turned into an operating theatre. Conditions were difficult. There was only one civilian doctor on-site, and a shortage of medicines and anaesthetic products. Mattresses and stretchers were reserved for the wounded. Others — especially the students — were crammed into chairs. With each bombing, the worst was feared. Despite the appalling conditions, the lice, and the bronchial pneumonia caused by the freezing cold, the refugees survived. Natural springs provided water. Fortunately, there were still potatoes, beans and peas to eat. Despite the bombing, Christmas was celebrated, small gifts were distributed and songs were sung. On 30 December, the first evacuations began. On 2 January 1945, American lorries finally evacuated the remaining people to Arlon.

47, rue de Sablon 6600 Bastogne