May 22, 2014

1944. The Free Belgian Triumph

The Rexist Retreat
"A recruitment poster for the French-speaking 28th SS 'Wallonien' division. The caption reads 'You defend fighting on the Eastern Front'" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Brussels

September 5, 1944
This is Bill Downs speaking from Brussels.

An unconfirmed report that Germany has asked for an armistice turned Brussels into a madhouse for a short time today. The bells in all churches were ringing. People paraded the streets; shaking hands, weeping and kissing everyone in an Allied uniform.

This report, which as far as I can judge has come from Algiers radio, seems to be a false alarm. But the Belgian people didn't care, and the capital went wild. The excitement has died down now since no confirmation has come.

The cheering, singing crowds have kept going day and night since the British troops freed the city two days ago. You wonder where they get the energy to keep on celebrating. They have worn me out completely.

After four years of occupation, it seems to take a long time for the people to get used to the idea of freedom again. And a report of an armistice is almost too much for them. They are not waiting for confirmation, they are just celebrating flat out.

I met three American airmen who had parachuted from their flying fortress and been sheltered by the Belgian people. Rexist party spies heard of them and convinced the people hiding the Americans that they would get the fliers to safety in Switzerland. But instead of taking them towards Switzerland, the traitors turned the American airmen over to the German army authorities. The Belgian Nazis were dealing in American fliers forced to come down in the country. They received something like 10,000 francs for every escaped airman turned in. That is one reason that the Belgian people demand the lives of the traitors.

There are many more. Brussels had a population of something like 40,000 Jews. Early in the occupation of the country, about half of these Jewish people were taken out and shot, the other half was sent to Germany. The Rexists also helped do this dirty work. They were nice people.

The Rexists organized a Belgian SS legion which now is fighting for its life in Estonia. The Belgian people hope that the Russian army will let none of these escape. They feel the Red Army can do the job just as well in Estonia as patriots can do here.

The first editions of the Belgian underground newspapers were published in the open today. They are single sheet papers printed on two sides. All acclaim the liberation and all demand death to the traitors. The newspaper, Free Belgium, is having a field day of satire. It explains that the Rexist newspaper Pays Reel cannot publish today for "technical reasons" and then it says that, in a spirit of the satirical brotherhood, it will publish the article that Pays Reel would have if it had not been captured by the Allies. It follows with a perfect example of Nazi propaganda. The paper says that the German high command is using (?) elastic defense to refuse the Allies the battle they seek. It describes the Allied troops as brutes and gangsters and gives a description of the American army that reads like this: "The Americans are nothing but animals with baby faces deformed by the use of chewing gum." That is the kind of stuff that the Rexists would have been trying to sell the Belgian people for the past four years.

And another reason the Belgian people want revenge is the methods the Rexists used to protect themselves. Every Rexist carried with him a list of five names of suspected Belgian patriots who were to be shot as hostages in case the Rexist was shot. The White Army learned of these lists and kept on shooting Rexists, but they switched the lists of hostages, putting in the names of five collaborators to die instead. It worked in several instances where collaborators were shooting each other.

It is too early yet to predict the form of the new Belgian government. However everyone to whom I have talked are in unanimous support of the Free Belgian government now in London under the Prime Minister W. Pierlot.

The Belgian people, as far as I can judge, want to keep their king. Leopold has been a prisoner of the Germans since the fall of the country. Reports now are that he was taken as a prisoner to Germany shortly after the invasion of Normandy by the Allies. No one now seems to know exactly where he is.

The left wing newspaper, The Red Flag, in its first above-ground edition today gave a clue as to how the patriot political leaders are thinking. Red Flag said that this is not time for petty criticism of the Pierlot government, but urged that the government be allowed to settle down before the work of cleaning begins.

Belgium has its freedom. She does not intend to lose it again.

This is Bill Downs in Brussels returning you to CBS in New York.