German occupation of Belgium during World War II

The German occupation of Belgium (French: Occupation allemande, Dutch: Duitse bezetting) during World War II began on 28 May 1940, when the Belgian army surrendered to German forces, and lasted until Belgium's liberation by the Western Allies between September 1944 and February 1945. It was the second time in less than thirty years that Germany had occupied Belgium.

German cavalry parade past the Royal Palace in Brussels shortly after the invasion, May 1940

After the success of the invasion, a military administration was established in Belgium, bringing the territory under the direct rule of the Wehrmacht. Thousands of Belgian soldiers were taken as prisoners of war, and many were not released until 1945. The German administration juggled competing objectives of maintaining order while extracting material from the territory for the war effort. They were assisted by the Belgian civil service, which believed that limited co-operation with the occupiers would result in the least damage to Belgian interests. Belgian Fascist parties in both Flanders and Wallonia, established before the war, collaborated much more actively with the occupiers; they helped recruit Belgians for the German army and were given more power themselves toward the end of the occupation. Food and fuel were tightly rationed, and all official news was closely censored. Belgian civilians living near possible targets such as railway junctions were in danger of Allied aerial bombing.

From 1942, the occupation became more repressive. Jews suffered systematic persecution and deportation to concentration camps. Despite vigorous protest, the Germans deported Belgian civilians to work in factories in Germany. Meanwhile, the Belgian Resistance, formed in late 1940, expanded vastly. From 1944, the SS and Nazi Party gained much greater control in Belgium, particularly after the military government was replaced in July by a Nazi civil administration, the Reichskommissariat Belgien-Nordfrankreich. In September 1944, Allied forces arrived in Belgium and quickly moved across the country. That December, the territory was incorporated de jure into the Greater German Reich although its collaborationist leaders were already in exile in Germany and German control in the region was virtually non-existent. Belgium was declared fully liberated in February 1945. In total, 40,690 Belgians, over half of them Jews, were killed during the occupation, and the country's pre-war gross domestic product (GDP) was reduced by eight percent.