Flemish Brabant Miscellenea

Why Belgium should be proud of what happened on 19 April 1943

I pass by the location marking a bold action by the Belgian Resistance to free Jewish and Roma civilians from a train heading for Auschwitz.

Yesterday morning I was out on my bike, cycling along the River Dijle – more of that in another post. But while heading towards my destination I happened to make a brief stop at a railway crossing in Boortmeerbeek to check my map, and saw this unusual street name – XXste Konvooistraat – 20th Convoy Street.


On closer inspection, below the street name was this explanation of the strange street name:

P1040776Loosely translated, it says that it marks the only place in Europe where a train convoy of Jews was stopped by the resistance on 19 April 1943, allowing Jews to escape.

I had never heard of this before, so when I got home I checked out the story.

It seems that on 19 April 1943, just five members of the Belgian resistance – armed with only a single pistol – stopped a train transporting 1,641 Jewish and Roma civilians from the Mechelen transit camp. It was heading for the Auschwitz concentration camp.

233 people escaped. Of these, 91 were re-captured and put on a next transport, 25 were killed during their bid for freedom, and 120 succeeded in their escape.

As the sign says, the attack on the train marks the only “mass breakout” by deportees on a Holocaust train.

For more details, this website is very informative about an exceptionally brave and daring resistance.

And this BBC article traces the story of one 11-year old boy who jumped to freedom that night.

About Denzil

Discovering Belgium is my personal blog describing places to visit in Belgium. It mainly focuses on walking and cycling in nature, but also covers cities and events.

15 comments on “Why Belgium should be proud of what happened on 19 April 1943

  1. I second that notion. What a brave piece of history you came upon. 🙂

    • Yes, and so unexpected. I just happened to stop there to check the map; I could have so easily missed it.

  2. I love hearing about these stories from history. This is what movies should be made about. Wouldn’t it be nice to learn more about others who escaped.

    • What is also surprising is that there seemed to be no other attempts to stop these trains elsewhere.

      • The people in the Resistance took incredible risks and must have been so courageous. I did wonder why there weren’t more attempts but I guess they could only do so much.

        • Yes Carol, and of course I believe that people were not fully aware of what was going to happen to these evacuees. If they knew their fate, I am sure more actions would have been taken.

  3. Truly fabulous story, Denzil! Thanks for sharing! I plan to check out the other links you provided too.

  4. I knew the story but not the sign, nor place. As it so happens, during a walk to the north of Minderhout, Hoogstraten I stumbled upon a sign reminding of the high voltage death wire between Belgium and Holland during WW I. The sign also mentioned a woman that was executed near the wire in 1914 and buried on the south side of Hoogstraten church; I actually found her grave and paid her my respects. Actually, while hiking or cycling through this country, history will always find you…

  5. kevinmayne

    Great find Denzil – now I need an excuse to cycle out there myself

    • Well I went further and then along the River Dijle from near Mechelen to Werchter, which you will like too; a good meandering river with an excellent cycle path

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