Anti-Masonry in Belgium

Anti-Masonry in Belgium during World War II

Jacques Huyghebaert

PM Chevalier Ramsay Lodge #4,
Brussels, Belgium
revised November 6, 1994

On April 10, 1940, John H. Cowles, from the A&ASR, SJ, Washington D.C. posted a letter to the Grand Orient of Belgium. He did not know his mail would not reach its destination until 1945, as Belgium was invaded by the German Army less than a month later and this letter was intercepted by the "Sicherheitsdienst".

At this stage, it should be noted that Masons at the Liberation had an extraordinary piece of luck in being able to seize the archives in Brussels of both the "Sicherheitspolitzei" services in charge of repressing Freemasonry and the archives of the even more sinister "Ligue anti-maçonnique belge".

Additionally, the Belgian Masonic archives that were confiscated by the Germans in 1940 and had been taken to Germany, fell in the hands of the Russians in 1945. These Masonic documents were rediscovered in Moscow in 1993 and after some negotiations between the Belgian and Russian Governments they have now finally been returned here.

Although legislation officially suppressing Masonry in Belgium was only enacted by the Germans in August 1941, in actual terms Freemasons were in real trouble immediately after the Germans crossed the border.

The German organisation dealing with Freemasonry was the "Sicherheitspolizei und Sicherheitsdienst". Section II of the "SS" was in charge of "ideological enemies", sub-section A being the Churches and Sects, subsection B being Freemasonry and Sub-section C being the Jews.

Initially the Germans seem to have focused in Belgium on subsection B, since in a letter dated July 13, 1940, SS Stein who was in charge of Section II, apologises to his superiors in Germany for having delayed actions against Jews, "all his efforts having been concentrated in fighting Freemasonry".

Immediately after the surrender of the Belgian Army in May 1940, the SS started working on establishing lists of Freemasons and confiscated all Masonic properties (Masonic Halls, etc.).

Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi ideologist, who was hanged in 1946 after the Nuremberg trial, travelled in person to Brussels in July 1940 to examine what had been seized and ordered the archives relating to the period prior to 1933 to be moved to Chiemsee University in Germany. The remainder of the documents were confided to the SS.

Fortunately before the Germans actually got in Brussels, and knowing in advance what was to be expected from the Nazis, the most important documents and valuables had been removed to safe places. By miracle not a single list of Belgian Masons could be seized. Grand Orient funds also escaped confiscation.

In a July 1940 report by Obersturmführer SS Stein we find confirmation of this fact as he writes that "all lists have been destroyed".

The Germans then went on to establish lists of Freemasons based on the information they could get. In October 1940, Grand Orient Grand Secretary Bro. M. Hofmans and his assistant Bro. Goffin were arrested and questioned by the Gestapo in order to obtain list of Masons from them. They did not give away any names and were released within days unharmed.

However, lists of Freemasons had been published systematically as early as in 1936 by the Belgians Fascists (Rexists), in several publications including even the still very respected Roman Catholic Belgian Newspaper "La Libre Belgique".

A German sponsored "Belgian Anti-Masonic League" was founded in September 1940 with the obvious purpose to fight Freemasonry. Its members actively collaborated with the enemy; they were arrested after the war and tried on these grounds. The "Belgian Anti-Masonic League" had its office in one of the Grand Orient buildings in Brussels, but moved later to the seat of "Le Droit humain" (a Co-Masonic Grand Lodge). Their activities covered establishing lists of masons, publishing an anti-Masonic periodical and organising anti-Masonic exhibitions in the confiscated Masonic Temples.

The total number of visitors to these war-time exhibitions has been estimated to exceed 86,000. The negative effects of these exhibitions are considered by Belgian Masonic author and historian M. De Schampheleire to have had an "deep influence on the public opinion, lasting well beyond the war time period".

Worthwhile mentioning is a very daring stunt made at the Brussels Anti-Masonic Exhibition, where a precious commemorative silver mallet was "stolen".

After the War, this mallet was handed over back to the Grand Orient by those who had taken it (they were a group of students from the Brussels University) during a special Masonic ceremony. This same silver mallet had been donated by the Brussels University to the Grand Orient a hundred years before, it was thus donated twice !!!

On the front cover of "Le Rempart" (Vol. no.6, Aug.1941) published by the Anti-Masonic League, a half page photograph depicts Bro. Roosevelt in full Masonic regalia sitting amidst a group of Masons described by the publishers as being Sublime Knights of the Royal Secret, Sovereign Princes of Masonry. The picture is said to have been found in a Lodge of Oslo, Norway. From the picture however it is clear that all persons wear craft regalia.

Inaccuracies in the list of Masons made by the Belgian Pro-German Anti- Masonic League were so blatant and ridiculous (they included Masons who had been long dead) that in the end even the German authorities chose not to rely upon the information that was passed on to them.

They instead recruited a spy code-named "Mercador" to infiltrate Belgian Masonry. The Mercador file was found after the war among the German archives. It is now at the CEDOM. Mainly rubbish, I doubt that the German were fooled by that kind of information.

The German SS then decided to do the job themselves.

It is sad indeed to learn that, like in France, a number of unworthy Brethren volunteered to collaborate in such an odious and treacherous activity. In a letter dated May 30, 1941 sent by the Liege SS Office to the Brussels SS Office the author explains that the enclosed list of Freemasons is to be considered as reliable as it is not based upon Masonic documents ( Freimaurerunterlagen) but is established by a "former" Freemason, who is qualified by the signing SS Untersturmführer as being trustworthy ...

Continuous steps were made by Anti-Masonic League with the German authorities to enforce legislation suppressing Freemasonry. Efforts were even attempted by its leader Dr.Ouwerx to have Freemasons and Jews merged into the one category. The German authorities reacted with reluctance and only in August 1941, after Grand Master Hiernaux had rejected a German proposal to dissolve the Grand Orient, was the legislation suppressing Freemasonry finally enacted.

More frustration was awaiting the Germans, when in 1943 they decided to sell the confiscated Masonic properties, but were challenged in court and were actually stopped in going ahead with their plan.

In Belgium, the Grand Orient de Belgique had 4,500 members in 1940, just before the invasion of Belgium by the Germans. About 80 Belgian Masons are recorded as having died in camps during the War.

An systematic examination of the Grand Orient archives (every Brother has a individual file) reveals that there is not a single document to prove even one case of a Freemason being deported or executed by the Germans for being a Mason.

This fact may seem strange or even contradictory but those who have studied the war may know about the difference and infighting which existed between the German Army and the SS.

In fact, already in 1940, the "Militärverwaltung" (Military Administration) adopted the "real-politik" attitude not to harass Freemasons systematically because, according to the recovered German documents, "Freemasons are playing a role that should not be underestimated, and if they are to be rounded up, this could only lead to serious difficulties, which we should better avoid."

Additionally, one should be aware that it is now believed by World War II specialists that the Third Reich's leaders intention had been, if they had been successful, to dissolve Belgium and integrate it into the new and vast pan-Germanic empire spread over the whole of Europe and which they said "would live for a 1,000 years".

While the Nazis had no basic problems with the Flemish whom they considered to be of pure Germanic origin, Alfred Rosenberg fabricated a theory whereby the Walloons were described as being Germanic from the racial point of view, but who had lost their original identity over the centuries as a result of their cultural gallicisation.

The Nazis therefore attempted to keep a soft policy during the war time occupation to avoid upsetting the Belgians too much. This strategy was no doubt partly successful for tens of thousands men volunteered to wear the German uniform and fight on the East Front against Russia.

It is very likely that those Belgian Masons, who died in camps during the war, had been deported because they belonged to the Resistance or were listed as Jews (or both). There is little doubt about this because German documents state the reason of deportation or execution.

The 33° Masons who were assassinated at their homes, on the contrary, were killed because of their high position in Masonry. They were old men, who had nothing to do with the war, but were shot on purpose for what they represented. To be fair with history, it should be said that they were killed by Belgian war-time Nazi collaborators and not by the Germans. On the other hand, it is also true that the Police strangely (?) did nothing to catch the authors of these murders ...

The first Mason to be thus assassinated was the highest Masonic authority in the country Bro. G. Petre, Sovereign Grand Commander of the A&ASR for Belgium, who was shot at his house on December 31,1942. In January 1943 Bro. F. E. Lartigue, the Lieutenant Grand Commander of the A&ASR for Belgium, and in February 1943 Bro. F. E. Sasse, 33° were also shot. The same fate befell Bro. Jules Hiernaux, the Grand Master of the Grand Orient and Bro. R. Engel, former Grand Master of the Grand Orient.

Very remarkable and probably rare Masonic event, in relation with the Masons who were deported to Germany, is that two Belgian Masonic Lodges are known to have worked in captivity, without the Germans finding out about it: they are Lodge "Liberté Chérie"(Dear Freedom) at the concentration camp of Esterwegen, and Lodge "L'Obstinée" (Obstinate) at the prisoners' camp of Fishbeck. Both of these lodges were truly" clandestine" lodges ...

After the war, from the 4,500 members of the Grand Orient de Belgique, only 2,940 remained. From these about 80 had lost their lives in the camps in Germany. All the Masonic halls were devastated.

A number of American and British Masons, engaged in the military forces, are known to have accepted the hospitality offered by the near extinct Grand Orient de Belgique Masonic in order to hold a few Lodge meetings at the Grand Masonic Hall in Brussels shortly after the Liberation, but all efforts to reconcile Masonic differences between the Grand Orient and the regular Grand Lodges failed, despite genuine good intentions on both sides.

A solemn lodge of sorrow to the memory of the Belgian Brethren who had suffered and died during WW2 was held in Brussels jointly by the Grand Orient and the Supreme Council of the A&ASR on March 3, 1946, — but American and British Masons declined to attend.