We will never forget our Polish liberators: Belgian ambassador

“The liberation of many Flemish cities in Belgium (Poperinge, Ruislede, Tielt, Aalter, Gent…) in September 1944 by the 1st Polish Armoured Division under the command of General Stanislaw Maczek remains anchored in the collective memory of the Belgians,” Belgian ambassador to Poland Luc Jacobs wrote in a statement for PolandIN, on the commemoration of the soldiers of the Polish 1st Armored Division of General Stanisław Maczek.

“Belgians do not forget their Polish liberators. General Maczek became an honorary citizen of nearly every town he liberated, and many streets and squares are named after him or his troops. Numerous statues, monuments and commemoration plaques can be found along his victorious route through Flanders. Every year in September or on any other appropriate occasion, tribute is paid by the local communities and authorities to the Polish liberators,” he stressed.

General Maczek’s division is also annually commemorated in Warsaw. This year the ceremony was attended by the honorary secretary of the city of Tielt and the president of the 1st Armored Division in Belgium Association, Dirk Verbeke.

“My mission is to commemorate the Polish soldiers who fought and died for the freedom of Belgium,” Mr Verbeke said. He added that the soldiers of General Maczek's 1st Armored Division are permanently connected with the history of Belgium.

The Belgian ambassador to Poland, in his remarks sent to Poland IN also emphasized the Belgian Association’s „crucial role in perpetuating the memory of the Maczek Division in Belgium, and in popularizing further historic research”, adding that many of the so-called “Maczkowcy” stayed and married in Belgium after the war.

In 2019, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation some new major initiatives saw the light: a travelling exhibition (“Armoured Wings”) co-financed by the Flemish Government was shown in Warsaw and Gdańsk and then in Brussels and various other cities along General Maczek’s liberation route. The exhibition was curated by Mr. Verbeke, who is also the author of the book ‘Vergeten Helden’ (‘Forgotten heroes’) with poignant testimonies and beautiful photo-portraits of the last surviving Maczek veterans living in Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland.

In recognition of his relentless work Mr Verbeke was awarded by Poland with the Pro Patria medal, bestowed upon him during today’s commemoration in Żoliborz in the presence of, aparat from the Ambassador of Belgium, Luc Jacobs, also the General Representative of the Government of Flanders in Poland, Thomas Castrel, and the Belgian Defence Atttaché Colonel Guy Hanoulle.

During the commemoration ceremony in Warsaw in front of the monument placed at the Square of Invalides in Żoliborz, the anthem and a fragment of the recording of General Maczek's memoirs about the liberation of Breda were played. Later on, volleys of honor were given and a memorial call was read, recalling the long combat route of general Maczek and his subordinates.

General Stanisław Maczek was the commander of the famed 1st Polish Armoured Division, which fought in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. The Division liberated several major cities, such as Ypres, Ghent, Passchendaele and Breda. For his bravery and military achievements, General Maczek was awarded fourteen medals by several countries, including Poland, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Romania.

After the war, General Stanisław Maczek decided to remain in exile in Great Britain and for this reason the communist authorities deprived him of his citizenship. He did not receive benefits entitled to Allied soldiers. He made a living working, among others, as a bartender in Edinburgh hotels. After the fall of the communist government in Poland he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, and in 1992 he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle. At the request of the inhabitants of Breda, he was granted honorary citizenship of the Netherlands.

He died on December 11, 1994 in Edinburgh at the age of 102. In accordance with his last will, he was buried with his soldiers at Breda cemetery.