I. Before the Occupation 5
Chapter One Before the Occupation At the beginning of the fifth decade of this century, Belgian government and society were characterized by such unique complexities that it may be helpful to discuss the people and their institutions in some detail because these complexities influenced important aspects of German occupation policy. Therefore this introductory chapter will present certain characteristics of Belgium, its people and its institutions which set the context for the policies of the German occupation. The Land and the People Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1938, Belgium was the most densely populated country of Europe with 8.39 million inhabitants on 11,779 square miles of terri- tory .1 Over half of the population (in 1930) used Flemish as the first language, while less than half employed French as their mother tongue. Brussels, the capital with 910,154 inhabitants (in 1937)2 housed eleven percent of the total population of the country, and provided work for additional tens of thousands who lived elsewhere. In these prewar years Brussels attracted many Belgians and other Europeans as a government and economic center. Many Belgian and some foreign business establishments had offices or headquarters in the Belgian capital. However, unlike Paris, Brussels did not absorb all the energies of the country, leaving civic and cultural vitality intact in the many large and small cities and towns within an hour's train ride of the capital. Antwerp was Europe's largest port, and Ghent was a maJor manufacturing city. Liege and...
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