At the moment of leaving the soil where, after 11 months of captivity, I was liberated by the victorious American armies, and before reaching Switzerland, where I will await in silence the nation's pronouncement, I want to address myself to you in all sincerity, and from the depths of my heart.
Since my youth, I have lived among you. When I was 15 years old, I came to know the deep qualities of those magnificent soldiers whose simple, tenacious heroism saved our country and covered it with glory.
Later, when life put me in contact with the miners, workers and peasants of our provinces, I found again those same qualities of conscience, of heart, of will, of love of work and freedom which make the strength of our people, which have permitted it to overcome all the crises history has imposed on it, and which, I am convinced, will, this time, too, restore to it the place it has been able to earn among the most civilized nations of the world.
In 1940, when, for the second time, the German army invaded the sacred soil of our country, I took- as did my father- command of our troops. The fortune of arms was unfavorable to us. But our honor was saved.
The Belgian army and its commander have been covered with disgrace. But I know what was the conduct of our 600,000 soldiers, I who saw them under fire, without protection against the incessant attacks of the German air-force, I who saw them break themselves, for two whole days, against the front-lines of the Lys, the most fearsome armored units, I know what was their heroism.
Soldiers, when you return to your homes- some of you after five years of captivity- you will have the right to the gratitude of the country, for you have served it well. History will render you justice. Know that your commander does not forget you. Those of you who have fallen have not died in vain. For it is not only victory that makes a people great and forms a nation, it is the will to defend itself, to remain itself, to stay firm in the ordeal.
You have deserved well of your country. I am honored to have commanded you and you can be all the more proud of yourselves, as your courage and your sacrifice contributed to the final victory of the United Nations over the most ruthless of enemies. If you had not held the line so fiercely on the Lys, without any other hope than that of delaying the German onslaught, the English divisions who would form the core of the great and victorious British army, would probably not have been able to embark at Dunkirk. It is a glorious voice- that of Admiral Keyes, the hero of Zeebrugge- which, at the moment when, all over the world, you were unjustly held responsible for the defeat, made itself heard, with an admirable honesty, to render you this homage.
When, on May 28th, I understood that all further resistance was futile, I decided to lay down our arms. I considered that my conscience and my responsibility as the head of the army did not permit me to sacrifice in vain thousands of soldiers and refugees. Only those who are insensible to human misery and do not know how many sorrows the death of a loved one provokes will condemn me.
Conquered, I did not wish to leave you- I could not have done so- at the moment when a long agony was beginning for you. A number of Belgians then, who did not know the real situation, reproached me for it. Some even believed I was betraying them, and the echo of their voices, which has begun to resound anew, obliges me to relive the painful hours I knew after our defeat in 1940.
But I know that the great majority among you have conserved your faith in me. I thank you from the depths of my heart and I want to tell you- with all that this implies for me in terms of responsibility before history- that I am conscious of having served you as a man and a King.
Only those who did not live through the ordeals of enemy occupation can maintain that the sacrifice I made by becoming a prisoner to remain among you was not useful to the country.
I have the right to affirm- and the proof, one day, will be furnished to you- that the passive resistance I firmly maintained prevented Belgium from negotiating with Germany, momentarily victorious, and supported her in her refusal to let herself be seduced or enslaved by the enemy, aided by a handful of traitors and bad citizens whom we will refuse to consider Belgians any longer.
By remaining among you as your imprisoned sovereign, by not accepting to reign under the occupation, by refusing, despite the pressing offers of which I was the object, to treat with the enemy, I not only saved the country's honor, I maintained its right to independence and will to remain, despite the odious violence done to it, a sovereign nation.
Throughout the whole occupation, as I saw, with proud admiration, the Belgian nation rallying, organizing resistance and forming, in Belgium and in England, the new army to liberate the country, I held myself to the line of conduct I had fixed since the capitulation: to refuse all negotiation with the enemy, to do nothing...which could harm the military, political or economic interests of the noble nations whose armies had responded to our appeal...
People have told you, provoking German testimonies, that I was at Berchtesgaden to save the dynasty by selling my country. Those who have told you this have slandered me. They know- or they could have known, since I offered to show them my dossiers- that, if I agreed to visit Hitler who, a perjurer to his word, had invaded Belgium, it was only to try to stop that odious attempt to divide the nation, consisting in sending home only the Flemish prisoners, and also so that your children could have more bread.
People have told you that I arranged my own deportation, and that of my family, to avoid being among you at the moment of liberation. And they have not hesitated to accuse me of trying to deceive you by publicly protesting against the violence that was done to me.
The conscience of the nation will be able to judge the attitude of those who have taken upon themselves the responsibility for such defamation.
I did not have the happiness, which you knew, to be present at the liberation. And, alone today among the Belgians who endured the suffering of captivity and exile, I have been refused the joy of returning to my homeland.
I accept, for Belgium, this new sacrifice, with the ardent hope that I will see, from afar, concord and union re-established among the Belgians.
Respectful of the institutions and liberties of our parliamentary regime, upon which are based the independence and the prosperity of our country, I have recourse to the sovereignty of the people.
The Belgian monarchy is founded on the common will of the citizens. Whatever this will may be. Whatever the legal means by which it may be expressed, I accept, in advance, its verdict.
Since the start of my reign, serving my country was my only ambition. Tomorrow, like yesterday and today, despite everything, to this I will remain faithful.
(Translated from the French version on the website of Le Vétéran. The document is also included in the annexes of the King's memoirs).
Friday, October 23, 2009
The King's Appeal
On September 30, 1945, at St. Wolfgang, Austria, shortly after his liberation from German captivity, King Leopold III prepared a moving address to the Belgian nation. He expressed his gratitude and admiration for the Belgians' heroism during World War II, and protested his innocence of the charges of treason delaying his return to Belgium. On October 16, 1945, Baron Nothomb read the speech to the Belgian Senate. Here is a translation: