Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The "Political Testament" of Leopold III

On January 25, 1944, towards the end of World War II, while Belgium was still under Nazi occupation, King Leopold III, then a prisoner of war, held under house arrest in Brussels, completed a document which came to be known as his "Political Testament." It was a memorandum, addressed to the head of the Belgian government in exile, Hubert Pierlot. When he composed the letter, Leopold had anticipated the possibility of his deportation to Germany (which occurred soon after the memorandum was completed), and, as a result, the possibility of his absence from Belgium at the moment of its liberation by the Allies. In the latter event, the document was to be communicated, not only to the Belgian government, but to the nation and to the Allies, following the liberation of the country.  The letter is divided into 9 parts; a preamble, explaining and defending the King's decision to remain in Belgium during the occupation rather than to follow the government into exile; and 8 sections providing advice on different aspects of post-war reconstruction.

The document aroused great hostility to Leopold in Belgian and Allied political circles; the King's recommendations threatened the interests of many powerful groups. Since it undoubtedly helped to unite his enemies in an implacable coalition, leading, eventually, to his downfall, the letter appears, at first sight, to have been a fatal political error. It may be, however, that Leopold anticipated that the Belgian and Allied political circles which had calumniated him in 1940, by accusing him of collaboration with the Nazis, would, in any case, continue to attack him, and would inevitably take advantage of his absence from Belgium at the moment of liberation to try to prevent his return to the throne. There was also the possibility, which Leopold is known to have envisaged, that he would be killed by the Nazis as a vindictive measure on Hitler's part. Perhaps, Leopold sought to ensure, by means of the letter, that the Belgians, in the post-war period, would have the benefit of his guidance, whatever his own fate; it might be the King's last chance to address his people.

I will be posting on the different sections of the "Political Testament." The entire document can be found in the appendices of Leopold's memoirs, Pour l'Histoire, sur quelques épisodes de mon règne (2001) and in Léopold III (2001), a biography of the King with contributions by Michel Dumoulin, Vincent Dujardin, Mark van den Wijngaert, and other historians.

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