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Poland’s untold story of liberation of Flanders subject of exhibition
Poland’s foreign affairs minister Jacek Czaputowicz and head of the veterans office Jozef Kasprzyk joined Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois yesterday for the opening of the Armoured Wings exhibition. Following its premiere in Gdańsk, the show is now open at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces in Brussels.
Armoured Wings focuses on Poland’s role in the liberation of Flanders following four years of German occupation during the Second World War. This September is the 75th anniversary of the start of the liberation. The Belgian government returned to power on 8 September 1944.
The government of Flanders helped fund and design the exhibition, which previously ran in the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk. “It is to pay tribute to and to honour the soldiers of the Polish 1st Armoured Division, who liberated Belgium, and in particular the Flemish part of Belgium,” said Yves Wantens, the general representative of the government of Flanders to Poland.
The 1st Armoured Division is indeed well-known and commemorated in Flanders, as it was responsible for pursuing the Germans along the English Channel in the summer of 1944. It liberated a number of cities in Flanders, including Ypres, Roeselare, Tielt, Ruiselede and Ghent before moving north into the Netherlands, where it liberated Breda.
Polish exhibition designer Ewa Świder-Grobelna designed Armoured Wings, and it was curated by Dirk Verbeke of Tielt. Verbeke is the chair of the Polish 1st Armoured Division Belgium.
“The exhibition is a sign of brotherhood between Flanders and Poland,” said Verbeke. “I’ve been collecting documents, books, photographs and film footage about the 1st division for 25 years now. We spent nine months putting together this exhibiton.”
The importance of the role of this division in Flanders was largely unknown in Poland until the 1990s, said Verbeke. Documentation was scarce, all of it held in Flanders “That’s why we wanted to show them this history.”
The pieces that make up the exhibition were culled from both Flemish and Polish museums, as well as private archives in Flanders. “These resources were unimaginable to us,” said Ryszard Mozgol of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. “Just try to imagine hundreds of photos, all related to the First Polish Armoured Division held by private collectors. This shows the extraordinary care with which the Belgians approach this period of history.”
The exhibition will run at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces until 30 March, at which point it will tour several cities in Flanders, all of which were liberated by the division, including Poperinge, Tielt, Roeselare, Aalter, Sint-Niklaas and Lommel.
Photo: Citizens of Ghent welcome the soldiers of the Polish 1st Armoured Division ©Museum of the Second World War, Gdańsk