The museum is positioned in camp Elsenborn and was inaugurated in 1998. It is beautifully situated on the plateau of the Hoge Venen (high moorland) just along the German Belgian border.
History of Camp Elsenborn
In the Prussian period this area had been scouted various times by the commander of the 8th Corps, General Von Loe. After those inspections it was decided in 1894 to establish a temporary encampment here. One year later the definitive construction of the camp was started en everything was equipped as comfortable as possible. In 1901 the camp was ready and three brigades (3000-4000 men) could be housed. The infantry and the cavalry held their manoeuvrers together under life artillery fire. The occupation increased steadily until 1914 and with that also the build up area which consisted out of lasting materials. Also for the population of the area the camp became an ever more important economic phenomenon. The museum shows this history with many documents, paintings, diorama’s and video films.
Between 1914 and 1918 the camp was transformed into a training centre for troops that were sent to the war front afterwards. Next to that the camp also was used as a depot for the artillery and there were Polish and Russian prisoners of war who were charged with the construction and the maintenance of the road network. The camp was abandoned after the war without any battle and it was occupied by the British until 1919. After the Treaty of Versailles the Belgians established themselves here again from 4th of February, 1920. During this period the last barracks and horse stables that were made of sheet metal, were replaced by brick buildings. In the fall of 1939 the main part of the civil and military personnel left Elsenborn in order to report to their mobilization destinations.
The Second World War
On the morning of May 10th, 1940, the remainder of the personnel was surprised by the Germans and taken prisoner. Immediately after the occupation the Wehrmacht used the camp also mainly as a training camp. After the big push of 1941 many prisoners were accommodated here, first of all Polish and Serbs and later on Russians that were employed as stone breakers. Many of whom would never return home even if the camp remained fairly peaceful. On August 9th, 1944, the American Air Force bombed the camp as a preparation of its liberation. The bombs were dropped too early and therefore a part (30%) of the camp escaped total destruction. Nevertheless 200 victims perished (Russians and Germans) who were buried in a mass grave in Nidrum.
On September 12th, 1944, the American forces of the 9th Infantry Division occupied the camp which was later on taken over by various other American divisions. During the Battle for the Ardennes the 6. SS-Panzerabteilung advanced from the east from Rocherath up to Roderhöhe. They only achieved part of the high plains. The trials by the Germans to break through to Liege via Camp Elsenborn would never succeed. It was at that spot that at the second day of the attack the German efforts failed. The museum dedicates much attention to that fact, next to its own history.
After the war the Belgians utilized the camp again and reconstructed it in the course of the following years. Today the camp is still being used as a military exercise area. To visit the museum you will have to report at the barrier at the entrance gate. If you are accompanied with a group or with a family one piece of identity will be required in exchange for a visitors pass. After the visit to the museum you exchange this again in return. During the visit you will be guided by an employee of the museum who will answer all your questions.
For current visiting hours, please visit the website of the museum.
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- Text: Kees Jan Koster
- Photos: Ad Smulders