Bervoets, Marguerite (1914–1944)

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Bervoets, Marguerite (1914–1944)

Belgian resistance leader, teacher, and poet. Born in La Louviere, Belgium, in 1914; executed in August 1944; studied literature and philosophy in Brussels and taught at the École Normale in Tournai.

Active in underground activities from the start of the Nazi occupation of her country; produced an illegal newspaper in her home and also was involved in procuring weapons and recruiting new members for the underground; captured (1942); deported to Germany (1943); after captivity in many prisons and concentration camps, sentenced to death (March 1944), a sentence that was carried out in August of that year.

Marguerite Bervoets was a sensitive, cultured woman who harbored intense patriotic feelings about her native Belgium, a country that suffered severely from German invasions in both World Wars. Her intellectual curiosity drew her to study not only literature and philosophy, but also law, art history and music. On the eve of World War II, in 1937, she began teaching at the École Normale in Tournai; this way of life was interrupted, however, with the German invasion of the lowlands in May 1940.

Political repression and a tightening noose around the Jewish community in Belgium characterized the Nazi occupation. The response of young patriotic intellectuals like Bervoets, who found the behavior of the German occupiers morally intolerable, was to engage in underground work, including armed struggle. She joined the Tournai branch of the resistance organization "Légion Belge" and was instrumental in linking this unit with similar ones in Charleroi, Mons and Lille. She eventually procured weapons and recruited new members of the underground; she also used her home as a storage center for the local resistance cells and to print a clandestine newspaper, La Déliverance. By 1942, Bervoets was active in Northern France, protecting and supporting Allied parachutists involved in various intelligence missions.

Bervoets' luck ran out on August 8, 1942, when she was arrested while taking photographs at the Chievres-Brugelette airport. First imprisoned and interrogated at Mons prison, she was deported to Germany in June 1943, where she spent time in prisons in Essen and Cologne, as well as at the Mesum concentration camp. Transferred to Leer prison, she was sentenced to death on March 22, 1944. As the machinery of the Nazi punitive system broke down in the last year of the regime's life, she was once more moved to other prisons in Osnabrück, Bremen, Brunswick, and Wolfenbüttel. At Wolfenbüttel, Bervoets was executed by decapitation on August 9, 1944.

Before her arrest, she had written a friend:

I assign to you the task of alleviating my mother's pain in the event of my death. Tell her that I died so that the sky over Belgium can be purified and that all who come after me can live in freedom, which is what I would have wished for myself, and that despite everything that has happened I regret nothing.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia