War memorial in Eupen 1866 and 1871
The history of the German-speaking part of Belgium is extremely eventful and above all marked by the border position that the area has occupied for many centuries. Indeed, in Roman times, the border between the old Roman cities of Cologne and Tongeren ran through the region.
Until 1794 and the end of the Ancien régime, the northern region – the so-called Eupener Land – belonged largely to the Duchy of Limburg and the southern region (Belgian Eifel) largely to the Duchy of Luxembourg. Manderfeld and Schönberg were at the northern end of the Electorate of Trier.
In the years 1794-1795, revolutionary France conquered the Austrian Netherlands and in the process the territory of today's German-speaking Community.
Congress of Vienna
After Napoleon’s defeat the map of Europe was rearranged during the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The Eupener Land, the Eifel and a part of the former Stavelot-Malmedy Abbey fell to the Prussian Rhineland (from 1830 the province of Rhenish Prussia) and formed the districts of Eupen and Malmedy.
The area of Neutral Moresnet (Kelmis) is placed under Prussian-Dutch double administration (from 1830 Prussian-Belgian) as it is claimed by several states because of its rich calamine deposits.
Treaty of Versailles
Prussian-Belgian border stone from the 19th century
The people from Eupen and Malmedy fought alongside the German Reich during World War One. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles (1919-1920) and after a controversial referendum, the districts Eupen-Malmedy and Neutral-Moresnet fell to Belgium.
In the years 1920-1925 the former districts were subject to the transitional regime of Lieutenant General Baltia and were divided into three judicial cantons: Eupen, Malmedy and St. Vith.
The population and the political circles were strongly displeased with the annexation to Belgium. A strong revisionist movement questioned the Treaty of Versailles, which was perceived as a dictate. However, in the Locarno Treaties of October 1925, Germany refrained from changing its western border.
From 1st January 1926, the "new Belgians" from Eupen-Malmedy become fully-fledged Belgians: the Belgian constitution and the Belgian laws now apply to them as well. However, the Belgian state is in acute financial distress and is conducting secret negotiations with Germany to relinquish the territory in exchange for 200 million gold marks. Nevertheless, the negotiations fail because of France's vigorous objection.
The year 1933 marks the rise to power of the National Socialists under Adolf Hitler in Germany. This can be seen as a turning point in the history of the German-speaking Community. Indeed, in 1933, the socialists around Marc Somerhausen gave up their plea for a revision of the Treaty of Versailles. The revisionist movement in Eupen-Malmedy comes increasingly under the influence of the Nazi propaganda; deep rifts open up between the "pro-Belgian" and the "pro-German" sides of the population.
On 10th May 1940, the darkest chapter of the 20th century begins for Eupen-Malmedy as well as for Belgium and large parts of Western Europe. Hitler's troops march into Belgium. A few days later, Eupen-Malmedy and some ancient Belgian strips of land are incorporated into the German Reich by the Führer‘s decree.
The outcome of the war is as devastating for the small area of Eupen-Malmedy as it is for the whole of Europe. 3,200 of the 8,700 men drafted into the Wehrmacht fall in battle, are missing or die in captivity. In addition, St. Vith and numerous localities in the Eifel were completely destroyed during the Battle of the Bulge at the end of 1944. After the liberation by the Allies, the territory is again placed under the Belgian administration.
Liberation and post-war period
Despite the armistice of 8th May 1945, peace does not really return to the border area as the Belgian state is carrying out a wave of cleansing against alleged and actual accomplices of the Nazi regime. The population perceives this epuration as excessively hard and unjustified. The main reason for this was that Belgium had not really reacted to the unilateral annexation of the area by Germany and didn’t show enough understanding for the specific situation of the border region after the war.
Questions regarding war damage settlement and above all the one about the soldiers enrolled by force dominated post-war political events for decades. The latter was only definitively solved in 1989.
With the signing of the Belgian-German "September Treaties" in 1956, a bilateral agreement was set up to resolve the border issues between the two states. The Federal Republic of Germany underlines the invalidity under international law of the annexation of Eupen-Malmedy in 1940. A border rectification, a Belgian-German cultural agreement and compensation payments are jointly agreed upon.
This marked the beginning of an era of Belgian-German reconciliation and cooperation, which also benefited the border region around Eupen and St. Vith.