Adegem, Belgium: Canada – Poland WWII Museum

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I’m not going to lie; Canada-Poland War Museum made my must-see list solely on the rumoured amazingness of their mannequins.  I’ll get to them in a minute, but first, a little background.  “Why is there a Canadian and Polish museum in a small town in the middle of Belgium?” you may be asking yourself, which is a reasonable question.  The answer is that a Belgian man who helped to hide people from the Gestapo during the war had his life saved in the nick of time by the Polish and Canadian liberators.  Thus, he requested (on his death-bed) that a museum be created as a mark of gratitude for the soldiers who liberated Belgium, and it was duly opened by his son in 1995.

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Adegem is about halfway between Brugge and Gent, and not terribly far from Brussels either (Flanders really isn’t all that big).  There were some signs on the main road that directed us through a small village to the museum.  The museum stands in a plain, bunker-like building alone in the middle of a parking lot; a sharp contrast to the well-manicured gardens we passed on the way up the driveway.  Once inside, the wood-beamed ceilings and brick walls in the entryway gave it more of a European country-lodge feel (it reminded me of this Slovenian restaurant in Cleveland I went to with my family as a kid), which carried over to the cafe full of older people having a jolly tea.  The rather gruff lady manning the bar didn’t speak English, so she got a happier lady from the back to assist us.  Admission is 5 euros per museum (Canada and Poland are treated separately) or 8 euros for both, and this is a cash-only kind of place, so come prepared.  The Canada Museum is larger than the Poland one, but neither one is all that big, so you may as well see both.

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Admission paid, the nicer lady let us into the Poland Museum, which was on the upper floor, and gave us a token for access to the Canada Museum when we finished.  Upon climbing the stairs, we were immediately greeted by a display case spanning the length of the room, filled with the promised mannequins modelling the full range of Polish uniforms.  Rad.  The Poland Museum consisted of three rooms primarily filled with miniature recreations of battlefields, and lots more mannequins posed in various wartime scenes.  In addition, there was a surprisingly graphic video showing Polish officers being massacred by the Soviets, which definitely lent a darker element to the otherwise delightful mannequin displays.  I am of largely Polish ancestry (though everyone emigrated to America before the First World War, and my grandfather was in the US Army in WWII), so I was interested to learn more about the role of the Poles in the war, and liked seeing their rather snazzy uniforms, even though the information provided was limited.  As I mentioned, this museum wasn’t terribly large, so it wasn’t long before we headed downstairs to the Canada Museum.

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The Canada Museum was more comprehensive than the Poland one, and felt, at least in the first section, more like a German Museum than a Canadian one.  The Canada Museum was set up along a long, dark corridor that twisted and wrapped around like a maze, with glass cases the height of the room on both sides, filled with even better mannequins than the ones upstairs.  Though the first part was a display of a number of Nazi uniforms (and of course, tales of their atrocities), it soon progressed to a more complete history of the war, with huge posters detailing the events of each year of WWII (though curiously, stopping with 1943).  Although it was much larger than the Poland Museum, this was because only part of it was actually devoted to Canada.  Pictures weren’t permitted in this area, so unfortunately I can’t show you all the inappropriately enthusiastic smiles on the faces of the mannequins arranged in various battle tableaux (yes, more than there were at the IJzertoren!).  Again, it was interesting to see all the different uniforms and to learn more about the Canadian forces, but even here, with more information, something still felt a bit lacking and incomplete (aside from the fact that we never got to 1945!).

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Although I obviously enjoyed the mannequins (as always), I think the admission price was a little steep for the size of the museums, especially compared to other places we visited in Belgium.  I think it would appeal more to war-buffs than those with a casual interest, as it did assume a fair bit of prior knowledge on the part of the visitor (not just general WWII history, but of specific battles and politics).  The material had a distinctly Belgian slant, but what worked well for the IJzertoren made me feel a bit uncomfortable here (I must respectfully disagree about there being anything particularly “noble” about Leopold III surrendering to the Nazis, though I do understand that the perilous position they were in led to it), and didn’t offer a very well-rounded perspective.  That said (and even though I find WWI more interesting than WWII), it was nice to see something on a war that touched Belgium just as profoundly, but generally gets less attention than the First World War.  It certainly was a quirky little museum, and I hope they keep doing their thing, just maybe providing more background information in future.  3/5.

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Stunning beards on the men in the portraits on the wall.

 

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