Denunciations to the enemy in Belgium during both World Wars Practices and perceptions in a comparative perspective

Verklikking in België tijdens de beide wereldoorlogen. Praktijken en percepties in een comparatief perspectief
Start - End 
2013 - 2017 (ongoing)
Department of History
Research Focus 



This research intends to examine the problematization of denunciation to the enemy during and after both World Wars in Belgium. It starts from the hypothesis that both episodes of enemy occupation put serious strain on social relations in the occupied country, which redefined moral codes and the boundaries of the socially acceptable and the altered thresholds of tolerance. Applied to this research’s subject, this means that using judicial institutions by filing a complaint against someone or informing the occupying authorities of behaviour deemed unacceptable or deviant, became problematized by various societal actors both during and after these periods of occupation.

This research intends to study this process of problematization of denunciations to the enemy. This process, naturally, arose during the occupation, but only really culminated in the immediate post-war period, more specifically, during the prosecution of denouncers by the Belgian judiciary. Its problematization will be examined from the viewpoint of three main actors.

First of all, the problematization by the Belgian political elite will be examined. The creation of article 121bis of the penal code (which illegalizes denunciation to the enemy) in 1917 and its adaptation in 1942 will be examined, along with post-war political debates on the prosecution of denouncers  and the adjustments to the prosecution policy itself through ministerial circulars. This will point out how the Belgian political elite tried to manage and control the prosecution of denouncers, and doing so problematized certain kinds of behaviour.

Secondly, the prosecution practices of the Belgian judicial apparatus will be examined, both quantitatively and qualitatively. By looking at the priorities of the Belgian judiciary in the prosecution of denouncers, the problematization of certain kinds of behaviour will be studied. This particularly implies the comparison of dismissed cases with cases that were brought before the courts with regard to their contents, the examination of the penalties convicted denouncers received, and the analysis of the reasons for acquitting certain denouncers before the courts.

Finally, and most importantly, the problematization of denunciation to the enemy by various social groups within the Belgian population will be analysed. Former targets of denouncers will lodge complaints against them after the end of the occupation, in which they provided elements which, according to them, contributed to the problematic character of the denouncer’s behaviour. These elements and arguments (in the broadest sense) will be examined. Do they focus on certain individuals or social groups (government officials, mayors, police agents, people on the margins, etc.)? Were some kinds of information transferred  by the denouncer to the occupying authorities even less acceptable than others? Were denunciations founded on certain motivations acceptable, while other interests were more frowned upon and less tolerated? On the other hand, the denouncers will most likely try to defend themselves by justifying their behaviour. What arguments do they use in their defence? In other words, this part of the research intends to examine the claims used by both parties, through which they both problematized (or de-problematized) the denouncer’s behaviour during the occupation.

This research looks at a war-time practice almost exclusively through the lens of post-war sources. Primarily, the judicial files of denouncers prosecuted by military or criminal courts will be used. Because these post-war judicial sources do not reveal war-time practices (for instance, denunciations to the enemy that did not resulted in judicial investigation after the occupation remain out of the historian’s sight with these sources), they will not be used to plainly reconstruct these war-time denunciatory practices. These sources reflect the prosecution policy of the judicial authorities and the problematization of certain kinds of behaviour by the parties involved. Therefore, the reconstruction of this process of problematization, spanning both the period of occupation and the immediate post-war period, is the central objective of this research.


Gertjan Leenders,



Phd Student(s)