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A Lifetime Hope

“My late father cherished the hope that my mother and I would keep his brother’s memory alive,” Nathalie Devroey told us when she came to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in early 2018 to look at original documents pertaining to her uncle Charles Devroey’s fate. She had brought an extensive and very impressive dossier about him with her—the result of in-depth research into his short life. He died at the age of twenty-three, a victim of the forced labor and inhumane conditions to which the Nazis had subjected him. She gave every one of the memorials and archives that had helped her gather information a copy of the dossier, which contains photos, letters and documents providing insights into the life and persecution of Charles Devroey.

“My father Pierre had a very strong bond with his brother, who was two years his senior,” Nathalie Devroey explained. Until their mother’s sudden death, the family lived in Elisabethville in the colony of Belgian Congo. Then their father sent the two brothers to Belgium, where at first they lived with their grandmother, later at a boarding school. Their youth without a mother and very little contact to their father brought the two brothers very close.

In 1937, the sixteen-year-old Charles registered at the Belgian marine academy in Anvers, where he received his diploma in May 1940. Yet he was unwilling to live in a Belgium occupied by the Germans. He tried in vain to make his way to England. His father sent him to the “Services de Volontaires du Travail de Wallonie,” a service providing volunteer farm labor. Founded by Belgian royalists, it was meanwhile partially infiltrated by Nazi sympathizers. As tensions between the opponents and advocates of Nazism rose, Charles received murder threats, prompting him to join the resistance in July 1943. He was involved in anti-Nazi activities and forced to go underground. He initially hid in the home of his grandmother. 

In December 1943 he was going by the alias “Charles Devos” and living in Toulouse. His attempts to flee to Spain failed. The French militia arrested him and committed him to the Saint Michel prison in Toulouse. The family later learned from a fellow prisoner that Charles had been deported to the Compiègne transit camp on January 19, 1944 and from there to the Buchenwald concentration camp on January 27.

In the communication with Charles, Pierre Devroey’s fiancée Raymonde Craps took on an important role so as not to endanger his false identity. With her help, he was able to write a number of postcards and receive packages and even money transfers. He wrote his last message from the Dora concentration camp on August 17, 1944. Documents from the ITS archive show that the Nazis deported him to the Ellrich-Juliushütte subcamp on November 1, 1944. There he survived less than two months: a large number of inmates perished as a result of extremely heavy labor in tunnel construction. According to a death certificate in the ITS archive; Charles died on December 18, 1944.

Pierre Devroey had joined the army in 1944 in the hope of being able to free his brother in Germany. Initially he didn’t receive official notice of Charles’s death. In May of 1945, however, Raymonde Craps began practical training in the Belgian repatriation bureau for victims of Nazi persecution in Brussels. There she came across a list of the names of 500 Belgian inmates who had died in the Dora concentration camp. Her brother-in-law’s alias was on the list. Nathalie Devroey says her father never got over his brother’s death. “All his life, he held onto the hope that, by some miracle, Charles had survived and would suddenly turn up at the door. Back then, there were rumors that the Russians had taken liberated concentration camp inmates to Russia. He pinned his hopes on those rumors.

”In Pierre’s name, Nathalie and Raymonde Devroey presented the ITS with a copy of the dossier about Charles Devroey for use in its educational work. The material also contains documents relating to the history of the ITS: Nathalie Devroey included transcripts of the interviews Raymonde Devroey had conducted with concentration camp survivors in the Belgian repatriation bureau. The ninety-four-year-old gave the ITS a video interview from Nice, where she now lives, and answered some questions about what she had experienced in that context.

During her search, Nathalie Devroey saw to it that her uncle is now listed in all commemorative books and registers as “Charles Devroey alias Devos.” “It was very important to us that his true identity be returned to him.”

"If your brother is arrested, convicted and shot, he's a hero. If your brother is arrested and sent to a camp, he disappears, he is absent, you wait for his return, you hope and cry without mourning." Robert Badinter