History of the German-speaking Community
The history of the Belgian German-speaking region has many episodes, and as far back as natives of this region can remember, it has been influenced several times due to its borders. Indeed, the border between the ancient Roman city-states of Cologne and Tongeren passed through the region in the Roman era.
Until 1794, date of the fall of the « Ancien Regime », the North of the present German-speaking region, called the Eupener Land, largely belonged to the duchy of Limbourg, and the South, called the Belgian Eifel was mainly connected with Luxembourg. As to the villages of Manderfeld and Schönberg, they belonged to the ancient electorate of Trier.
In the course of 1794-1795, took over the Austrian Netherlands and thus the territory of the current German-speaking Community.
When the European map was redrawn during the Congress of Vienna in 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, the Eupener Land, the Eifel and a part of the ancient abbey of Stavelot-Malmedy were linked to the Prussian Rhineland (that became the Rhinish province of Prussia from 1830 onwards) and then formed the circles ("Kreise") of Eupen and Malmedy.
The area Neutral-Moresnet (« Kelmis ») was under double Prusso-Dutch guardianship (Prusso-Belgian from 1830 onwards) because it was the target of several states on account of its rich calamine deposits.
Even though the population of Eupen and Malmedy fought alongside the German Reich during World War I, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919-1920 gave the circles of Eupen and Malmedy to Belgium after a disputed consultation of the people took place.
In the course of 1920-1925, these ancient municipalities were subordinated to the transitional regime of the Belgian royal high commissioner and governor Baltia and subdivided in order to become the cantons of Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt Vith.
However, the incorporation into Belgium brought about discontent from the population and in political circles. A strong revisionist movement challenged the conventional measures of the Treaty of Versailles, seen at that time as a Diktat from Germany. However Germany accepted the change of its Western border through the execution of the treaties of Locarno in October 1925.
From 1st January 1926 onwards, the ‘"new Belgians" of Eupen and Malmedy applied the Belgian constitution and laws as full Belgians. However, the Belgian State really needed money and had secret negotiations with Germany in order to sell its territory to it for 200 million gold marks but this attempt came to nothing since France definitely objected to it.
1933, the year during which the National Socialist party seized power under the direction of Adolf Hitler, can be considered to be a turning point in the history of the German-speaking Community. The Socialists grouped together around Marc Somerhausen ceased to claim the revision of the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles from 1933 onwards. The revisionist movement in the region of Eupen-Malmedy gradually embraced the National Socialist propaganda, which widened the gap between the supporters of the incorporation into Belgium and those who were in favour of being linked to Germany.
On 10th May 1940 was the beginning of the most tragic era of the 20th century for the regions of Eupen and Malmedy as well as for Belgium and a major part of Western Europe: World War II. A few days after Hitler’s troops had invaded Belgium, the Führer adopted a decree to annex the regions of Eupen and Malmedy and several sections of the territory that once belonged to the region called "Alt-Belgien" to the Reich.
The results of the war for Eupen and Malmedy were as appalling as for the whole of Europe: out of the 8,700 men recruited in the Wehrmacht, 3,200 soldiers fell on the front, were missing or died in captivity. At the end of 1944 began the Battle of the Bulge, which lead to the complete destruction of Sankt Vith as well as many villages in the Eifel region. After the liberation of the region by the Allied forces, it was put under Belgian control again.
Armistice on 8th May 1945 did not restore peace within the border region yet. Indeed, the Belgian State started evacuating the collaborators of the Nazi regime, or the supposed collaborators. The population considered this action all the more excessive and unfair given that Belgium had not really reacted to the incorporation of the territory into Germany and did display much too little sympathy towards this fragile border region after the war.
The main post-war political concerns were the questions related to war indemnity payment and especially to the « dilemma » about the conscripted soldiers. This problem was at last definitely ironed out a few decades after, in 1989.
The execution of a treaty between Belgium and Germany in September 1956 put an end to the questionings concerning the border that had remained unanswered until then. The Federal Republic of Germany emphasized the unwarrantedness of the annexation of Eupen and Malmedy in 1940 under international law. The both countries agreed on a border adjustment, a cultural agreement and war indemnity payment. These bilateral decisions made way for reconciliation and cooperation, which was very advantageous for Eupen and Sankt Vith.