Review of Freemasonry

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by Bro. Charles Tomas
Curator Masonic Museum Belgium, Brussels

On August 24th and 27th, 1940 a total of 82 crates of books, works of art and masonic ritualia were gathered by the German occupiers in the masonic lodges of Brussels. Not less than 97 crates were assembled in other masonic lodges of Belgium, which makes a total of at least 179 crates. Thanks to the German administrative accuracy the transports to Berlin on November 26th, 1940 and January 17th, 1941 can be traced. The masonic lodges were the first institutions to be spoiled systematically in Belgium: first by the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service), closely followed by the Einsatzst Reichsleiter Rosenberg. The Belgian interest in masonic material was underlined by the fact that Reinhard Heydrich und Alfred Rosenberg personally visited the lodges in Brussels in July 1940. The lodges, especially of Brussels and Antwerp were used during the Second World War as depots of spoiled cultural objects or as national socialist administrative centres.

In 1946 nine crates, containing Belgian mostly freemason materials and Jewish libraries from Antwerp and Brussels returned from the American Collecting Point Offenbach in Germany. On February 25th, 1949 another four were restituted to Belgium, containing among other things masonic books. At least 170 crates of the masonic cultural goods never returned to Belgium. Only during the last years concrete evidence and locations of lost freemason's material of Belgian origin turned up: in Wurzburg (Germany), in the Osobyi Archives in Moscow (Russian Federation) and in the library of the University of Poznan (Poland). The discoveries in Moscow were confirmed by Belgian historians, who did active research there. 2,265 freemason dossiers of the years 1784-1940 were found. The archives contain documents of the Grand Orient of Belgium, the Higher Council of Belgian lodges and the working places Les amis philantropes and Les amis du progrés, even of daughter lodges in London. Besides, regulations, circulars, protocols of the working of the lodges, also the publications and bulletins were found in Moscow. The text of speeches, publications of members of Belgian freemasonry on political and social issues and the history of freemasonry of Belgium are also kept in the same archives. Important international correspondence with lodges in Europe and America completes the discovery.

The period of the Cold War made every possibility of restitution between Western and Eastern European countries impossible. The officials, experts and researchers agree how much the attitude of the Russian authorities on this subject remains uncertain. Even the law proposal of the Duma concerning restitution of works of art and archives differentiates between 'legal' and 'illegal' spoils of war.

In Belgium the Ministry of Economic Affairs is coordinating the research about cultural losses of Belgian origin. A close cooperation and working relationship was established between the Belgian freemasonry and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. In the meantime the Belgian freemason's lodges are documenting and investigating the cultural losses they suffered and are providing evidence of ownership of these lost cultural objects.

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