Bastogne War Museum, Belgium — a Must See for People Interested in World War II

© 2014 Peter Free


01 December 2014


Photograph of front of Bastogne War Museum. 


The Bastogne War Museum is impressive


Audio story-telling and two theater-like multimedia dioramas integrate a variety of World War II exhibits into a memorable experience.


The War Museum is adjacent to the Mémorial du Mardasson, which is one of the most architecturally appealing monuments I have seen.




Not too far away from these are the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial at Hamm and the German War Cemetery at Sandweiler.



What sets this museum apart


The Museum tells its story, via audio, with perspectives taken from two soldiers and two Belgian civilians:



Robert Keane (a corporal in the US 101st Airborne Division),


Hans Wegmüller (a lieutenant in the German 26th Volksgrenadier Division),


Mathilde Devillers (a young teacher from Bastogne)




Emilie Mostade (a 13-year old schoolchild) each explain . . . what the terrible years of the war were like for them.


© 2014 Bastogne War Museum, Living Memory of the Ardennes, Press Kit - (2014)


Photograph of the four narrators at the Bastogne War Museum.


How the audio works


Museum visitors wear the equivalent of non-contact earbuds issued at the front desk.


Appropriate segments of the story automatically turn on (and off) when one enters (and leaves) the pertinent area. In between are audiovisual displays that one can activate by pushing a button on the wall. These video clips focus on related material that the four narrators do not know.


For example, one of these stops consists of edits take from past interviews with members of the Belgian resistance. The dangers they faced are apparent in just a few French and English-subtitled words.


Photgraph of Belgian resistance exhibit at Bastogne War Museum.





Exhibits run the gamut of personal items through weapons to mannequins wearing authentic uniforms. Large poster boards explain context, where necessary.


Photograph of uniformed mannequins at Bastogne War Museum.


Photograph of nurse uniform at Bastogne War Museum. 


Photograph of uniforms at Bastogne War Museum.


Poignant are helmets showing holes left by the bullets or shrapnel that killed the wearer. For example, from 05 July 1944, Second Lieutenant William C. Aubel’s helmet and helmet liner:


Photograph of Lt Aubel's holded helemt at Bastogne War Museum.


A simulated graveyard shows slideshows of each real person’s life:


Photograph of simulated graveyard at Bastogne War Museum.


A clever set of German over-boots made of straw:


Photograph of Bastogne War Museum straw boots.



The Museum includes three tanks and Jeep. One of the tanks has fatal holes:


Photograph of German tank at Bastogne War Museum.


Photograph of fatally holed American tank at Bastogne War Museum.


Photograph of holed American tank at Bastogne War Museum.


An American Maxson 50 caliber gun turret:


Photograph of Maxson 50 caliber gun turret at Bastogne War Museum.


And much more.





The Museum’s two multimedia dioramas are unique:


The first sits the audience down in a simulated Ardennes forest night during the winter 1944-1945. Multi-media presentations take place on screens hidden in the trees. Muzzle flashes simulate machine guns. Planes and clouds can intermittently be seen overhead. Though the artwork on some of the illuminated panels is crude, their story-telling is not.

Photograph of Ardennes forest diorama at Bastogne War Musuem.


The second diorama simulates a Bastogne cafe. It is woven into the story, when American Corporal Robert Keane has to escort captured German Lieutenant Hans Wegmüller to the rear, as a prisoner of war. The men take refuge inside the cafe during a bombardment. The audience learns details about the battle and the locals’ lives, including having to hide in the basement for days.



“Never again” is the implied theme


World War II’s suffering is everywhere apparent in these displays. The Holocaust looms as an encompassing and impenetrable fog.


Anti-German feeling, however, seems to be absent in this Belgian museum, even though Germany overran the country twice in the 20th Century.


Toward the end of the cafe diorama presentation, the Museum’s designers, probably aware of their even-handed slant, subtly insert mention of representative German atrocities on their soil.


Forgiveness there may be. Forgetfulness, not yet.


Chill evening falls, as we leave. Moon and stone are silent. Trees, grass anchor the present.


Photograph of Memorial du Mardisson on late November evening.