Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 03:54 | By Agence France-Presse

Belgian WWI exhibition takes history beyond the trenches

An ambitious government-funded exhibition which opened in Brussels on Tuesday is designed to raise awareness of the living conditions faced by Belgians during the country's often brutal occupation by Germany in World War I.


Belgian WWI exhibition takes history beyond the trenches

A statue in memory of the Belgian soldiers fallen or deported during WWII stands infront of the Town Hall in Arlon, southern Belgium on Febuary 16, 2001 - by Georges Gobet

Curators of the exhibition at Belgium's Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History say they have deliberately attempted to move the focus away from the bloody legacy of WWI battlefields in Flanders. 

"Our intention was not so much to deal with the war itself, but to see the war as the cradle of the 20th Century," said Israeli historian Elie Barnavi, one of the consultants who worked on the exhibition. 

While the appalling conditions of WWI trench warfare do feature in the exhibition, there is also a section dedicated to the letters of Belgians who lived through both the war and Germany's invasion and occupation of Belgium between 1914 and 1918. 

"You encounter words like 'homeland', 'honour', 'faith' and 'hope'," said Henri Dupuis, another of the exhibition's curators. 

"A lot of (Belgians) went on to die with these words on their lips and today we have to ask the question: why?," Dupuis said. 

Germany's 1914 invasion of Belgium, which had been a neutral country, is estimated to have led directly to the death of more than 6,000 Belgian civilians, compared with just over 40,000 troops in the trenches. 

The exhibition, called '14-18: It's Our History,' is part of Belgium's WWI Centenary commemorations and has received funding from Belgium's federal and regional governments. 

Belgium's defence minister, Pieter De Crem, said the main goal of the exhibition was to keep alive the memory of civilian suffering in time of war. 

"(Our) citizens were the victims of chemical weapons and hunger and hardship constituted a part of everyday life," De Crem said.

Among the exhibits are everyday items used by Belgians to survive under occupation, as well as a replica of an "American shop", which sold products obtained from US aid packages sent to Belgium.

The exhibition -- www.expo14-18.be -- runs at the imposing Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History until April 2015.

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