The Wire of Death – de Dodendraad

The Wire of Death (Dutch: Dodendraad, German: Todesdraht) was a lethal electric fence created by the German military to control the Dutch–Belgian frontier after the occupation of Belgium during the First World War. The name ‘Wire of Death’ is an English rendition of one of its popular Dutch names; Dodendraad which literally means “Wire of the dead”. As the war continued and more and more victims fell to the electric fence it became known as simply De Draad meaning “The Wire”. To the German authorities it was officially known as the Grenzhochspannungshindernis (“High Voltage Frontier Barrier”). Parallels have been made between the ‘Death Wire’ and the later Iron Curtain. The wire of death reached from the Belgian coastline in Knokke until the suburbs of the German city of Aachen. On Belgian soil it was constructed along the borderline, following the border loosely. The total distance between Knokke and Vaals was 450 km long.

As Germany invaded neutral Belgium, Belgians began to cross the border to the Netherlands en masse. In 1914 one million Belgian refugees were already in the Netherlands, but throughout the war, refugees kept coming and tried to cross the border. Construction began in the spring of 1915 and consisted of over 200 km (125 mi) of 2,000-volt wire with a height ranging from 1.5 to about 3 m. The number of victims is estimated to range between 2,000 and 3,000 people. The fence separated villages and families and led to the growth of anti German sentiment in Holland. Immediately after the signing of the armistice in November 1918, the power plants around the wire were shut down and locals on both sides of the border soon destroyed the much-hated fence.

Nowadays there are a number of monuments remembering the wire. I visited the one close to Baarle Hertog in 2014.

The monument is situated south of Baarle Hertog near Zondereigen. It is an interesting spot with information boards, recreated fences and a real border crossing (see the picture on the right).

Date of Visit: 21/11/2014

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