Adolphe Max, clear determination
On 19 August, the day before German troops entered Brussels, Adolphe Max, the city's mayor addressed his citizens via posters: "For as long as I am alive and free, I will do everything in my power to protect the rights and dignity of my fellow citizens." He never failed in this undertaking. From the very start of the German occupation of Brussels, on 20 August 1914, Adolphe Max was an example for all the city's residents. He embodied his country, violated and crushed by a much greater force in terms of manpower and equipment, but resisting heroically to the very limit of his strength and, even in defeat, preserving his dignity.
A grey mass
On 20 August, Adolphe Max made his way to Place Dailly with two aldermen and the municipal secretary. The meeting with the German soldiers was hostile, but courteous. The mayor, who refused to speak German, recalled the reception that his city had reserved for the Kaiser in 1910; in vain, he beseeched them to send a telegram to Wilhelm II asking that he stop his troops from passing through the capital. A long discussion ensued during which the conditions of the occupation were defined. These were drastic from the start. For 20 August alone, the German army demanded: 18,000 kg of bread and 10,000 kg of meat! Germany also demanded a sum of 50 million gold francs from the City of Brussels to be paid in bills of exchange by 1 September at the very latest. Adolphe Max protested against such violence and warned that he would only yield if forced to. Nevertheless, the Germans allowed the municipal administration to pursue its functions and the mayor announced his intention to take up permanent residence at the town hall, where he had a bed installed. From 2 pm onwards, the inhabitants of Brussels watched the procession by the occupying army, accompanied by a huge convoy of weapons, supplies and animals. The deception of the people who thought they would see beautiful uniforms could be read on their faces. A grey mass, a huge war machine was in motion. A symbolically powerful moment was the arrival of troops at Grand-Place in Brussels. Outside the town hall, tired and hungry, the troops prepared their meal in the field kitchens. A German flag was raised above the building's left wing. That same day, the inhabitants of Brussels realised the severity of the occupation and what awaited them: deprivation of their freedom, food shortages, unemployment, searches, random arrests, requisitions. Brussels was the largest city in the continent to endure the entire War under German control. The capital experienced a period of great unemployment and the paralysis of the economy plunged the population into poverty.
The triumph of might over justice
Despite the violent occupation of the city, Max continued to defy the "Huns". He pointedly refused to shake hands with a German officer during an official ceremony. He ensured that the national flag, as well as that of the city, continued to adorn the facade of the town hall. He refused to pay the contribution claimed by the occupier from the city unless the latter agreed to reimburse its requisitions. Although his determined attitude of passive resistance to the enemy earned him the respect and admiration of the inhabitants of Brussels, it was deemed to be an act of rebellion by the Germans and he was arrested at the end of September. His arrest marked the triumph of might over justice. He was originally imprisoned in Namur and then sent to prison in Germany, where he was held at several sites before, finally, being moved to the prison in Glatz, in Silesia, only to return to Brussels one week after the Armistice. His return to Brussels was a triumph and the inhabitants gave him an enthusiastic welcome. His bravery earned him the title of Minister of State and he became a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium.
The Founding Father, along with Henry Le Bœuf, of the Centre for Fine Arts
This liberal politician, born in Brussels in 1869, a Doctor of Law from the Free University of Brussels, was the Mayor of Brussels from 1909 until his death on 6 November 1939, a sign of his popularity among the population. On his return from captivity, he took up his political functions again with renewed vigour. As a parliamentarian, he fought for universal suffrage and women's right to vote (universal suffrage was introduced in 1919 and women obtained the right to vote in 1948). He also played an active role in the creation of the Centre for Fine Arts. It was only after the First World War that an initial Horta project was presented to the government, which rejected it because of the daring architecture and budgetary problems. Then, on the initiative of Adolphe Max and Henry Le Bœuf, a financier and musician, a "Palais des Beaux-Arts" private company was created which took charge of managing the project, with the city providing the land and the State ensuring the loans required. He was also responsible for the organisation of the Universal Exhibition in Heysel in 1935 (the "Palais du Centenaire" is still used today for shows and exhibitions). In debates on the Flemish question, Max defended the need for Brussels to be a completely bilingual city.
A silhouette inseparable from his dog
One of the main central streets in Brussels is named after him: Boulevard Adolphe Max. There is also an Adolphe Max Municipal library. A square is devoted to him in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, as well as an avenue in the 5th arrondissement of Lyons.
His image as a righter of wrongs accompanied by his inseparable companion "Happy", his small fox terrier, reminds us of another incorrigible upholder of the law, but one that only exists on paper of course.