Aarschot, located on the meandering Demer Tablets, nestled among the rolling hills of the Hageland. Its friendliness, cultural richness, fascinating history and beautiful location gave the city its title "Pearl of the Hageland". Aarschot, worth discovering!
The words of Alexander Powell, the American war correspondent of The New York World - one of the first foreigners to visit Aarschot during the First World War - are very explicit: "In many parts of the world I have seen terrible and revolting things, but nothing so ghastly, so horrifying as in Aerschot ".
After the battle of Aarschot – Ourodenberg, on August 19, 1914, the German army proceeds on its march forward and enters the town center. Both army convoys meet on the Market Place in order to continue their march to Louvain together. At that moment, almost all Belgian soldiers had already left Aarschot.
The citizens are very worried, as there were many rumours about the behaviour of German troops in other occupied towns. The events that had happened in the early morning the day before in Ourodenberg increase their fears. Also in Aarschot the soldiers behave wildly and spare no one. Houses are looted, some are set alight, civilians are beaten and arrested. The number of prisoners grows steadily.
At about 3 pm, the German general staff enters Aarschot. Colonel Stenger, Chief Commander of the 8th German Infantry Brigade, together with two officers, Schwartz and Beyersdorff, claims residence in the Mayor’s house. His room has a balcony overlooking the Market Place.
At about 6 pm, Colonel Stenger and two German officers are standing on the balcony, overlooking their troops on the Market Square. The place is filled with wagons and soldiers. After the passing of a provision convoy, heavy gunfire is heard.
German soldiers claim to be shot at by local citizens. Immediately all convoys come to a stop, wagons collide, Germans start shooting around. During this 20 minute chaos, Colonel Stenger is shot. The Germans jump to the conclusion that Stenger is killed by Aarschot snipers. Local citizens, however, are convinced that discontented Germans started a mutiny because they weren’t pleased with their Colonel and wanted to get rid of him.
The reprisal is extremely hard. German soldiers start looking for snipers everywhere. Houses are set on fire, escaping citizens are captured and brought together on the Market Place. The troops pick out a first group of men and boys, and bring them, hands raised, to Leuvensesteenweg where they are executed. 75 civilians thus lose their life.
Some while later, a second group is also taken to Leuvensesteenweg, now to a spot closer to Louvain, behind the Stockmans’ farm. Mayor Tielemans, his 15 year old son and twenty more people are shot in cold blood, as Tielemans is kept responsible for Stenger’s death. The Saint-Rochus Chapel now marks the place of execution.
During the executions of August19, women and children have to stay on the Market Square amidst the burning houses, all night long. In the early morning they’re finally allowed to go home. But not for long: the order comes that the town has to be evacuated, every single person has to leave town immediately.
A vast number of people, mostly women and children, leave the town with what possessions they can carry. Amongst these 3.000 refugees is Mrs. Tielemans, the Mayor’s wife, with her daughter. Those who leave town flee to nearby villages, but also to the coast or the city of Antwerp. Some even end up in Holland, England or France. Aarschot has become a dead city, totally desolated.