Remembering the V2 Attack on Cinema Rex
De Keyserlei, Antwerp
Thousands of people walk down Antwerp’s De Keyserlei every day. But almost no one stops to look at the plaque set in the pavement outside the modern UGC Cinema. Unveiled in 2009, it is the only reminder of the deadliest rocket attack of World War Two.
On 16 December 1944, an unmanned V2 rocket was fired from a base in the Netherlands. It hit the roof of the Cinema Rex at precisely 15.23 pm. More than one thousand people were in the cinema at the time watching a matinee performance of the cowboy film The Plainsman.
Cinema Rex after the V2 attack © Katoen Natie – Collection Frans Claes
The rocket killed 567 people, including 296 Allied soldiers from Britain, the United States, Poland and Canada. Many of the Belgian civilians who died were children who had been taken to see the film.
The rocket was one of the hundreds that fell on Antwerp in the winter of 1944. The country had been liberated in September, but the war was far from over for Antwerp. Dozens of buildings were hit, including the Plantin Moretus Museum on the Vrijdagmarkt.
The V2 attacks are part of the city’s forgotten history, but if you look closely at one of the reconstructed buildings on the Vrijdagmarkt, you can see a small wind vane on the roof in the shape of a V2 rocket.
Victims of the V2 attack on 16 December 1944 © Koen Palinckx
‘Why have we forgotten the bloodiest attack in our history?’ the news website Apache asked in 2016. The deadly rockets were landing without warning every day. Some 6,000 hit Antwerp over the winter period, killing more than 4,000 people in the region. Why was there no ceremony to remember the victims?
That same year, Jeroen Olyslaegers described the Rex attack in his 2016 war novel Wil. It struck the cinema ‘in the ice cold winter light,’ he wrote. There were so many dead that the bodies had to be piled up in the zoo.
The story is being told at last, more than 70 years on.