Photo of the Biermans-Lapôtre foundation in 1927, the year of its inauguration. The residence was inaugurated on November 4, 1927 by H.R.H. Prince Leopold, in the presence of Gaston DOUMERGUE, President of the French Republic. 

Good to know : 

  • Jean-Hubert BIERMANS and Berthe LAPOTRE were the first non-French patrons to show their support for the creators of the Cité internationale.
  • Armand GUERITTE, architect of the BIERMANS-LAPOTRE foundation, is the author of another pavilion of the International City: the House of the Provinces of France.

In this desire to "redistribute" his fortune, Biermans was the most prodigious with France, by having the Biermans-Lapôtre Foundation erected on the site of the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris (CIUP). Once again, this is a donation from the couple: some 6,000,000 of the total sum offered would in fact come from the "patrimony" of Berthe Lapôtre. The wife of Biermans was also involved in the choice of the land and the purchase of the first furniture for the house. A total of 15,000,000 gold francs were needed to build and furnish the pavilion. In January 1929, in a context of economic crisis, it is true, Hubert Biermans declared that he was no longer interested in "the works founded in the City" as his "views" had undoubtedly "exceeded his means"...

In fact, he also participated, but to a much lesser extent, in the construction of a pavilion for residents at Laval University (in Quebec City) (50,000 francs), as well as in the construction of the Cité Héger on the Solbosch campus of the Université libre de Bruxelles (50,000 francs). He is also known to have made a donation to the University of Louvain.

How did the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris (CIUP) project appeal to the Biermans? One of its main initiators, André Honnorat, wanted to contribute to the positioning of France as the world's intellectual capital. Minister of Public Instruction, he defended, before the Chamber of Deputies in 1919, the idea of reserving 20 hectares of land within the fortified enclosure of 1841, which was then in the process of being demolished. They would have been put at the disposal of the University of Paris for the purpose of building student houses there. In May 1920, Honnorat met Paul Appel, mathematician and rector of the University of Paris since March, as well as the rich Alsatian industrialist Emile Deutsch de la Meurthe. The latter came with a remarkable proposal: he proposed to finance up to 10,000,000 gold francs to build a pavilion capable of accommodating 350 French students. Deutsch, who died on May 19, 1924, did not have the opportunity to see his House completed (and inaugurated) in July 1925.

For the time being, on June 7, 1921, an agreement was signed between the City and the State (on behalf of the University of Paris). In the end, the former ceded only 9 hectares - on the site of bastions 81, 82 and 83 (located opposite Parc Montsouris) - in exchange for 13,500,000 francs (the City demanded18) and the intervention of the President of the Republic! The City also promised to acquire waterfront land to create a park. Lucien Bechman (an architect at the University) was responsible for the overall design of the urban project, and J.C.N. Forestier (succeeded by Léon Azéma) for the development of the park.

Biermans knows and appreciates Honnorat, as much the man as his 'moral' work, favorable to the 'mixing' of cultures. As a donor influenced by Anglo-Saxon methods, he can only subscribe to the essential role played by private initiative in the project. But its resolution owes essentially to a close relative, the Canadian Philippe Roy. It was this former senator, then high commissioner in France (from 1911 to 1928) and at the origin of the Canada House on the site of the Cité, who put Biermans in contact with Honnorat. At the very beginning of the 1920s, Biermans was looking for land to build a residence for "about sixty Belgian and Dutch engineers". Honnorat convinced Biermans to think bigger. According to tradition, the businessman would have surrendered to the arguments of his interlocutor at Larue (then the most elegant restaurant in Paris) after a great Burgundy . 

In addition, Philippe Roy, who served on the Board of Directors of the Biermans-Lapôtre Foundation from 1927 to 1938, was a valuable relationship. From 1928 until his return to Canada in 1938, he was his country's first envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary in France. He was then the second Canadian citizen to enjoy diplomatic privileges.

Originally, the Biermans would have liked the Foundation to be the immediate neighbor of "their Canadian friends". But, as early as June 20, 1924, the City's Architectural Commission had fixed the location of the Belgian pavilion "at the corner of Boulevard Jourdan and the alley leading to the entrance facing Rue Gazan". Berthe Lapôtre immediately liked the 4000 m² site. For Colonel Léon Nestor Preud'homme (1871-1936), the first director of the Foundation and, at the time, entrusted by Biermans with the smooth running of the site, it was the best of the land granted to the Cité.

Nothing too good

From then on, Biermans will not skimp on expenses for its House, which will take care "in the first place" - as it says in the Deed of Gift - "of Belgian students in France" and, "in the second place", "Dutch Limburgers and Luxembourgers receiving a grant. Because of the nature of the funding, it is a "non attached house", i.e. a Foundation with its own Board of Directors, free to act, however, in accordance with the regulations in force on the Cité campus.

Throughout the construction site, Biermans checks the accounts closely, even if he leaves the day-to-day management of the business to Dehauffe, with whom he corresponds, often several times a day. As early as April 11, 1924, Biermans chose his architect, Armand Guéritte (1879-1940), who presented the sketch of the building to the Cité universitaire committee on June 27. Biermans became aware of this preparatory work on July 31. He adhered to the idea of a T-shaped building (1330 m² with basement, first floor, mezzanine, four square floors and a fifth paneled floor), with a "magnificent entrance and gardens around the building. This configuration was necessary because of the layout of the land, but initially the donor would have liked an inverted V-shaped building. 

Why did Biermans choose Guéritte, who also designed the Maison des Provinces de France? This chief architect of civil buildings (in the 1920 competition) - notably for the city of Versailles - is recognized as a specialist in the restoration and enhancement of architectural and landscape heritage. In short, a graduate of the École des Beaux-arts de Tours, he adhered to the style of the École Nationale des Beaux-arts de Paris (then influential as far away as the United States). Guéritte thus belongs to the "Beaux-arts style". This current refuses modernity, glorifies historical themes, declining in neobaroque, neo-Renaissance, neo-Gothic, neo-Medievalist ... After the First World War, he also expresses, in the North of France and Belgium where it is run, a nationalist thought while architectural "features" confining to the cliché.

Thus, through his work, Guéritte wanted to symbolize "the combined spirit of Belgium and France". Here is Flanders depicted in turrets, dormer windows, stepped gables (typical of West Flemish architecture), accompanied by Baroque motifs of the Brabant type. As for the brick, it symbolizes the same region but is combined with natural stone, a reference to Wallonia like the mansard roofs covered with slate.

Such use of traditional materials is "superb" according to Biermans. And to choose Euville stone for the pedestals, Comblanchim stone for the steps and landings and Villiers-Adam bench stone everywhere else. They are also slates from Angers, fixed by copper hooks, which cover the roofs themselves adorned with zinc gutters, in the English style. As for the floors, Biermans (and Guéritte) have opted for porcelain stoneware, marble mosaic and parquet in Terratzolith (a kind of magnesian paving) or cement. 

The Fine Art Style does not disdain modern techniques. Thus the interior framework, the one supporting the roof, but also all the floors and most of the stairs of the "Maison des Belges" are made of reinforced concrete. However, in the spirit of the donor and its architect, there was no question of going towards the audacities of Art Deco then in vogue. In this case, the new invention was made invisible by means of materials considered more noble (oak...). In the end, only the "assets" of reinforced concrete, first and foremost its solidity, count. The companies Bréjou and Saint-Denis, Hennebique dealers, are responsible for this on the Biermans site. 

Biermans also favors award-winning companies and award-winning artists. There is no question here of giving a young creator a chance. Biermans has installed a specific patented ventilation system (Knaepen), a Roux-Combaluzier elevator (Grand Prix of the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition). Finally, the height of refinement, he had a Magneta electric clock made, a very rare piece equipped with a Brillié electric regulator.

The sculptor Marcel Gaumont, who created the decorative motifs and the bas-relief of the main façade, comes, like Guéritte, from the School of Fine Arts of Tours. First Prize of Rome 1908, he also worked on the decoration of the House of the Provinces of France and the Foundation of the United States. The same is true of Edgard Brandt, a renowned ironworker and organizer of the Universal Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925. He was responsible for the monument of the Bayonet Trench in Verdun and the shield of the slab of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. In this case, he signed the main entrance door (East facade), surmounted by the arms of Belgium, all in flat and square iron, as well as the ramps of the two large staircases and the 18 balconies.

Finally, Biermans entrusted the decoration of the Salle des fêtes to the painter René Gaucher, another "classicist" ..., who creates large frescoes to the glory, explains, "of the grandeur and beauty of the work of the Belgian City.

In the end, on the day of the inauguration (November 4, 1927), all the decorations and fittings of this immense construction site were not completed. Thus the mosaics of the floors of the library, the reading room and the vestibule, due in particular to the establishment Alphonse Gentil and Eugène Bourdet, themselves students of the architect Laloux and others crowned with Grand Prix.

The furnishing of the pavilion owes much to Berthe Lapôtre. Her husband was content to express a general note, very significant of her "bourgeois" taste: it requires "solid and elegant, club furniture". All is said.

Under French influence?

Building a "House of the Belgians" in France, even at the instigation of a Canadian citizen..., provoked reactions among the Dutch-speaking circles of this already complex small and flat country. At that time, the leaders of the Flemish movement were indeed fighting for the establishment of an exclusively Dutch-speaking higher (and university) education. The stakes crystallized around the University of Ghent (during the so-called "Flemishization" of Ghent). 

Peu avant l’inauguration officielle de la « Maison des Belges », en novembre 1927, Het Laatste Nieuws (Les Dernières nouvelles)Shortly before the official opening of the "House of the Belgians" in November 1927, Het Laatste Nieuws (The Latest News), a leading Flemish newspaper, attacked a point in the institution's statutes according to which only students who had studied "in French" were admitted as residents. The clause thus excludes the first graduates to have completed their studies in Dutch (in Ghent and Louvain)! Moreover, as the liberal daily newspaper denounces on the front page for the occasion, a defender of Catholic opinion (which has a strong presence in the north of the country), the jury responsible for awarding the scholarships only includes French-speaking professors (from the universities of Brussels and Liège), to the exclusion of those from the Catholic University of Louvain. And Het Laatste Nieuws to denounce the sending of an official Belgian delegation (such as the announced presence of the Socialist Foreign Minister Emile Vandervelde) to a ceremony that insults "the 3/5th of the Belgian population". Het Laatste Nieuws de dénoncer l’envoi d’une délégation officielle belge (telle la présence annoncée du ministre des Affaires étrangères socialiste Emile Vandervelde) à une cérémonie qui insulte « les 3/5e de la population belge ».

Is this "Biermans-Separatism" the expression of a form of vassalage of national leaders towards France? Here again, the argument touches the heart of a large part of the Belgian population, and the Flemish in particular, which adds "linguistic" considerations to the question. Indeed, in terms of international politics, it is a question of returning to the expression of strict "neutrality" in order to avoid automatically dragging Belgium into a world conflict alongside its Franco-English "allies". The campaign was relayed by other Dutch-speaking bodies. On the other hand, the French-language newspapers, which were more influential than their Flemish colleagues, made little comment on the affair. Only the socialist Le Peuple denounced the injustice done to the Flemish. Le Peuple dénonce l’injustice faire aux Flamands.

The controversy, however, led the Foundation to review its admission requirements. Thus, on the morning of the inauguration, negotiations were held (by Prince Leopold according to Le Soir) to remove the words "in the French language" from the regulations. But, according to the Prince, the attribution of scholarships remains inaccessible to Dutch speakers. In fact, the Biermans couple has set up scholarships that Hubert wanted to reserve for young Belgian (or Limburgers) men wishing to follow the courses of the Faculty of Sciences or those of the Schools of Higher Technical Education. It was also a question of supporting professors "who study as long as those in engineering and who often hold low-paying positions". Once again, the conditions of granting stipulated that one had to have "completed one's studies in French in the Athenaeums and colleges" of the kingdom. The clause is understandable, however, since it is a question of continuing one's studies in France and, therefore, in French. Le Soir) afin de supprimer les termes « en langue française » du règlement. Mais, selon Het Laatste Nieuws, l’attribution de bourses demeure inaccessible aux néerlandophones. De fait, le couple Biermans a instauré des bourses d’études qu’Hubert a souhaité réserver à des jeunes hommes belges (ou des Limbourgeois) désireux de suivre les cours de la Faculté des Sciences ou ceux des Écoles d’enseignement technique supérieur. Il s’agissait également de soutenir des professeurs « faisant des études aussi longues que celles d’ingénieur et qui occupent des fonctions souvent peu rémunérées ». Or, à nouveau, les conditions d’octroi stipulent qu’il faut avoir « achevé ses études en français dans les Athénées et collèges » du royaume. La clause se comprend toutefois puisqu’il s’agit de poursuivre des études en France et, de ce fait, en français.

De son côté, le ministre de l’enseignement, le socialiste flamand Camille Huysmans, subit les foudres de La Nation Belge For his part, the Minister of Education, the Flemish socialist Camille Huysmans, fell under the wrath of The Belgian Nation under the pen of the Francophile (and then partly installed in France) writer Louis-Dumont-Wilden, who accused his "inflamed" cabinet of having voluntarily refused to support the initiative. Huysmans reacted the same day, specifying that he had never been asked for anything, neither for a subsidy nor for support. What could be more true, moreover: Biermans wished to take a private act, as a defiant donor against the public authorities. Nevertheless, according to some sources, the Minister, one of the three authors of a bill in favor of the creation of a Dutch-speaking University in Ghent, would have asked the rectors of the 4 Belgian universities not to go to the opening. A move that was obviously not successful, since they were among those present on November 4, 1927... unlike the Minister, whose absence should be noted. With them, here is an areopagus of quality in which one distinguishes the President of the Republic Gaston Doumergue, the President of the Senate Paul Doumer, the Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts Edouard Herriot, Marshal Foch, Joseph Bech, President of the Government of Luxembourg or André Honnorat, Philippe Roy and Sébastien Charléty, Rector of the University of Paris... Without forgetting Prince Leopold whose presence Biermans wished at all costs. In fact, the presence of the august guest, who lunches with Doumergue before going to the tomb of the unknown soldier, gives great publicity to the event. As for the speeches given on this occasion (in addition to Biermans and Honnorat, Charléty, Hérriot and Léopold took the floor) - broadcast the same evening by tsf - they celebrated the Franco-Belgian friendship in an eagerly awaited manner.

What about the Flemish "attacks"? No one can deny that, in the spirit of its donor, the Foundation sees itself as "a tribute of affection and gratitude to... two sister nations indissolubly united". For Jules Guillaume, the Belgian ambassador to Paris in the 1940s, the Foundation is the "showcase of Belgian education in France". However, we must add that this love and exchange must also be expressed in the language of Vondel...

The risk of "francization" of this "Belgian" establishment in a foreign land could, on occasion, unite in the same denunciation the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking press. From the beginning of the 1928 academic year, following the refusal to enroll a Belgian medical student, newspapers were worried that the "anti-Flemish measures" would now extend "to the whole country. A fact that was all the more worrisome, the commentators pointed out, in a House where "national" residents were clearly in the minority. We will come back to this.

The role of Director

With the exception of the current director Jos Aelvoet (2008-), the six other directors of the Maison Biermans-Lapôtre have always belonged to the French-speaking "role" (on one occasion, it was even a Frenchman). Even Henri Van Zeveren (26 -11 1942, director between 1978 and 1991) from Ghent was - like his father - a journalist for the "fransquillonne" Flandre Libérale, while Fernand Moray (1941-2008, director from 1991-2006) was one of the founders of the Délégation générale Wallonie-Bruxelles. Flandre Libérale.Quant à Fernand Moray (1941-2008, directeur de 1991-2006), il compte parmi les fondateurs de la Délégation générale Wallonie-Bruxelles.

The provisions of the by-law again explain this observation. The "Managing Director" of the Foundation, chosen on the proposal of the Biermans and then, later on, on a presentation list established by the Board, must be of "Belgian nationality" but of "French intellectual training". Appointed for 5 years renewable, the Director is also the secretary of the Board of Directors of the Foundation and the author of an annual moral report.

Thus the first holder of the post, Léon Nestor Preud'homme, who took up his post in January 1925 but witnessed the signing of the Provisional Act in 1924 and was supervisor of the construction site. The atypical profile of this candidate - a colonel with an important record of service during the First World War - owes much, in our opinion, to the fact that he was King Albert's aide-de-camp and mathematics teacher to the King's children. A proximity that impressed the Biermans couple and proved useful in ensuring the presence of the Prince on the day of the inauguration. Quickly however, the management methods of the retired soldier displeased Biermans, who obtained his resignation and had him replaced in May 1928. From then on, the qualifications of the Directors were more in line with the requirements of the position, even if it was necessary to modify the regulations to hire Preud'homme's successor, Louis Daux (1863-?, in office from 1928 to 1937), of French nationality. From then on, the directorial function could be exercised by a Belgian as well as a Frenchman. In addition, as required by the Board of Directors (prompted by Biermans in remembrance of the "Preud'homme experience"), the Director will be responsible for presenting an annual balance sheet.

From Daux, all will be academics, from the world of education and with a background in the arts. Such as Josse Staquet (1897-?, director from 1938 to 1959), doctor in Classical Philology (from the ULB), who conducted excavations in the tomb of Alexander the Great, whose emoluments were set at 36,000 and then 40,000 francs. By way of comparison, a faculty professor earned 4,000 francs per month at that time. Like his successor, Jean Brauns (1920-2008, in office from 1959 to 1978), for his part, graduated in Philosophy and Letters from the University of Liège. The duration of these mandates is a challenge: between them, Staquet and Brauns have a total of 40 years of service!

At the time, the Director had a paternal (some would say paternalistic...) relationship with the residents. Each year, he submits a "moral" report to the Board, which dwells at length on the behavior and state of mind of the students. Daux also devotes a "daily interview" to them, a "familiar" one which plays a significant role, he believes, in maintaining the "good spirit of almost all" of these young people. What's more, these contacts make it possible to gain the young people's "confidence" and therefore to have a real "effective action" on them. Daux is also worried about the "sad, withdrawn, not very curious about others" side of many of them. 

The first years of activity

From 1927, under the dynamic patronage of Honnorat, the number of pavilions on the Cité's campus continued to grow (16 in 7 years). The world crisis slowed the trend from 1932 onwards. Shortly before the Second World War, however, the site had 19 Houses with a capacity of 2400 beds.

As for the Maison Biermans-Lapôtre, the Board of Directors is being structured little by little. In 1924, Ambassador Edmond de Gaiffier declined the invitation to sit on the Board of Directors because, he said, his "official duties" forbade him from taking part in a "private work, however beautiful it may be". In 1927, it took the insistence of Honnorat - who recalled that "his colleagues from other nations did it for the Foundations of their respective countries" - for the diplomat to reconsider his decision.

Originally, Hubert Biermans presided over the assembly while the rector of the University of Paris was the honorary president. Faced with the lack of Belgian residents - decried by the national press as we have seen - an agreement was signed on July 22, 1929 between the Fondation Universitaire (FU) in Brussels and the Fondation Biermans-Lapôtre in Paris. It is now a matter of the FU representing (as a true "proxy") the House in Belgium and processing applications for residence for young Belgians. The FU also has the mission of selecting the scientific and professorial personalities to whom to propose the "three so-called 'visiting rooms'". The idea for such an arrangement came from Biermans itself, according to Jean Willems, a fundamental figure in the Belgian "scientific" world between the two world wars. Willems left the post of secretary of the ULB in April 1928 to become director of the FU, but also of the Fonds national de la recherche scientifique (FNRS) and, from 1932, of the Fondation Francqui. The idea for such an arrangement would have come from Biermans itself. 

However, the approval of the Director of the Maison des étudiants in the admission of files remains essential. However, as Willems subtly reminds us, it is nevertheless a question of making "the admission of Belgian students to the Foundation subject to the sending of the form by which we issue a favorable opinion".

In fact, in 1928, there were 57 Belgians, 11 Luxembourgers, 3 Limburgers among the residents, compared to 137 French (out of 239 available rooms). The Biermans Foundation remains little-known in Belgium, mainly because due to a "positioning" problem. As Daux observes, in 1935, the majority of residents were men between 25 and 30 years of age, who had completed their studies and came to Paris in search of a "cultural complement". or even follow, for a few weeks, "the lessons of a "master".

The Director of the FU soon takes a real ascendancy in the Council. Thus Willems had a say in the choice of a new director when Louis Daux left in 1937. In May 1938, he was elected Vice-President of the Council and, at his request, replaced Biermans on the City Council. An important statutory amendment in 1939, which required a ministerial decree to authorize the modification of the Deed of Gift, confirmed the trend. Henceforth the Director of the FU sits among the four ex officio members alongside the Ambassador of Belgium, designated President of the Council on this occasion, the President of the Fonds National de la Cité Universitaire and the Rector of the Academy of Paris. Originally only the following were included in this category: Hubert Biermans, President, Berthe Lapôtre, the Director of Higher Education at the Ministry of Public Instruction and the Rector. In addition, the Director of the FU is now one of the potential candidates for the position of President of the Board of the Council. In sum, the clearer involvement of the Ambassador and the director of the FU 1939 increased the effective presence of the Belgian element. The new possibility of co-opting 3 members, including 2 nationals residing in Paris, further marks this trend. The same goes for the link with the Grand Duchy. The aggiornamento in fact grants a place as co-opted member to the diplomatic representative of Luxembourg in Paris (a post created in 1936 and then occupied by Antoine Funck). For the occasion, he took the place of Roy who had returned to Canada.

In this case, the Biermans, "members for life", wished "to facilitate the development of the foundation due to their initiative", in addition to "to bring the text that governs it in line with that of foundations made after theirs". And Hubert Biermans to monetize the service rendered by the FU by guaranteeing an annual fee of 12,000 francs for representation expenses (payment of operations for processing requests, advertising at universities, etc.).

However, the number of Belgian residents was still in the minority at the end of the 1930s. In 1938, Josse Staquet even thought of creating a center for complementary studies for Belgian students in France in order, he told Jean Willems, to increase the number of nationals at the Foundation. Without forgetting "the 70,000 Belgians in the Seine department" to whom, following the French example, he would like to submit an examination (Flemish, history, geography) before a commission of Belgian examiners who would award middle school diplomas on the spot. At this date, the Maison des " Belges " has a full complement of 220 boarders. But among them there are only 25 Belgians (including 17 Flemish). And the proportion had been even lower the previous year with 10 nationals!

Once again, the solution lies in the ever-increasing involvement of the Fondation Universitaire, the Belgian relay of the Maison, and, even more fundamentally, in the creation of equivalencies in terms of curricula "so that students can continue their studies in France". In this way, the pavilion would no longer have as its only Belgian residents graduates wishing to perfect their skills... Such a Franco-Belgian cultural agreement was effectively created at the end of the Second World War, when a mixed and permanent commission was set up to examine applications. (in February 1946).

In general, however, the number of applications for admission exceeded the total number of places available at the Maison as early as 1939. Above all, this is proof of the success of the Cité universitaire project. Belgians did not constitute the majority of residents in "their" own House until 1949, more than 20 years after its inauguration, and even then, as between 1966 and 1976, French residents will still represent 21% of the contingent, compared to 30 for Belgians and 21 for Luxembourgers.

A Belgian-Luxembourgish House?

Why did Hubert Biermans wish to open his Foundation to Luxembourg students? Did the idea owe it to his friendship with the engineer Nicolas Cito, whom he met during the early Congolese adventure? There is nothing to say for the moment. Another hypothesis, still under study, opens up suggestive perspectives. Hubert Biermans' "patriotism" has been shown. This desire to associate, in his generous undertaking, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg - and Dutch Limburg - with Belgium may suggest that he wanted to celebrate the historic "great Belgium" of pre-1839. An "annexationist" trend was in vogue in Belgium at the end of the First World War. As a reminder, in 1839, by the Treaty of London, the Powers had restricted the borders of the Belgian State by removing part of the province of Limburg (to the benefit of the Netherlands) and the whole of the Grand Duchy, which had been incorporated into the territory of the young nation during the Revolution of 1830. From a less political point of view, the choice of Biermans can be interpreted as a desire to salute the young Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union born in 1921.

In any case, we can already notice the faster growth in the number of Luxembourg residents (there were 40 in 1938) because, for their part, they do not have a university in their country. Moreover, as Staquet points out, "the exchange rate was favorable to them in France" in the inter-war period and encouraged them to travel, to the detriment of Germany, another pole of attraction.

In concrete terms, student applications must be sent to the General Directorate of Public Instruction (which became the Ministry in 1936 and then, as of 1944, the Ministry of National Education), which relays them to the FU.

However, from 1939 to 1969, Luxembourg students were required to present their exams before a national jury during two annual sessions: the ordinary session at the end of the second half of October and the extraordinary session in the spring. It was therefore necessary to find ways to make this calendar coincide with that of the Cité (where the deadline for admission applications was set for September 15).

Nevertheless, according to Paul Spang, some 3,000 Luxembourg students will reside in the Maison Biermans-Lapôtre from its origins to 1990 (including 173 between 1927 and 1939). Moreover - the international study in progress will come back to this - an important part of the political class and the grand-ducal elites (among others diplomats.) will refine there a training very open to French culture.

The War and the immediate post-war period

The Health Service of the French Army occupied the Foundation effectively on September 3, 1939 before expelling the last 48 students still on site. Armand Guéritte immediately carried out an inventory of fixtures and had the furniture valued at 395,975 francs. On November 1, Josse Staquet, then Director in office, set off for Belgium, while the staff, when they were not mobilized, returned home or joined the Health Service. On June 19, 1940, it was the German army's turn to take possession of the pavilion, which it transformed into barracks. The heaviest damage occurred during this period. Staquet returned to the post on July 1, but managed to place the archives in a safe place. However, he was unable to carry out a new inventory or inventory of fixtures. In May 1942, the soldiers gave way to the Young German Girls of the Auxiliary Information Service (who took over the premises in August). Staquet, who was able to keep her home in the House, worked hard with the German Requisitioning Commission to obtain the compensation due for the occupation of the premises. And to extract the non-negligible sum of 2,248,733 francs... which, in the end, increased the Foundation's assets and authorized it to show itself prodigal in the middle of the war. Thus it paid 100,000 Francs to the Salneuve home and 50,000 Francs to André Honnorat to help the most needy members of the Cité's staff. 

On December 12, 1944, the House Council met officially for the first time since the beginning of hostilities. But a few informal meetings had been held during the conflict. At the Liberation of Paris, the Americans temporarily set up an officers' school before liberating the House, which reopened its doors on August 16, 1945 to 175 residents (including 6 Luxembourgers).

For their part, the Biermans - who had been exiled in Canada during the World War - did not return to Europe until October 1946. From that date on, they both decided to no longer play the leading role in the management of the Foundation. The difficult context of the immediate post-war period, in addition to their age, led them to take this position of relative withdrawal: one thinks of the restrictions of all kinds and the housing crisis in Paris, the effects of which were felt on the Cité campus... 

But, more fundamentally, it is the modes of operation dear to Biermans that are then outdated. Until that time, he had in fact refused any official subsidy in order to manage his work in the 'American' style, i.e. exclusively with his own funds. As early as 1947, Josse Staquet did not hesitate to complain to Ambassador Jules Guillaume about this "policy of autonomy" that led the donor to refuse "subsidies from the Belgian Ministry of Public Instruction, which on several occasions proposed an amount of 250,000 francs". From now on, the constant increase in management fees makes the position untenable. All the more so since the Foundation does not charge high prices: in 1946, a double room cost 900 F per month (and 1400 for a single) while the House of the Provinces of France charged 1800 F per bed in a double room. Also, from 1949, the Belgian government granted an "annual subsidy" of 300,000 francs to the account of the Biermans-Lapôtre Foundation, to which was added a contribution of 55,000 francs from the Luxembourg Ministry of National Education. This contribution seems to have been regular, although it is not possible to say for the time being. In this case, it is a renewable aid but not included in the budget of the Nation. From then on, once again, the position of the FU is central since it serves as a mediator between the Ministry of Education and the Maison Biermans-Lapôtre. In the end, the subsidy (which increased significantly during the 1960s: 1,000,000 LBF in 1965, and again in 1968, in addition to the exceptional grant of 10,000,000 LBF for renovations) was included in the budget of the Belgian Federal Public Service "Science Policy" from 1970 onwards. The same applies to the Luxembourg Ministry of Culture, Higher Education and Research.

The Girls' Question

Another major change is the number of young people enrolled in universities and colleges has continued to grow: there were 28,000 in 1900 and 123,000 in 1946. An evolution in the sociological composition of the student world (in France as elsewhere in the so-called Western world) is the result of this trend, which is changing the "habitus" of the university world. It is a less privileged population that attends universities, especially children of civil servants, from the "middle classes", even the lower classes. Thus, from the 1950s onwards, the latter appeared unsuitable for a large number of those who wanted and then demanded (the UNEF took a strong and public stance in favor of an overhaul of higher education at its Congress in Grenoble in 1959) reforms in favor of an open (not "Malthusian") University in which students would take part in management. At first glance, the Cité authorities responded firmly to these demands and banned political demonstrations on campus, going so far as to exclude the organizers of demonstrations (notably in 1947-1948). For Auguste Desclos, a long-time collaborator of Honnorat and former director of the Collège Franco-Britannique, a "Cité- École," in fact, does not abolish hierarchies, but "on the contrary, requires a differentiation and gradation of skills and functions, an order and authority solidly based on the value of the services rendered... a freely consented discipline. And, in any case, it must reject any desire for student co-management... On this subject, Desclos hides behind an argument to which the administrators of "la" Biermans will gladly resort: the pavilions of the City depend on Councils that would not have the right, even if they wanted to, to relinquish their prerogatives.

Nevertheless, among these new social categories of higher education students, there were nearly 35,000 girls in 1946. Yet the Foundation, among other pavilions, had few places to offer them. The following year, it was Ambassador Jules Guillaume who first asked the Board to welcome this new public. For Director Staquet, such a measure would generate "material and moral" difficulties, at the risk of "rendering ten years of effort futile. And to glimpse "not without shivering, the certainty of being an accomplice to immorality...". However, at the beginning of the 1947 academic year, 3 apartments usually reserved for visiting teachers were made available to 5 girls who, thanks to the facilities, were given a bedroom-studio, a common living room and a shared bathroom. Here they are, in short, in a security area...

However, the situation was no better elsewhere on campus where, in 1950, only 6 Houses (Deutsche, Franco-British College, Dutch College, U.S. Foundation, Mexico House and the of Argentine students) allow or are able to accept co-education! And these pavilions can only accommodate 3 or 4 girls per year... Therefore, even if female applications for admission are still being received, they can still be accepted! minority (3 to 18 per year between 1948 and 1958), the lack of space forced the management of the House to refuse more than a third of the applications. Rejection was systematic in the case of minors (at the time, the majority was acquired by the majority). to 21 years of age).

With the death of the donors - Berthe Lapôtre died in September 1952 and Hubert Biermans in February of the following year - the history of the House of "Belgians and Luxembourgers" does not end there.

Reference: " Biermans-Lapôtre, Histoire d'un mécène et de sa fondation " (Biermans-Lapôtre, History of a patron and its foundation)
by Pierre Van den Dungen and Serge Jaumain
October 2013

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