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Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research in Belgium

Member Since: 
2005

Overview

Member of IHRA since: 15 November 2005

National Remembrance Days: 27 January and 8 May

The Delegation of Belgium to IHRA is headed by Mr. Thierry Vuylsteke and is composed of representatives of the Federal Government (Prime Minister), of the competent authorities of the three linguistic communities (Flemish, French-speaking and German-speaking) as well as of key education, commemoration and research institutions.The Holocaust was for all humankind, and for Europe in particular, an extreme historic experience, which stretches the human mind to the limits of understanding. Belgium was and still remains deeply marked by the Holocaust. Our country intends to keep the memory of that painful period of its past alive and be aware of the consequences of it. That is expressed through the strong commitment of all public authorities, at federal, federated and local level. Beyond that commitment, Holocaust remembrance should become deeply rooted in society, through education in particular.

Education

In our federal system, education policy is a competence exercised autonomously by the French, Flemish and German-speaking communities and these communities promote the education of Holocaust history in the school curriculum; for example, in classes like history, literature, ethics or religion.

French Community

In the French Community, work is being carried out to offer better support for citizenship education at school to increase awareness in students of the challenges of an active citizenship and to help them come to a better understanding of and involvement in society through, among other means, legislative initiatives. Since 2008, the French Community has invited the institutions at all levels to organize activities in the context of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. As such, since 2009, all schools received tools to encourage their students to reflect on this topic (see websites: www.creccide.be and www.enseignement.be).

The decree of March 13th, 2009 concerning the passing on of remembrance of the crimes of genocide, and the Holocaust in particular, but also crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of resistance strengthened and coordinated the initiatives taken in the French  Community. The work of history and memory on Holocaust finds its place in the system set up by this decree. This one bases itself on the recognition of reference centers which have to propose resources to the actors of the world of the education on one hand and the calls for annual projects (collection of testimonies, visits of places, seminars, etc.) on the other hand (www.enseignement.be/dob).

Flemish Community

Education in Flanders includes many starting points for remembrance education. Not only in history lessons, but also in the context of other development goals and exit qualifications. To support their activities regarding remembrance education, schools can appeal to one of many organisations with an educational support package on the themes of peace education, remembrance education, public responsibility, democratic philosophy, and so on. An important instrument as regards this remembrance education is the website www.herinneringseducatie.be. This website offers an overview of all workshops, activities, educational packages and initiatives.

German-speaking Community

Also in the German Community, the Holocaust is broached not only in history class. The theme is also often discussed in language, religion and ethics lessons. This is done through witness testimonials in the schools, lectures by authors, joint book reviews or project work. In doing so, the various schools can use the materials and information made available by "GrenzGeschichteDG". In addition to lectures and witness testimonials on contemporary history, there are also trips to locations between The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium and between Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium known for refugees, resistance and persecution.

This is how the different communities work to offer an answer to the two anti-Semitic threats that, according to Simone Veil, ex-President of the European Parliament, loom over society: "revisionism and a less spectacular one, more insidious and therefore more serious: the difficulty of teaching Shoah history at school".

 Remembrance

resistance memorialIn December 2004, the Belgian government declared 27 January to be "Remembrance Day of the Genocide Committed by Nazi Germany". Commemorative events related to war are regularly organized throughout the country on three main levels. The Federal Government is in charge of the commemoration, held on 8 May, of the soldiers who fell in the two world wars and subsequently in humanitarian actions of the Belgian army. On the same day, the Ministry of Defence holds an important commemoration to the Unknown Soldier and to the Liberation. There are also many local level commemorations, often with the presence of military units and music bands.

On 5 May 2014, a train heading for Auschwitz-Birkenau will leave the Belgian station of Schaerbeek, from where trains with deportees set out during the Second World War. By the time it reaches its destination, it will be carrying 1,000 young people aged between 16 and 18 who, will be taking part in the international ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Monument on 8 May 2014 to commemorate the liberation of Europe. Of the 1,000 young people on board, 720 will come from throughout Belgium, while the other 280 will be from other European countries and will be picked up along the way.

This initiative, which aims to mobilize Europe's youth in a mass symbolic show of democracy that rejects political extremism, has a number of objectives:

  • an educational goal: the young people will visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and the Birkenau extermination camp to learn about the atrocities of the Nazi regime;
  • remembrance: they will look around the camp accompanied by survivors and eyewitnesses;
  • citizenship: they will get to know about concentration camps and find out what can happen when human rights are neglected.

This special journey is a brainchild of the National Institute for Veterans - National Institute for War Invalids, War Veterans and War Victims, the Auschwitz Foundation and the International Federation of Resistance Fighters (FIR).

www.traindes1000.be

1,537 Belgian citizens were awarded the title of "Righteous among the Nations" for having saved the lives of thousands of Jews.
Monuments and Museums

More than 40 monuments in Belgium are dedicated to the remembrance of the Shoah victims. Amongst the best known are the "NationaalGedenkteken van de Joodsemartelaren van België in Anderlecht", the Liège education centre "Les Territoires de la Mémoire, Centre d'Education à la Résistance et à la Citoyenneté" which takes an educational approach aimed at the future, and the "KazerneDossin". 

Kazerne Dossin is a ‘place of remembrance’. The kazerne – or barracks – will be forever associated with Belgium’s Shoah or Holocaust. Between 1942 and 1944 the Nazis used the barracks as an assembly camp, transporting 25,484 Jews and 352 gypsies from here to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On this emotionally-charged site the museum tells the story of the persecution of Jews and gypsies in our country. The old Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance is now a memorial, a place of reflection for victims and their relatives, while a brand-new building – a white monolith - opposite the old barracks houses the permanent historical exhibition. Finally, the “Kazerne Dossin” is in charge of the exhibition project of the Belgian wing in Auschwitz.

The Jewish Museum of Belgium

The Jewish Museum of Belgium has a room devoted to an exhibition on the Shoah. Most of the items on display there are originals: archive documents, posters and objects, including some made in Mechelen transit camp and others used by the Resistance. This educational exhibition underscores the scope of the losses incurred by the national community due to collaboration, but also plays vibrant homage to the 'Justs', people who offered a helping hand to members of the persecuted Jewish community.

http://www.new.mjb-jmb.org/

 Research

Centre for Histroical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society

Research into the persecution of the Jews started in Belgium in the 1970s. The Centre for Research and Studies on the History of the Second Word War was founded in 1969 and then subsequently renamed the " Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society ". The CEGESOMA ( www.cegesoma.be) has many archives on file that shed light on the persecution of the Jews in Belgium and is a federal research and documentation center. The SOMA also organizes various research projects, among which are those that relate to the Second World War and the Holocaust, and actively participates in the European project 'European Holocaust Research Infrastructure' (EHRI). EHRI stands for the development of a European database made up of the archive collections on the persecution of the Jews during the Second World War from twenty organizations (research centers, museums, et.) from Europe and Israel: www.ehri-project.eu

The "Stichtingvoor de EigentijdseHerinnering" was founded in 1994 and carries out historical research on the Jewish community of Belgium in the 20th century and records testimonials. The "Stichtingvoor de EigentijdseHerinnering" also publishes a magazine called "Bijdragen tot de eigentijdseHerinnering" in which many articles study and discuss the tragedy of the Holocaust (http://www.fmc-seh.be).

Commission on Jewish Assets

In July 1997, at the request of the Jewish community, the Belgian government created the Study Commission that was to examine the situation of the assets of the members of the Belgian Jewish community, assets that were stolen or abandoned after the Second World War (the so-called Commission on Jewish Assets). The research into the theft of Jewish possessions in Belgium was completely innovative. In July 2001, the report on the study of the theft of Jewish assets was presented and this gave rise to the establishment of the "Commissievoor de Schadeloosstelling van de leden van de JoodseGemeenschap van België".  During its legal mandate (until late 2007), this commission investigated and dealt with the claims for damages from despoiled assets at the expense of the members of the Belgian Jewish community (www.combuysse.fgov.be).

In the course of the study on the stolen Jewish assets and the {close work with/collaboration of [given the subject matter, we might want to avoid the use of 'collaboration/collaborate/collaborator']} the authorities, more and more voices were heard in the Jewish community proposing an in-depth study of the likely participation of the Belgian authorities in the persecution and the deportation of Jews. In 2003 the Belgian government complied with this request. The mission was entrusted to the Ceges/Soma. The result of this investigation, published in the report "Docile Belgium", was presented to the Senate in 2007.

Since 2000, theses and monographs have been published on such topics as the escape of Jewish deportees from the XXth convoy and Jewish members of the Resistance, the assistance to Jews (Jewish children) and post-war problems of the return of these children to their community, the "Association of the Jews in Belgium", founded by the Nazis, the Belgian diamond trade and the Jewish educational system during the occupation, and Belgian 'Jew hunters' and the re-establishment of the Jewish community in Belgium after World War Two.

The Foundation of Contemporary Memory

The Foundation of Contemporary Memory (Stichting voor de eigentijdse Herinnering/Fondation de la Mémoire Contemporaine) was founded in 1994 and carries out historical research on the Jewish community of Belgium in the 20th century and records testimonials. The Foundation of Contemporary Memory also publishes a magazine called "Les Cahiers de la Mémoire contemporaine – Bijdragen tot de Eigentijdse Herinnering" in which many articles study and discuss the tragedy of the Holocaust.
www.fmc-seh.be

National Archives of Belgium

The National Archives of Belgium are currently elaborating an archival source guide (the “Judaïca”) on the history of the Jewish community in Belgium from 1795 up until the present. This guide will provide information on all archives regarding Jewish life in Belgium, located throughout the country and emanated from both public and private archive producers. As such, it will include numerous archival references to the dramatic events that occurred to the Jewish community in Belgium during the Second World War.

The project will amount to a publication that helps researchers in identifying and locating relevant archival sources by providing them with the necessary background and research references. The guide will also be translated into English and put online, making it available for a wide group of users.

www.arch.be

Auschwitz Foundation

The Auschwitz Foundation was founded in 1980 by the Belgian Association of former political prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Silesian Camps and Prisons, its main aim being to study the history and remembrance of Nazi crimes and genocides, awareness of them, the transmission of their memory and the preservation of archives concerning them. To achieve its goals, the Foundation set up a non-profit-making Study and Documentation Center, Remembrance of Auschwitz. The two institutions work together to promote scientific research and multidisciplinary publications with a view to broadening understanding of the historical processes which led to the coming to power of the Third Reich and to Nazi crimes and genocides, while also developing teaching projects intended for the various education sectors in particular, and for society in general. 

Since 2010, the Foundation became a Resource Center under the terms of the "Memory" Decree.

Both Institutions possess important archival materials, a well-stocked library, and a vast range of audiovisual documentation which is available to the public, particularly researchers, teachers and the young.

They carry out their work and projects in a framework which is resolutely multidisciplinary, encompassing all mass crimes and crimes committed in the past or in contemporary history.

 The Auschwitz Foundation / Remembrance of Auschwitz possess a large library of more than 10 000 books, with new publications being added constantly. It has several collections of books, journals and articles relating to the study of fascism, national socialism and the Third Reich (history, movements, regimes, institutions, society, economy, ideology, etc.) and to all aspects of fascism and Nazi crimes (political repression, racial persecution, medical experiments, war crimes, genocide policy, etc.)  It also has many works dealing with the history of antifascism, anti-Nazism and the Resistance in Europe.

Among the more theoretical and methodological subjects covered are the relationship between history and memory, the use of testimonies and oral history, the validity of comparative approaches and the major historical debates and controversies on the interpretation of totalitarianism, fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, etc.

www.auschwitz.be

Exhibits, lectures, and so on are also organised regularly by universities and other scientific institutions. This is all intended to underscore that each and every one of us has the task of never forgetting the tragic events of the Holocaust.