Your Majesty,

Honourable ministers from Belgium and abroad,

Your excellencies,

Madam Governor,

Mr Mayor,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The whitewashed wall of the former Dossin Barracks rises up opposite this new museum building. Between 1942 and 1944, a gruesome plan was carried out behind this wall, only a few metres from where we sit today. At the time, the Nazis used this eighteenth-century infantry barracks as an assembly camp to deport people to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Over 25,000 Jews and 352 gypsies from Belgium and northern France were transferred from here in 28 transports. For over 24,000 of these people, it would be their final journey. They did not return.

This white wall symbolises a dark period in our history. It symbolises the fact that ordinary people are capable of the most unthinkable acts. The fact that these types of acts can also occur on our streets and in our squares.

In 1995, fifty years after these acts, the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance opened in the front part of the former barracks. The aim of the Jewish Community was to keep the memory of this dark chapter in our history alive, with the support of the Government of Flanders.

Thousands of people visited the museum in the following years. As a result, it soon became too small to cope with the number of visitors.

Moreover, new historical insights were developed about social evolutions before and during the Second World War. And contemporary phenomena such as racism, discrimination and the exclusion of people based on their ethnicity, faith, creed, colour, sex or orientation prompted a reflection starting from the Dossin site’s historic context. As a result, the content needed to be expanded and updated.

As a Holocaust survivor and the founder of the original museum, Sir Natan Ramet firmly believed in this expanded objective. It is extremely sad therefore that he is no longer with us to witness the opening of his new museum. His testimony about the horrors of the Holocaust and his deep sense of responsibility and belief in tolerance, respect and citizenship have added inestimable value to this project.

Sir Natan Ramet was the founding father of this museum and should also be remembered as such.

That is why I would like to propose that his name be permanently associated with the auditorium on the fourth floor of this museum. This auditorium will become a place where the dialogue, which he encouraged with such enthusiasm, will be pursued more than ever.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This memorial, museum and documentation centre is the outcome of sustained and intense consultations.

That is why I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to it. The services of the Government of Flanders who oversaw the project; Mayor Somers; the engineering firms; the board, the management and the employees of Kazerne Dossin. I would also like to thank all the contractors who were coordinated by NV CEI-De Meyer and all the other companies that were responsible for the museum’s design, the technology and the works in the area around the museum.

I would also like to thank my predecessors. The museum which I am honoured to inaugurate today would have never been completed without the continuity that the previous Governments of Flanders accorded to this matter.

The current Government of Flanders has continued this effort and even consolidated it. By investing 25 million euros in the museum’s construction on the one hand and by our intention to continue to support the museum’s operations in the future on the other.

But the permanent support of the Government of Flanders should not be taken to mean that this is an exclusively Flemish project.

The presence of the King, of representatives of the various Belgian policy levels and of the philosophical and ideological organisations, and several ministers, ambassadors and attachés from abroad prove that this story is a universal story, of and for all people. Of and for everyone who shares our desire to ensure that what happened here will never happen again. The museum serves as a beacon for remembrance education, in its broadest sense, in Belgium and abroad.

The design of this beacon is simply spectacular. bOb Van Reeth and ‘awg architecten’ have done a splendid job. The conversion of the barracks into a Memorial and documentation centre; the construction of the square and the architecture, and especially the design of this new museum, bear testimony to a strong vision.

And this vision is also reflected in the content. Professor Herman Van Goethem accepted the challenge to link the persecution of the Jews during the Second World War with the broader issue of the violation of human rights. Eric Stroobants, the chairman of the non-profit association Kazerne Dossin, will discuss this in more detail later.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The opening of this museum takes place in the year in which our country holds the chairmanship of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. With this new museum, Flanders has put the objectives of this task force into practice. I would like to emphatically thank the International Advisory Board, and the representatives of the other Holocaust Museums for their support of this project.

I am convinced that Kazerne Dossin will have its own place in the list of international Holocaust museums and in the wider circle of remembrance museums. I am currently looking into whether we can organise regular international meetings here in Mechelen. The level of international interest, which today is an important source of support for Kazerne Dossin, is very

encouraging and provides the foundation for an even more enhanced collaboration.

Ladies and gentlemen, this new museum establishes connections which may prompt a proper debate. For example, in the introductory film, which will be shown at the start of the guided tour, the link is established with bullying and exclusion among young people.

The step from bullying and exclusion to violence is a small one. The same goes for the step from individual violence to group violence. These dangers are just as real as they were 70 or 80 years ago. Naturally, they cannot be compared to the machinery of destruction of the Holocaust, but the ultimate form of mass violence is genocide.

And that is what this museum is all about. About keeping the memory alive, about vigilance. So that we never have to experience what happened behind that white wall again. But this is also about growing towards more tolerance, respect and citizenship.

This museum is also about the stories of people like Simon Gronowski and Koenraad Tinel, who are with us here today. Simon Gronowski survived the twentieth Dossin convoy; he managed to escape from the train that was stopped by a group of heroic members of the Belgian resistance.

Koenraad Tinel is the son of a Belgian Nazi, who fled to Germany with his family after the Normandy landings, who was subsequently arrested and extradited to Belgium via Nuremberg. Today, these two men are the best of friends.

Ladies and gentlemen, they prove that one is not a victim or an offender from birth, but rather that one becomes one or the other because of the time, the place and the surroundings. And this should give us hope. Because it means that we can also prevent this from happening. That we can learn from the past and thus protect our children and grandchildren from the tragedies to which our parents and grandparents were subjected.

Or to quote Simon Gronowski: “Regardless of how tragic yesterday’s events were and how many people are suffering today, you must always maintain your faith in the future. You must have faith in the fundamental goodness of people.”

Let this be the message that we send out to the world today. A message of peace and tolerance. Of vigilance and resilience. But above all, ladies and gentlemen, a message of faith in the

goodness of people and unflagging hope of a better and more beautiful tomorrow.

Thank you.