Home / Old News / News / Inauguration of the Kazerne Dossin Museum - 26.11.12 - Speech by Claude Marinower, Vice-Chairman of vzw Kazerne Dossin (English Translation)

Your Majesties,

Mr. Prime Minister

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen, all of whom are dignitaries in your jobs, titles and official capacities

Ladies and gentlemen representatives of the Jewish and Gypsy communities,

Dear invitees,

The thing that distinguishes victims of the Holocaust from other victims of war is the intention of their murderers to ensure that the race to which they belonged disappeared from the face of the earth.

This was the objective from the moment when the fate of the Jewish mothers, infants and young children was decided. The systematic murder of the Jews with premeditated deliberation, denied the Jews in Europe a future.

In 1943, the French author Vladimir Jankelevitch wrote the following in a clandestine brochure called “Le Mensonge Raciste” (The Racist Lie):

Of all the fascist evils, antisemitism was not the one that affected the largest number of victims, but it was the most monstrous of them all. Perhaps for the first time, men and women were hounded not for what they did, but for what they were. They expiated their ‘being’ and not their ‘having’. Not acts, political opinions or their faiths, but the fatality of birth…”

People were murdered because they had a mother. This was the essence of the antisemitism that reigned at the time: excluded, persecuted against, arrested and murdered because they were born. This is one of the most terrifying and threatening things imaginable, because each of us has a mother.

“Even if the heavens were parchment, all the trees quills, the seas and all waters were ink

and all the inhabitants of the earth were scribes and skilled writers,

it would not suffice to describe this nameless suffering…”

These words, which are part of an Aramean prayer and have been recited by generations and generations of Jews, come up with each attempt to speak of or to try to understand the Shoah, the biggest Jewish catastrophe of all times.

The millions of dead, more than 25,000 of which were deported from Belgium - the biggest war crime ever carried out in our country - are not dead in the normal sense of the word.

Their voices ring out louder than ever. They are the voices of truth against lies, of freedom against oppression, people against animals, the eternal living against the dead. They, the dead, lack commemorations and museums. They do not miss the living. It is we, the living who miss the dead. We miss two generations of people and more who were torn away from us.

These men and women, the old and the young, rich and poor, intellectual and uneducated, liberal professions and civil servants, white collar workers and blue collar workers, tradespeople, farmers, soldiers and citizens, all had the most diverse ideological and political convictions.

More than 25,000 Jews, men and women, with their failings and their qualities, but living beings that wanted to live, that could live, that had to live; old mothers, young mothers and children with questioning eyes who disappeared into that darkest night.

People like you and me. They believed in a world conscience that lacked prejudice. They were deluded, believing in a peaceful heaven. Not one inch of railway line in all Europe was ever bombed. Nothing was done to stop the convoys, apart from a few kilometres from here in Boortmeerbeek when the 20th convoy was halted and hundreds were able to escape. ONE such act…

It is only good and right that their memory should be commemorated in this museum among others, one of the few in Europe that attests to the Shoah at the very site that was the last station on the way to hell.

Never again should it be possible for these people to be cursed as living beings or forgotten after their death. It is often the case that in remembrance we find an explanation about their past and we are enlightened about their fate.

Every one of the 5% who survived, came more ill and broken than the next. Some died on the way back, others straight after their release from the camps. All of them had been through hell.  They were survivors, but they were marked for the rest of their lives by the inhuman ordeals they had endured. It was years before they were able to broach the subject, even in their own family circles.

Your Majesties,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Belgium has always been a safe haven and a refuge for persecuted Jews. Whenever the Jews were being hounded and massacred, Belgians stood up, not only to denounce the crimes against mankind, but also, with all the compassion possible in a living and active democracy, to welcome and take in these men and women who did not yet have the good fortune of a homeland in Israel.

They were taken into the secret shelters of convents, the Beloeil castle that belonged to the Princes de Ligne (an ancestor of his, Charles Joseph had actually, just one century before, been an ardent forerunner of Zionism), and into humble hovels in Flanders or workers’ houses on the banks of the Meuse.

Queen Elisabeth, who was to become Honorary President of the Belgian Committee of the Alyath Hanoar, Monsignor Kerkhofs, Bishop of Liège, Judicial Officials, but also and above all the anonymous employees of the supply services and resistance movements, all came to the aid of the Jewish population with an admiral and solid momentum.

It is only right that a moving and fervent homage should be made here to all those who, in the time of need, proved their solidarity with the Jewish people. Several thousands of whom were saved and brought back from the brink of death.

But Belgium did not do just this: it did a lot more. It provided a safe haven for those who had been banished, for the hunted, an asylum for the persecuted. Each time Jewish masses, victims of pogroms, were made martyrs and murdered in the east, Belgians stood up to propose all the practical and immediate measures that could lighten the fate of these sorry souls who, as Léon Blum said several days before his death, did not have the good fortune of finding a home in the place where they were born.

And when we look back in time and recall their names, we notice that not only did they form what is the most eminent, the most representative, but also the permanent people of our country. Because this is one of the major constant elements of our government, to be a wise and generous democracy that is welcoming and tolerant that does not ask its citizens which gods they worship, nor what they do, nor which joys cause their hearts to beat; to offer to each and every one the same amount of liberty and equality made possible by a social order based exclusively on human fraternity.

We cannot talk too often about the admirable spirit of our people who came to the aid of their persecuted brothers, their serene spontaneity, the calm passion with which they offered succour to the hounded Jews.

It is only good and right to pay homage to the Belgian people, in particular those who had the magnificent courage and sense of sacrifice, who demonstrated solidarity with the Jewish people who were subjected to persecution at the hands of the Nazis.

A great majority of the Belgian people, Flemish, Walloons and people of Brussels, above all humble men and women with the most widely differing religious or political convictions, who all took an important part in this vast and truly heroic rescue operation.

It is extremely difficult moreover to define the exact number of survivors whose lives were saved by the action of one of these heroes, who in many cases prefer even today to remain anonymous. There was often no direct contact between the saviour and the saved. Sometimes the encounters lasted only a few hours, or a few minutes. The risks that these saviours took meant that they had to work at night in total anonymity.

They created false ID cards, but never knew who benefited from them. And in the majority of cases the beneficiaries never knew who was working for their survival.

It is only good and right to remind and to testify publically and acknowledge the thousands of non-Jews who participated in saving more than 18,000 Jews including 4000 children, by helping them to escape deportation and an almost certain death.

We are committed to keeping alive the memory of these honourable people in the same way that we are committed to keeping alive the memory of those we lost for no other reason than the fact that they were born, because they existed.

So that the collective memory, apart from the death atrociously dealt to the Jews of Europe, also contains hope in mankind, a hope that was kept alive by these thousands of people who got up in the darkest of nights and held out a hand, a piece of bread, false ID papers or a refuge for thousands of children, often separated from one minute to the next from their parents who loved them so deeply and tenderly.

Because in addition to all the negative memories, there are also memories that we want to keep alive, memories of these acts of courage, heroism, generosity and solidarity.

The honourable people and their actions. Those who, during the Shoah, contributed via a gesture or an attitude to the fact that you and I, all of us, can continue to believe in humanity.

One of the missions of the Museum is to tell the story of what happened in Belgium. The history of the deportation from Belgium of more than 25,000 Jews and 351 Gypsies via the Dossin Barracks, also called the final waiting room of death, or the gateway to hell.

A Belgian story, the stories of the Jews from Aarlen or Ostend, Brussels, Antwerp or Liège who were arrested and deported between 1942 and 1944 just because they existed, because of the simple fact that they had a Jewish mother or a Jewish grandmother or grandfather…they are all the same.

In 1945 Auschwitz became the biggest graveyard in the world; more than a million victims in a surface area of just several thousand square metres, where there was not a single grave, the symbol of the worst horror that mankind has ever committed. Since then it has become THE symbol of the horror of horrors…

The Endlösung, which marked the intention to eliminate a whole race of people along with their language. Anything that could serve as a reminder of the Jewish race had to disappear. The tiniest babies had to be murdered to make it clear that there was no future on earth for the Jewish race, even the corpses had to be burned.

Auschwitz and the extermination camps were described as the ultimate evil: racism that resulted in the murder of whole populations not for what they did, but because of what they were, “Jews and Gypsies”...

There is a threat however, that the Holocaust might disappear as a moral landmark. Terms such as Auschwitz, genocide and holocaust are easily used to describe all kinds of injustice in the world and in our country.

But by so doing people are increasingly contributing to turning Auschwitz into something banal, a bagatelle. It apparently no longer serves as a warning for what can happen when a policy of racial exclusion and persecution is adopted.

Your Majesties,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 2006, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance, the descendants of the survivors made a decision and a few months ago, our Honorary Chairman Sir Natan Ramet, since deceased, made the following speech:

We have made the history of the persecution of the Jews in Belgium more readable, more visible and more digestible. For years it was said that the witnesses would disappear in the decades ahead. And that is indeed the case!

… but as I look around me, I see disappearing among us, the survivors, the fear of departing without leaving a message behind. And I see our children and grandchildren who carry the memory deep inside themselves. I now believe that there are committed people who will follow in our footsteps.

It is particularly sad that Sir Natan Ramet was unable to be with us here today to witness this. The realisation of one of his dreams. The inauguration of this new Museum with a capacity to receive a lot more visitors.

I would like to take advantage of this occasion to offer a word of heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Jewish component of Kazerne Dossin to the Government of Flanders and the successive Prime Ministers and their administrative officers who have supported and made the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance a viable entity since the day it was opened.

But also and above all I would like to thank them because they adopted the idea of Prime Minister Patrick Dewael of creating an important Holocaust Museum here and because the Museum has been built, under the direction of Prime Minister Peeters.

I can assure you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Jewish community in general, and everyone who is committed to remembrance education within the Jewish community in Belgium, will not forget this.

Democracy is the most valuable asset we have. It is and remains worth putting all the strength we have to fight for it. In a democratic system like ours and those of neighbouring countries, extremist groups have tried to make their presence felt in recent years. You can see that the resistance to this is equally great in all parties.

Democratic achievements such as freedom and tolerance, notions that we must safeguard, must be defended at all times with all our force.

Nothing can justify anti-Semitic attacks that belittle us, that disturb us, that frighten us. There is absolutely no excuse for this. These types of deeds dishonour our country, there are unworthy of democracy.

The racist and anti-Semitic threat should never be given the chance to worm its way into our society like a malignant tumour.

We must ensure that any form of exclusion and notion of cleansing are met with zero tolerance. None of this must be able to permeate. We must deal with them with one and the same outrage, with the same passion and do all we can to ensure they disappear forever.

Because we will never have complete peace on this earth, and because the world can never achieve peace, as long as a Jew by virtue of being a Jew, or any human being by virtue of being who they are, has to harbour any anxiety, or know any fear.

Survivors demand that their testimonies be heard and that we remember. Their memories must become and remain our memories. Every detail of the Holocaust and the history of what happened in Belgium must be told and every fact must be revealed. We all owe that to the victims.

Freedom and tolerance are concepts that we must take to our hearts. If antisemitism grew so strong between 1930 and 1940 it is because there was no resistance to it, the resolve that was needed was not there. And because it was permitted, it became an expression of opinion like any other…

A French minister a few years ago uttered the following words when discussing a law in the French Assemblée:

“When we accept the inacceptable, and excuse the inexcusable, whatever the reason, the end is near…”

When we make compromises with extremism, we must look at the true consequences thereof. These types of compromise always form a breeding ground for the emergence of racism or antisemitism and sooner or later we pay a high price for this.

Only one attitude is possible if we are to combat this and that is to put up a solid wall of refusal to indifference to blind hate, racism, antisemitism, exclusion and extremism.

This is why we must all remain alert to any sign of exclusion, any verbal abuse, any form of intolerance irrespective of race, belief or origin.

We must do all we can in order to remove breeding grounds for extremism, racism and intolerance. There can be no room in a democratic society for hate, racism and antisemitism. Our society must be built on the foundations of tolerance and respect.

Only by so doing can we continue to honour the memory of the millions of victims, 25,000 of whom were forced just a few metres from this spot, to take their last train journey.

It has been an honour for me to address you today not just as the son of a deportee, but also on behalf of all those who were deported from our country, from their families and their descendents. Marcel Marinower was first captured in Libourne as he was fleeing to France.  It was 1942 and he was taken the Pithiviers camp in France. He escaped from there and returned to Belgium. He was arrested again in April 1944 and taken to the Dossin Barracks from where he was transported to Auschwitz, number 583 of the 24th convoy on 4 April 1944.  He was 24. He survived Auschwitz and other camps, survived a death march and was finally liberated by British troops in Bergen Belsen in April 1945 and repatriated to Belgium in May 1945.

He died in Antwerp in January 1962, aged 42 as a result of the physical hardships he endured in the concentration camps. I was seven at the time.