Home / Old News / News / Inauguration of the Kazerne Dossin Museum - 26.11.12 Speech of Eric Stroobants, chairman of the not-for-profit Kazerne Dossin (English Translation)

Sir, Madam,

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,

Today, at this historically emotional site of Kazerne Dossin, at this place of remembrance a new piece of history is being written. For it is indeed today that we bring an end to the intense preparatory work that has been going on over the past decade in order to turn into reality the ultimate dream of the our honorary chairman Sir Natan Ramet who passed away this year. He was the quiet but passionate and inspiring driving force behind the Kazerne Dossin project that resulted in the Flemish Governments commission to create in particular a historic place that is an anchor point for our collective memory based on three pillars:

1. a Memorial as a commemoration and a place of reflection for the many descendents of the survivors who were deported from Kazerne Dossin. A memorial full of grace that also serves as the absent grave around which family and friends can come together to mourn, to muse or just to be.

2. a historic and educational Museum with international allure where visitors are able to learn about a moment in history when one of the most traumatic and dark episodes of our country and of Europe took place. In particular the persecution, the deportation to the “Endlösung” of innumerable Jews and gypsies in the extermination camps during the Second World War as well as other systematic violations of human rights in Belgium during the Nazi dictatorship in Europe.

3. an accessible Documentation Centre that contains the collection of testimonies and the impressive archives of the former Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance about the handling of the Holocaust in Belgium. A centre that also draws attention to other forms of genocide, ethnic cleansing, exclusion, intolerance and racism that is sadly prevalent in our world today.

The inauguration of this new museum marks the beginning of a future full of expectation with a long-term mission to contribute to a more humane and democratic society.

To capture the moment and explore the future, we must first understand the past.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Your presence at this unique event bears testimony to the support for the Kazerne Dossin project with its historic mission. It is also serves as a particularly strong encouragement to keep the message of tolerance, compassion, non-discrimination and respect alive and to pass it on to following generations.

Dear invitees,

The Flemish Government offered its financial support for the creation of the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance, and initiated the creation of this new museum, made it one of the goals of its government programme and financed the biggest associated investment project.

Dear Prime Minister,

For all your support and initiatives, for your considerable moral and material contribution and for the successful partnership, we offer our sincere and heartfelt thanks. The Flemish Government, the Province of Antwerp and the City of Mechelen have, in response to your proposal, joined forces with the not-for-profit Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance and created the not-for-profit Kazerne Dossin, The Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre about the Holocaust and Human Rights.

The slogan goes to the heart of the mission of this museum. The goal was to create an extension, in the form of Kazerne Dossin, to the former Jewish museum both in terms of space as well as content. In terms of space, we have this brand new museum building that we have the pleasure of inaugurating today as a true memorial. The former museum building has also been converted into a magnificent memorial.

On behalf of Kazerne Dossin I would like to thank the architect bOb Van Reeth and his team and congratulate them for the architectural integration of old and new that they have achieved seamlessly and harmoniously at this site.

I would like to spend a moment to go a little deeper into the notion of the extension in terms of space and content, around which Kazerne Dossin was created.

The new, permanent exhibition does of course provide updated content gleaned from the historic research that has been systematically carried out since the creation of the Jewish Museum in 1995. In terms of the historic background, the curator Professor Herman Van Goethem was able to call on the expertise of an International Advisory Board made up of the most eminent international experts and on an Exhibition Committee that represented the Belgian scientific sector.

The museum is based on the fact that the Dossin barracks was organised as an internment and transit camp - in Nazi terms - an SS- Sammellager - from where no less than 25,484 Jews and 352 gypsies were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1942 and 1944.

Let us not forget that this horror was also made possible by the mass collaboration of the Belgian authorities in the occupied area from Aarlen to Ostend until 1942. Our factual knowledge of this unreal episode has been considerably expanded today and with the addition of more nuanced information.

In this museum therefore, we look closely into how all of this was possible, how Belgian society could break down so thoroughly in such a short space of time. We try to analyse the perpetrators, the victims and of the bystanders. What did they do? What could they do? How much margin was there for resistance? The demand for a resistance movement; saying ‘no’ to a society that had lost its way, also plays a key role in this museum.

This museum tells a Belgian story. It is also about Flanders therefore, and Wallonia, about Antwerp and Brussels. It is also a story about people and society, where people apparently had difficulty with basic democratic values such as the principle of equality, in other words, the principle of non-discrimination.

This brings me to another essential aspect of the mission behind Kazerne Dossin - human rights. This museum is the first museum in the world to have the words Human Rights in its name. The statutes in 2008 set the cornerstone for the mission. I quote: “This project must contribute to the study and reflection about mechanisms of exclusion, intolerance and racism in society”.

It was clear to everyone that we needed to base ourselves on the information relating to this particular site in order to create our concept. Our chosen approach to human rights had to be linked at all times to what happened here at this spot. Another requirement was that it had to bring the notion of human rights up to date; it had to be about human rights today therefore. How is it possible to choose between the innumerable violations of human rights that take place in the world and cover the pages of the press today, or that even more seriously, do not appear in the press? Why do these breakdowns in society occur? We watched how Natan Ramet, after months of dialogue about the concept, said: “Only now do I really understand what happened to me”.

Providing a better insight into the mechanisms that led to such a breakdown of society is also an important educational mission that we want to transmit to the current and future generations. The concept of human rights is approached in this museum from a behavioural analysis. On the one hand we have the beginnings of the principle of non-discrimination that forms the basis of the legal concept of human rights and that was formalised in the European Treaty for Human Rights.

And on the other hand, this museum looks at the mechanism of an extreme mass violence with the murder of not just men, but women, old people and children.

Genocide is never a haphazard event. There is usually a long chain of increasingly intense violence that takes place beforehand. And in many instances, this chain starts with discrimination and exclusion.

A number of educational models have also been integrated into the museum along with an educational team. The subjects that are covered include discrimination and exclusion, group pressure and mass violence, respect for diversity. Another aim of Kazerne Dossin is to go even more deeply into its mission via this educational aspect by expanding the Documentation Centre into an interactive “centre of expertise” about the Holocaust and Human Rights. This involves using a number of scientifically respected publications and organising events that have strong content and an international slant. This may include lectures, debates, symposiums and talks as well as temporary artistic and historic exhibitions.

Kazerne Dossin with its museum and its educational and scientific projects will become a beacon in the international museum landscape, specialising in the Holocaust and Human Rights.

This museum will undoubtedly be the subject of debate and even controversy and criticism. Nothing is more difficult than creating a museum about the Holocaust; nothing is more delicate than the introduction of the notion of Human Rights. “Only in freedom can truth exist”, said the Roman philosopher Seneca. We will listen carefully to the many reactions and when the dust has settled, we will also embark on dialogue. Kazerne Dossin is an ongoing project.

Sir, Madam,

Mr Prime Minister,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In his monumental book “In Europe. Travels through the 20th century (In Europa. Reizen door de twintigste eeuw)” Geert Mak describes his rambling journey through the ‘madness’ of the 20th century. Geert Mak followed the ineradicable traces of history throughout the European continent. His travel log talks about the past, and what the past does to us. It is about things being torn asunder, about ignorance, about history and fear, about poverty and hope, about everything that separates and binds our new Europe. It is about people in their eternal search for a dignified existence. The names of the towns that have drawn and redrawn Europe, from Amsterdam to Sarajevo, all feature in this majestic ‘oeuvre de revue’.

During his next European tour, we hope that Geert Mak will include Kazerne Dossin as one of his stopping places where the past inspires the future, as a place of reflection and a memorial about the fundamental values of our European model of civilisation.

The mission behind Kazerne Dossin with its Memorial, Museum and Documentation about the Holocaust and Human Rights is to expand from being a unique place of remembrance into to a European beacon of history that contributes to a more humane society in which tolerance, compassion, non-discrimination and respect all play a key role.