Belgium’s commitment to teaching the Holocaust
Like other countries of Western Europe, Belgium celebrates in early May the end of World War II.
Holocuast memorial flame Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Like other countries of Western Europe, Belgium celebrates in early May the end
of World War II. At a moving commemorative event held on May 7 at the Antwerp
Deportation Monument, the Belgian foreign minister, Mr.
made a strong appeal for enhanced education of the Holocaust and for the
continued fight against intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism. He pledged full
support of the Belgian government for the objectives and the activities
undertaken by the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust
Education, Remembrance and Research, presently chaired by Belgium.
Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and
Research is an intergovernmental body whose purpose is to place political and
social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance and
research both nationally and internationally.
Initiated by then-Swedish
prime minister Göran Persson in 1998, an international forum of interested
governments to discuss Holocaust education was organized in Stockholm in 2000.
Professor Yehuda Bauer was invited to head the academic committee and Elie
Wiesel, the Nobel prize laureate, was asked to become the honorary chairman of
The forum took place in Stockholm on January 27-29 2000,
and was attended by 23 heads of state or prime ministers, and 14 deputy prime
ministers or ministers from 46 governments. A joint declaration was prepared,
circulated in advance and, after some minor changes, unanimously
This, the Stockholm Declaration, is the foundation of the ITF.
It commemorates the Holocaust and by adding the Hebrew term “Shoah,” in brackets
after the word “Holocaust,” makes clear that the main concern of the ITF is to
teach about, remember and research the genocide of the Jewish people in World
War II. It then goes on to say that Nazi Germany also perpetrated a number of
other major crimes, thus contextualizing the Holocaust. This opens up the
opportunity for the ITF to also deal with the genocide of the Roma, which took
place at the same time and at the same or similar locations, and was committed
largely by the same perpetrators.
The Declaration then demands the
opening of all archives containing material related to World War II and the
Holocaust, a strategy against Holocaust denial which the declaration condemns in
no uncertain terms. The major context of the Holocaust, namely genocide in
general, was pointed out as well, the Holocaust being its most extreme
Governments were asked to establish annual memorial meetings and
activities designed to remember the Holocaust.
Ever since the 2000 forum,
it’s been essential for states wishing to join the ITF to commit to the
The Belgian chairmanship aims to keep the
membership focused on their commitments to the principles of the Stockholm
Declaration and to continue to work towards their full
THE TASK FORCE currently has 31 member countries,
including Argentina, Canada, Croatia, Norway, Poland and the
Professor Yehuda Bauer, former chair of the Yad Vashem Research
Institute in Jerusalem, is the Task Force’s honorary chairman. The Belgian
chairmanship is organized in close cooperation with the Foreign Affairs Ministry
and the Prime Minister’s Office and in harmony with the Flemish, French and
German speaking communities. Regular consultations take place with interested
authorities and with civil society, in particular representatives of the Jewish
community of Belgium.
One can truly say the whole of Belgium is in one
way or another involved.
The 2012-2013 program centers on four
priorities, of equal importance and relevance: 1) research to improve the
current policies and practices of Holocaust education.
to Holocaust-related documents in public and private archives.
research and document the mass graves and killing sites in the whole of
4) exchange the best practices to improve the Holocaust
Obviously the fight against anti-Semitism remains a
permanent theme within the ITF and especially for Belgium.
respect, the government has made a priority of the fight against all forms of
racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, intolerance, extremism, Holocaust denial and
violence. One of the first measures taken is the reinforcement of the
anti-Semitism monitoring unit within the Center for Equal Opportunities and
Opposition against Racism.
The Belgian chairmanship will promote the
above-mentioned four themes at the regular meetings in Mechelen at the end of
June and in Liège in December. We have requested the various ITF working groups
to present proposals for multi-year work-plans on these themes and we will
stimulate debate and research. We hope to be able to lay the foundations for
result- and action-oriented outcomes.
From May 5 to May 10 the “Train of
the 1,000” has, in a 30-hour journey, transported 1,000 young people from
Belgium and nine other European countries from Schaerbeek (Brussels) to
Auschwitz. An educational program preparing these 16- to 18-year-old people for
the confrontation with the horrors of the darkest pages of European history, had
On May 8, Prime Minister Di Rupo, accompanied by
Auschwitz survivors and by Interior Minister Mrs. Joëlle Milquet,
parliamentarians and high authorities made the trip to visit, together with the
1,000 young people, the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In an address to the young
people he gave them a message on democratic and human values and encouraged
these young adults to resist temptations of anti-democratic and rightist
tendencies. The moving message of Baron Paul Halter, a 92-year-old survivor of
the camps, brought many a tear to the eyes of the young and the not-so-young
At this moment in time, when only few direct witnesses and
survivors of the deportation and the Nazi camps are still with us, their
testimony is an important source of inspiration. This year alone three towering
figures of the Jewish community of Belgium, who have decisively contributed to
the Holocaust education and remembrance, have left us.
undertaken by David Süsskind, Georges Schnek and Natan Ramet will have to be
continued by their children and their grandchildren. And by all of us.
September we will inaugurate a monument in memory of the hidden children in the
very South of Belgium, the Province of Luxembourg, and a week later the
completely new museum and memorial will be inaugurated in Mechelen, at the site
of the transit camp of the Dossin Barracks, from which almost 26,000 Jews and
Roma were deported during World War II.
Belgium will continue its
endeavors at all levels, nationally, in Europe and internationally, but
especially toward the young generations. They must know that one has a choice to
be a collaborator or to resist, to be a perpetrator or a bystander. Indeed, they
may find inspiration in Albert Einstein’s famous quote: “The world is dangerous
not because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without
The writer is an ambassador and the Belgian chair of the
2012 Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education,
Remembrance and Research.