KNESSET SPEAKER Yuli Edelstein addresses the Belgian parliament on January 23, 2018. (Knesset).
(photo credit: KNESSET)
BRUSSELS – Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told the Belgian parliament on Tuesday that for all its noteworthy efforts to commemorate the Holocaust, “more work remains.”
Addressing some one hundred guests and MPs ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Edelstein said that while it took time for Belgium to look into its Holocaust-era past, it eventually took important steps to do so.
“Only in 2002 did the Senate commission a report on the state’s role under the Nazi regime. Only in the past 10 years have local leaders issued apologies for helping round up Jews. Only five years ago was the national Holocaust museum opened,” he remarked.
“These recent steps, while perhaps belated, are important displays of responsibility, not only for the past, but for the future, as well,” he continued. “They are necessary to learning the lessons of this period and passing them on to the future generations so they will not repeat the mistakes of their ancestors.”
Edelstein also praised the many Belgian citizens who rescued Jewish countrymen.
“Three resistance fighters – armed with only a lamp, a pistol and pliers – helped Jews escape a transport to Auschwitz, the only death train ever attacked out of some 1,600 total,” he noted. “Thousands of other people, some operating through the Resistance and some on their own, risked their lives to rescue Jews, especially children. More than 1,700 have been named Righteous among the Nations, and the Jewish people is forever grateful for their heroism and humanity.”
He also expressed appreciation that Holocaust education is now part of the school curriculum and visits to concentration camps and local memorials are common.
The Knesset speaker continued, however, by pointing out his concerns. He mentioned Antwerp’s attempt to move its main Holocaust monument, currently located at a site where victims were rounded up, to a “quieter place” where it would have “less of an impact on traffic.”
Edelstein also highlighted praise in Belgium for a teacher who won a cash prize in Iran for a controversial cartoon about the Holocaust, in which he appeared to be comparing Israel’s security barrier along the West Bank with the gates at Auschwitz concentration camp.
“We must not forget the heinous  attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, in which four people – including two Israelis – were murdered. The list of tragic events goes on.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, Holocaust remembrance cannot belong to only a single day. It must pervade our lives every day and inspire us constantly,” he emphasized. “When we hear antisemitic slurs, we must stand up. When we see Jewish victims of hate crimes, we must come to their aid. When we read anti-Jewish canards thinly veiled as criticism of Israel, we must not make excuses. We must raise our voices in collective protest.”
He concluded, “Today is the day to take up this challenge as a national mission. We owe it to the 25,000 Belgian Jews who were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. We owe it to the Belgian Jews of today who seek to be an active and appreciated part of this country. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to begin building a better future for every citizen of Belgium – regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background.”