BRUSSELS (EJP)---Mayor of Brussels Freddy Thielemans has recalled plans for a planned September memorial to “Brussels deportees” during WWII, after a Holocaust educational organisation drew attention to the complicity of the Brussels wartime administration in the deportation of Jews.
Thielemans was due to meet with the aldermen to propose revised plans for the September 2nd memorial to reflect the reality of the town’s authority’s collaboration with the occupying German forces with respect to anti-Jewish legislation.
Nicolas Dassonville, spokesman for the Mayor, confirmed the text would be amended to “name the deportees as Jewish”.
The mayoralty had initially intended to commemorate acts committed by “the communal authorities in accordant with the occupying powers” in “the deportation of Brussels citizens”.
However, the Association of the Memory of the Holocaust (AMS) issued an official complaint to the Mayor in an open letter, calling on the mayoralty to “correct the proposal to eliminate revisionist and historically deceptive assertions”.
The event was intended to be held in conjunction with the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organisations (CCOJB), the umbrella group of Belgian Jewry.
The AMS claimed it recommended the mayoralty involved Jewish organisations from across the board in the planning of the commemoration, but insisted that, despite initiating plans for a memorial, it had been sidelined by the mayoralty in favour of the CCOJB, who then went on to issue an official invitation together, which included the “totally unacceptable” wording.
Joel Rubinfeld, Co-Chairman of the European Jewish Parliament, a Brussels-based body gathering 120 members from across Europe, was quoted as saying that the disputed text amounted to “rewriting history”.
“The mayor would have us commemorate people from Brussels deported because of the Nazis. In fact they were Jews deported by Brussels authorities collaborating with the Nazis,” added Rubinfeld, a former CCOJB president.
Objecting to the mayoralty’s depiction of the wartime authority’s “participation” in the deportation of “Brussels citizens”, the AMS insisted its activities amounted to undeniable “complicity”, adding that “it was an attempted destruction of ‘Brussels citizens’, but specifically Jewish residents”.
Recalling an official circular filed by a Brussels town official listing individual Jews on December 19, 1940, under the title of “File of Jews”, the AMS detailed how the named Jewish families and individuals “were calmly delivered to the Gestapo by a municipal state employee acting in accordance with hierarchical orders”.
When the German authorities sought to round up the remaining Jews without Belgian nationality in September 1942, the letter continued, “they had their addresses and were able to act with remarkable efficiency”.
Accusing the administration of asking the AMS to suppress incriminating documents, so as to avoid frightening students attending the memorial, the organisation called on the mayoralty to honour its promise “to clearly and publicly recognise the true reality of the official rounding up of Jews and delivery to the Nazis”, as well as the wartime administration’s “complicity in humanitarian crimes”.
Commenting on the failure of Brussels authorities to address its complicity in the deportation of Jews during the Holocaust, the AMS quoted former French President Jacques Chirac’s own admission in 1995 of the French wartime government’s collusion in Nazi anti-Semitic policies, when it added of Belgium’s own role:
“The criminal madness of the occupying power was assisted by the Belgians, by the Belgian State, by the municipal administrations, all the municipal administrations, including the administration of the city of Brussels”.
Accusing the Belgian authorities of concealing its complicity in the Nazi genocide for the past 70 years for “politically-motivated” reasons, the AMS condemned post-war administrations for systematically prosecuting Nazis whilst failing to address its own role “in the murders of the Jews of the country”, in an apparent effort “to re-establish a national unity” post-German occupation.
Addressing the mayor, the AMS added that whilst the current administration bore no guilt for the crimes of others, it has a duty to “take a politically democratic position by condemning the morally reprehensible practices of your predecessors”.
The news that the mayor had taken the AMS’ appeal into consideration was well-received by the organisation. The group’s administrator Bella Swiatlowski issued a statement saying whilst they weren’t aware exactly what amendments the Mayor proposed to make, the fact he had taken their request on board offered “a big reassurance”.
“In establishing the official register, the municipal administration violated the Belgian constitution, which forbids the compilation of registers on an ethnic or religious basis,” she continued. “By delivering it into the hands of the Germans, the administration betrayed the trust the Jews of the country placed in its capacity to protect them”.
“A genocide was initiated in Belgium with the active collusion of the country’s government agencies. It must be recognised, taught and condemned. Only the complete and exact acknowledgement of the historic truth constitutes real condemnation of the act,” she concluded.
The September 2 event will fall on the 70th anniversary of the start of the deportation of Brussels Jews.