New Museum in Belgium Focuses on Human Rights

  • Written by PHYLLIS STEINBERG
  • Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 06:00
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The Nazis used the Dossin Barracks in Belgium as a transit camp for deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau. From 1942-1944, 25,250 Jews from Belgium and northern France were herded on 28 transports from Dossin. Less than 1,200 survived. The memory of those who perished is memorialized in two museums in the area.

Located in the town of Mechelen, 15 miles equidistant between Brussels and Antwerp, a unique museum opened last December. It features an informative and well-researched archive on the persecution of Jews during World War II.

The Kazerne Dossin Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights is located across the square from the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen. The barracks contain the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance, which opened in 1995. The new museum expands on the theme of the Deportation Museum.

Especially poignant is the exhibit in the basement of the barracks, where each transport is represented by a square seat. The names of those who were transported to their deaths are continuously recited above the seat. Monitors in the room display constantly changing photos of those who perished.

The new museum was completed last year at a cost of $25 million euros, with continuing financial subsidies by the Flemish government. It focuses on issues of racism, discrimination and exclusion based on place of birth, faith, conviction, color, gender or sexuality.

The museum relates the Belgian war story in English, Dutch and French. It describes the persecution of the Jews by Belgian and Nazi authorities, and goes beyond the Holocaust to provide an analysis of the perpetrators, victims and bystanders. It also discusses rehabilitation and the human rights approach to confronting discrimination.

Photographs of the Jews who were deported cover museum walls from the lower level to the third floor.

Christophe Busch, operational director of the museum, said the museum’s purpose is to combine Holocaust education with the story of human rights.

"We want to be a Holocaust museum of a new generation," Busch said. "The museum has a different focus. It discusses the mechanisms of collective violence and gradual isolation," he said.

The first floor describes how dictatorships exploit and control the masses, and turn that into a political weapon. The political history of Germany from 19181939 is used as an example of how the Nazis influenced a wave of mass violence against Jews. The second floor focuses on fear, and photos illustrate what it was like living under the Nazi dictatorship.

"We are trying to convey how fear is used as a mechanism for perpetrators and bystanders against the victims," Busch said.

The third floor explores death. The theme of human rights is an important thread running through the exhibitions. It focuses on gross and largescale violations of human rights throughout the world — from Rwanda and Darfur, to African Americans in the United States.

The Documentation Centre will answer questions from researchers and people seeking information about their relatives. The Centre has scanned more than 1.2 million documents relating to the Holocaust, and supports numerous publications and research projects in the field.

The museum is open daily except Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is 10 euros/adults, 8/seniors and 2/students. Visit www.kazernedossin.be/.

Last modified on Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 06:00

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Published in Travel

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At left, photos of Jews deported from Dossin Barracks in Mechelen cover the walls of three floors. At right, visitors experience the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance.

At left, photos of Jews deported from Dossin Barracks in Mechelen cover the walls of three floors. At right, visitors experience the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance.

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