18 May 2011
Belgium’s minister of justice, Flemish Christian Democrat Stefaan De Clerck, is facing calls to resign following his remarks during a TV debate in which he voiced support for a general pardon of all Belgians who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. He also suggested that “perhaps we should be willing to forget, because it is the past. At some point one has to be adult and be willing to talk about. perhaps to forget, because this is the past," he said at the weekend."
De Clerck later tried to limit the damage by saying that his remarks had been misinterpreted, insisting: "We can never forget or downplay the facts. We must, however, be able to give a correct interpretation of what happened and address it in a reasonable manner."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center called for De Clerck’s resignation, and Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement: "Holocaust survivors condemn Minister De Clerck's proposal as a disgraceful abandonment of the demands of justice and the rule of law. His shameful suggestion is offensive and an insult to the memory of all victims of the brutal Nazi occupation of Belgium - Jew and non-Jew. It constitutes a shocking expression of 'moral amnesia.' We call on all parties and institutions in Belgium to reject this objectionable proposal."
In a 30 to 26 vote last week, the Belgian Senate had accepted draft legislation proposed by the far-right and xenophobic Vlaams Belang party that would grant amnesty to those who collaborated with the Nazis during the war. The bill still needs approval by the lower house of parliament.
Many people in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, believe that the purge that followed the liberation of Belgium mainly targeted collaborators while prosecutions were rarer in French-speaking Wallonia.
Eli Ringer, council member of the Forum of Jewish Organizations (FJO) in Antwerp told the magazine ’Joods Actueel’ that he was shocked and dismayed when he heard about the amnesty proposal.
Around 25,000 Belgian Jews were deported to Auschwitz from the Mechlin army barracks, north of Brussels, after being rounded up by authorities that often collaborated with the Nazis. Only 1,200 people survived the Shoah. After the war 400,000 Belgians were investigated for collaboration, 56,000 were sentenced and 242 were executed. Of over 50,000 jailed, only 2,500 were still in prison in 1950, the rest had been pardoned.
In 2007, the Belgian government formally apologized for a “collaboration unworthy of a democracy” that had been disastrous for the Jewish population.
We welcome any comments you may have on this article.
Comments are moderated and we reserve the right to edit or remove any which are derogatory or offensive.
The WJC is not responsible for the content of any comments.
There are no comments
Fill up the form above and be the first one
Subscribe to our newsletter.