New study blames Belgium's elite for cooperating with Nazis
Government-backed 1,116 page 'Submissive Belgium' report acknowledges Belgian cooperation in anti-Jewish policies that led to the deaths of thousands.
A groundbreaking, government-backed report released Tuesday blamed Belgian authorities and the ruling elite for collaborating with the Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II.
The study "Submissive Belgium" concluded that the Belgian authorities cooperated with the racist anti-Jewish policies during the occupation, and acted in a way unworthy for a democracy.
Parliamentarians and Jewish representatives sat in silence in the Senate, as chief researcher Rudi Van Doorslaer read the conclusions of the damning report for 50 minutes.
"It presents to us a mirror of ourselves", said Senate chairwoman Anne-Marie Lizin, who condemned the cowardice of the administration during the 1940-1944 occupation.
"Over six decades after the Nazi Holocaust ended, to forget is to condemn oneself to the same errors", said Lizin.
Some 50, 000 Jews lived in Belgium in the 1930s and about half were exterminated in the Holocaust.
The first reactions to the 1,116-page report were positive. "This report is fundamental and it is a victory for enlightened democracy", said Philippe Markiewicz, the president of the Coordination Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations.
Although Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt had already recognized the level of collaboration in the past, the publication of the report marks the first time it has been presented in such detail. The study will be published in a book in May.
The report documents how an influx of Jewish refugees from Germany in the 1930s, combined with a turn to the political right because of the economic crisis, created optimal conditions for anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism to rise.
After the Nazi invasion in May 1940, the Belgian government fled to Britain, but issued instructions authorizing civil servants who stayed behind, to work with the Nazis, to keep services running and prevent the economic breakdown that occurred during the German occupation in WWI. During the war, in many cases, these instructions deteriorated into collaboration in the persecution of Jews.
At first Jewish citizens had to be registered, then they were obligated to wear yellow stars, then schools and hospitals were segregated. Soon Belgian Jews were rounded up in raids and deported to camps in the east. Though some cities refused to cooperate with these policies, other cities collaborated with the deportation which led to the deaths of thousands of Jews at Auschwitz.
Even in London, the exiled Belgian government never declared that the policies and behaviors of leading civil servants and magistrates were unconstitutional and democratically reprehensible, the study said.
After the war, many cases were considered too delicate to be handled by military courts and every mention of the responsibility of the Belgian authorities in the persecution and deportation of Jews was rejected, the study said.
For decades, the issue became part of a collective repressed memory, and the issue only began gaining political prominence in the 1990s.
Markiewicz, however, stressed that despite the overall condemnation of the report, there had been many Belgians who risked their lives to save Jews during the war. He said that there were some administrations that remarkably rescued Jews.
While about half of Belgium's Jews escaped, over 75 percent of Jews in the Netherlands died in the Holocaust.