Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck.
Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck. Photo by Courtesy
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PARIS - Calls were growing yesterday for Belgium's minister of justice Stefaan De Clerck to resign following remarks in support for a general pardon for all Belgians who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. De Clerck 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 it, perhaps to forget, because this is the past."

The remarks, made during a TV debate last weekend, came in the context of a 30 to 26 vote last week in the Belgian senate, accepting a 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 Flemish-speaking part of Belgium where De Clerck is from, believe that the purge that followed the liberation of Belgium mainly targeted collaborators, while prosecutions were rarer in French-speaking Wallonia.

De Clerck later tried to limit the damage by saying that his remarks had been misinterpreted - but many Jewish groups maintained he needed to step down anyway.

In a letter to Belgium's acting prime minister, Yves Leterme, Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Director for International Relations, charged that "in the absence of a government, your caretaker cabinet is hardly taking care when your 'justice' minister reportedly calls to amnesty World War II Belgian Nazi collaborators."

Samuels added, "no wonder anti-Semitism and other hate crimes grow unchecked in Brussels - 'The Capital of Europe' - and across Belgium, when your chief lawman allegedly advocates on national television 'to forget Nazi crimes as they lie in the past.'"

Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, also put out a statement on the matter: "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."

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 survived. 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.