I am at Kazerne Dossin, a museum commemorating Belgium’s involvement in the holocaust, a tough pill to swallow for any country in regards to their involvement in the extermination of Jews, handicapped peoples, Gypsies, and more during World War II.
Add to that the fact that the museum is housed directly across the street from the old train station that used to shuttle victims from all corners of Europe to concentration camps in Poland, and you’ve got a pretty stark and tough reminder that Hitler succeeded in part because of everyone’s complicity, whether implicit, explicit, or simply silent, many people inadvertently contributed: A twist in the exhibit is a postcard addressed to a great uncle, an appeal for help by staff or a friend, and we all wonder how he acted, if he acted.
In this exhibit, I see how the genius behind the efficiency and depth of the final solution rested on the administration, the thoroughness of their documentation, processing every single person, creating a database of records and information. The power of administration is lethal here, as it becomes the mechanic for organizing, tracking, and killing, and it makes me want to be a little less orderly in my life.
I’m also taken by how differently Antwerp and Brussels react, Antwerp more conciliatory in its policies, almost friendly to the Nazis, and in contrast, Brussels publicly defies orders. Ultimately, both cities participate in the Resistance, but the Flemmish are deemed friendlier than the francophones, a reality that saves my grandfather from certain death when he was a prisoner of war in Nuremburg, Germany. Van Doosselaere is decidedly Flemmish, even though Bonpapy was predominantly French-speaking, but by virtue of name alone, he is released.
It’s the luck of the draw, as my grandmother’s brother suffers a different fate, one of the few of his peers to perish in the bombing of the Antwerp theater. Sitting next to him is my friend’s grandmother, trapped in the rubble by her long hair, but alive.
Now, at this museum, it’s more real, all of these stories my grandparents tell and told, and I can’t imagine the trip it must have been living here. This is the Anthropology of the Holocaust class I took my junior year at CU, truly mind blowing, and here, they attempt to connect the dots between the power of stigma then, predominantly anti-Semitic, and now–much more colorful in its xenophobia.
It’s a reminder that with tomorrow being the start of a New Year, it’s an opportunity to think broadly and set in motion kindness and understanding because in reality, all it takes is a slight shift in perception at the right time to unleash another genocide,