The “Righteous Among the Nations” ceremony in the presence of President Shimon Peres, Prince Philippe and Minister Didier Reynders
At a ceremony held on 5 March 2013 at the Egmont Palace in the presence of HRH Prince Philippe and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders, Mr Shimon Peres, President of Israel, granted 22 Belgian citizens the certificate and decoration of “Righteous among the Nations”.
The title of “Righteous Among the Nations” is granted by the Israeli institute of Yad Vashem, a homage to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from persecution, deportation and extermination by the Nazis and their collaborators. This recognition is awarded both to persons who are still alive and posthumously to the next of kin of those who are now deceased. 1612 Belgians have so far been recognised as “Righteous among the Nations”. Many rescuers however remain unrecognised or wished to remain anonymous. It is estimated that between 28,000 and 30,0000 Jews were able to be saved in Belgium.
The ceremony in honour of these “Righteous among the Nations” also rounds off and crowns the year-long Belgian presidency of the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance” (formerly known as the “Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research”).
Our country presided for a year over this intergovernmental organisation that counts 31 Member States. It was created to keep the memory of the Holocaust (Shoah) alive and to encourage research and education on the subject.
During the Belgian presidency, two plenary sessions were held in partnership with the Flemish Community in Mechelen, and with the French-speaking and German-speaking Communities in Liège. During these sessions a tailored policy was developed for this renamed organisation, and managerial decisions were taken concerning education on the Holocaust, research into the Killing Sites (“Shoah by bullets”), access to public and private archives, and the organisation of commemorative days.
The Canadian presidency, which will begin next year, will build further on these topics in the year to come.
Belgium also paid particular attention to the memory of the Holocaust last year. On 9 September, the Prime Minister acknowledged the responsibility of the Belgian State in the persecution of Jews in Belgium, and in January the Belgian Senate adopted the same position in a resolution that was approved unanimously.
In Liège, Jamoigne and Antwerp, commemorative monuments and plaques were inaugurated, and in November the new Dossin Barracks museum was officially opened in Mechelen by the King.
Research and education, monuments and museums not only help to make people aware of the Shoah and the circumstances and processes that brought it about, they also demonstrate the need to combat intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism and to do so before it is too late.
The example set by the “Righteous Among the Nations” ceremony also shows that it is possible to resist, and above all to go against the flow, even in the direst of circumstances. The “Righteous Among the Nations” have always followed this principle, and have saved the lives of others at the risk of their own lives.