Kazerne Dossin

Kazerne DossinMechelen played a sobering part in the history of WWII.  Within the city, the Kazerne Dossin museum and military barracks serve as a permanent history and memorial to the Jews who were held there awaiting deportation to Nazi concentration camps.

The Kazerne Dossin museum of ‘deportation and resistance’ was initially housed in the former Dossin barracks until a new purpose built building, containing a more permanent exhibition took its place.

The Dossin barracks was a waiting room for death for more than 25,000 Jews and gypsies from Belgium and Northern France during the Second World War. The museum serves as memorial to those deportees and as a poignant reminder that atrocities still occur today and invites the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.

From Museum website:

The barracks were designated ‘Sammellager’, a transit camp for Jews and gypsies. The central location of the barracks (between Antwerp and Brussels where most of the Jews lived), the railway next to the barracks, and the enclosed structure made this location the ideal deportation centre. Between July 1942 and September 1944, 25,492 Jews and 352 gypsies were rounded up and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and to a number of smaller concentration camps. Two-third of the deported persons was gassed immediately upon arrival. At the liberation of the camps, only 1,395 were still alive. On 30 May 1948, a commemorative plaque was attached to the façade of the Dossin barracks as commemoration to this abomination. Since 1956, an annual ceremony is organised to commemorate the victims.

Between 1942 and 1944, 25,484 Jews and 352 gypsies were deported from the barracks to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Only 5% (approximately 1200 – 1300) returned!

The museums introductory film presents some chilling images and poses some disturbing questions. The film highlights the part that Belgium played in the Holocaust and touches upon other human rights issues in recent times.

The Kazerne Dossin museum deals with wider issues than the ‘Belgian Case’ and deportation of the Jews by focusing on massive violence as a central theme.  Starting with the Holocaust it looks at how group pressure and collective violence can, under certain conditions, lead to mass murder and genocide.  The behaviours of instigators and opportunists are explored and how they instigate collective violence.  It questions why individuals find it difficult to say, ‘No’.

An enormous photo wall spans five floors showing the faces of the 25,856 deportees and their human aspect contrasts with those whose propaganda and mass hysteria persecuted the deportees and threatened them with annihilation.

Within the museum two of the rooms are dedicated to present the names and faces of those who were deported therefore breaching the anonymity of the victims and going against the aim of the Nazis which was to extinguish them without a trace.

The two rooms can be viewed here and here.

The museum is both sobering and thought provoking, inviting the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.

A railway ran alongside the barracks and today a restored railway goods wagon that had been used to transport the Jews from the barracks to Auschwitz Birkenau can be seen next to the barracks in the place where the tracks used to lie.

The former barracks have now been turned into residential apartments but a memorial remains in one corner of the Dossin barracks.  When I stepped into the quadrangle I heard the beautiful sound of birds singing and it was so peaceful that I found it difficult to imagine the sadness of its former use.

We must ensure that we remember, think and act to stop these atrocities recurring…

1 thought on “Kazerne Dossin

  1. A heart-wrenching post. On one level I find it almost incomprehensible that the Holocaust could have happened. And on other days, all too comprehensible.
    I love that their names and photos were returned to them – and displayed.
    Thank you Cherry.
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSoosie

    “We must ensure that we remember, think and act to stop these atrocities recurring…” YES!

    Thank you for sharing the links. I found it especially moving to look at ALL of the faces.
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSue

    I don’t even have words after reading this post, Cherry. I just want to go somewhere and sob….
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGinnie

    Yes, we can only remember. And we must remember. I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and it was heart-crushing. But it feels like a duty, this remembering, this honoring, to look at those faces, or the shoes at the museum I visited, and really see the lives that were taken.
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

    “think about what you saw.”

    “what you do matters.”

    these are “slogans” used by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where the Director recently returned from the memorial for the Rwandan genocide.

    hate starts in the smallest of ways. thank you for this post that reminds us all to “remember.”
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHoney

    No words here either…but, we need to be reminded…so thank you.
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGotham Girl Aka Robin

    It’s a piece of our world history I will never be able to wrap my head around. I don’t see movies about it and frankly don’t understand the push to keep retelling it over and over on screen (but then I don’t see any war movies) but I appreciate and am sobered by historical sites that stand as a remembrance and reminder – because we can’t have a void and wipe it out. Like you say, they help assure we act to never let such atrocities occur again.
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

    To this day my heart screams in unending tears for these atrocities….my mind still cannot comprehend the killing that went on as if it were just matter of fact. And still we turn away as it happens still as we turned away then. I am glad there is such a place to not let us forget….we must never forget this pain…it must be felt so we can hope we will stop it from occurring again.
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

    Cherry, thank you for this post, for the links you included. All of it reminds me of how important our task is…to love. Plain and simple. Only love can overcome such hate.

    I noted that the names of the victims are repeated over loud speakers, that by simply saying the names of those precious lives we are defeating the Nazi’s goal of ‘extermination’. Remembering the names, as simple as that sounds, is a way to keep them alive.
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

    Chilling…….no words here either……always remembering……
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

    What a powerful remembrance of a time we never want to repeat. May the perfect storm that created that hate never find us again.
    June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusie@Life-Change-Compost

    very sobering…we must remember.
    I appreciate your heart for keeping their stories speaking
    in the wind.
    I hear them…..thank you
    June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Richardson

    Cherry, this is very sad reading, sending a chill down my spine. The bare rooms of the museum feel very emotional. We need to remember and get reminded of what can happen if someone’s policy gets out of control, that’s for sure. But more than for the purpose of remembering I see these museums as tribute paid to those who were suffering and dying unnecessarily and I like the presentation of their names and faces as of eternal witnesses and accusers of that evil and injustice. Heartbreaking stories…
    June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPetra

    Cherry, I have to confess it’s taken me a few days before I could read your piece. It is a lot to take in. And, even thought we ‘know’ of these horrors, it is important, critical even, that we remember. But remembering is painful, on a number of levels. Still, I thank you for for bringing us to a place, now, of both remembering, and of honouring those who suffered and died. We must never forget.
    June 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJuli

    I have no words… I am crying. Since I was a little girl all things related to the Holocaust has had a deep impact on me even so, I have read a lot about this, I don´t know why… something inside me wants to know more, to understand, and feels endlessly bound to an infinite compassion…. it´s like this were part of my very personal story…

    One of the places I want to visit someday is Auschwitz Birkenau Museum, I know I´ll cry a river but it´s something I feel I have to do, it´s a sort of comeback but I don´t know the reason why… hope this makes sense

    Maybe is all about what you say about remembering. Thanks Cherry for sharing this
    June 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterZena

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