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…

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The National Memorial Arboretum

My contributions to a conversation in Amfortas’ Tavern:

Royal Airforce Memorial

I visited the National Memorial Arboretum today and the Eagle in the attached photo was quite stunning against the skyline inviting closer inspection. When I got up close I found that it was the centrepiece of Royal Air force Association Memorial Garden.

It is a wonderful piece of artwork, a fitting memorial for those who served in The Royal Air Force. The crosses beneath have been placed there by friends, family and colleagues of those who served. Unfortunately the drizzly weather dulls the shine of the eagle against the sky… I thought you might enjoy it anyway.

Shot at Dawn

Another of the memorials I visited was the one I mentioned to you recently; ‘Shot at Dawn’. I have posted about it giving more detail of what the memorial represents.

When I set off to visit The National Memorial Arboretum this morning I didn’t realise that it was Memorial Day in the United States. It was only later when I got back home and read Ginnie’s post at Vision & Verb that I realised I had picked a perfect day to visit the Arboretum. The Arboretum is a centre of remembrance to honor the fallen and recognises their service and sacrifice for their country.

The site covers over 150 acres and there are currently around 300 memorials. Far too much to see in one day. I picked one of the self guided First World War Centenary trails that had been launched earlier this year:
History enthusiasts will enjoy the more detailed Shot at Dawn Trail (2km), created to provide a deeper understanding of many of the trees and memorials connected to WW1 by fascinating stories and symbolism.

The ‘Shot at Dawn’ memorial is very moving and requires a few minutes silent contemplation. The memorial is situated on the eastern edge of the arboretum where dawn strikes first.

I was sitting on a bench when I took this this photograph. Right behind the bench were six trees placed where the firing squad would have been. The six trees facing the posts represent the firing squad, all aiming for the medallion around the statues neck and none of them knowing who had the fatal bullet. It must have been very traumatic for them too, having to shoot one of their own.

The full conversation can by viewed here.

Poppies and Remembrance

Poppies and RemembranceI recently received the spring edition of the National Trust magazine.  The front cover carried a faded black and white image of a building in the background contrasting with bright red poppies in the foreground.  The building is Dunham Massey and one of the features in the magazine explains how the house is being transformed back into the Stamford Military Hospital it was in 1917-19.

This is one of a series of nationwide and international events that will be taking place during 2014-18 to commemorate the centenary of World War One. The series of events are being led by the Imperial War Museum, which has a dedicated website entitled 1914.org.

The events will serve to remind us of those who sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today as well as reminding us to be grateful for their sacrifice.

The poppy fields as described by the ‘War Poets’ are a poignant reminder to me of the lives that were lost in both World War One and World War Two and also the lives lost in more recent wars.

Poppies to me are a simile of the lives that were lost.  They are vibrant, standing strong and bold yet fragile and defeated by a heavy downfall or a spring breeze.   They remind me of the fragility of peace and freedom and how easily our freedom can be lost.

The 1914 website points out that “one hundred years on we are all in some way connected to the First World War, either through our own family history, the heritage of our local communities or because of its long-term impact on society and the world we live in today.”

Reflection on World War One serves as a reminder of what might have been if the outcome of that war had been different…

Tree of Light

At the beginning of December many Rotary clubs throughout the United Kingdom launch their annual ‘Tree of Light’.  The concept of the ‘Tree of Light’ was introduced into Shropshire from South Africa in the 1990s by a county Rotarian. For many years, since its inception, my father was a member of the small committee of Rotarians that run the Telford ‘Tree of Light’; these Rotarians are from the four Rotary clubs of Telford.

The name and symbolism of the ‘Tree of Light’ reminds us that there can be light and hope even in bleak circumstances.  The main aim of the ‘Tree of Light’ is to serve the public and the community which is at the heart of the Rotary organisation whose motto is ‘service above self”.

People are invited to sponsor a light on the tree in memory of a loved one (or a cause dear to them) and the monies raised are divided between local charities. The commemoration of a loved one around the tree provides a sense of wellbeing to those who take part.

The names of the nominees are displayed around the base of the tree, on the ‘Tree of Light’s web page and also published in the local newspaper.  There is always one main charity to which half of the monies raised is donated; the other half is split equally between the Rotary clubs that administer ‘The Tree of Light’, for them to donate to a local charity of their choice.  This year the charities are the Telford Hospice, Landau (supported employment), Hope House Children’s Hospices, Marie Curie Cancer Care and the Princess Royal Hospital Breast Cancer Support Group.

My father spent many a long hour in the run up to Christmas attending committee meetings or sitting upstairs at home processing names and lists for publication under the tree and in the local newspaper.  His involvement included receiving phone calls from some of the sponsors who had queries   about their request.  He loved the premise and the concept of the ‘Tree of Light’ and that it provided a treasured service to people at this particular time of year.

Christmas is a time for families and friends and also a time for remembering absent friends and family.  The ‘Tree of Light’ is a welcome opportunity to remember and cherish absent friends, it is only fitting that my father’s name now appears amongst those names that, alongside his fellow Rotarians, he helped commemorate over the years.