Claude Marinower 9 september 2019

Speech Herdenking 75 jaar Bevrijding WO II

Schepen Claude Marinower sprak op vrijdag 6 september tijdens de herdenkingsplechtigheid van de 75ste verjaardag van de Bevrijding van Antwerpen. 

Your Excellencies
Dear veterans
Dear representatives of the Allied countries
Ladies and gentlemen

I wouldn’t be standing here
if my father hadn’t survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

I wouldn’t be standing here if brave men
­— and some of you are here today
hadn’t fought to liberate Europe from the horrendous Nazi ideology.
An ideology that arrested innocent people like my father, to send them into concentration camps
with the only purpose of eradicating them.

I wouldn’t be standing here if so many soldiers
hadn’t sacrificed their lives to save democracy and to restore freedom.

We wouldn’t all be sitting here in peace
if people hadn’t stepped up for justice and humanity

My father was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 25.
Two years before, his sister and her two baby children had been arrested
during the first raid on Jews in this city
and deported to the same place of hell.

Upon their arrival
my aunt and her children were probably immediately gassed.
They were the aunt, the cousins I never came to know.

To give you an idea: the Jews represented only 1% of our population,
but counted half of the civil Belgian victims.

Out of more than 25.000 people that were deported out of Belgium, only 1.200 survived.
That’s merely 5%.
My father was one of them.
He wasn’t extraordinarily healthy or strong.
He was just extremely lucky, though it is not even appropriate to use this word.

But it wasn’t bad luck that caused the terrible fate of the European Jews and minorities.
It was the deliberate action by a fascist regime
to criminalize them, to dehumanize them, to murder them.
To make them disappear from the face of the earth so the Jewish race would be extinct.

In the early morning of June 6 1944,
Ships appeared on the horizon in Normandy.
The Allied countries had decided to unite.
These ships brought back the freedom that Europe had lost.
The liberation of Europe had begun
and reached Antwerp three months later in September.

But when Antwerp was liberated,
our citizens felt joy and sadness at the same time.

While people were ecstatic, Nazi-Germany hit back.
Our strategic port, which was a valuable access
to the European continent, was at stake.
Countless of bombs made many civil casualties.

At that time,
many still didn’t know what had happened to their loved ones
who had been arrested and deported.

Between the liberation of Antwerp until the very end of the war,
9 long months of fear and destruction passed.

Vredescentrum, Kazerne Dossin and the city archive of Antwerp
put together, here at the city archive,
a temporary exhibition about this time of uncertainty.

The exhibition concentrates on four major themes
like the fear for new attacks, the scarcity of resources, the rebuilding of our wounded city
and the civil casualties during these months.
It tells the stories of all victim groups:
political prisoners, members of the resistance, forced labourers, Antwerp Jews, civil and military victims,  those who were killed by V-bombs .
The exhibition is very personal.
A lot of objects come from the people of Antwerp
and stories of witnesses are told.
It makes it very touching.
You can all later today pay a visit to the exhibition,
which was named Joy and Sadness, Vreugde en Verdriet.

Ladies and gentlemen

In March 1945 the attacks on Antwerp finally stopped.
Peace was there at last.
Two months later, the Second World War ended.
Nations joined forces to finish it.
After the war, they united again.
Enemies became friends.
Alliances like NATO were created to keep the world safe.
European nations decided to start a common project with the European Union.
It brought us prosperity, welfare and
a stretch of 75 years of continuous peace,
something that has never happened for centuries.
Under these unique circumstances our continent flourished
and countries built their welfare states.

Ladies and gentlemen

Primo Levi, the Italian writer and Holocaust survivor once wrote that:
‘we cannot understand [Fascism], but we can and must understand from where it springs,
and we must be on our guard…because what happened can happen again…’

Therefore, I believe education plays a crucial role.
This is why in 2013 Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen was inaugurated as an exemplary museum
and memorial on the Holocaust and human rights.
On the exact spot where people were imprisoned
and awaited their deportation to the camps.

The book Herman Van Goethem published a few months ago
takes a closer look at the dishonourable part
the Antwerp authorities played in the deportations.
It required 65 years for the city of Antwerp to apologize for its responsibility in the raids that led to deportations.
And after 77 years, thanks to the book,
the involvement is evidenced.

If we want to stay on our guard,
we must educate our children from early age on about the Second World War
and the decade before it.
They should learn about the dynamics
of exclusion, polarization and dehumanization
which can enflame a downward spiral of violence.

In Antwerp, we have already introduced an education program on this subject for schools.
I think this is of great importance if we want our future generation
to keep the stories alive.
Just like we did with the introduction of the Stolpersteine.
These Stolpersteine are remembrance cobble stones.
They leave for eternity at trace for those people who were deported,
and vanished in the chimney smokes at eradication camps,
leaving no track of their existence.

Ladies and gentlemen

Didn’t Levi warn us
that what happened, could happen again?

That’s why I am worried
about the rising racism, anti-Semitism, intolerance and polarization in Europe.
About how we sometimes talk to and about each other.
Politicians using words that rather divide people
than unite them.
How they abuse fear
for power and influence.

Allow me to refer to a quote by a former American president:

“(…)All of us have to send a clarion call
and behave with the values of tolerance and diversity
that should be the hallmark of our democracy.
We should soundly reject language
coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders
that feeds a climate of fear and hatred
or normalizes racist sentiments.”

That is why I think that
we must be very careful with extremist parties.
We should not normalize them in any circumstances
or treat them as our partners.
They don’t want a free democracy.
They don’t want to accept and treat all people as equals.

We should not take over their language of fear.
We must instead talk about hope.

The celebrations this weekend are all about this hope.
It is also about the strength of mankind
to turn something bad into something good.
Every one of us has got that strength.
It is the young boy in some far away country who volunteered for the Army
by putting his signature on that recruitment list.
It is the father of Nadine Iarchy Zucker,
who joined the Belgian military unit of Brigade Piron.
It is the mother on the home front working in a factory
producing the parachutes that contributed to victory.
It is the Belgian family who risked their own lives
by hiding Jewish children like Regina who is somewhere in this room.
It is the civil servant who helped rescuing people
by handing out fake identity papers and ration stamps for them so they could hide, flee, survive.

They show us: we always have a choice.
To take the lead towards a free and tolerant society.
To act as responsible, democratic citizens.
To rise against injustice.

Ladies and gentlemen

Today we have enough knowledge
to recognize the moments where we must come forward.
To be as courageous as our heroes.
To follow in their footsteps if our freedom is at risk.
To raise our voices.
To act.

When Antwerp was liberated,
bells were ringing all over town.
It was the sound of liberty.

We have the obligation to keep those bells ringing.

So liberty will never be silent again.