Belgian historians have concluded that the country actively cooperated with Germany's Nazi regime during World War II in deporting Jews. The state even went beyond German demands at the time.
Nazi Germany raised its flag in Belgium in 1940
Belgium actively helped the occupying German forces round up and deport the country's Jewish population during the Second World War, according to historians from the Center for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society (Ceges) in Brussels.
"The Belgian state adopted a docile and cooperative attitude in some very diverse, but crucial domains providing collaboration unworthy of a democracy, with a policy that was disastrous for Belgian and foreign Jews," the historians said.
The report "Docile Belgium," commissioned by the Belgian parliament, said the state collaborated with the Nazis for "economic, as well as ideological and legal-administrative" reasons. It is the first time Belgium's cooperation with the Nazis has been presented in such detail.
Project leader Rudi Van Doorslaer said "a xenophobic and sometimes anti-Semitic culture of the ruling elite" in the 1930s had prepared Belgium psychologically for the persecution of the Jews. The "democratic deficit" in the years from 1930 to 1940 had also played a role, Doorslaer said.
"The step from passive to active collaboration was quickly taken," Doorslaer said as he read the report's conclusions to the parliament on Tuesday.
Government in exile authorized cooperation with the Nazis
Doorslaer said the country had closed its doors to Jews fleeing Germany after Hitler came to power in 1933. According to the Ceges study, the deportations began shortly after May 10, 1940, when German annexed predominantly German-speaking cantons in eastern Belgium.
Thousands of Belgian Jews were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp
Following the Nazi invasion in 1940, the Belgian government fled to Britain. But the report found that the government in exile in London during the war "never let it be known that policies had to be adapted and that the behavior of leading civil servants and magistrates was unconstitutional and democratically reprehensible."
However, Belgian authorities were not aware in summer 1942 that Jews deported to Poland were being exterminated, the report said.
Some 50,000 Jews lived in Belgium in the 1930s. About half were killed during the Holocaust.
Many Belgians tried to save Jewish people
Belgian Jewish groups reacted positively to the study.
"This report is fundamental and it is a victory for enlightened democracy," said Philippe Markiewicz, head of the Coordination Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations.
Markiewicz said despite the negative impact of the report, there were many Belgians who risked their lives to save Jews.
Findings should go into the history books
The Ceges historians spent three years researching and writing the 1,114-page study and were able to view documents previously unused.
The Nazis forced the Jewish population to wear the yellow star of David
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt apologized already to the Jewish community in 2002 for Belgium's role in the Holocaust. His spokesman said that Verhofstadt felt the Ceges findings should be incorporated into history textbooks.
The historians worked out the details of three major phases relating to the persecution of Belgian Jews. In October and November 1940, the central government followed the Nazis' request to require all Jews to register with their local authorities.
In the summer of 1942, when the Nazi regime began massively deporting Belgians of Jewish origin, collaboration started diminishing. Brussels refused to make Jews wear yellow stars, which the Nazis prescribed in order to identify them more easily. The police in Antwerp, on the other hand, arbitrarily arrested 1,243 Jews and handed them over to the Germans.
After the end of the war, Belgian military judicial authorities decided that investigating the deportation of the Jewish people was too "delicate" to be allowed to continue.
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