Reacting to the country’s current political and moral debate on a sharply divisive issue, Belgium’s Jewish community has expressed its opposition to the idea of providing amnesty to the thousands of Belgians who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.
The Coordinating Committee for Belgian Jewish Organizations said in a statements that it stands in firm opposition too any general form of amnesty. Providing amnesty to collaborators, the Jewish committee said, would mean that “there had been no offense.” The umbrella group for the Belgian Jewish community further stated that “washing out these bad deeds is a slap for all the victims of Nazism.”
The issue of amnesty was raised here recently after King Albert of Belgium, in a New Year’s speech, recalled that his deceased brother, King Baudouin, had hinted in a 1990 speech at taking measures “that could contribute to reconciliation between all citizens.” The remark was interpreted by some as a new appeal for clemency for the Belgians who helped the Nazi regime.
The issue is one of the most sensitive in Belgian politics, and it is certain to arouse more controversy later this year when Belgium commemorates the 50th anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis.
After World War II, some 242 Belgians were executed for collaborating with the Nazis.
The amnesty debate has created an ideological split over the years, dividing the Flemish and the French-speaking part of the country. The Flemish Nationalist Movement has pressured the authorities over the years to grant amnesty to collaborators, but successive governments have never taken the step for fear it would create a political crisis within the country’s coalition government.
But this time, King Albert’s speech was applauded by the head of the Flemish regional government, Luc van den Brande, and by Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene. The Prime minister recently announced in the Parliament that he will start discussions in the next few weeks “in order to come up with proposals” for granting amnesty.
Although Dehaene appeared to be determined to take time to study the issue, his party, the Christian Democrats, has already announced its proposals: Collaborators already sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment or less would get back their civil political rights, taken from because of their criminal status, while the files of those sentenced to more than 20 years would be examined on a case-by-case basis.
While almost all Flemish parties are in favor of such measures, French-speaking parties are split on the issue.
In an editorial published in the last issue of the Belgian Jewish magazine, Regards, David Susskind, chairman of the Jewish committee, wrote that “the entire Jewish community has suffered so much from the war it cannot pardon or forget.
“The dozens of thousands of Jews who lived in Belgium, who were deported in order to be exterminated, those who were executed, those who had to be hidden, those who were denounced, those who were martyred and tortured, have met such sufferings that any hint of amnesty that would efface the crimes is profoundly revolting to us,” Susskind wrote.