Holocaust Memorial Splits Belgium's Jews

By JTA

Published June 29, 2012.
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A Holocaust memorial plan in Belgium is splitting the divide between the country’s Flemish and Francophone Jewish leaders.

Jewish leaders from Flanders have asked Antwerp Mayor Patrick Janssens to refrain from placing memorial cobblestones across the city. The cobblestones were to be set opposite homes of Holocaust victims, each bearing a victim’s name.

“Cobblestones are placed per request and cost hundreds of dollars. Not everyone can afford them,” Eli Ringer, honorary chairman of Flanders’s Forum of Jewish Organizations, told JTA. “Commemoration must be inclusive.”

However, Professor Maurice Sosnowski, president of the umbrella organization of French-speaking Belgian Jews (CCOJB) favored the plan. “The vast majority can afford it and the community would chip in to cover those who can’t,” he told JTA.

The Jewish leaders from Flanders asked Antwerp Mayor Patrick Janssens to refrain from placing memorial cobblestones across the city. The cobblestones were to be set opposite homes of Holocaust victims, each one bearing a victim’s name.

Relations between the institutions representing Flemish and French-speaking Jews have deteriorated recently. In March the two communities abandoned their agreement to always meet federal politicians together.

In correspondence obtained by the Belgian Jewish paper Joods Actueel, Sosnowski said Antwerp Mayor Janssens should not have consulted the Forum.

“Antwerp’s Jews today are not the ones who lost their parents and grandparents,” Sosnowski wrote.

He later told JTA that the “make-up of Antwerp’s Jewish community has changed. Some are more sensitive to the subject, some less.”

Eli Ringer said these comments were “inappropriate for a community leader.” Sosnowski said he did not mean for the correspondence to be published.

The “main issue,” Sosnowski said, is that “there is no better way to commemorate those who were deported.” Brussels has numerous memorial cobblestones.

The memorial cobblestone campaign began in 1994 with the work of the German artist Gunter Demning. Hundreds of towns and cities across Europe today have them.


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