Theme 'Fear'

The discrimination of Jews in occupied Belgium between 1940 and 1942 increased visibly. The country had become a police state with authorities that yielded obediently and allowed the terrible situation to take its course. The occupier spouted gross anti-Semitic propaganda and claimed that the Jews were to blame for the war. The Jews are depicted as an inferior race and were dehumanised. Anti-Semitic people were incited to hatred and in April 1941, leave a trail of destruction throughout the Jewish quarter in Antwerp. It was violence similar to what we saw, for example, during lynching of black people in the U.S.A. until the 1960s. The Jews themselves lived in a kind of segregation – one more parallel in the museum. They ended up being increasingly poor and more isolated, and ultimately they were rounded up. The theme on this floor is appropriately ‘fear’ – this basic feeling in the vital question that pops up every time anew: What to do?

A gigantic photo of the Tank Man, the Chinese man on the Tienanmen square in 1989 that remained unidentified: On the one hand, this photo is symbolic for the question of the purpose of resistance against totalitarian regimes. Resistance is rarely rational and weighted; on the contrary, it is often emotional and principled, just like the Tank Man. His resistance even seemed completely useless. Standing in front of an unknown future, he could not have imagined that this photo would become an icon picture, symbolic for political persecution at the end of the 20th century. On the other hand, this photo also symbolises that most people that had resisted in one way or the other in 1940-1944 remained anonymous. Often they have cautiously explored the limits of the options. They are the secret heroes.

How did the Jews live in occupied Belgium? In three consecutive rooms, you are introduced via your audio guide to 25 stories about actual events, as experienced and lived through in 1941 and 1942. The intensity of the creeping discrimination increased continuously. In the summer of 1942, the deportations and raids started, sometimes with the cooperation of the Belgian police. The German military occupation administration in Belgium was also authorised to govern Northern France and there, the same thing happened. It was the period in which the gloomy resignation of the Jews changed into panic and total distress.

From 1941-1942, the much more risky clandestine and ‘illegal’ resistance also took shape, mainly the underground press. The armed pro-Jewish resistance in Belgium (attacks, etc.) started in Belgium when it was too late for many people. After all, 17,000 Jews were deported in August-October 1942 via the Dossin barracks: almost 70% of the total number of deportees.