Remembrance Education in Belgium

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Content-Author: Ingolf Seidel

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Marjan Verplancke is responsible for the educational work at te Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance in Mechelen, Belgium. Herbert Ruland is director of "Grenzgeschichte DG". Michel Hérode is member of "Démocratie ou Barbarie", a pedagogical cell of the Ministry of the French speaking community

Michel Hérode, Herbert Ruland and Marjan Verplancke

Locations with a story

Today, in a section of the Kazerne Dossin, the former Sammellager für Juden, is located the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance. Together with the nearby Fort Breendonk, the former camp for political prisoners, it forms the most important pedagogic window to the history of persecution in Belgium during WWII.

These two museums draw thousands of visitors each year, mostly secondary school pupils from Flanders, Wallonia and the German speaking community. In both of these locations visitors are accompanied by experienced pedagogical guides. During their two hours visit they are told the story, with a back up of documentation and interactive methods, of the events which occurred in their own country 70 years ago: the pursuit and deportation of people on account of their origin and faith. The guides explain how the situation came about that such events could possibly occur and attempt to reveal the complex profiles of the perpetrators, bystanders and victims. The contents of the guided tours are principally historical, however, racism, intolerance and social exclusion are additional themes which are also drawn upon. Running in tandem with the purely historical aspect is a second priority objective we have termed ‘Remembrance Education’, in which we endeavour to draw people’s attention to what happened and to create an attitude of respect for others in our present society.

The influence of the modern attitudes of society is being reflected in the ongoing renovations at both locations. Recently The National Memorial Fort Breendonk was renovated and got the additional name “Human Rights Memorial”.

Furthermore the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance will be relocated in 2012, in a new building adjacent to the Kazerne Dossin. The name of the new museum will be: Kazerne Dossin, Memorial, Museum and Documentation Center for Holocaust and Human Rights.

Remembrance Education in Belgium

Belgium is a federal state comprising three communities: Dutch, French and German speaking. Of course it is not only monuments and memorials that require effort and sacrifice. The various Belgian official authorities devote a considerable effort to Remembrance Education.

At a federal level membership in the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF) is a good example of the effort which Belgium has made in order that these events should not be allowed to disappear from the collective memory. Belgium has been a member of the ITF since 2005 and will take over the rotating presidency in 2012. In accordance with the principles of the ITF, the Belgian government has decided to recognise 27th of January as National Holocaust Remembrance Day. On May 8th various activities are planned, on a national level, to celebrate the end of WWII.

Alongside the initiatives taken by the Belgian authorities on a federal level are those taken by the three communities. This is primarily the responsibility of the education ministers of the three communities. 

Dutch-speaking Community

Flemish schools have a modicum of autonomy in the formulation of curricula. Law stipulates ‘final attainment levels’, certain minimum objectives which both schools and pupils should attain. The Flemish parliament has recently approved an update of the cross-disciplinary final attainment levels. This has resulted in subjects centred around Remembrance Education being brought more to the forefront.

Schools which launch projects around this theme can call on a wealth of support from organisations offering peace, remembrance and civic education. This extensive and diverse offer of supportive Remembrance Education has given the schools the chance to choose a project which will meet their individual needs and objectives. However this excessive choice presents a number of pitfalls; it is often difficult for schools to find their way and make the most appropriate choice. With this in mind the former Minister of Education, Frank Vandenbroucke, requested the Kazerne Dossin, to coordinate the supply of Remembrance Education to Flemish schools. In this task the Kazerne Dossin has been supported by numerous other experts in this field, such as Fort Breendonk, In Flanders Fields museum, the Auschwitz Foundation, and the pedagogic support services of the Flemish education authorities. Together they form the “Special Committee for Remembrance Education”.

Undoubtedly the most important objective is to be able to present the material in a transparent fashion which is accessible for the schools. At the moment, teachers can consult the website, an user-friendly site offering a summary of study days, workshops, activities, educational packages, associated with Remembrance Education.

French-speaking Community

The formulation of problems linked to the system of concentration camps in general and to the Shoah more specifically are written down in the educational programmes and especially as part of a history course.

The item, “the universe of concentration camps and genocide” appears in the compulsory curricula.

Visits to places of political and racial deportations are suggested to the teachers. To re-enforce and allow these activities, the government of the French-speaking Community has issued a decree related to “the passing on of the remembrance of crimes of genocide, of crimes against humanity, of war crimes and acts of resistance or of movements resisting regimes causing such crimes.” This decree installs a board of conveyance of remembrance advising the government.

Following the calls launched by the board institutions, associations and schools in the French Community have been selected, based on the quality of their projects about gathering testimonies, organising visits to historic places such as Auschwitz, and starting up seminars and exhibitions. They will receive significant financial support.

Moreover, in the same linguistic area, three associations have been acknowledged as centres of support and six others have been recognized, offering assessment, documentations and the framing of the decree’s articles.

The board is composed of representatives of the academic world and civil society.

The pivotal element is the coordination Démocratie ou barbarie (DoB).

This group, linked to the secretariat of the French Community, has existed since 1994 and addresses itself to the whole of educational networks and channels, mainly secondary.

Originally, its mission existed in general, of teaching citizenship, human rights and remembrance.Its field of action has extended to supporting initiatives that favour a critical reflection, development of responsible citizenship and promotion of democratic values, in those fields related to the decree and mostly towards younger generations.

German-speaking Community

With its approximately 75,000 inhabitants, the German Community is the smallest of the three communities in Belgium. Unlike the rest of Belgium, the “Eupen-Malmedy Region” or “New Belgium,” as it used to be known, was not occupied during the Second World War, but was a territory annexed directly to the German Reich. Contemporary history as well as the Holocaust of the Jewish citizens who lived here and dealings with Nazi opponents accordingly took a different course here than in other parts of Belgium.

In the German-speaking Community, the topic of the Holocaust is not covered exclusively in history classes. It is often also dealt with in mother tongue instruction, religion and ethics at primary and secondary school. This is done through visits by witnesses in schools, lectures by authors, joint book readings or project-oriented work. All secondary schools in the German-speaking Community organise regular visits for the upper school students to the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance (JMDR) in Mechelen and the National Fort Breendonk Memorial.

All these institutions can use the material offered by “GrenzGeschichteDG” [Border History of the German-speaking Community] ( This department at the Autonomous College of the German-speaking Community in Eupen is the centre for regional research in contemporary and social history, for memory work and Holocaust education in the Eastern part of the country and in the Meuse-Rhine Euregio.


Read this short poem. It was written by Lies Lanckman, a 17 year old schoolgirl, within the framework of a school project around the theme Remembrance Education. In a fetching manner it pays homage to the thousands of teachers and schoolchildren who work on Remembrance Education solely because they realise the importance of such a work.

Je had ‘Auschwitz’ nooit kunnen spellen,
als iemand je dat had gevraagd
had de ‘sch’ nog niet geleerd,
en misschien had je wel ‘ou’ geschreven
zoals in koud en rouw.
Misschien ook een s achteraan,
zoals de s van sterretje
en de s in joods.
Je had ‘Auschwitz’ nooit kunnen spellen,
als iemand je dat had gevraagd,
maar niemand
vroeg je wat.
Learning to speak
You would never have been able to spell “Auschwitz”
if someone asked you to
you had not learned the “sch” yet,
maybe you had written “o”
as in “cold” or “sorrow”.
Maybe an “s” at the end,
Like the “s” in star
Or the “s” in Jewish.
You would never have been able to spell “Auschwitz”
if someone asked you to,
but no one ever
asked you anything.



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