Kazerne Dossin museum in Mechelen 

Dossin Barracks.

In April Tim, Danijel and I visited Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen. A museum dedicated to Belgium‘s involvement to the persecutions during World War II.

Its full name is Kazerne Dossin: Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights. The museum is located adjacent to to Dossin Barracks. 

Its mission is: “Kazerne Dossin draws on the historical account of the Jewish persecution and the Holocaust from a Belgian perspective as a means to reflect on contemporary phenomena of racism and the exclusion of communities, and on discrimination for reasons of origin, faith, belief, colour, sex or sexual orientation. In addition, Kazerne Dossin seeks to analyse the issue of group violence within society as a possible stepping stone to genocide. In this way, the museum makes a fundamental contribution to the educational and social project, in which citizenship, democratic resistance and the defence of individual basic freedoms are central.”

Dossin Barracks

The museum started as the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance in 1996. Kazerne Dossin opened its doors as museum in 2012, now ten years ago. 

The Dossin Baracks were used as the Mechelen transit camp, officially SS-Sammellager Mecheln and was as such a detention and deportation camp established in a former army barracks at Mechelen in German-occupied Belgium. 

It served as a point to gather Belgian Jews and Romani ahead of their deportation to concentration and extermination camps in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust.

The camp was established in March 1942 and was the only transit camp in Belgium. It was managed by the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo-SD), a branch of the Reich Security Main Office, and was used to hold Jews and Romani ahead of their deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as other camps including Heydebreck-Cosel.

Between 4 August 1942 and 31 July 1944, 28 trains left from near the camp and deported over 25,800 people. Only 1,240 survived the war.

The camp was abandoned at the liberation of Belgium in September 1944 and after a spell as actual army barracks, subsequently was repurposed for housing. 

Permanent exhibition

The permanent exhibition focuses on the persecution of Jews, Roma and Sinti in Belgium and Northern France during WW II, as well as on human rights.

The exhibition explores questions as:

  • How was the persecution and the Holocaust possible?
  • Why was there persecution?
  • What did the persecution mean for the victims? How did they react?
  • Was there no resistance?

The exhibition starts on the first floor setting the scene for what will be bound to happen. As you go up the in total four flours, violence and persecution increase. 

The panels show different points of views, those of the victims, the perpetrators, the bystanders. At the end of the tour, the restoration of rights and the processing of traumas among the survivors are discussed.

The exhibition links events of the 1930s and ’40s to other violations of human rights, both in the past and the present. The visit gives you a haunting insight into discrimination and exclusion, but also shows that each of us can stand up for another person, despite the pressure and aggression of the group.

Photo wall

A huge photo wall is central. On each floor you can see photo portraits of the victims who were deported from the Dossin barracks. 

Unfortunately, the wall is not yet complete. Kazerne Dossin is still looking for pictures, so that it can give a face to each name. The newly found portraits are attached to the wall each year during a Portrait Ceremony.

Photo wall.

United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights

With the temporary exhibition ‘Universal Human Rights‘, Kazerne Dossin explores all dimensions of human rights. What are the types of rights? What is their origin? Who are they important for?

The exhibition consists of three parts and commences with the universal shock caused by WW II and the concentration camps. Many countries worldwide joined hands and ensured that on 10 December 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became a fact. Its elaboration receives a lot of attention.

The organizers of the exhibition could build on a solid foundation. Relevant examples and (art) objects dating from ancient legislations and religions were unearthed. Philosophy and human nature were consulted as well.

In the third part we see inspiring pioneers, successful activists from past and present times despite all opposition and violations. Some well-known Belgian personalities speak about their personal struggle and share their dilemmas.

Museum director Tomas Baum: “Referring to the history of the Dossin Barracks we are constantly looking for ways of strengthening coexistence today. In this new and original exhibition on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we focus on its history, its ambition and its future. As a source of inspiration – or even contestation – it is a subject that concerns everyone, without distinction”, he says in the press release.

Kazerne Dossin contacted all countries that were represented in the editorial committee of the Declaration with the request to lend them a relevant object. The embassies of France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Chile came with some special items, thus providing an additional international input to the exhibition.

So?

‘Universal Human Rights’ gave me an insight in the process of writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I never really thought about it. Its composition reflected the post-war world. The West was overrepresented, Africa wasn’t. Decolonization was not taken into account. 

Some of the thirty articles are surprisingly specific, such as the right to paid leave. Or the right to marry and found a family. Only since 2001, countries have started allowing same-sex couples to marry. 

A human right which is not a reality in that many countries. It illustrates how a Declaration does not equal actual law. You need treaties, constitutions and other laws for that.

The permanent exhibition shows the harsh realities of state-sponsored discrimination, bullying, persecution and genocide. 

It makes you reflect on how hard it is to recognize these mechanisms when they happen in your lifetime, in your life. No-one is immune.

Not a ‘fun’ topic, but an important one. 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. elvira797mx says:

    Intereasting! Thank’s for share, Timothy.
    Have a wonderful day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Timothy says:

      It certainly is. Have a great day, Elvira.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. elvira797mx says:

        I can imagine, Timothy.
        You as well.

        Liked by 1 person

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