The Minister of Defence, Steven Vandeput, and 100 pupils from 12 different French- and Flemish-speaking schools, made a visit of remembrance to Auschwitz on Wednesday, 2 days after the official commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp. Paul Sobol, a former prisoner, went with the Belgian delegation. The Minister and the pupils visited Auschwitz I in the morning. Up to 16,000 prisoners were there during the war. The atmosphere was grave and very emotional amongst the visitors of this concentration camp, first step into the now well-known systemic hell reached through the notorious gate “Arbeit macht Frei.”
“We have a duty to remember those dreadful times. And we must continue to learn from them. Why have we enjoyed democracy and peace for the past few decades? It is largely because we have learned the lessons from that war,” Steven Vandeput told pupils before leaving Auschwitz.
Early in the afternoon, the delegation left Auschwitz I for the Birkenau death camp a few kilometres away. The Minister of Defence laid 2 wreaths to honour the victims. “Auschwitz-Birkenau scarred our history. It is the most horrible thing anyone can do in certain circumstances. My thoughts are with those who suffered such inhumanity and their descendants,” said the Minister in front of the Birkenau monument.
About 1.3 million people passed through Auschwitz during the war. Some 1.1 million of them perished, mainly Jews. Only 5% of the 25,000 Jews deported from Belgium survived.
Each year, approximately 10,000 Belgians visit the former Nazi camp.