A judge handed down an €800 fine and a six months suspended prison sentence to a Belgian man who was photographed giving the Nazi salute in Fort Breendonk.
Fort Breendonk, located near Mechelen in the province of Antwerp, served as a Nazi prison camp during the German occupation of Belgium during World War II and is now a museum.
Gunnar Verreycken (25), a descendant of a well-known Flemish nationalist family, had the photo taken in front of Nazi items exhibited in one of the museum’s rooms back in August 2019.
The room served as the canteen for Nazi soldiers and is preserved exactly as it was at the time, with the large German eagle perched atop a swastika with the SS motto – Meine Ehre heißt Treue, or My honour is called loyalty – emblazoned beneath it.
The site has attracted many neo-Nazis looking for a photo opportunity over the years. Verreycken posed for a photo, and a separate photo of that photo being taken ended up on social media and eventually made its way into the papers in November of 2019.
The court said that by making the Nazi salute in the former prison camp infamous for torturing and executing members of the anti-Nazi resistance, as well as political prisoners and Jews, Verreycken was giving an approval of genocide and inciting hatred and violence.
“By doing so, he showed a lack of respect for the countless victims of the genocide during the Second World War and for the grief of their relatives,” the verdict read in part.
“That this happened in a place that many people regard as a memorial to a great deal of human suffering makes the disrespect shown absolutely unacceptable to the court.”
The court was the same one that convicted four Voorpost (a Flemish ethnic nationalist group) members in Mechelen last week of inciting hatred because they carried a banner with ‘Stop Islamisation’ during a demonstration, De Standaard reports.
Verreycken visited Fort Breendonk on the day the photo was taken with around ten members of Right Wing Resistance Flanders, a group whose members are considered to be right-wing extremists by Belgium’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (CUTA, or OCAD in Dutch).
When police searched the home of Verreycken, they found a collection of Nazi marching music, an SS uniform and a flag for Identitaire Beweging (Identity Movement), a pan-European extreme right-wing movement.
His phone had already been confiscated as part of a separate investigation into allegations of stalking and possession of child pornography. The photo of Verreycken giving the Nazi salute was found on it.
Verreycken is no stranger to right-wing ideology. His father is a former member of parliament for Vlaams Belang and his grandfather was a senator for Vlaams Blok, that party’s predecessor.
Vlaams Blok used to be the militant right wing of the Flemish movement before the party was effectively blocked from entering any level of government by a 1989 pact between other political parties.
A court in Ghent ruled in 2004 that the party had sanctioned discrimination and breached the 1981 anti-racism law. With three counts of racism, they were unable to receive subsidy as a political party. Shortly after the ruling, that party reorganised itself as Vlaams Belang.
During the initial hearing for Verreycken about the photo in April, his lawyer pointed to his upbringing as a possible influence on his behaviour, but said that “in any case, he says he has no affinity with Nazi ideology and minimises nothing of what the Nazis did.”