On 6 October 2018, Johan and I visited the Kazerne Dossin Museum in Mechelen, Belgium. Originally, when I looked at the museum information, I thought it contained history of the Holocaust, but did not read closely enough to see that the entire museum was not a “war museum” for WWII but specifically a Holocaust Museum.
We went early enough, not long after the museum opened, hoping to visit while it was quiet. Having visited other Holocaust sites, camps, and WWII museums, I know I do better going when it is less busy and crowded. I do a lot of healing in these places, a lot of writing, contemplation, and too many people or too much noise make it hard for me to function. I thought the one place people would be respectful was a Holocaust Museum but that wasn’t the case. There were many French-speaking groups in the museum after we arrived, all speaking loudly, some laughing. Being a medium who hears what the dead say – I can’t repeat what I heard because I’m sure it will offend someone, but know the dead were NOT happy.
When you walk into the museum, one of the first things you see is a wall with thousands of faces. There is a wall like this on every floor.
There are several floors that walk you through the history of the Holocaust. It is in many ways, very similar to what you see at every other Holocaust museum or camp. Then there were history panels and stories which were specific to this place. You really should read the INTRODUCTION on their website for the specific history. Their introduction begins,
“Between 1942 and 1944, 25,484 Jews and 352 Roma and Sinti were deported from the 18th century Dossin barracks. Just over 5% returned from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Kazerne Dossin is an intense and unique place of commemoration. The museum deals with the persecution of Jews and gypsies in Belgium. Until mid-1942, the occupier was able to count everywhere on the often supportive cooperation of the authorities. How was that possible? Why this persecution? What did it mean for the victims and how did they react? Was there no resistance? These are core questions in the museum.”
So many questions.
So many faces.
So many stories.
These are questions we still ask today about the Holocaust and every other event that has or is happening where mass violence is occurring in our world. What would it take to make it stop?
The museum is laid out nicely and you walk each floor through paneled walkways filled with stories, artifacts, photos, and questions. One of the most impressive or soul numbing walks I took in the middle of one floor was starting on one end with all the photos and as I walked down the aisle I was walking into Auschwitz.
Once I reached the top two floors of the museum, most of the noise of visitors was gone as there were only a few people up there. This is where the primary history was being told about Belgium, this location, and those who left. On the top floor there is a panoramic view of the city of Mechelen and a large open space with seating for you to sit and contemplate what you’ve just seen. By the time I reached the top floor I’d had enough of rude people and walked back down to the special exhibit on the Holocaust in Strips (Comic Strips). I took a quick look at that and then we left.
Across the street from the museum is the Memorial where the Jews and Gypsies departed this area from. In the building there are many artifacts on the main floor, which I did not stop to look at. I went downstairs to the cellar where there is a room with 28 monitors, one for each transport, that rotate through each person on each transport. In a separate room there are seats on which you sit, one for each transport and above you, you hear the names of those on that specific transport. You can listen to this short video to get the feeling of this space. Note – this video is short and there is a high pitch noise I did not hear in the room when I recorded it. In fact, while the names were spoken clearly, what was recorded was not completely clear. Listening to it now I hear other things too – the energy of the room is speaking.
I did not remain there long because unfortunately several people came in speaking very loudly.
Overall, the museum is very well done and if you can visit when there are not groups speaking loudly and behaving rudely, I recommend you visit. If nothing else, please visit their website and read about the museum and memorial. Stop to consider the questions they ask and then ask yourself – what can I do to help heal the past?
© 2018 World War II Research & Writing Center