As Ambassador of Belgium to Israel (2008-2012) I felt it was important to
– be regularly informed by the Foundation Merci of their programmes with Yad Vashem
– to attend the opening session of the yearly programs with Belgian teachers whenever possible
– to offer the opportunity to these teachers and Israeli officials to meet, at the Belgian residence, with survivors who had spent their childhood in Belgium.These were always emotional encounters. I believe they not only contributed to forging a personal bond between the various groups, but also achieved a deeper and more personal understanding the of what it meant to be Jewish in Belgium during World War II and the years that followed.
Education is indeed key if we want the reach the new generations and make them aware of the significance of the Shoah. Each teacher crosses the path of about 5000 pupils and students during the course of her/his career. If equipped with appropriate tools, they can play a distinctive role in the transmission not only of memory and history, but also of the right values. In the turbulent world of today, they are a major asset, in order to educate not only young people, but also parents and other teachers to remember and understand the past in order to shape the present and to trust the future.
Those meetings have also demonstrated the importance of building networks for the following reasons:
– expand the level of support and understanding for teaching about the Shoah, not only as a chapter in the history class, but as guide to defending and promoting our values
– support has to come from various corners even when circumstances are complicated
– as direct witnesses disappear, we will need voices beyond those of historians to relay their stories.
Benedict Frankinet, Former Ambassador of Belgium in Israel. Member of the board of the MERCi Foundation
This seminar is very important for teachers because they receive materials to help them to teach the Shoah in a diversity society. The way of teaching the Shoah as changed. Students, teachers, Society as changed, we must pay attention to our way of teaching. We must not produce antisemitism ourselves. We must speak about human values, respect which is the foundation of each democratic society. We cannot forget that the Shoah was deshumanisation. Education doesn’t guaranteed a world without turbulences, but without education, turbulences are guaranteed.
Created in 2006, following an initiative of the Luxemburg provincial College, MERCi Foundation is a Belgian charitable, independent, non-profit organization based in Marche-en-Famenne, at the Ardennes region doors. Since then, MERCi is active on its two tasked missions: working remembrance and educate for civil responsibility through covering Holocaust, fighting against antisemitism and xenophobia, explaining World Wars I and II. Operating in the Federation Wallonia-Brussels area (French speaking federated community of Belgium), and because FWB manages Education programs, our aim is to be sough and our tools to be used for touching young people through schools and specific outside-school programs. On this basis, MERCi is able thus to reach 500 potential schools. MERCi encourages young citizens to actively participate in society. To achieve its missions, MERCi set objectives: break down prejudices, turn the citizen into an actor of society, enlighten about History, and raise awareness through remembrance and knowledge. MERCi diversifies its actions by organizing remembrance trips, exhibitions, lectures, collecting and publishing war testimonies, animating educational programs, organizing annual seminars for French speaking teachers. To celebrate its tenth anniversary, MERCi Foundation, through a partnership with Yad Vashem, Israel, organize the annual European seminar for the first time in Belgium. It will take place on 2nd, 3rd and 4th of November 2016. Today, 3 women and 3 men are composing MERCi Foundation offices.
Unfortunately, these last years, anti-Semitic incidents didn’t decrease in Belgium and are observed as cases often linked to individuals or groups part of a Muslim community. At a time when we hear more about an islamist antisemitism, we see, at the same time, the rise of an anti-Muslim hatred. In this migratory movement’s context in Europe, through far right speeches and also on social networks, perverse shortcuts feed ignorance. In this vicious cycle, anti-Muslim hatred strengthens part of Muslim community in their ideas and Jewish community become, once again, the scapegoat and a target. Naturally, Jewish institutions have been under increasing military or police protection. Dangerous anti-Semitic ideologues saw in that protection a secret agreement between Jews and politics, surfing on conspiracy theories wave and general revulsion for politics. After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, in January 2015, many people showed up as not being “Charlie”, a way to “disobey” the mainstream by badly mixing up the satirical newspaper with the now famous Jewish control myth on Medias. In Marche-en-Famenne, teenagers tagged “Death to Jews” on walls, posing and then posting on Facebook. Nowadays, no region is spared and spread hatred on the Internet is simple. Behind an already grown aggressive backdrop rooted in normalized extreme religious and/or far-right ideologies, Holocaust denial or disinterest is at the peak in parts of Belgian society. When teenagers boycott Holocaust History classes and when pedagogues find difficulties for teaching it because linked to the History of Jews, we face a very big problem. Without rewriting History, MERCi believe in its ability to help Education actors to readapt their approaches to catch students’ consideration and give to remembrance lessons the attention they deserve.
Since 2006, a fruitful and constructive cooperation between Yad Vashem and MERCi Foundation emerged. Through the Foundation, not less than 300 teachers across the Federation Wallonia Brussels, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and France followed the “teaching Holocaust” seminar in Israel and transmit to others in their schools. Over the years, teachers have increasingly expressed their willingness to participate to a seminar deepening their knowledge on Holocaust facts/stories more ignored.
Our aim is to increase, over the years, such initiatives as educational activities for improving the civil enlightenment (especially the fight against prejudices about immigrants, women, Jews, Muslims…) in Wallonia-Brussels area by finding partners, continuing to work closely with schools and giving visibility to activities. In a gender perspective, the project’s aim is to give more prominence, in high school programs, to the mix of gender studies & Holocaust in the way to address anti-Semitism. Through the developed educational tool created for filling a gap in History teaching in high school which generally skips women role in writing History.
All this can be possible if we receive subsidies from the french community, from our authorities or from private donators. Here, we want absolutely to thank Matanel Foundation for supporting the seminar during all these years. We need this kind of organisation to continue our projects, especially this seminar in Yad Vashem.
Coming from a working class family, Vinciane is hard-working and intelligent. She has always dedicated herself fully to her successive jobs.