Ceremonies in Brussels mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

Concentration camp survivor Siegi Hirsch has been awarded the title of Commander of the Order of the Crown. He was presented with the title at a ceremony at the Egmont Palace in Brussels on Saturday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A Jew of German origin, Siegi Hirsch and his family fled to Belgium shortly before Kristallnacht. He was deported to Auschwitz at the age of 17 in 1942. After returning from the concentration camps, he helped organise homes for Jewish children orphaned by the war. As a pioneering psychologist, he dedicated his life to supporting young people in difficulty. 

"A great humanist and free thinker, he owes his influence to his unconditional faith in human beings"

“After the horror and suffering of the concentration camps, Siegi Hirsch chose to help others. For this, he deserves all our respect. A great humanist and free thinker, he owes his influence to his unconditional faith in human beings,” said Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib, who presented Hirsch with his title. 

She added that it was "the duty of us all to keep alive the vital work of remembrance" of the Holocaust and the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Second World War.

The previous day, a memorial was created in Brussels for Suzanne Kaminski, the youngest Jewish victim to be deported from Belgium to the death camps. The “stolperstein” brass stone was laid on the pavement outside 8 Rue de l’Etuve. 

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Suzanne was born on 11 March 1943 and was deported to Auschwitz from the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen on a train convoy on 19 April. Upon arrival three days later, just six weeks old, she was murdered. 

The German ambassador to Belgium, Martin Kotthaus, attended the ceremony, as did pupils from several Brussels schools. “This child embodied absolute innocence, but she only knew fear and horror. This stone today is the solemn pledge not to forget her,” Kotthaus said.

He stressed the importance of the commemoration in light of the growing popularity of far-right politics and increasing antisemitic acts.

Digital walking tour

Earlier in the week, the House of European History launched a walking tour called Hidden Children: Holocaust Survivors in Brussels. It links the stories of Michel, Sonia, Helene and Gilbert to locations in the city. The tour features seven stops on a 2 km route that starts at Rue de Lenglentier in the Marolles neighbourhood and ends at the Grand Place.

“We developed the tour to bring historical events right up to the present day,” said Laurence Bragard, formal learning manager at the House of European History, in a press release.

“You can literally follow in the footsteps of these resilient individuals, who not only survived the Holocaust, but also carried their stories with them through the decades. Their experiences are a testament to human spirit and the enduring legacy of hope.” 

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked every year on 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945.

Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Siegi Hirsch pictured with Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib during a ceremony at the Egmont Palace in Brussels, 27 January 2024, in Brussels © BELGA PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT

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