War Heritage Institute

Webinar: Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is celebrated each year on the 10 December, because on that day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This text sets out basic or fundamental rights, and, to this day, has huge significance as a general, moral and legal standard, and is frequently used as a source text for new international conventions or amendments of the constitution. Human rights activists and organisations use it as a point of reference for their operations.

Each year, all of the member nations of the UN are invited to celebrate this event. Each year the WHI site the National Memorial Fort Breendonk, as a human rights memorial, responds to this call. The lack of human rights was clearly apparent in the daily life of the horror camp. Prisoners arriving at the camp were subjected to humiliation, beatings, forced labour, malnutrition and torture. 301 of them died of deprivation and hardship, torture, hanging or execution, without any form of right to a defence. “ “Never again!” must never be allowed to become an empty slogan!” says the site’s manager Herbart Beyers. “So, on Thursday 10 December at 8 pm we are holding a panel discussion with the former President of the Belgian Human Rights League, Jos Vander Velpen, who is also the author of the book ‘Breendonk, Chronical of a Forgotten Camp’. On the basis of archives and trials following the Second World War, he shows the fates of the “Reichsfeindliche Elementen” (subversive Jews, communists, political prisoners and members of the resistance) who were temporarily interned at the Breendonk “Durchgangslager” (transit camp) prior to deportation. Each a completely unique story about breaches of human rights, and worthwhile for this reason alone. The result is a fascinating and moving portrayal of a forgotten camp.”

Forgotten camp? - Jan Boey, a journalist from ‘Het Nieuwsblad’ and the ‘Gazet van Antwerpen’ will be discussing this subject with memorial site manager Herbart Beyers. What are the challenges involved in keeping this 75-year old history alive? Is history repeating itself? What is the role of remembrance education? The Hell of Breendonk was uniquely evil, and such things must never happen again, but in times of polarisation, harshness and individualisation this represents a major challenge. We do not teach history, we convey a message! Aside from international conventions and institutions, historical education and vigilance are essential in order to prevent atrocities such as those of Breendonk, or the other concentration camps.

So, be sure to join us on 10 December at 8 p.m. via the Facebook page of the War Heritage Institute, for a live stream of this discussion between author Jos Vander Velpen, site manager Herbart Beyers and moderator Jan Boey.

Signed copies of ‘Breendonk, kroniek van een vergeten kamp’ (Breendonk, Chronical of a Forgotten Camp), may be obtained from the reception desk of the memorial between 6 p.m. and 7.45 p.m., by arrangement on the Facebook page of Fort Breendonk.