Criticism of De Wever's comments

31st October 2007, Comments 0 comments

31 October 2007, BRUSSELS (AFP) - A political row flared up in Belgium on Tuesday over an official apology by the city of Antwerp for municipal police and workers' roles in deporting 1,200 Jews in the Second World War.

31 October 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) - A political row flared up in Belgium on Tuesday over an official apology by the city of Antwerp for municipal police and workers' roles in deporting 1,200 Jews in the Second World War.

Antwerp's Socialist mayor, Patrick Janssens, for the first time on Sunday apologised for city officials' role in deportations in Antwerp, home to a large orthodox Jewish community.

According to a recent official study entitled "Docile Belgium", Antwerp police and civil servants participated in three raids during World War II ordered by the Nazis and which led to the deportation of 1,200 Jews to Auschwitz.

Unlike authorities in Brussels, officials in Antwerp rounded up more Jews than the German occupiers had requested.

The head of the right-wing Flemish separatist party NVA, Bart De Wever, criticised the mayor's apology as a "gratuitous act" aimed at far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang, which regularly polls high in Antwerp.

De Wever, whose party is negotiating its inclusion in a new coalition government, said that although he "fought against Vlaams Belang" he did not "want to drag the Shoah (Holocaust)" into politics.

"Those in charge (of Antwerp) at the time had to take difficult decisions in difficult times. I don't think it's very courageous to stigmatise them now," said De Wever, who is a historian by training.

De Wever's comments have since sparked an outpouring of criticism.

Former prime minister Marc Eyskens called his remarks "tactless, shocking and totally out of line towards the Jewish community of Belgium", adding that there was "even a whiff of anti-semitism."

Tuesday morning, De Wever sought to downplay his remarks by saying that the apology was "gratuitous" because it was "too late" and that he would meet later with representatives of the Jewish community to say that he "never had the intention of offending them."

[Copyright AFP 2007]

Subject: Belgian news

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