Philip Heylen4 juni 2013 – Philip Heylen – Stadhuis Antwerpen

Raoul Wallenberg Commemoration in Antwerp:
Let’s all take a firm stand against anti-Semitism

Wij danken Philip Heylen, Schepen van Cultuur, voor zijn mooie toespraak, waarvan u hier de volledige tekst kan lezen:

“Vanavond vond in het Antwerpse Stadhuis de herdenking van Raoul Wallenberg plaats – een Zweeds diplomaat die in de Tweede Wereldoorlog het leven van vele tienduizenden Joodse Hongaren heeft gered. Ik mocht in aanwezigheid van de Hongaarse ambassadeur in België en vele vertegenwoordigers van de Joodse gemeenschap in Antwerpen de volgende woorden uitspreken. Voor mij is het niet alleen belangrijk dat we vandaag de herinnering aan de Shoah en aan echte helden als Raoul Wallenberg levendig houden, maar dat we ons blijven uitspreken tegen elke vorm van discriminatie en antisemitisme, ook en vooral in het Europa van de 21ste eeuw. U leest hier mijn toespraak: …

Toespraak in PDF

Ladies and gentlemen,

It was the famous Hungarian writer Gyorgy Konrad who said that he could not think of one collective purpose that would urge him to kill other people. This is a strong statement of a Hungarian writer from Jewish decent.  We all know that history came up with a lot of false collective purposes that caused the death of millions of people.  The Shoah was one of the darkest pages in the book of history that Europe has been writing for more than three millennia.

In German they have invented a word to describe the inhuman bureaucratic system that in the most thinkable efficient way has caused the death of so many, simply by putting your signature under a sheet of paper.  They call it Schreibtischtäter. Writing desk murderer.  So many anonymous people that could feel not guilty or responsible because they felt just a tiny part in a long and obscure chain of command.  Only someone who was almost familiar with this kind of bureaucracy could beat the system with its own logic.  A diplomat with a consciousness.  Raoul Wallenberg was such a man.

Raoul Wallenberg is an example how a human being can become larger than life and take enormous risks for a collective benefit.  People like him remind us that there is something that makes us always human and discriminates us from other biological creatures on our planet.  Raoul Wallenberg was not acting alone but his example was an inspiration for many people. It is a comfort to think that the courage of an individual can beat the madness of a whole system.  One estimates that Wallenberg probably has saved 100.000 Jewish people. It means more than a cold number, we are talking about lives, families, ancestors and offspring, we are talking about memories, religion, culture and language, we are definitely talking about a moral act that elevates us above ourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, imagine a world without Hungary and we would not have invented the ballpoint or Rubik’s cube.  We should miss the dribbles of Ferenc Puskas, the music of Bartok and Ligety, the books of Sandor Marai or Imre Kertesz and the movies with Tony Curtis or Zsa zsa Gabor.  I could not imagine such a world because it is generally known that I am a huge fan of this beautiful country on the Danube.  Budapest is one of those cities that can be a compelling reason to visit Europe.  Nevertheless, there is also a compelling reason to defend the core of what makes us all Europeans: our sense of democracy, equality and diversity.  So, I don’t want to hide that we all know that there is a party in Hungary – Jobbik, not to name them – that does not hold back on these themes and even reminds some people of the terrible times of the Arrow Cross and Nazi-regime.

This is not only the case in Hungary.  There is a new ghost that goes around throughout Europe.  That ghost is strongly active in populism, racism and anti-Semitism.  We cannot approve of the words, speeches and minds of those who want to win elections by creating a collective enemy, called ’the others’.  Unfortunately, among those others we see that Jews are back among them.

But it is always easier to see the flaws in your backyard than in your own house.  A recent study for JOP, the youth research platform, by professor Marc Elchardus, sociologist, shows an increase of anti-Jewish feelings among young people in Flanders, especially among young ones from Muslim families.  A figure of 45% teenagers that think that Jewish people look down upon them and never can be trusted is quite shocking.  The Middle East conflict cannot be accepted as the only explanation for such awkward way of thinking.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a real danger, an increasing danger that is rooted in the economic crisis that is seriously affecting the whole EU. Political trends given by hate, anger and frustration are appearing throughout the world. Europeans go back to their tendency to look for a scapegoat and this is always a dangerous thing. We in Europe must act as categorically as possible against this phenomenon. If we want to protect democracy, we must take a firm stand against any extremist party.  Racism is giving the blame to others for your own failures.

I am very aware of the fact that this is a strong statement but there should be no ambiguity on this point. Take for instance my own town, Antwerp.  A few years ago my city apologized officially to the Jewish community for the crimes committed during World War II. In Antwerp as well people closed their eyes – or worse – to the cruelties committed to the Jews, and high ranked officials put their signature on the wrong kind of papers. My own family was heavily affected by the Second World War, but nonetheless my parents raised me in an open and tolerant spirit. I grew up with respect for all people – people from different cultural background, people from different belief or religion, people with different philosophy.  I built strong ties with the Jewish community of my city.  I have Jewish friends, celebrate occasionally Shabbat with them and in behalf of the city I attend every year the official enlightenment of the Chanukah chandelier.  Next week I will go to New York to promote the opening of the Red Star Line memorial in Antwerp.  This building is a symbol of a city where hundred thousands of Jewish people have been passed through, heading for the new world, hoping for a new future.  Golda Meir and Irving Berlin are two of the most famous examples that were shipped by the Red Star Line.  My city is together with New York, one of the very few cities where Jiddisch is a living language that you can hear on the street and where you still can see orthodox Jew wear their pajes.   The fact that we are the number one in the world for diamonds is something we owe to the Jewish community.  Please, let us think thoroughly how we can make stronger connection with this community that is an important part of our urban DNA.  I am convinced that still an overwhelming part of our population consider this community as a substantial part of the identity of Antwerp.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Prime minister Victor Orban opposed strongly to anti-Semitism a month ago in his speech for the jewish congress in Budapest .  His words were clear: Today’s difficult situation requires an answer to the question, where did we go wrong in Europe during the past twenty years…

We finally destroyed Nazism and communism. We put an end to the Cold War. Europe was given the chance to once again be the continent of peace, cohabitation, understanding and tolerance. And here we are twenty years later and are searching for a cure for increasing intolerance and anti-Semitism. What happened to us? This is a question that is asked by many and we hear many arguments.  There is no simple answer but it should be too easy to think that it only happens in other countries.  It happens everywhere, and when it is not visible yet, at least it takes place in the minds of people.

Europe should become a place where you can go and move wherever and whenever you’d like to.  Freedom is a basic value on which this part of the world has been built upon.  Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, there is always somebody different. Let’s embrace our diversity: our different skin color, our different kind of religion or sexual orientation.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen,

What happened with Raoul Wallenberg?  I plea that the European Union and all states that are involved work together to answer this question.  It is our moral duty.  Raoul Wallenberg is the man who didn’t hesitate because he saw the uniqueness of every human being.  His struggle against the most cruel crime on people ever, is a struggle which we should continue every day.  That is the only way to commemorate Raul Wallenberg in the most proper and respectful way. The Jewish writer Elias Canetti wrote in his Vienna that “not the cruelties and atrocities of a regime are the most shocking fact in history but the mere fact that so many people do not recognize them anymore”.

Thank you,

Philip Heylen
Vice Mayor for Culture and Economics

Philip Heylen tijdens zijn toespraak op 4 juni 2013