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Belgium Jewish museum moves into ex-Nazi quarters

The Associated Press, USA
May 5, 2004 • Wednesday May 5, 2004

Belgium’s new Jewish museum opened Wednesday in a restored building that served as a Nazi police station during World War II, as part of efforts to boost the museum’s profile and keep alive the Jewish community’s culture and history.

The Jewish Museum of Belgium, which operated for 14 years in makeshift quarters above the Beth Israel Synagogue in a rundown section of Brussels, moved to the swanky Sablon quarter, near major art museums, the royal library and the city’s Great Synagogue.

However, the museum chairman, Baron Georges Shnek, said more money was needed to complete renovations of the 19th century building to bring it up to the level of other major Jewish museums like those located in Amsterdam, Paris and London.

The goal is to make the museum a major tourist draw in a city that houses both European Union and NATO headquarters, Shnek said.

“By moving to these premises, a first step has been set,” said Shnek. “Others will follow, which will finally lead us to the realization of our ambitious project for Brussels, capital of Europe.”

The museum already benefits from a vast archive of Jewish artifacts of some 3 million documents, including 25,000 books, 20,000 photos, and Belgian Jewish registration cards, which were issued to Jews by the occupying Nazi authorities during World War II.

The museum also boasts numerous paintings and religious Jewish ceremonial artifacts.

At inaugural ceremonies Tuesday night, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said the museum would contribute to combating a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

“It would be wrong both historically and culturally to forget the influence of Jewish culture in Europe,” Verhofstadt said. “That is why this museum is important. Remembering is important. Because if we forget history, we will also forget the mistakes that were made in the past.”

The museum’s inaugural exhibition highlights the lives of Jews and how they integrated in Belgium through pictures and paintings, put together by artist Jacques Charlier.

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