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The BBC's Shirin Wheeler
"Amnesty or amnesia: There is no easy resolution in sight"
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Friday, 26 November, 1999, 10:21 GMT
Outrage over compensation for Belgian collaborators
B/W of Flemsih supporters marching As the Flemish movement flourished, some welcomed the Nazis

By Shirin Wheeler in Brussels

A campaign in Belgium to compensate people who helped the Nazis during World War II - and who were then punished for it - has sparked a furious debate and reopened old wounds.

A controversial law that treats former collaborators as "victims of repression" - because they were stripped of war pensions and property after the war - is being supported by Belgium's Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats and the Flemish Nationalist parties.

Line Lambert believed that the Nazis would support her struggle for more Flemish autonomy
One attempt to introduce the law at a regional level was defeated by the appeal court last month but now there are plans to reintroduce it in the national parliament.

At her home in Ghent 92-year-old Line Lambert leads a quiet life.

But some 50 years ago she was among thousands arrested and accused of collaborating with the Nazi occupiers of Belgium.

Many friends were executed. She led a group promoting Flemish culture and was jailed for seven months but never convicted.

It's obvious that we Germanics were familiar with German culture - but as far as sympathy goes ... does that mean we supported Hitler? Absolutely not

Line Lambert, accused of collaborating with Nazis
Her husband served a 10-year prison sentence. Mrs Lambert said their mistake was believing that the Germans would support their nationalist struggle.

" It's obvious that we Germanics were familiar with German culture - but as far as sympathy goes ... does that mean we supported Hitler? Absolutely not. We just wanted to express our own culture through this."

However, as the Flemish movement flourished in the 1930's, some were clearly ready to embrace Nazi culture more wholeheartedly.

They had hoped too that the Germans would put an end to the francophone domination of Belgium.

Flemish-Walloon tensions

The Flemish movement supporters had claimed that the francophones had denied Dutch speakers their language and cultural rights.

After the war, these Flemish nationalists were punished severely. Some 240 collaborators were executed, and 58,000 others were arrested and stripped of their property and legal rights.

concentration camp Those Belgians who opposed the Nazis ended up at Breendonk - the Belgian concentration camp
Among today's Flemish activists, there is still a sense of injustice. It fuels support for a law to compensate collaborators who were pardoned and are now in financial need.

Time to forgive?

Compensation would also apply to former members of the resistance and victims of Nazi persecution.

"I think after 50 years we need to close the book. That time has finished now and I think after 50 years we have to have forgiveness", says Etienne Van Varenvergh, a moderate Flemish Nationalist Party or Volksunie MP.

The suffering in Nazi camps like Breendonk makes forgiveness more complex - Breendonk was Belgium's concentration camp.

Treating people who helped the Nazis as victims is seen in some quarters as an insult to the Jews and members of the resistance who were incarcerated there.

Patrick Moreau is-the Breendonk Memorial historian. His grandfather was one of those who did not survive the sadistic regime.

Sylvain Keuleers Sylvain Keuleers says that the collaborators' campaign is "distatsteful"
"They had a special torture chamber here. They were tortured also by the sounds of the torturing of other people. When you were in your room here you could hear the sound of other people yelling. Breendonk was never silent," he said.

At Breendonk, they still remember those who suffered so cruelly. What offends many about the call to compensate former collaborators is that it somehow puts the victims of genocide and persecution on an equal footing with those who actually helped the Nazis.

Its not just bad taste - it is distasteful. It is unethical. I don't see why we need this bill.
Sylvain Keuleers
At the Auschwitz Foundation in Brussels, there are no doubts about who the real victims are.

Foundation members are dedicated to communicating their version of events - and opposing plans to compensate collaborators as victims themselves of repression after the war.

Sylvain Keuleers, a lecturer at the Foundation said: " Its not just bad taste - it is distasteful. It is unethical. I don't see why we need this bill."

As Belgium's painful wartime past is picked over, there is no easy resolution in sight.

But the questions will continue about the motives of those who didn't actively oppose an occupation which brought such suffering
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See also:
02 Aug 99 |  Europe
Gypsy victims of Nazism remembered
18 Nov 99 |  Europe
Slave labour compensation talks continue
15 Nov 99 |  Europe
Stakes rise in Nazi compensation row
02 Apr 98 |  Europe
Maurice Papon: The man on trial

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