‘De gedachten zijn vrij. Wie raadt ze daarbinnen? Ze dansen voorbij. Als nachtelijke schimmen. Geen mens kan ze naken. Geen jager ze raken. Laat wezen wat zij. De gedachten zijn vrij. Vrij. Vrij.’
‘The thoughts are free. Who will guess them there inside? They dance on by. Like nightly phantoms. No man can touch them. No hunter hit them. Let be what may. The thoughts are free. Free. Free.’
She was one of the few remaining living survivors of the concentration camps here in Belgium. A woman of tremendous strength.
On Sunday, when she died at 93 years of age, I was on assignment for the newspaper to photograph the election congress of extreme-right party Vlaams Belang and never felt surrounded by more hate then in that room that afternoon…
Echoing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, the room shouted ‘Less, Less, Less’, meaning they want less immigrants, less Moroccans, less others in our country. The fact that an entire room filled with hundreds of people is that intolerant towards others, really scares me…
To me, it echoes sounds from the past, not even that long ago … And this is not just happening in Belgium. It’s all over Europe and beyond. A big reason why the photographers from the Rise of Populism in Europe have invested in telling our stories on this dangerous feeling sweeping through our countries.
With the last remaining survivors slowly dying and passing on, the living testimony they give disappears. Even the more reason why their interviews, photographs, recorded testimony, objects in museums should be protected well. We cannot forget!
As it so happens, last week, I finally started a project I wanted to do for a few years now. Recording the story of my neighbor Fée Gruszow-Bloch. A hidden Jewish child that survived World War II, being hidden and cast off as a non-Jewish girl. She lost 21 members of her family, including both her parents. I still can’t even begin to understand or grasp that concept. It’s beyond me…
She is one of the most incredible people I’ve come to know in recent years and it’s so wonderful to see that she remains positive and optimistic, after what she and her family have been through. A true inspiration.
As Regine Beer, Fée also goes to schools to tell young students what the war was like. What happened to her and her family. Last week I went along to one of those lectures in a school in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. Here’s a small teaser of that day, which will become part of a bigger project on Fée and her story.
Hopefully sharing her story, reminding people of our collective past, will help create more tolerance and love instead of hate.