An exhibition commemorating and honouring the people that managed to escape the 20th Convoy, on its way from Mechelen to Auschwitz in 1943, opened at the Jewish Museum of Belgium on 20 January.
1. The 20th Convoy
This year, April 19th will mark the 80th anniversary of the attack on the 20th Convoy. In 1943, the 20th convoy, carrying 1,631 Jewish men, women and children, left the Belgian transit camp in Mechelen, heading to Auschwitz. For the first time, the third-class carriages previously used were replaced by freight wagons with barbed wire covering the small windows, making it more difficult for anyone to escape.
Three young members of the Belgian resistance managed to stop the Holocaust train between the municipalities of Boortmeerbeek and Haacht. Despite the odds, they managed to open one of the wagon and free 17 people, but, thanks to the interference, a total of 233 escaped the train. From these, only 118 succeeded to get away with their lives, 23 being killed on the spot, either by shooting or by the fall from the train, and 89 being recaptured and put on following convoys.
Photographer Jo Struyven (b. Sint-Truiden, 1961) reflects on this unique act of rebellion in Western Europe under Nazi administration, showing the landscapes in which this little-known story took place. Struyen travelled to the places where the few people managed to escape the train, taking black and white pictures to commemorate the story and honour those who did not make it out.
These photographs constitute a contemporary memorial, providing a response to the indifference that characterises these stripped landscapes today. Although they seem devoid of human presence, they were nevertheless infused with (in)humanity.Jewish Museum of Belgium
Two paintings by Luc Tuymans (b. Mortsel, 1958), which also evoke the destruction of the European Jews and Romani, engage in a dialogue with these photos. In his work, Tuymans has repeatedly explored the relationship between individuals and history, confronting them with their ability to ignore it. The persecution during the Second World War emerged as a theme in his painting practice in the late 1970s.
The exhibition is opened until 14 August.