History of the Jews in Belgium
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Judaism has a long history in Belgium, from the 1st century CE until today. The Jewish community numbered 66,000 on the eve of the Second World War but, after the war and the Holocaust, is now less than half that number. However, there has recently been a significant immigration of Jews from other European countries (namely from France and the Netherlands) and Israel to Belgium.
The first Jews to arrive in the present-day territory of Belgium arrived with the Romans between the years 50 and 60 AD. Jews were mentioned as early as 1200 in Brabant (and in 1261, Duke Henry III ordered the expulsion of Jews and usurers from the province). The Jewish community suffered further during the Crusades, as many Jews who refused to be baptised were put to death. This early community mostly disappeared after the Black Death persecutions 1348-1350, and finally the Brussels massacre, 1370.
In the 16th century, many Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain settled in Belgium and the Netherlands. In addition, many Marranos (crypto-Jews who outwardly professed Christianity) settled in Antwerp at the end of the 15th century.
Just before the Second World War, the Jewish community of Belgium was at its peak of roughly 70,000 Jews (with concentrations of 35,000 in Antwerp and 25,000 in Brussels). Some 22,000 of this number were German Jewish refugees. Only 6% of the Jewish population were of Belgian nationality. Belgium was occupied by Nazi Germany between May 1940 and September 1944, and anti-Semitic policies were adopted throughout Belgium, even though popular resistance in some cities hindered their full application. Belgian local police rounded up Jews, on three occasions in Antwerp, helping the German in fulfilling their murderous policy towards the Jews. Approximately 45% of Jews in Belgium (25.484 people) were deported to concentration camps from the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen, primarily to Auschwitz. Only 1200 of the deportees survived the war. The Committee for Jewish Defence, which worked with the national resistance movement Front de l'Indépendance, was the largest Jewish defense movement in Belgium during the war. Some Jews of Belgium who fled in 1940 were deported on transports from Drancy, France. A total of 28,900 Jews of Belgium perished between 1942 and 1945. Belgium was the only occupied country in which a transport (Train XX) was halted to give deportees a chance to escape.
The National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Belgium is in Brussels. More than twenty thousand names of Jewish dead are inscribed on the walls of the Monument, Jewish victims from all around Belgium, some of whom were killed on Belgian territory, but many of whom were shipped off to the death camps in the East for their extermination.
Today, there are around 42,000 Jews in Belgium. The Jewish Community of Antwerp (numbering some 20,000) is one of the largest single communities in Europe, and one of the last places in the world where Yiddish is its primary language (mirroring certain Orthodox and Hassidic communities in New York and Israel). In addition a very high percentage (95%) of Jewish children in Antwerp receive a Jewish education. Nationally, there are five Jewish newspapers and more than 45 active synagogues, 30 of which are in Antwerp.
A number of antisemitic incidents have occurred in Belgium in recent years. On 18 November 2012 at Antwerp during an anti-Israel rally Muslim demonstrators chanted “Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas." On 9 October 2012 in Brussels, two unidentified male perpetrators spray-painted “death to the Jews” and “boom” on the wall of the Beth Hillel synagogue. This antisemitism has in turn led to increased immigration to Israel.
According to JTA report the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2012 was the highest since 2009. There were 80 anti-Semitic incidents reported throughout Belgium in 2012, a 23 percent increase over 2011 and an overall increase of 34 percent since 2000. Five of the incidents involved physical attacks, three of which occurred in Antwerp. Furthermore, on October 2013, Isi Leibler, the former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, reported on the alarming increase in the levels of anti-Semitism in the country. Leibler described a wide use of anti-Semitic caricatures in the media including a caricature on the official central Flanders educational website comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Also he described an increase of 30% in the number of anti-Semitic incidents including physical assaults and vandalism of Jewish institutions, and a suggestion of the Belgian Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck of the ruling Christian Democratic Party of an amnesty for Nazi collaborators in 2011. Furthermore, according to a survey conducted among eight Jewish communities in eight European Union countries, 88% of Belgium Jews feel that in the course of the recent years antisemitism has intensified in their country. 10% of those who responded to the survey who live in Belgium have suffered since 2008 from incidents of physical violence or threats because of their being Jewish. Most of the victims did not report to the police during the last five years.
- "Belgium". Yad-Vashem.
- Au nom de l'antisionisme: l'image des Juifs et d'Israël dans la ... p27 Joël Kotek, Dan Kotek - 2005 "Des émeutes antijuives s'ensuivent. La profanation de l'hostie, que les chrétiens identifient à la personne même du Christ, serait la répétition du crime du calvaire. En 1370, une vingtaine de Juifs sont brûlés à Bruxelles."
- "Antisemitism intensifies in Belgium". CFCA. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
- Moore, Bob. "Jewish Self-Help and Rescue in the Netherlands during the Holocaust in Comparative Perspective," Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis (2011) 124#4 pp 492–505, a comparison with Belgium
- Rogeau, Olivier; Royen, Marie-Cécile (28 January 2011). "Juifs de Belgique". Le Vif (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven). Retrieved 27 September 2013.
- Jewish Belgium
- Chabad-Lubavitch centers in Belgium
- The Virtual Jewish History Tour - Belgium at Jewish Virtual Library
- visitbelgium.com/jewish, Jewish sites in Belgium
- Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance This museum in Mechelen traces the story of the many Jews who were deported during the occupation. The archives are accessible to those seeking information on the fate of family members.