History of the Jews in Belgium

History of the Jews in Belgium

Jews and Judaism have a long history in Belgium, from the first century CE until today. The Jewish community numbered 100,000 on the eve of the Second World War, but after the war and the Holocaust, is now less than one half that number.


Early history

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.


In the sixteenth 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 fifteenth century.

Later history

After 1713, Austrian rule in Belgium promoted a more open Jewish society, and there was some Ashkenazic immigration. The status of Jews in Belgium would improve under French and Dutch rule as well.

The Holocaust

Just before the Second World War, the Jewish community of Belgium was at its peak of roughly 100,000 Jews (with concentrations of 55,000 in Antwerp and 35,000 in Brussels). Some 20,000 of this number were German-Jewish refugees. 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. Many Belgian Jews were taken to concentration camps, primarily Auschwitz. The Committee for Jewish Defence, which worked with the national resistance movement, was the largest Jewish defense movement in Belgium during the war. All told, some 25,000 Belgian Jews 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.


Today, there are around 42,000 Jews in Belgium. The Jewish Community of Antwerp (numbering some 20,000) is one of the largest in Europe, and one of the last places in the world where Yiddish is the primary language of a large Jewish community (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. There are five Jewish newspapers and more than 45 active synagogues (30 of which are in Antwerp), in the country.

ee also

*Chaim Kreiswirth, the former Chief Rabbi of Antwerp
*Jewish Community of Antwerp


* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Belgium.html#1 jewishvirtuallibrary.org, Belgian Jews]
* [http://www.visitbelgium.com/jewish.htm visitbelgium.com/jewish, Jewish Belgium]
* [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/belgium/belgium-judaism.htm sacred-destinations.com/belgium/belgium-judaism, Judaism in Belgium]
* [http://www.cicb.be| 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.

External links

* [http://www.chabad.org/centers/default_cdo/country/Belgium Chabad-Lubavitch centers in Belgium]

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