In Europe, much of
Jewish settlement began with the Roman conquests. Jews followed the path of
the Roman legions in Belgium in the years 53-57 A.D.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, Jews
settled in Belgium after having been expelled from England and France. Another
wave of immigration to Belgium came in the 15th century when the Jews were
expelled from Spain and Portugal.
Educated and sometimes quite
wealthy, Jews scattered throughout Europe, settling in the seventeen provinces
of the Lowlands, today's Belgium and the Netherlands. Marranos who settled in
Antwerp at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century played an
important economic and financial role there. Between 1650 and 1694 a secret
synagogue conducted services in Antwerp.
The Jewish population in Belgium
grew slowly in the 18th and 19th centuries, emigrating mainly from France,
Germany and Holland. After 1880, Jews also emigrated from Eastern Europe. In
fact Belgium, and especially Antwerp, was seen as a stop to the "Goldene
Mediene." Sephardic Jews came also from the Ottoman Empire before the turn of
the 19th century.
With the arrival of German refugees
in the 1930s, the Jewish population in Belgium reached its peak. By 1939, it has
been estimated that 65,000 Jews lived in Belgium-25,000 in Antwerp, 30,000 in
Brussels, 5,000 in Liege, 3,000 in Charleroi, with smaller settlements in Gent,
Oostende, Namur and Arlon.
By August 1942, the Nazis began
transporting Belgian Jews to Auschwitz. By the end of the war approximately
40,000 Belgian Jews had died. After World War II, rebuilding the Jewish
communities was the first and main goal of those who survived the Holocaust.
These communities consisted of those who hid successfully during the war and the
1,207 who returned from the camps. Other concentration camp survivors and
displaced people, who never had lived in Belgium before, joined
Today the majority of Belgian Jews
belongs to the middle class and is active in the fur, textile, leather and
diamond industries. The total Jewish population in Belgium is approximately
42,000. About 20,000 Jews live in Brussels, and 15,000 in Antwerp. Small Jewish
communities exist in Charleroi, Oostende, Gent, Liege, Mons, Arlon and
In comparison with other
occupied countries, a high percentage of Jews were saved by Belgians who went to
great lengths hiding children and adults whenever and wherever