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A bit of History

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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 them.

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 Knokke.

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 possible.


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