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History of the Jews in Antwerp

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History of the Jews in Antwerp


Basic Information

Location 51°13′N 04°24′E
Country Belgium
City Antwerp

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility no
Geographical Coordinates 51.21667,4.4


The history of the Jews in Antwerp, Belgium goes back at least eight hundred years. Currently, the Jewish community of Antwerp consists of around 15,000.

History and time period

The first Jewish presence in Antwerp is attested to by the will of Henry III, the Duke of Brabant and Margrave of Antwerp, who in 1261 expressed his wish that the Jews of Brabant should be expelled and destroyed because they were all considered "usurers".

In the mid 14th century, John III, the Duke of Brabant, conducted a massive anti-Jewish campaign in Brussels and Leuven and drove them from the city.

A new group of Jewish immigrants started to settle in Antwerp in the early 16th century, when the city became a relatively safe haven for crypto-Jews fleeing the persecutions and the expulsions in the Iberian Peninsula. An often tenuous presence was maintained for the next century and a half, although Jews were not allowed to acquire citizenship and persecution was common.

It was not until 1794 and with the arrival of the French Revolution that Jews could settle freely in Antwerp for the first time. The current Jewish community of Antwerp was officially established in 1816, when there were about one hundred Jews living in the city. This, the first legally recognized community, was known as the Jewish Community (Communauté Israelite). The first Jewish public prayers were held in the private home of Moise Kreyn, having received the approval of the city authorities. The Jews of Antwerp acquired possession of a cemetery in 1828. There were 151 Jews living in Antwerp in 1829.

During the Second World War, 65% of the city Jews perished in the Holocaust (vs. only 35% of Jews from Brussels). On April 14, 1941, the so-called "Antwerp Pogrom" occurred when some 200 Flemish Nazi supporters burned two synagogues in the Oosten straat. In May–September 1942, some 1500 Jewish men from Antwerp were taken into forced labor in Northern France, building the "Atlantic Wall" for the Todt organisation. From the end of July until November 1942, on three different occasions, Jews in Antwerp were rounded up by the Germans with the collaboration of the local police. From a community of around 35,000 Jews in Antwerp before the war, some 15,000 remained in the city after 1945.

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