- Germany defeated Belgium in May 1940. At the time, there were approximately 90,000 Jews living in the country, who constituted 1 percent of the population. About an eighth of the Jews were refugees from Germany, Austria, and Eastern Europe. Most of Belgium’s Jews lived in Antwerp and Brussels, where they were accepted by the overall population. However, anti-Semitism in Belgium manifested itself in the pro-Nazi Rexist party, which, on the eve of the German invasion, was rejected at the polls. During the six months following the German occupation of Belgium, life rapidly deteriorated for its Jews. The Germans promulgated decrees that defined Jews along racial lines and barred them from the civil service and the professions. Jewish businessmen were required to register their business concerns as a prelude to the Aryanization of their property. Within a year of the German occupation, the affluent Jewish community of Belgium was reduced to penury as it was driven from the economy. During the fall of 1941, Jews were subjected to a curfew, prohibited from travel, and forbidden from utilizing parks and other public accommodations. In December, Jewish children were forbidden from attending public schools, and in a slap at the Orthodox Jewish community, the Germans forbade shehita, or the ritual practice that enables Jews to eat kosher meat and poultry. By early 1942, Jews were compelled to serve in forced labor brigades, and by June 1942, they were required to wear the yellow Star of David badge so as to facilitate their deportation to the death camps. Not all the citizens of Belgium supported the Nazi legislation. There were displays of solidarity with the Jews, whereby the people of Belgium donned badges similar to the yellow badges in an exhibition of unity with their Jewish countrymen.In November 1941, the Germans established a Judenrat (Jewish Council) that was made responsible for implementing the decrees that affected the status of the Jews of Belgium. Although the Jews were circumscribed in their ability to function under the German occupation, this did not prevent some Jews from establishing a Jewish underground organization, the Comite de Defense des Juifs (CDJ), which was affiliated with the Belgian resistance movement. In the summer of 1942, members of the CDJ assaulted an official of the Jewish Council who was responsible for compiling lists for the deportations. Its most prominent achievement, however, was in April 1943 when the CDJ attacked a transport from the Mechelen transit camp that was headed for Auschwitz, the only instance during the Holocaust of an armed attack on a train taking Jews to an extermination camp. Jews were also included in the various Belgian resistance movements, and with the help of large numbers of the population, including churches, about 25,000 Jews were hidden from the Germans. Despite the support of the population, the deportations began in August 1942 and continued for over a year, culminating in Operation Iltis, whereby Jews of Belgian nationality, who had previously been deferred, were now deported to the east. Most of the Jews of Belgium were sent to Auschwitz, with a smaller number sent to Buchenwald, Ravensbruck, and Bergen-Belsen. The deportations proceeded despite the sympathetic support of the population. About 25,400 Jews were deported to Auschwitz from the Belgian transit camp at Malines from mid-1942 through mid-1944. Others died in Belgian labor camps of hunger and disease. Of the 90,000 Jews who resided in Belgium at the time of the German occupation in 1940, about 40,000 perished.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.
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