Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Jews of Belgium

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                                                                     
Painting (16th century) showing the alleged desecration of hosts by Jews in Passau in 1477 (detail),Oberhausmuseum (de) (Passau). An example of how anti-Semitism has edged into oil paintings depicting lies.  
The history of Jews, the Ashkenazis, entering Europe  began with the Roman conquests. Jews followed the path of the Roman legions to Belgium in the years 53-57 CE.

Jews were late in settling in Belgium according to written records, however.  It wasn't until the 13th century that a few Jews were in the area which constituted the present Belgium of Brabant and Hainault.

They were almost exterminated by 1348 caused by being blamed for the Black Death.  A fresh settlement was established in Brabant, especially in Brussels, but was wiped out in 1370 as the result of a charge of Host Desecration.Host desecration is a form of sacrilege in Christianity (most frequently identified as such in the traditions of Anglicanism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Catholicism) involving the mistreatment or malicious use of a consecrated host—the sacred bread used in the Eucharistic service or Mass."  How they were charged with this seems to be a contrived and malicious charge, as they would not have been near any such bread.  As we see above, the charge was not only made in 1370 but also in 1477, a different aspect of the usual blood libel.  

By the 16th century, many Marranos (derogatory word for Jews who had to convert to Catholicism in order to remain in Spain or be killed) settled in Antwerp. Today the term used is Anusim for Jews whose ancestors were forced to convert.   Under Spanish rule, it had become a great center of the spice trade, and the leading family in this trade was the banking-house of MENDES.  There were occasional judicial inquiries in 1531-2, and 1540-1, and again in 1550, etc, but the secret settlement retained its importance until an  open Jewish community was formed at Amsterdam.  
1. Alvaro M (see Ibn Yaish, Solomon
2. Diogo M d: 1543-Portuguese banker who established an important financial and trading house at Antwerp in about 1500 and long headed the Marrano community of that city.  He was the brother in law of Gracia Nasi.                                                                       
Oldest synagogue in Antwerp, Belgium, built in 1893
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Amsterdam Jews often traveled in Belgium  for trade, and there was a semi-overt synagogue in Antwerp.  
A soldier standing guard outside synagogue  in Antwerp, Belgium today

Ashkenazi Jews began to settle in the 18th century when the area was under Austrian rule, and became formally organized under the French from 1794 to 1814.  The the Dutch were the rulers from 1814 to 1830.  

When the kingdom of Belgium was constituted in 1830-1, religious equality became part of the fundamental law of the state, as in Holland, and Belgian Jewry was organized under a consistory with its center in Brussels.  Antwerp, however, because of its great diamond industry, was the largest community.                                                                           
Belgium's Yellow Badge
Like all European Jews, the Jews of Belgium suffered severely during the German occupation from 1940 to 1944.  " On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, taking just 18 days to put the country under military rule which lasted until liberation in September 1944".  "Anti-Jewish measures began in the autumn of 1940 and grew worse over time. The first prohibitions included ritual slaughter and other religious rites. Other discriminatory actions followed with the Nazis prohibiting Jews from certain professions, such as the fields of law and education. By 1941, authorities started to confiscate property, including the diamond exchange, to set up curfews and to confine Jews to cities. The Nazis ordered Jews to wear yellow badges in early 1942 and, in September of that same year, began rounding them up by the thousands and deporting them, mostly to Auschwitz. Very few Belgian Jews survived concentration camps."

The Jewish community numbered 66,000 on the eve of the Second World War.  The usual anti-Semitic legislation was introduced into Belgium and 53,000 out of about 100,000 Jews were deported.                                                               
Diane von Furstenberg

"Diane Simone Michelle Halfin was born in BrusselsBelgium, to Jewish parents. Her father was Romanian-born Leon (Lipa) Halfin, who had migrated to Belgium in 1929 from Chişinău (then in Bessarabia, a province of Romania, and now the capital of Moldova). Her mother was Greek-born Liliane Nahmias, a Holocaust survivor.   Just eighteen months before Fürstenberg was born, her mother was in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Furstenberg has spoken broadly about her mother’s influence in her life, crediting her with teaching her that “Fear is not an option.”   Furstenberg later studied economics at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. She then moved to Paris and worked as an assistant to fashion photographer’s agent, Albert Koski.  She left Paris for Italy to work as an apprentice to the textile manufacturer Angelo Ferretti in his factory, where she learned about cut, color and fabric.  It was here that she designed and produced her first silk jersey dresses."

"Formerly Princess Diane of Fürstenberg(GermanDiane Prinzessin zu Fürstenberg, born 31 December 1946) is a Belgian-born American fashion designer best known for her iconic wrap dress She initially rose to prominence when she married into the German princely House of Fürstenberg, as the wife of Prince Egon of Fürstenberg. Following their divorce in 1972, she has continued to use his family name, although she is no longer entitled to use the title princess following her divorce and subsequent remarriage in 2001.

              "On 24 May 2014, a gunman opened fire at the Jewish Museum of Belgiumin Brussels, Belgium, killing four people. Three died at the scene; a fourth was taken to hospital and died on 6 June. The attack was being investigated as terrorism by Belgian authorities.
Then on 30 May, Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national of Algerian origin, was arrested at Marseille in connection with the shooting. He is believed to have spent over a year in Syria and had links with radical Islamists  and appears to have recorded a video bearing the flag of the rebel group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "     Above you see policeman patrolling by the museum today as an orthodox Jewish man and son walk by.                                                                                      
There were 31,8000 Jews living in Belgium by 1990.  The community of Brussels consisted of 15,000 Jews and that of Antwerp was also 15,000 being the largest.  Small centers existed in Charleroi and Ostend with semi-organized groups also in Ghent, Liege, Arlon, Knokke and Mons.  Belgium is the 4th largest Jewish Community in Europe.
Brussels (Today Brussels has over 20,000 Jewish inhabitants).
Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia


  1. "Gracia Nasi."
    once again you are mentioning something that comes close to me. you seem to have a knack for that as it has several times now lol! i have here an excerpt from something i found about my bassano family roots and as we have talked-they were likely marranos (sephardic jews is my guess) and look at the name of my anthony bassano's wife. (my 12x grgrmother elena)
    is this the same surname you referred to?

    BIOGRAPHY: The Bassanos also married Jews. Alvise's daughter Laura married Joseph, younger son of Ambrose Lupo, whos Jewish name was Almaliach, father and son were members of the royal violin consort. Two of the Bassano brothers, Jacomo and Anthony I, married Venetian women who were probably sisters, since they both had the same surname--Nasi or de Nasis. We cannot be sure that these women were Jews, but it is likely, since(nasi) is Hebrew for 'leader' or 'prince' and it became the name of a Sephardic family--an ancient and memorable Jewish clan', as Cecil Roth dubbed them.

    have seen elena's maiden name as denazzi or denasi. the bassanos were of spain (and part moorish) before coming to northern italy.

    sure making me wonder about a lot of things pertaining to my family heritage......

  2. I wonder if denasi is a combination of "Of Nasi", as de means of. Probably; of the Nasi family.
    Being they were Marranos, most likely. Brussels and Holland would be good places to find people, too, who fled from the Spanish Inquisition of 1492.
    Pretty amazing, alright.

  3. Andre, this next one is for you, on Gracia Nasi, very famous lady.