For some reason you don’t hear that much about the Holocaust in Belgium and to be honest I don’t know why that is.
After the Germans conquered Belgium in May 1940, the Belgian government fled to Great Britain and formed a government-in-exile in London. King Leopold III remained in Belgium under house arrest during the German occupation. A German military administration coexisted with the Belgian civil service.
At the start of the war, the population of Belgium was overwhelmingly Catholic. Jews made up the largest non-Christian population in the country, numbering between 70–75,000 out of a population of 8 million. Most lived in the cities of Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi and Liège. The vast majority were recent immigrants to Belgium who had fled persecution in Germany and Eastern Europe, and, as a result, only a small minority actually possessed Belgian citizenship.
Immediately after the occupation of Belgium, the Germans instituted anti-Jewish laws and ordinances.
They restricted the civil rights of Jews, confiscated their property and businesses, banned them from certain professions, and in 1942 required Jews to wear a yellow Star of David.
Belgian Jews were also rounded up for forced labor. They worked primarily in the construction of military fortifications in northern France, and also in construction projects, clothing and armaments factories, and stone quarries in Belgium.
On 23 October 1940, the German Military Administration adopted anti-Jewish legislation for the first time. The new laws, similar to the Nuremberg Laws adopted in Germany in 1935, coincided with the adoption of similar legislation in the Netherlands and in France.The laws of 28 October forbade Jews to practice certain professions (including the civil service) and forced Jews to register with their local municipality. On the same date, the German administration announced a definition of who was regarded as Jewish. Jewish-owned shops or businesses had to be marked by a sign in the window, and Jewish-owned economic assets had to be registered.
From June 1940, a list of Jewish businesses had already been drawn up in Liège
The German administration was responsible for the deportation of the Jews in Belgium. Under the German occupation,In the summer of 1940, some German Jews and political refugees were deported from Belgium to Gurs and St. Cyprien, internment camps in southern France.
On 14 April 1941, after watching the German propaganda film Der Ewige Jude, Flemish paramilitaries from the Volksverwering, VNV and Algemeene-SS Vlaanderen began a pogrom in the city of Antwerp.
The mob, armed with iron bars, attacked and burned two synagogues in the city and threw the Torah scrolls onto the street.They then attacked the home of Marcus Rottenburg, the town’s chief rabbi. The police and fire brigade were summoned, but they were forbidden to intervene by the German authorities.
From August 1942, the Germans began deporting Jews, using Arbeitseinsatz (“recruitment for work”) in German factories as a pretext. Around half of the Jews turned up voluntarily (though coerced by the German authorities) for transportation although round-ups were begun in late July. Later in the war, the Germans increasingly relied on the police to arrest or round up Jews by force.
The first convoy from Belgium, carrying stateless Jews, left Mechelen transit camp for Auschwitz on 4 August 1942 and was soon followed by others.These trains left for extermination camps in Eastern Europe. Between October 1942 and January 1943, deportations were temporarily halted;by this time 16,600 people have been deported on 17 rail convoys. As the result of Queen Elisabeth’s (Belgian Queen)intervention with the German authorities.
In 1943, the deportations resumed. By the time that deportations to extermination camps had begun, however, nearly 2,250 Belgian Jews had already been deported as forced laborers for Organisation Todt, a civil and military engineering group, which was working on the construction of the Atlantic Wall in Northern France
In September, armed Devisenschutzkommando (DSK; “Currency protection command”) units raided homes to seize valuables and personal belongings as the occupants were preparing to report to the transit camp, and in the same month, Jews with Belgian citizenship were deported for the first time.
DSK units relied on networks of informants, who were paid between 100 and 200 Belgian francs for each person they betrayed.After the war, the collaborator Felix Lauterborn stated in his trial that 80 per cent of arrests in Antwerp used information from paid informants. In total, 6,000 Jews were deported in 1943, with another 2,700 in 1944. Transports were halted by the deteriorating situation in occupied Belgium before the liberation.
The percentages of Jews which were deported varied by location. It was highest in Antwerp, with 67 per cent deported, but lower in Brussels (37 per cent), Liège (35 per cent) and Charleroi (42 per cent). The main destination for the convoys was Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland. Smaller numbers were sent to Buchenwald and Ravensbrück concentration camps, as well as Vittel concentration camp in France.
In total, 25,437 Jews were deported from Belgium. Only 1,207 of these survived the war. Among those deported and killed was the surrealist artist Felix Nussbaum in 1944.
The Breendonk and Mechelen camps served as collection centers for the deportations.