Many of the Jews citizens living in Antwerp around the turn of the 20th century were immigrants. In addition, while it is impossible to arrive at precise statistics, of the 65-75,000 Jews living in Belgium on the eve of World War II, at least 85 percent had arrived in the country after 1918. It is for that reason that I want to focus in this article on the alien files which probably are the most interesting for people who have had Jewish relatives in Antwerp. I hope to write in the future about other collections held by the Antwerp Archives.
How and by whom were the files assembled?
All new immigrants (except for the immigrants who are in certain privileged categories) who wanted to stay in Belgium, did have to contact the municipality of the place where they resided in.
The city council was in charge of some tasks imposed on them by the Belgian government such as:
- gathering information about the length of stay
- delivery of requested evidence and documents
- providing general information on each request of the Ministry of Justice (nowadays the Ministry of Home Affairs)
In this way the municipality became the local link between the Ministry and the foreigner. All these documents (or copies thereof) were collected and added to the files of the immigrants.
These were kept in a numerical order (i.e. according to the number that the foreign affairs department of the city of Antwerp has granted to someone). This number differed with the number assigned to the files of the immigrants by the immigration department at the government office, who also had a file of all immigrants (see my other article for more).
On 28 November 1983 the city of Antwerp decided to restructure the immigration policy in Antwerp. Until then the immigration department of Antwerp was solely the responsibility of the police, since 1983 it split and the administrative part became a department in the municipality and for the other tasks (coordination of meetings, serving as the liaison with the Ministry, participation in working groups, etc.) the police stayed in charge.
The immigration files which are kept at the archives of Antwerp cover only the stay of the immigrants during their stay in the city of Antwerp. When an immigrant moved to another city his file was closed in Antwerp and a new file would be opened in the other city. Of all files from all cities about each immigrant, a copy was sent to the Belgian government as well (which in its turn they later handed them over to the state archives). Each city could individually decide whether to keep the files or whether to destroy them, some cities, such as Antwerp, decided to keep the files (read here more about the collection of immigrant files in the state archives of Belgium).
Which files are now kept by the Antwerp archives?
The FelixArchief now has alien files 1 to 386973 in its possession. These were acquired in the following steps:
- In 1978 it received files 1 to 134900 (covering years 1840-1910)
- In 1982 it received files 134901 to 200000 (covering years 1910-1928)
- In 1985 it received files 200001 to 350000 (covering years 1928-1964)
- In 1999 it received files 350001 to 376949 (covering years 1964-1970).
- In 2012 it received additional files which (covering until 1995)and thus has a total of 573 940 alien files (as per their newsletter, received on October 31st, 2012 via e-mail)
- In addition to these ones, there is another series which covers years 1971-1999 of which only files up to 1990 are currently held by the FelixArchief. Files with a number higher than
386973573 940 are still kept by the aliens department of the city (District Antwerp).
The immigrant files can only be accessed if 75 years have passed since the closure of the file. For recent files you’ll need to request permission. Dependent on the reason for the request, permission will be granted or denied.
- My experience
- “FelixArchief architectuur & geschiedenis“, Published by felixarchief (Inge Schoups), D/2009/0306/129
- “Jewish Immigration and Communism in Belgium”, 1925-1939 by Rudi van Doorslaer in Belgium and the Holocaust – Jews, Belgians, Germans edited by Dan Michman and ditributed by Yad Vashem Publications (ISBN 978-9-65308-068-3)
- FelixArchief nieuwsbrief november 2012 (received on October 31st, 2012 via e-mail)