An introduction to the alien/immigrants files at the FelixArchief (Antwerp Archives)

Microfilms at the FelixArchief

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)
  • etc.

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 386973 573 940 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.

Sources:

  • My experience
  • http://www.felixarchief.be/
  • 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)

4 thoughts on “An introduction to the alien/immigrants files at the FelixArchief (Antwerp Archives)”

  1. I recently did some research on my family history at the Felix Archief and I am happy to say that it was a very good experience. The facility is well organized, but most importantly the staff is proactive and helpful; I really only have good things to say about the people I encountered. The biggest challenge is that everything is in Flemish and it does present its issues. But the archive is comprehensive – I found a photo of my grandparents on an immigration form among other documents – and is best searched on site. A great deal of information is stored on microfilm which of course needs to be studied on site.

    A new museum will be opening there in September 2013 called The Red Star Line Museum, dedicated tot he many immigrants who booked passage on the Red Star Line to the US. I encountered several historians from the museum there and they were most helpful.

    1. Hello,

      Thank you for your insightful comment.

      I hope indeed that the FelixArchief will indeed one day decide to add a few other languages to its website such as English among others. I am trying to add articles on my websites which explain how I do the research at the Antwerp archives, I hope that it could help others to find quicker what they are looking for.

      What you say regarding the microfilms “A great deal of information is stored on microfilm which of course needs to be studied on site” is not entirely true; while you do indeed need to be onsite to collect the microfilms, you could for example prepare a list with as many as possible file numbers you’d like to see before you arrive at the archive and then , while you are there, copy these files from the microfilm on a USB stuck (flash drive) or upload them via the internet with the help of their pc’s. Then you can go through all copied files at home at your own pace.

      I hope to publish soon an article on my website on how I usually do this.

      Gershon

  2. Do the alien files include those that were in transit from Antwerp to other countries? I am under the impression that only those that wanted to stay in Belgium were required to register. What was the minimum period of time “aliens” had to be in Belgium (or Antwerp) to register?

    Do you have a specific link for the files and accessing the archives?
    To my knowledge, this data has not be re-published on any Genealogy sites.

    1. No, people who were on transit to another country, were not registered with the sûreté (the authority that was in charge of, among others, checking on the aliens). Before that would happen, the person in question needed to have spent some time in Belgium. It is not clear what the number of days needed to be in order to have that procedure started.

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