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:
History of the archives:
The archives of the city of Antwerp started with two charters from 1221 which the city kept in a huge chest which was longer then two meters and which was called the ‘privilegiekom’.
Of each lock the key was kept by another councilmember of the city. Therefore only when all councilmembers were together, the chest could be opened (the chest is currently on view in the reading room of the Antwerp archives).
Thanks to the growth of the city, and of the growing stack of documents, the chest did not meet anymore the expectations of the city. Another reason why the chest did not fulfill the requirements anymore at that time, is that until the French Revolution all departments of the city archived their own files, which means that there was no (centralized) ‘city archive’ like we know today in Antwerp.
In 1796 a city archivist was appointed who was in charge of storing and managing the archives. Until the first half of the 20th century the archives were kept in the town hall (the beautiful town hall was built in Renaissance style between 1561 and 1565). Since then the archives moved a few times. During the Second World War the most important pieces of the archives were kept near a moated castle near Rochefort (in the south of Belgium). After the war the archives moved to the Venusstraat in a building which purpose was not meant (yet) for archives, therefore part of the archives were temporarily moved to a building in the Meirbrug. On 15 December 1956 the building in the Venusstraat was refurbished and the archives were kept there for almost 50 years. It closed it doors to the public on May 1st, 2006.
The archives of the city of Antwerp (Felixarchief) mentioned in their last monthly e-newsletter the following interesting subject (source):
Vooroorlogse Joodse affiches duiken op
Vier jaar geleden ontdekten we in het Modern Archief twee dikke pakken met affiches.
Het bleek een uiterst interessante verzameling van 144 affiches en pamfletten van Joodse verenigingen uit 1932-1934. De meeste zijn aankondigingen van culturele evenementen: concerten, toneelvoorstellingen maar ook lezingen, bals en feesten uit die periode komen aan bod. Over de herkomst weten we enkel dat een zekere heer Prinz ze al in 1934 aan het stadsarchief schonk.
Het Joods Museum van Deportatie en Verzet reageerde enthousiast op de ontdekking en stelde meteen voor om de Hebreeuwse en Jiddische opschriften voor het FelixArchief te vertalen. Het leverde een schat aan informatie op.
De reeks illustreert immers als geen ander het bruisende culturele en politieke leven van de Joodse gemeenschap tijdens het interbellum: het dynamische verenigingsleven, de culturele diversiteit, maar ook het onderbelichte verzet tegen Hitler-Duitsland, de Joodse Socialistische Partij en de immigratie naar Palestina. Een uiterst boeiende momentopname, voer voor verder onderzoek en uniek illustratiemateriaal.
De affiches zijn nu deskundig beschreven, gereinigd, gevlakt en gedigitaliseerd. U kunt deze affiches hier digitaal bekijken. (Klik hiervoor op het plus-teken.)
Nieuwsbericht gepubliceerd op 02-03-2012
Prewar Jewish posters emerge
Four years ago we discovered in the Modern Archive 2 large packages of posters.
It was a very interesting collection of 144 posters and pamphlets of Jewish organizations from 1932-1934. Most of these are announcements of cultural events: concerts, theater performances but also lectures, balls and parties held from that period . About the origin, we know only that in 1934 a certain Mr. Prinz donated the posters to the city archives.
The Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre (Kazerne Dossin) responded enthusiastically to the discovery and immediately suggested to translate the Hebrew and Yiddish inscriptions for the FelixArchief. This yielded a wealth of information.
The series illustrate like no other indeed the lively cultural and political life of the Jewish community during the interwar period: the dynamic associations, cultural diversity, but also underexposed resistance to Hitler’s Germany, the Socialist Party and the Jewish immigration to Palestine. A very interesting snapshot of further research and unique artwork.
The posters are now expertly described, cleaned, flattened and digitized. You can view digital posters here. (Click on the plus sign.)
I went recently to the archives from Antwerp where I do collect from time to time files and other information for my family research.
During my research I usually try to understand and focus on several topics which I do come across and about which I do tend to post from time to time some articles on this website.
One of the topics I am currently focussing on, and about which I hope to post in the near future, is the district distribution in the city of Antwerp.
The (paying) members of the one of the two Jewish communities, the Machsike Hadass, did vote on November 29th and 30th for the then candidate Rov Rav Ahron Schif.
From the 593 votes, 93.4% were in favour of Rav Ahron Schif as the new Rov.
Last Sunday, April 3rd, the ceremony took finally place in the packed main synagogue of the Kehille in the Oostenstraat.
All members of the kehille received two books. One book with the history on the kehille, its founding and an overview with the history on almost all shuls of Antwerp. And the second book has got a collection of essays by Rav Schiff.
Both books did cost together €10 (only) for non-members.
You can enjoy the photos I made or read some articles which I did collect from different sources. (some articles and/or photos may have שמות, please handle with due respect)
I found in the naturalization files of both my great-grandfather and of my grandfather, that they published, as was stipulated by law, in a local newspaper an announcement in which they publish their intention to be naturalized as Belgians.
Before they naturalized they were stateless citizens because when my great-grandfather Gerschon Lehrer was born in Ustrzyki-Dolne, it was Austrian. After the First World War it became Poland. My great grandfather lived at that time in Dresden (Germany) and Poland took away the nationalities from all citizens that were not in the country for a long time, hence my great-grandfather and grandfather automatically became stateless (source: naturalization file 21875N). (update April 11th, 2011 -> check my new post “Citzenship status of Galician Jewish refugees after World War I“)
I was trying to find the newspaper. In the naturalization papers I read that my great-grandfather published the announcement in the “Le Matin” (on the 15th of June 1952) and my grandfather published it in the “Het Handelsblad” (no specific date was given).