Introduction to Rescue in Belgium


Before the war, 90,000 Jews lived in Belgium, comprising one percent of the population.  Fifteen thousand were refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia and parts of Eastern Europe.  Fifty-five thousand Jews lived in Antwerp, and 30,000 in Brussels.  The majority of Jews was in the Belgian middle class.  Like other Jews of Central Europe, Belgian Jews were highly assimilated.

On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded and occupied Belgium.  On May 27-28, the Belgian Army surrendered.  King Leopold III of Belgium and his family stayed in the country.  The Belgian cabinet formed a government in exile in London. 

Belgium was placed under the German military supervision of General Alexander von Falkenhausen.  The civil service, as it had in Denmark, continued to operate in various departments.

The majority of the Belgian public, including the French-speaking Walloons, was resistant to the occupation and was in sympathy with Belgian Jews.

Increasing resistance to the German occupation forced the German occupying government to change from a civil administration to a military government under a Reich commissioner.  Belgium was now under the supervision of the Germany army, police and SS.

On October 20, 1940, Jews were forced to register with the police.  In addition, Jews were expelled from the civil service, schools, the legal profession and the press.  Jewish businesses were also compelled to register.  After the registration was completed, 42,000 Jews were registered in Belgium.  Soon, an estimated 25,000 Jews fled to Southern France.

On May 31, 1941, Jewish property was confiscated.  In July 1941, Jews had to register their real estate property and were forbidden to deposit money in banks.  More than 7,600 Jewish businesses were closed.  By the middle of 1942, Belgian Jewish property was virtually all confiscated.

In the fall of 1941, a curfew was imposed and Jews were forbidden to travel outside the major cities. 

Germans established a Jewish Council on November 25, 1941.  It was led by Dr. Salomon Ullmann.  This organization later became the Association of Belgian Jews (Association des Juifs en Belgique; AJB).  This organization transmitted German decrees and orders to the Jewish community.

In the spring of 1942, Jews were forced into German labor battalions.  Jews were forced to wear the yellow star on June 6, 1942.

During the war, 34,801 Jews were arrested, imprisoned or deported.  28,902 Jews were murdered by the Nazis.  Twenty thousand Jews survived in Belgium—6,000 German and Austrian, 8,000 Polish, and 6,000 Belgian and Dutch citizens.

Despite Belgium sharing a border with Nazi Germany, approximately 56% of Belgian Jews survived.  The high survival rate of Jews in Belgium was due to the resistance of Belgian Jews to deportation, with the tremendous help and support that it received from the local Belgian population.

Queen Elisabeth of Belgium and Cardinal van Roey were prominent among the rescuers of Jews in Belgium. 

1,414 Belgians have been honored for saving Jews.



Survival of Jews in Belgium


Jews of Belgium – 56%-58% (36,800 survived, 28,900 lost)[1]. Pre-deportation Jewish population was 65,700. 92% of the Jews residing in Belgium at the beginning of the German occupation were non-citizens.  34,000 Jews were deported during the occupation.  Most Jews, approximately 25,000, survived the war in hiding. This was due to the help of numerous Belgians and church leaders.[2]  Queen Mother Elizabeth of Belgium, the mother of King Léopold III, protested the treatment of Jews and attempted to stop the arrest and deportation of Jews in Belgium.  In 1942, she was able to intercede with the German occupying forces to have Belgian children released.  In June 1943, she had 300 Jews released from imprisonment.  1,731 Belgians have been honored for rescuing Jews.[3]




[1] Bauer & Rozett, in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Estimated Losses in the Holocaust,” p. 1799; Warmbrunn, Benz, in Laqueur, 2001, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, s.v. “Belgium,” pp. 59-60, 145 states 48,000 lost; Hilberg, 1985, p. 1220

[2] Michman, in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Belgium,” 161, 165; Michman, 1998

[3] Michman, 2005, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous among the Nations: Belgium; Paldiel, 2007



Updated November 4, 2017