Synagogue Brussels: inscription - Photo VisitFlanders New York

Today the majority of Belgian Jews are active in the diamond, fur, textile and leather industries. The total Jewish population in Belgium is approximately 42,000. The Jewish Community of Antwerp – numbering some 20,000 – is one of the largest in Europe, and the city is one of the last places in the world where Yiddish is the primary language of a large Jewish community. Belgium has five Jewish newspapers and more than 45 active synagogues – 30 of which are in Antwerp.

History

Synagogue Brussels: front view - Photo VisitFlanders NewYork

In Europe, much of Jewish settlement began with the Roman conquests. Jews followed the path of the Roman legions in Belgium in the years 53-57 A.D.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, Jews settled in Belgium after being expelled from England and France. Another wave of immigration to Belgium came in the 15th century from Spain and Portugal.

Educated and sometimes quite wealthy, Jews scattered throughout Europe, settling in the Lowlands, today's Belgium and the Netherlands. The Jewish population in Belgium grew slowly in the 18th and 19th centuries – emigrating mainly from France, Germany and Holland. After 1880, Jews also emigrated from Eastern Europe. In fact Belgium, and especially Antwerp, was seen as a stop to the “Goldene Mediene”. With the arrival of German refugees in the 1930s, the Jewish population in Belgium reached its peak.

By August 1942, the Nazis began transporting Belgian Jews to Auschwitz. After World War II, rebuilding the Jewish communities was the main goal of those who survived the Holocaust. These communities consisted of those who hid successfully during the war – Belgians went to great lengths hiding both children and adults – and the 1,207 who returned from the camps.

Today the majority of Belgian Jews are active in the diamond, fur, textile and leather industries. The total Jewish population in Belgium is approximately 42,000. The Jewish Community of Antwerp – numbering some 20,000 – is one of the largest in Europe, and the city is one of the last places in the world where Yiddish is the primary language of a large Jewish community. Belgium has five Jewish newspapers and more than 45 active synagogues – 30 of which are in Antwerp.

Jewish Heritage Tour of Flanders

Central Station Antwerp © Antwerp Tourism & Convention

Belgium has the 4th largest Jewish community in Europe. This Jewish Heritage Tour offers the many places you can visit in Flanders. Visit all the sights or pick & choose your favorites.

Check out the stops:

  1. Centraal Station
    Visit the Central Station, declared one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. It is located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter

  2. Diamond district
    Head for the streets called Pelikaanstraat or Hovenierstraat: you will find Synagogues, bookstores, restaurants, Kosher bakeries and of course diamond stores. Antwerp has a long and magnificent tradition as a diamond city since the fifteenth Century. Antwerp's diamond district is right in the heart of the city. Antwerp is the most important diamond trade center in the world with an annual turnover of 23 billion US dollars. More than 70% of the world's rough diamonds are traded here. For a guided walking tour of the Jewish district, contact: visit@stad.antwerpen.be. Reservations need to be made 3 weeks in advance

  3. Hoffy's

  4. Sephardic Synagogue
    Built in 1913. This Synagogue is located right in the middle of the Diamond district.

  5. Plantin-Moretus Museum
    The Museum houses examples of Jewish printing, including bibles and manuscripts. The museum possesses am exceptional collection of typographical material, including the two oldest surviving printing presses in the world. Museum Plantin-Moretus, Vrijdagmarkt 22-23 - 2000 Antwerpen

  6. Red Star Line Museum
    The museum tells the story of the Red Star Line shipping company and the story of its 2.6 million passengers. From 1870 onwards, huge numbers of Europeans started to migrate to North America. The new world was the Promised Land for those who were looking for a better life. Many people’s voyage to the United States and Canada started in a port warehouse in Antwerp. Between 1873 and 1934, there was an ebb and flow in Antwerp’s Eilandje District of migrants, tourists, adventurers and fortune-seekers from all over Europe. They boarded the Red Star Line’s ocean steamers at the Rijnkaai, for a journey to the new world, to happiness and to a better life. The migrants were mainly Eastern Europeans, and sometimes also Germans and Belgians. Two ships sailed every week during the heyday of the legendary shipping company with the red star on its flag. They carried 1,000 to 1,500 passengers.

  7. Kazerne Dossin
    Stop in Mechelen to visit the The Karzerne Dossin, opening September 2012. The Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Right is one of the few museums in Europe in the actual historic place that is proof of the tragedy that came over the Jews during the Second World War. Kazerne Dossin is first and foremost a historical museum, but also an educational aid, a memorial and a warning lest we forget. Mechelen Transit Camp Dossin, Goswin de Stassartstraat 153 - 2800 Mechelen.

  8. Breendonk Memorial
    Located along the highway Brussels - Antwerp, Fort Breendonk was a military fort and because built in concrete remained completely intact. For the German administration Breendonk was a 'waiting' camp designed to receive Jews and political prisoners before their transfer to Germany. National Memorial Fort Breendonk, Brandstraat, 57 - 2830 Willebroek.

  9. Restaurant Balthazar
    Kosher dining in the European Quarter in Brussels.

  10. National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Belgium
    This impressive monument located at Rue Emile Carpentier and Rue de Goujons in the district of Anderlecht. The square is called 'Square of the Jewish Martyrs'. 23,838 names are inscribed on the wall. A small museum is also located here.

  11. The Belgian Jewish Museum
    The Museum is located in a 19th Century town house with a beautiful collection of Jewish art, Jewish religious objects and documents. The museum also organizes guided walks through Brussels (about 2h30). To reserve, contact: edu@mjb-jmb.org

  12. Jewish Moroccan Heritage Museum
    Objects of worship, craftsmanship, costumes and jewellery, music and paintings, photographs and engravings make up the collection of this surprising museum, which includes treasures from the 18th century among its 500 pieces. For more information, contact: jmh.info@skynet.be

  13. The Great Synagogue
    This stately Romanesque Building was completed in 1878 and was not destroyed during the Holocaust.
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