The Jewish Genealogy Association
by Micheline Gutmann
Brussels in 1930
(postcard from M. Gutmann's collection)
Here is some information that is essential for genealogical research rather than a complete history of the Jews of Belgium.
In 1306, the expelled Jews of France found provisional refuge in some Belgian towns, Mons in particular. However, they were blamed for the Black Death of 1348 and were then are almost entirely massacred. Apart from some isolated cases, they appeared in Antwerp in about 1525, wanted by some for their entrepreneurial abilities, they also suffered from the jealousy of others. It was at the time of the "new Christians", the Mendes brothers and their wives, the famous Gracia, alias Béatrix de Luna, la Señora, and her sister, with their nephew who became the Duke of Naxos. (Persecuted because of their richness, they left for Constantinople.)
Marranos settled in Amsterdam where they could again practise their worship openly and were followed by Ashkenazi’s towards the end of the 17th century who quickly became the majority.
The South was under Spanish domination until 1713, and therefore the Jews remained hidden there. It is only during the reign of Joseph II, and his Act of tolerance (1786), that they started slowly arriving especially in the North. The Revolution and the occupation by the victorious French troops attracted more Jews, mainly from France or Germany. Civil records and registration was set up in 1796. Immigrants from Eastern Europe only starting arriving from the second half of the 19th century, and more so in the first half of the 20th century.
For have more historical information, you can consult the various works in our library, more details below. For the period of the 2nd world war and beyond, we recommend the ‘Encyclopédia Judaïca’ (which we have on CD-Rom).