THANKS TO, AMONG OTHERS, THE FINANCIAL SUPPORT GRANTED BY THE CLAIMS CONFERENCE TO THIS PROJECT, WE WERE ABLE TO RE-ORDER, CLEAN UP, DESCRIBE, DIGITIZE AND PACK THIS VALUABLE HISTORICAL COLLECTION, WHICH IS NOW PROFESSIONALLY CONSERVED AND PUT AT THE DISPOSAL OF VISITORS AND RESEARCHERS.
The Association of Jews in Belgium: a short history of the organisation
The Association of Jews in Belgium (in French, Association des Juifs en Belgique
, AJB; in Dutch, Vereeniging der Joden in Belgie
, VJB) was Judenrat-like organization imposed on the Jews in Belgium by the Nazi Military Administration, Militärverwaltung
on November 25, 1941. All Jews in Belgium were obliged to affiliate as members. AJB's tasks were furthering emigration, taking care of Jewish education and social assistance. In reality, the AJB was a Jewish instrument controlled by the Nazis, which assisted in the genocidal deportation of Jews from Belgium to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The AJB was composed of a leading committee established in Brussels, 4 local committees in Brussels, Antwerp, Liège and Charleroi (locations with 2,000 to 35,000 Jewish inhabitants each), and smaller local agencies in Ghent, Ostend, Mons and Arlon. The leading committee of 7 members included 5 Belgian Jews, from Brussels, Antwerp, Liège and Charleroi. Despite this national base, the composition of this committee is not representative of a Jewish population which was composed for 94% of foreigners, mainly Poles and Germans.
In February 1942, the Nazis ordered the AJB to identify the Jewish population. In March 1942, this census was used to draft Jews for forced labor. In July 1942, the Sicherheitspolizei-Sicherheitsdienst
(Sipo-SD) ordered the AJB to provide names of 10,000 Jews for a so-called "summons to work" (Arbeitseinsatzbefehle
), in reality the genocidal deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The AJB, responding with zeal, provided the Sipo-SD with 12,000 names. The trap, however, failed: only 4,000 Jews reported at the Dossin Barracks in Malines, the SS-Sammellager für Juden
. Confronted with the failure of the "summons to work", the Sipo-SD organized massive raids from August 15 to September 21, 1942. In response to these mass arrests, the local committee of Charleroi, infiltrated by communist resistance, scuttled at the end of September 1942.
The AJB stirred distrust and resentment within the Jewish population and became the target of Jewish resistance: at the end of July 1942, Jewish partisans attacked the offices of the AJB. On August 29, 1942, one of the leaders of the forced labour service for Jews was shot.
After a short internment in the Breendonk camp, Salomon Ullmann, military chaplain and Rabbi of Belgium, resigns from the presidency of the AJB in October 1942 and Maurice Benedictus, administrator of the AJB, flees to Portugal in December 1942. At this moment, more than 16,600 deportees were already deported by 17 transports to the concentration camp complex and the extermination center of Auschwitz-Birkenau. From this time onwards, the fundamental roles of the AJB were limited to social assistance, interventions with the occupier and a special service in charge to help the prisoners in the Dossin barracks.
In Liège, the local committee ceased to exist at the end of April 1943, when its leaders were deported. Some of them were working illegally in the Jewish Defense Committee (CDJ). In September 1943, the Sipo-SD eliminated the Antwerp Committee, deporting its members together with the remaining Jews of Belgian nationality from Antwerp, leaving the city without any officially organized Jewish life for the rest of the occupation.
In Brussels, the AJB worked until the last day of the occupation. Several of its members (Maurice and Esta Heiber, Chaim and Fajga Perelman, David Ferdman) were secretly working for the Jewish Defense Committee
. They helped rescue Jewish children until the Liberation.
How the archives arrived at Kazerne Dossin
In 2001, the archives of AJB were donated by the Centre national des hautes Etudes juives (CNHEJ) to the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance (JMDR), the predecessor of Kazerne Dossin. The CNHEJ AJB-collection consists of a copy of Salomon Van den Berg’s Diary, Maurice Benedictus’ report, 39 maps and 136 binders. These were the archives that, after the liberation, had ended up in the Military Prosecutor's Office as part of the trial of the Association of Jews in Belgium and its officials, Salomon Ullmann, Maurice Benedictus, Alfred Blum, Salomon Van den Berg, David Lazer, Nico David Workum and Judah Melwhurm. The investigation ends without court cases or legal follow-up. The Auditor General at the Military Court retained the investigation file but handed over the archives seized from the AJB to the Jewish Central Consistory of Belgium. In 1961, this collection van transferred to the National Center of Jewish Studies in Brussels, on the initiative of Max Gottschalk, who was simultaneously president of the Consistory and the founder of the CNHEJ, linked to the Université libre de Bruxelles.
Catalogue and access for researchers
Despite a partial inventory [KATZENELLEBOGEN, "Work on the archives of the AJB", unpublished, Brussels, CNHEJ], the archives remained inaccessible to research until 2001. That year, the 'Institut Martin Buber, heir to the CNHEJ, entrusted the archives to the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance (JMDR). Only a few documents had been consulted by researchers before the JMDR obtained the authorization to take charge of their filing, archiving and digitization.
Folders ordered and ready to be described.
Metal elements and tapes are eliminated during the cleaning phase.
After being cleaned, having received a reference number and described, each document in digitized.
Some of the 136 binders, already ordered and described. These binders had to be kept in a separate room, due to the presence of metal, glue, rust…
Once described, cleaned and digitized, the original documents are conserved in special acid free boxes, in our Archive Conservation Room.
References of the documents are written on the acid free boxes with a special white pencil.
Each document is packed separately; acid free paper dividers separate all individual pages.
One of our volunteers working on the index of the documents.
At the end of the process, visitors, researchers and families consult the collection on-line.