The Jewish partisans who fooled the Nazis / Vincent Vagman
In the Belgian city of Charleroi, a group of Jewish underground fighters pulled off one of the most daring rescues of World War II
Following World War I, in a Europe undergoing reconstruction, the industrial area of Charleroi in the
Wallonia region of Belgium was seeking manpower to rebuild its industry in coal, steel, iron and glass.
Jewish men escaping poverty and antisemitism in Poland headed to Charleroi to find work. Gradually, a new
Jewish district was created in Charleroi city and by 1940, there were 3,000 Jews living there. The life around the city’s synagogue (founded in 1928) represented a small part of Charleroi’s Jewish life. Most of the Jewish arrivals joined the communist or Zionist organisations that had been imported from Eastern Europe with these new workers.
The early arrivals were ill-prepared to work in the coal mines and factories, and accidents involving Jewish workers were frequent. Gradually they established their traditional professions as tailors, fabric peddlers and craftsmen. Women worked alongside their husbands, running shops or selling items at the Sunday market.
The tremors of the Wall Street rash reached Belgium in 1930, contributing to a xenophobic climate in the country. The Association of Traders of the Charleroi Region criticised the city’s Jews for exacerbating competition in such an environment.
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