Antwerp (Aug. 13)
The campaign against Jews and foreigners is assuming rather an aggressive character in Belgium, influenced to some extent by the growing economic crisis at home. The largest Belgian paper (the liberal “Le Soir”) has just published an article indicating unmistakably that by foreigners it means Jews. And we have the official organ of the Belgian Labor Party, “De Volksgazet”, at the same time the official organ of the Belgian Diamond Workers, accusing the Antwerp Jewish diamond manufacturers of supporting Hitlerism to the detriment of the Belgian workers by sending their diamonds to be polished in Germany, while the greater number of Belgian diamond polishers are out of employment. Unfortunately, the accusation is true.
The Antwerp and Amsterdam diamond manufacturers, according to these papers, are at the present time providing work for about 5,000 workers in Germany, most of them organized in the Nazi unions. These Germans work as much as 14 hours a day for a small wage, to which the German Government adds a subsidy equal to the usual unemployment pay. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Belgian workers cannot compete with this subsidized German labor, and that while there are no unemployed diamond workers in Germany, there are in Belgium about 18,000 unemployed men and women in that trade.
That is why the Antwerp and Amsterdam diamond manufacturers, who are indeed most of them Jews, prefer to send their diamonds to be polished in Germany, where it is cheaper, thus compelling one Belgian workshop after the other to close down.
This went on unnoticed for a long time. But when the Nazis started their anti-Jewish policy it was brought to public attention. The constant reports of anti-Jewish ill-treatment in Germany created a feeling of indignation among the Antwerp Jews, and it was decided to institute a boycott. There was talk of the first step being taken by the diamond industry. But it soon appeared that there were a number of serious obstacles in the way. Above all there was no agreement among the diamond dealers about the need or the effectiveness of a Jewish boycott of German goods or services.
Then the Belgian Labor Press came along and snapped up this internal conflict for its own ends, the battle of the diamond workers against the diamond industry. So now, whatever opinions may be held about the matter, Belgian Jewry finds itself compelled to take a stand in defence of Jewish rights.
The policy of waiting and saying nothing that has been observed so far by the responsible spokesmen of Belgian Jewry in regard to the Jewish situation in Germany has not succeeded. The only thing it has achieved has been the circulation of proclamations by a Jewish defence committee, calling on the Jews to boycott German goods. These proclamations have caused a good deal of resentment, even in Jewish quarters, because they have been issued without any previous consultation with competent Jewish bodies.
Steps are now being taken to form a committee in Belgium to defend Jewish interests, on the same lines as the committee existing in Holland, which will, among other things, seek to settle this question of sending diamonds to be polished in Germany.
Such a representative body of Belgian Jewry has long been needed, for Belgian Jewry has had no means of expressing itself. The Consistory of Jewish Communities in Belgium, which was to have carried on this work, has had neither the desire nor the power to go outside its purely religious functions.
The Jewish Communities in Belgium are voluntary religious associations, without any power to impose compulsory taxation on the Jewish population, and so far have no intention of including secular affairs within their scope of activity. Their membership is very small, for even charity and social aid are matters dealt with in Belgium not by the Communities, but by separate organizations which are linked into a centralized body in Antwerp.