The total Jewish population of Belgium amounts to about 75,000, and it has almost entirely stopped growing. In previous years Antwerp, with its 40,000 Jews, was the chief centre of immigration for Jews, almost all of whom went into the diamond trade. The position in the diamond trade has, however, been growing worse from year to year.
The position in Brussels is an entirely different one. The Jewish population there has never been large, although it has been growing during the last few years. Its social and economic structure is not nearly as uniform and as one-sided as that of the Antwerp community, and it therefore has a far greater adaptability. At present the Jewish population of Brussels is estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000, mainly of Polish or Russian origin. (The “genuine” Belgian Jews form a very small minority, and are absolutely assimilated, both culturally and economically). Their economic situation is still in the course of development and is as yet very unsettled. This probably explains the fact that the much smaller and younger Brussels community has a much better developed Jewish credit system than has the Antwerp community.
The Antwerp Jewish diamond dealers have in the course of many years established a strong foothold and obtain all the credit they require from the general (non-Jewish) banks, many of which specialize on credits for diamond transactions, and who do not distinguish between their Jewish and their non-Jewish clients. In Antwerp, therefore, there is no specifically Jewish credit problem.
In Brussels the position is different. Here there are thousands of small Jewish traders and artisans, who have not as yet established a strong foothold, who scarcely know the French language, and get practically no credit from the Belgian banks. Only in the rarest of cases have these people sufficient trading capital of their own. The credit question has therefore become one of great importance for the Jewish population of Brussels, with the result that in the last few years a whole series of specifically Jewish mutual credit institutions have been founded.
Among the most important of these is the “Mutual Credit Association Yevriah.” Each share in the Association costs about $20, and the total capital amounts to $35,000. In the first five months of its existence the “Yevriah” granted loans to the extent of about $55,000. By 1929 the annual turnover had increased to more than $300,000, but the crisis forced it to pursue a very careful policy and to reduce its loans, which in 1932 amounted to about $200,000. In the five years of its existence the “Yevriah” has granted loans to a total of about $1,200,000, from which hundreds of small Jewish traders and artisans have derived enormous benefit.
With such a turnover and so unsettled a body of clients, it is not surprising that the “Yevriah” has suffered certain losses, but in the course of the whole five years these amounted to less than $5,000â€”a striking testimony to the efficiency and soundness of the institution.
Some months ago the first real ‘loan club’, in the true sense of the word, was founded for small traders and artisans, who obtain small short-term loans free of interest. This organization has no capital of its own, but gets its funds also free of interest, from the “Yevriah”, which thus also helps the “small fry” who are not credit-worthy in the business sense of the word. This, too, is an extremely useful institution. In the first four months of its existence it has lent about $1,250 in very small sums, most of which have already been repaid.
Recently the small Jewish traders of Brussels have gone about starting an independent credit institution of their own, since their organization decided that the existing Jewish credit institutions were insufficient to meet the demands of the Jewish population of Brussels and many Jewish traders had had to be refused loans for lack of funds. They will probably work through the “Yevriah”. In this way the “Yevriah” will become the central organization for the whole Jewish credit system in Brussels.