The arrival of Jews previously summoned in the courtyard of the Dossin barracks, 27 July 1942 | Mechelen, Kazerne Dossin

Power & Resistance
1940 - 1945
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The Dossin Barracks

The Persecution of the Jews during the Second World War

In 1942 in the occupied territories the Nazis started on the deportation of Jews to extermination centres in the Third Reich. In Belgium they used the Dossin barracks in Mechelen as an assembly camp. More than 25,000 men, women and children waited for their deportation there. Almost two-thirds were murdered in gas chambers on their arrival in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The others were conscripted for slave labour. Only 1395 people survived that horror.

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Before the war a Belgian garrison was stationed in the Dossin barracks. Starting in July 1942 the German occupying power turned it into an assembly camp for Jews, Roma and Sinti. The camp staff consisted of about ten German and about 40 Flemish SS troops. The food provision and hygienic conditions were appalling. Brutality was commonplace. Between August 1942 and July 1944 28 train transports left from the Dossin barracks for Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Little attention was paid immediately after the war to the persecution of the Jews. The building again became a Belgian army barracks and in the 1980s apartments were built. Since 1995 a museum has been established there, which in 2012 was expanded to ‘Dossin Barracks Memorial, Museum and Research Centre on the Holocaust and Human Rights’.

Der Ewige Jude.

Mechelen, Kazerne Dossin

After a showing of the German propaganda film Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) on 14 April 1941 a rabid mob surged through the streets of Antwerp and destroyed Jewish shops, houses and synagogues.

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The Persecution of the Jews during the Second World War

During the Second World War the Nazis imposed their anti-Jewish ideology in the occupied territories, including Belgium. The persecution of the Jews was carried out systematically. It was a step-by-step process of identification, registration, stigmatisation, exclusion, deportation and murder.

In the autumn of 1940 the occupiers produced a definition of the concept ‘Jew’. All Jews over the age of 15 must be enrolled in a Jewish register. Subsequently the occupier announced stricter and stricter measures, with the aim of excluding Jews from social life. They could no longer hold public positions and they were no longer allowed on the tram, in the park or at the cinema. The occupier imposed a curfew on them from 8 pm to 7 am. Jewish children could only attend Jewish schools, Jewish businesses and trading companies were closed down.

From May 1942 all Jews from the age of 6 had to wear a Star of David on their clothes. In that way they were visibly stigmatised for everyone. From July onward Jews were summoned to report to the Dossin barracks in Mechelen for so-called ‘employment’. A lie: they were deported. From August 1942 the Germans conducted round-upspolice action, in which people, in particular Jews, are driven together and arrested. in Antwerp and Brussels. The Jews who were caught were taken away to the Dossin barracks and from there to the extermination and concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Throughout Europe the Nazis murdered an estimated six million Jews. That genocide is known as the Holocaust.

Focal points


Brussels, Cegesoma/State Archives, 275419

Police decree announcing anti-Jewish measures.




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The Complicity of Local Authorities

International law regarding armed conflict determined that local authorities under foreign occupation must work to preserve public order. But the occupier in Belgium also appealed to local authorities to uphold anti-Jewish laws. It went further than what had been prescribed by international law. In the absence of central guidelines local functionaries could choose for themselves how far they went in carrying out German policy. Most towns and municipalities carried out the Germans’ anti-Jewish policy without asking too many questions. They checked compliance with the anti-Jewish decrees and indicated contraventions to the occupier. Often officials had the feeling that they could do nothing to change the situation.

Sometimes anti-Semitism, which was already present in Belgium before the war, and a pro-German attitude, played a decisive role. That was the case in Antwerp, where the mayor and the police service lent very far-reaching support to the round-ups of August and September 1942. That local authorities could definitely have rejected the German orders, is clear from the Brussels situation. In May 1942 the Brussels mayors refused to distribute Jewish stars. They felt it was not their task. They also refused to collaborate in round-ups. The Germans left the mayors untroubled and simply did it themselves.

Only in October 1942, when Belgians were called up for compulsory labour in Germany, did the active cooperation of the police service decrease. As the chances of a German victory became less, local authorities went less and less far in performing tasks imposed by the occupier.

Eva Fastag.

Familie Fastag – Pieter Serrien

Eva Fastag (1917-2021) was arrested in 1942 and taken to the Dossin barracks. As a typist she was obliged to draw up the deportation lists. She falsified information in the lists to help people. She herself was able to escape deportation and survived the war. Her parents and brothers died in Auschwitz.

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The Jewish Community during the Occupation

When the Germans began registration in 1940, there were approximately 55,600 Jews in Belgium, mainly in Antwerp and Brussels. Most Jews came from Eastern Europe and did not have Belgian nationality. There were also great differences in social status, political views and religious practice. It was the German decrees that made them into a single group.

Jewish reactions to the persecution were diverse. Some Jews fled from Belgium. Others went into hiding – often with Belgian families who helped them at the risk of their own lives. Those without the means to flee or go into hiding, often hoped for the best and followed the orders of the occupier. Some joined the resistance. For example, in September 1942, a number of Jews set up the Jewish Defence Committee or Comité de Défense des Juifs. This resistance group, comprising Jews and non-Jews, provided addresses for going into hiding, forged food coupons and identity papers.

Of the Jews deported from Belgium only 5% returned from the camps. Some tried to rebuild their lives in Belgium. The majority, however, were traumatised and moved abroad.

Jeruzalem, Yad Vashem

The compulsory Jewish star in Belgium was yellow with a letter J for Jood/Juif.

Bitzika Vadoche.
Brussels, National Archives of Belgium, A044575

From the Dossin barracks 353 Roma were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Bitzika Vadoche (1911-?) was one of them. He was not to survive. Roma were issued with a ‘Gipsy card’.

Jhonny Bastiaensen

On 19 April 1943 the 20th convoy was brought to a halt in Boortmeerbeek by members of the resistance. 236 people tried to escape; 26 were immediately shot dead by the guards, 90 others were picked up again later, and 120 people were able to escape deportation. A plaque at the station of Boortmeerbeek is a reminder of the ambush.

Mechelen, Kazerne Dossin

Charlotte Hamburger (1907-1942?) was arrested in in 1942 as a member of the resistance and imprisoned in Antwerp jail. She made this doll of materials she had found for her daughter. When the Germans discovered that Charlotte Hamburger was Jewish, she was transferred to the Dossin barracks. On 11 August 1942 she was deported to Auschwitz, where she arrived two days later. From that point all trace of her is lost.

Mala Zimetbaum.
Mechelen, Kazerne Dossin

Mala Zimetbaum (1918-1944) was picked up in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz via the Dossin barracks. She was selected to work as a courier between the men’s and women’s camp. That was how she got to know the Polish prisoner Edek Galinski. On 24 June 1944 they escaped from Auschwitz together. After two weeks they were caught, tortured and executed. In Borgerhout, where she lived, a fresco is a reminder of her story.

Regine Beer.
Mechelen, Kazerne Dossin

Regine Beer (1920-2014) was arrested in 1943 and deported to Auschwitz via the Dossin barracks. She survived and for almost forty years in lectures and school visits was to continue to testify about life in Auschwitz. The number that the Nazis tattooed on her arm was a tangible reminder of her past in the camp.

Fotograaf Francisco Peralta Torrejón

15-year-old Samuel Mendelsohn was deported in September 1942 via the Dossin barracks to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. We know nothing of what happened to him after his arrest. In front of his house in Deurne lies a ‘stumbling stone’. These stones, made by a German artist, are laid all over Europe in memory of the victims of Nazi persecution.

De Brusselse Andrée Geulen (1921-2022) hielp als een van de niet-Joodse medewerkers van het Joods Verdedigingscomité meer dan 300 Joodse kinderen onderduiken.
Mechelen, Kazerne Dossin

Andrée Geulen (1921-2022) from Brussels, as one of the non-Jewish staff of the Jewish Defence Committee helped more than 300 Jewish children to go into hiding.

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Meer vrouw op straat – Mechelen

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Meer vrouw op straat – Antwerpen

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