Jesode-Hatora – Beth-Jacob
Jesode Hatora - Beth Jacob was the first Jewish school to be founded in Antwerp. There is no certainty about the exact date of the foundation, because all documentation was lost during the war years. It is known that around 1885 a kind of cheder (religion class) existed, where Jewish boys received religious education.
Around 1894, at the initiative of Hersch Krengel (a textile trader from Austria), a day school for boys was founded, where, in addition to general education, a full Jewish program was offered.
In 1920, this school was officially recognised by the Ministry of Education. The girls 'school was founded later, in 1936, and received official recognition in 1937. This is how the original structure of the school was created: Jesode-Hatora was exclusively for boys and Beth-Jacob was exclusively for girls.
By the end of the 1930s, many German Jews had fled to Belgium. Their children were taken care of in Jesode-Hatora, which accommodated a total of 936 students. In May 1940, many refugees left for the United States, the United Kingdom or France, so the school closed its doors for a few weeks. Shortly thereafter the lessons resumed for around 500 students.
From December 1940 onwards, Jewish children were forbidden from attending mainstream schools so the number of pupils at Jesode-Hatora greatly increased. Meanwhile, non-Jewish teachers were also banned from teaching in Jewish schools. The teachers in question were given six months to leave the institution where they were employed.
The teachers of the Jesode-Hatora eventually remained in the school until 1942 roundup. At the time the order to commence the roundup was issued, no fewer than 500 students were confined in the school. However, by the time the raid was actually carried out, the building was completely empty. The then principal, together with his teachers, had brought the students to safety by guiding them home.
The school building itself could not be saved and was looted by the occupiers and demolished from the inside. The principal's exceptional courage is still praised to this day. He was decorated for his bravery with a medal of honor from the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
At the end of the Second World War, an Auschwitz survivor, Mr. Klagsbald started rebuilding the school. His reasoning was that the Holocaust survivors had a duty to breathe new life into the Jewish community. With that ambition he gathered the remaining youngsters and Jesode-Hatora reopened in August 1945 with 17 students. Other key figures who also played a crucial role in the reconstruction of the school were Messrs Ringer, Rottenberg, Freilich, Perl, and Chief Rabbi Kreiswirth. Thanks to the efforts of these prominent men, the influx of Jewish students increased over time.
Jewish community life gradually returned to Antwerp and over the years other Jewish schools were reopened or founded.
In 1958, the secondary education establishments (the atheneum and the middle school) were recognised by the then Ministry of National Education and Culture. In the following years, a wing was added to Lange van Ruusboecstraat and Steenbokstraat. The school’s successful expansion continued even further with the establishment of a teacher training college which was recognised by the Ministry of National Education in 1965.
Today, Jesode-Hatora Beth-Jacob has around 758 pupils, making it the largest recognised Jewish school in Flanders.
Only open by appointment
It is necessary to contact Henri Widawski in order to consult Jesode-Hatora – Beth-Jacob's archive .
[Jesode-Hatora Beth-Jacob] (http://jesode-hatora.be/) website consulted on 25/07/2019
Pierre-Alain Tallier (dir.), Gertjan Desmet & Pascale Falek-Alhadeff, Sources pour l'histoire des populations juives et du judaïsme en Belgique/Bronnen voor de geschiedenis van de Joden en het Jodendom in België, 19de-21ste eeuw, Brussel, ARA-AGR/Avant-Propos, 2016, 1,328 p.