Why is this memorial book so special?
Commemorating the Jewish migrants
This memorial book is a physical witness of how social aid organisations were founded in Antwerp’s Jewish community and how tens of thousands of Eastern European Jewish migrants relied on their assistance on their journey, initially to the United States but subsequently also to Palestine and the rest of the world.
From 1870 until 1914, more than two million Jews travelled to the United States from Eastern Europe. They left for political reasons, out of fear of the pogroms in Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and to flee poverty and dire social-economic straits. Some of these Jewish migrants travelled through the port of Antwerp.
Anyone requiring assistance in Antwerp could rely on the aid organisation Ezra (which means “aid” in Hebrew).
‘Mayor of migrants’
The migrants revered Henri Schulsinger. This Polish diamond dealer moved to Antwerp in 1891. In 1903, he founded Ezra, together with other members of Antwerp’s Jewish community. On 15 November 1936, a special ceremony was organised on his seventieth birthday to celebrate his assistance to Jewish migrants who travelled to Antwerp to board a ship for America here.
“If our Schulsinger were to travel to America and would convene all the migrants who made it to the United States or Latin America thanks to his assistance in any given city, then he would be just as revered as the “mayor of his migrants” as Dizengoff in Tel Aviv” (Meir Dizengoff was Tel Aviv’s first mayor), said a Jewish man in a magazine published by De Centrale.
Jewish heritage that survived World War II
The memorial book is relevant for the Red Star Line Museum but is also part of Antwerp’s Jewish heritage. It is unique because not many objects of the Jewish community survived World War II. This memorial book dates from 1936 and was signed by all the guests at the banquet to honour Henri Schulsinger. It was the last banquet to be organised by Antwerp’s Jewish community before World War II. It symbolises all the voluntary help that Antwerp Jews provided to migrants who required assistance. Soon after the roles would be reversed and the Jewish community in Antwerp would need all the help it could get.