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The Story of Bnei Akiva in Antwerp

“The Story of a Memorial”, a new book by Salomon Hauser and Jacques Offen, recounts the story of 97 youths from Antwerp who were active in the Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva before the outbreak of the Second World War. Most of the youths were murdered in the concentration and death camp Auschwitz. “We are giving the victims a name, a face and a biography with our book,” explains Offen. “The personal stories have especially touched us and have exposed the dimensions of the Shoah.” The book took Hauser and Offen four years to finish.

The natives of Belgium combed numerous archives in Belgium, Israel and Germany, including the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive in Bad Arolsen, in search of information. “Every clue, every document, every line, every photo was a small victory,” reported Hauser. They interviewed survivors and family members worldwide to be able to paint the fullest picture possible. The 40s were not well-documented in Jewish history. “There isn´t much left,” said Offen. “However, our children should know where we come from.”

Sometimes coincidence played a part in their research. A chance meeting on an airplane led to contact with a family and further pictures. “It´s a small world and sometimes you are just lucky,” said Hauser. The first book presentation in Israel was especially emotional. “Most people know very little about the fate of their family and some don´t even have a photograph,” said Offen.

Hauser and Offen have been able to find all of the youths, with the exception of one whose last name is Kaminer. “It is driving me crazy,” admitted Offen. Both Israelis hope to gather new details with the publication and presentation of their book, such as the story of Rebecca Hamelsdorf. Rebecca accompanied her best friend as the Germans came, although she as a Belgian was not on the list.

The authors and their wives, Miriam Offen and Tirtsa Hauser, hand-delivered a copy of their book to the ITS library in Bad Arolsen.  It has been made available to researchers and interested parties. If you would like to order a copy of the book “The Story of a Memorial – Bnei Akiva -Tikvateinu, Antwerp, in the Holocaust” please email Salomon Hauser.