Family Altbaum
Josef Altbaum

Salma Aba Altbaum (°07/03/1887 in Pinchoff, Russia), a cardboard worker by profession, moved from Cracow to Belgium in May 1911. A few months after his arrival he married Sore Riwe Pertz (°27/10/1882, in Dvinsk, Russia). After their marriage the newlyweds moved to the ‘s-Herentstraat in Antwerp. Soon they move to the Leeuwerikstraat. Here their two eldest sons were born: Isaias (°01/09/1912, Antwerp) and Isaac (°16/10/1913, Antwerp). From 1917 to 1921 Salma Aba was again in Russia for unknown reasons. When he returned to Belgium in April 1921, he started helping loading and unloading ships in the port of Antwerp. He did not do this work for long, and in 1922 Salma started to work as a marketer for the firm van Bree in Sint-Jacobstraat in Antwerp. In the same year the family welcomed their third son: Josef (°09/02/1922 in Antwerp). Their last children were also born in the port city: Jan Jacob (°30/07/1925 in Antwerp) and Sylva Mariette (°26/11/1929 in Antwerp).

The family moved to Lange Kievitstraat and third son Josef started work as a diamond cutter. He is also a member of the Joodsche Arbeiderssportklub (JASK), in this communist-oriented club he takes part in meetings where political issues are discussed. Isaias and Isaac were members of Prokor: a Jewish communist movement that fought against anti-Semitism and fascism. These political activities of the family play tricks on Josef when he applies for Belgian nationality. The Belgian authorities were suspicious of him and his brothers. Josef finally obtained Belgian nationality in August 1939.

In May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium and the occupying forces installed a regime of anti-Jewish laws. As a result of this anti-Jewish policy, at the end of 1940, Jews were obliged to register in the municipal Register of Jews and, from the spring of 1942, to become members of the Jewish Association. When the Altbaum family registered in March 1942, Salma worked as a peddler, Isaac as a diamond cutter, Jan Jacob as a tailor and Josef as a goldsmith. At that time Isaias was already married to Chaja Syma Grünspan (°10/11/1908, in Mosciska) and they lived in Cuperusstraat in Antwerp. Isaias was a diamond cutter, just like his brother Isaac.

Father Salma Aba and youngest son Jan Jacob were arrested at home during the first razzia in Antwerp, in the night of 15 to 16 August 1942, and interned in the Dossin Barracks. After three days, transport IV took them to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 18 August 1942. Both were killed.

When father Salma and youngest son Jan Jacob were arrested, the eldest sons – Isaias, Isaac and Jacob – were not in Antwerp. Earlier in the summer of 1942, the three eldest Altbaum brothers were deported to northern France as forced labourers. There they had to help building the Atlantic Wall under supervision of the German company Organisation Todt. The three brothers managed to escape from the labour camp, unfortunately not permanently.

The circumstances of Isaac and Jacob’s arrest and the date of their confinement in the Dossin Barracks are unknown to us. However, both brothers were part of a group of 37 male prisoners who were transferred from the barracks to the Breendonk penal camp on 11 January 1943. Camp commander Philip Schmitt wanted to make an example of them, as he had discovered that fraud was being committed with postal packages. Of the 37 men transferred, only 25 survive Breendonk. Isaac Altbaum was among the dead: he was murdered in Breendonk on 3 March 1943.

Josef Altbaum, along with the 24 other survivors of the Breendonk group, was sent back to the Dossin Barracks where his Belgian nationality protected him from deportation for the time being. However, on 20 September 1943 he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau with transport XXIIB (Belgians). Upon arrival, he was selected as forced labourer. The number 151481 was tattooed on his arm. After this, every trace of Josef disappeared. He did not survive either.

Oldest brother Isaias Altbaum was arrested again under unknown circumstances and registered in the Dossin Barracks on 1 October 1943. Transport XXIII took him to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 15 January 1944. His wife Chaja and their son Jacques, born on 20 February 1943, had already been arrested in the night of 3 to 4 September 1943, during the razzia on Jews with Belgian nationality. Mother and child were deported on 20 September 1943 with the same transport as Josef to Auschwitz-Birkenau. When transport XXIIB arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau on 22 September 1943, Chaja and seven-month-old Jacques did not stand a chance. Both were most likely sent to the gas chamber immediately. Isaias was selected as forced labourer on arrival in Auschwitz-Birkenau on 17 January 1944. The number 17298 was tattooed on his arm. After that, every trace of him disappeared. Isaias also perished. Mother Sore Riwe Pertz and daughter Sylva Mariette were not in Belgium during the war: neither was registered here during the occupation. Sore was arrested in a hospital in Perpignan at the end of 1943 and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 17 December 1943 with transport 63 from Drancy. She too was murdered. The fate of daughter Sylva Mariette is unknown to us.

Kaatje Langens