War 39-45

Chaïm Perelman obtained Belgian nationality in 1936. He was called up at the time of the alerts in 1938 and 1939 and when Belgium was invaded he served as a soldier in the eighteen day campaign. On 28 October 1940, an order from the German occupying forces targeted the public professions and careers which Jews were henceforth excluded from: civil servants, lawyers, teachers, journalists... As he was no longer allowed to lecture, Perelman suspended his activities at the University; it cannot be said that he had resigned. Other tutors from the Université libre de Bruxelles were victims, like him, of German orders, be it as Jews or as enemies of Germany. Some of them would join forces throughout the war, in what came to be known as the Salon des refusés. Perelman got to know Oscar Weill, who would later play an eminent role in the Belgian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jean Lameere, who placed his house at the Perelmans’ disposal, while his wife Nelly was a valuable member of the Comité des Marraines which Fela Perelman had created to place Jewish children, and Henri Janne in particular. The exchanges with Henri Janne were fruitful and these combined reflections led to the publication of two works shortly after the Liberation: L'Antialcibiade ou la Révolution des Faits by one; De la Justice (Brussels, 1945) by the other.

In November 1941, the occupying forces created the Association des Juifs en Belgique (AJB) [Association of Jews in Belgium]. Various community leaders were immediately appointed, including the chief rabbi Salomon Ullmann. It is Ullmann who, in January 1942, invited Perelman to become a member of the Brussels board of the AJB. Perelman wisely settled for a role of expert amongst the directors of the institution: as a technical adviser he was responsible for the issue of education. He only really became a member of the AJB as a manager in his own right in November 1942, at the instigation of the Jewish Resistance: he was effectively appointed as a member of the AJB on the 2 December, when he was appointed as head of the teaching department. In reality Eugène Hellendael had been arrested on 24 September and it was Perelman who took over his role within the AJB. He was given the same responsibilities as in the clandestine activity, in other words help for adults and the social services; he became head of this department after Maurice Heiber was arrested in May 1943. Hertz Jospa, who had been in charge of the Jewish department of the immigrant workforce of the Communist Party before the Second World War, was convinced that there was a need to create forms of defence especially for the Jews, due to the specific persecution they were experiencing. It was only in June 1942 that the Front de l'Indépendance [Independent Front] gave Jospa permission to put together an organisation specifically dedicated to the defence of the Jews. The constituent meeting of the Comité de Défense des Juifs [Committee for the Protection of Jews] (CDJ) took place in the Perelman’s home in Rue de la Pêcherie, Uccle. Perelman himself was not responsible for the idea of creating the CDJ but he and Jospa were key members, from the summer of 1942 until the Liberation and even beyond, when the CDJ became the Aide aux Israélites Victimes de la Guerre [Aid to Jewish War Victims] (AIVG). With the liberation of the country, Chaïm Perelman devoted all his time to the work of the AIVG, until classes at the University were resumed in January 1945; he again paid tribute to all those who had helped the Jews in the review Ofipresse, during his time as its editor, but resigned from the AIVG in November 1945. 

Source : Schreiber Jean-Philippe, “Perelman, Chaïm (baron)”, in Dictionnaire biographique des juifs de Belgique : Figures du judaïsme belge XIXe – XXe siècle, Brussels, De Boeck et Larcier s.a., 2002, p. 272-273.Translated from the French by Catherine Hall.

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