Malines (the French name for the Belgian town of Mechelen) is in central Belgium. In the province of Antwerp, it lies halfway between Antwerp and Brussels. During the war, the population of the town was about 60,000. In 1942 the occupying German regime chose the old General Dossin de Saint-Georges Barracks, in the middle of the old town, as an internment camp for the Jews of Belgium and a transit point for deportations to the east. It was apparently chosen because of its central location and its convenient access to railway lines leading to the camps of Eastern Europe.
The barracks, situated between the banks of the river and the railway lines, consisted of a three-story building surrounding a large central courtyard. Chosen in the summer of 1942 as part of the preparations for the Final Solution, the camp was still not ready when the arrests began. So on 22 July 1942, when the first group of Jews were arrested in Antwerp at the railway station, they were taken to the camp at Breendonk and then, five days later, transferred to Malines. They were its first inmates. During the weeks that followed, other Jews arrived, having been issued with orders (25 July) to report there for work.
Once in the camp, the inmates were divided into different groups: the Transport-Juden - those marked for immediate deportation; the Z-Juden - subjects of countries that were German allies or neutral - some of whom were not deported; the Entscheidungsfalle - borderline cases, such as those in mixed marriages or the children of such marriages - who, after some time, were sent to the camp at Viel in France; and the S-Juden - the politically "dangerous" - who were transferred to prisons or penal camps. Towards the end a number of gypsies were also held in Malines.
The conditions in the camp changed as time went by. The appalling physical conditions which existed under camp commander Philippe Schmidt improved when he was replaced, but there was constant abuse and hunger.
There were several artists among the inmates, whose works portray life in the camp. These include Irène and Azriel Awret, Jacques Ochs and Léon Landau.
(Dr Pnina Rosenberg)