The life and work of Max Gottschalk

A Jewish community leader

Max Gottschalk (1889-1976), born in Liège to German-Jewish parents, was one of the emblematic leaders of the Jewish community in Belgium. He was a scholar, university professor, humanist and Freemason, lawyer, and high-ranking (inter)national functionary. He became actively involved in the Jewish community from an early age. His name remains especially linked to his support for the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and Austria in the 1930s.

Not surprisingly, due to the number of institutions and organisations he worked for, sources about Gottschalk are dispersed over many archival institutions in several continents. Researchers interested in Gottschalk—or other Jewish leaders for that matter—need to deploy a bit of creativity in sifting through the mass of sources waiting to be explored. Yerusha can be a very useful tool in this endeavour.

Personal records

As a researcher, you would undoubtedly want to find the archives of Gottschalk himself – his papers, private records and personal documents. Several institutions hold such archival collections. Firstly, the Institut d’Études du Judaïsme in Brussels—a research centre linked to the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and created by Gottschalk in 1970—preserves   archives donated by him, notably regarding the question of Jewish refugees. The archival department of the ULB contains material from Gottschalk such as scholarly articles and documents regarding his work as a government official. The Central Zionist Archives (Jerusalem) preserve relevant documents as well, in this case concerning Gottschalk’s activity in the Zionist movement. Finally, across the Atlantic, records of a more private nature (including personal correspondence) can be found in YIVO – Institute for Jewish Research in New York. This material was formerly part of the archives of HIAS/HICEM, the refugee organisation Max Gottschalk presided from 1939 to 1945.

Organisational archives

Researchers might also want to explore the sources produced by the various organisations Gottschalk was committed to. After all, personal records of the chairmen often ended up in these archives, as the HIAS/HICEM collection demonstrates. In the case of Gottschalk, the archives of the Œuvre Centrale Israélite de Secours and Fonds des Prêts d’Études in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, the collection of the Centre National des Hautes Études Juives and Institut d’Études du Judaïsme (Brussels) as well as the records of the Centrale d’œuvres sociales juives (Brussels) might contain valuable information. The same goes for various sub-collections constituting the HIAS/HICEM archives in YIVO.

Other sources

There are additional sources to consider if one thinks about Gottschalk’s interaction in his capacity as a university professor, Jewish community leader and functionary with the Belgian authorities or with Belgian (Jewish- and non-Jewish) organisations. For example, the archives of several Belgian politicians and academics such as Georges Theunis, Émile Vandervelde and others contain correspondence with him.

Material such as photographs and interviews can often be found in specialised research centres. In this particular case for example photographs of Gottschalk are preserved in the Jewish Museum of Belgium (Brussels).

In addition, researchers should also be aware of the variety of non-Jewish sources. A well-known example is the collection of individual files of the Vreemdelingenpolitie/Police des Étrangers (Alien Police), which contain detailed information on all aliens on Belgian territory since the 1830s. Somewhat lesser known individual files might also be pointed out regarding WWII-related compensation issues. In both archives, preserved by the General State Archives (Brussels), one can find relevant files about Max Gottschalk and/or his family.

Gertjan Desmet (State Archives of Belgium)


  • G. DESMET & P. FALEK ALHADEFF, P.-A. TALLIER (dir.), Bronnen voor de geschiedenis van de Joden in België (19de-20ste eeuw) – Sources pour l’histoire des populations juives et du judaïsme en Belgique (19-20e siècles), Brussel, Algemeen Rijksarchief, Gidsen-Guides, 2015, 2 vol. (forthcoming).
  • J.-P. SCHREIBER, « Max Gottschalk », in J.-P. SCHREIBER, Dictionnaire biographique des Juifs de Belgique. Figures du judaïsme belge, XIXe-XXe siècles, Bruxelles, De Boeck, 2002, pp. 139-141.
Max Gottschalk (Jewish Museum of Belgium)

Max Gottschalk (Jewish Museum of Belgium)