Childhood in the Shadows of the Holocaust

Arthur Langerman was born in August 1942 in Antwerp. His father, Salomon, had emigrated in the 1920s from Krakow via Duisburg to Belgium, where he married Warsaw-born Zysla Brandla Blajwas in January 1941. They were arrested in March 1944, and deported two months later from the Mechelen transit camp to Auschwitz. Arthur – not yet two years old at the time – survived in a children’s home of the “Association des Juifs en Belgique,” the Pouponnière de la rue Baron de Castro in Etterbeek. His father died in early 1945 in a satellite of the Flossenbürg concentration camp; at least 18 other close relatives were murdered by the National Socialists.

After her liberation, Arthur’s mother spoke neither about her own suffering in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Ravensbrück and Neustadt-Glewe, nor about the fates of her relatives. And yet the impact of the Holocaust was omnipresent in the Langerman home.

Arthur Langerman and his mother Zysla,
ca. 1945/46
Arthur Langerman and his mother Zysla,
ca. 1945/46

Seeking the Causes of Animosity Towards Jews

Arthur Langerman with his mother Zysla, his half-sister Jacqueline, his stepfather Mendel and half-brother Théodore, 1960

In 1961, the world’s attention was drawn to the trial of Adolf Eichmann – organizer of the National Socialist genocide against the Jews – in Jerusalem. Arthur Langerman was riveted. Seeking an explanation for hatred of Jews, the dramatic consequences of which were now on display at the trial, he began acquiring antisemitic images. He describes his motivations thusly:

I wanted to understand what the Jews had done to deserve such cruel treatment. I wanted to know why people hated Jews so much.

Arthur Langerman with his mother Zysla, his half-sister Jacqueline, his stepfather Mendel and half-brother Théodore, 1960

For Langerman, collecting antisemitica helped him cope with his family’s tragedy; through the hate-filled antisemitic postcards, posters, pamphlets and drawings he began to grasp the long history of antisemitism and the atmosphere that led to the murder of European Jewry. In the works of caricaturists like Philipp Rupprecht, illustrator for the National Socialist smear sheet Der Stürmer, he saw and still sees key enablers of the Holocaust.

Over the decades, what started as a rather haphazard search for antisemitica gradually developed into a passion and a worldwide, systematic and professionalized collecting activity. Arthur Langerman, who made a name for himself as a successful entrepreneur and as a translator of works by Sholem Aleichem from Yiddish into French, became an authority in the international collector scene.

But Langerman’s collection, which he kept in his private apartment for all those years, was mostly met with incomprehension and rejection from family and friends. As a result, he kept his passion first and foremost for himself, not seeking to share it with a broader public.

Arthur Langerman with a drawing by Der Stürmer caricaturist
Philipp Rupprecht, 2019

From Collector to Activist for Enlightenment and Humanism

An increase in antisemitic crimes and speech in the second decade of this century moved Arthur Langerman to change his course.

The situation in the world has altered in recent years, unfortunately. Antisemitism is on the rise again. People are insulting and attacking Jews and fewer young people than ever know what the Shoah was. I never thought things would get this bad again.

Alarmed and deeply concerned, he decided in 2017 – after more than half a century of private collecting – to make his archive available for research, exhibitions and educational work. It is his express wish that the materials be used in research about the history and impact of anti-Jewish prejudices, to educate and serve as a warning to current and future generations.

In March 2019 he donated his collection to the Arthur Langerman Foundation, which has been created in order to realize his dream and to continue his commitment.

Arthur Langerman during a visit to the former Pouponnière Castro, where he survived the Holocaust as a child, 2020

In June 2017 Arthur Langerman gave an extensive oral history interview to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which you can find here.

February 2018 saw the release of Pierre Maillard’s documentary film, Le Collectionneur, a portrait of Arthur Langerman and his unusual passion.