Yesterday, the Polish-Russian migrants were served a substantial soup for lunch on board the ship. This meal raised their morale and made these dispossessed people more confident about their future. As the ship departed, there was a happy atmosphere among the crowd, and to say goodbye the migrants praised the hospitable city with friendly acclamations.1

Journal de Gand, April 9, 1879

Western European port cities had been spaces of transit for Europeans migrating to the Americas since at least the 1830s. In the 1860s, competition was growing among the Northern seaports on the continent, as cities started to consider the emigration traffic as a valuable source of income.2 Between 1870 and 1914, transatlantic mass migration became a “big business” and middle-sized ports like Antwerp and Rotterdam tried to keep up with the bigger German ports of Hamburg and Bremen.3 The emigrants, who until 1880 were mainly of German origin, were usually welcomed as transitional guests in Rotterdam and Antwerp. Especially with the installation of direct shipping lines between Rotterdam and New York by the Holland America Line in 1872, and between Antwerp and New York by the Red Star Line in 1873, transmigration and the cities’ hospitality toward their temporary guests evolved into an important driving force for the development of the two port cities.4 Yet, from 1880 onward, as emigration from the Russian and Austrian-Hungarian Empires increased, the port cities started to view transmigration not only as an asset, but also as a security issue. This perception sharpened with the outbreak of the cholera pandemic in 1892. The contagious disease was a moment of crisis that crystallized fears and stereotypes toward people from “the East,” and in many ways transformed the reception of transmigrants, particularly Russians, in the ports. Especially following the outbreak of the pandemic, Antwerp and Rotterdam granted the Eastern European transmigrants an increasingly cool reception that bordered on outright rejection: while abiding to the rules of being a host, the port cities endeavored to ensure the speedy departure of the migrants and to secure their stay when in the host cities. Encapsulated in the embarking scene described in the Journal de Gand, different city actors received the migrants, accommodated them, and covered their basic needs. They did so not only to protect and care for the migrants, as one-dimensional notions of hospitality would imply, but also—or even particularly so—in order to secure the cities from the assumed negative effects of Eastern Europeans’ transmigration: financial expenses, disturbances of social order, and risks for public health.

In this chapter, the notion of “Eastern Europeans” designates the group of people who in contemporary sources were most often referred to as “Russians,” or “Eastern Jews” (“Ostjuden”), or sometimes as Polish or Romanian Jews. These contemporary designations embraced all migrants originating from the Russian and Austrian-Hungarian Empires, hence they included people from the Baltics. The presence of Baltic migrants among the “Russians” and “Ostjuden” arriving in the western port cities is further affirmed by the direct shipping link between Antwerp and the Baltic seaport Libau.5 Baltic migrants were invisible in the sources that neither distinguished between Jews from the Russian or Austrian-Hungarian Empire nor between, for example, Poles or Estonian people. Nonetheless, this final chapter of the volume offers still another dimension of the complexity of “the Baltics” by focusing on the westward migration of Baltic people during the great emigration from Eastern Europe to the Americas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Hospitality denotes a temporary phenomenon. But it is not only the generally transient character of host-guest-relations that makes hospitality a useful analytical lens through which to reinterpret the reception of Eastern European transmigrants in the port cities, but three further characteristics of hospitality. First, hospitality, unlike some forms of charity, is not always voluntary or altruistic. Instead, it may come as an obligation for the host and a right for the guest.6 Hospitality is conditional and implies reciprocity: the guests have to comply with specific behavioral patterns implied by their status as guests.7 In the case of the transmigrants, the city actors expected them to contribute to the economic development of both the port and the city. Hence, in a host-guest relationship, the host’s interests, concerns, intentions, and objectives come into play. Seen from this perspective, hospitality aligns well with the securitization perspective that focuses on why and by which rhetoric and practical means different actors turned (or tried to turn) a social phenomenon into a security issue needing remedy.8 Securitization in the context of transmigration means that diverse institutions and city actors tried to foster a sense of public threat around the temporary stay of people from the East. The actors that considered themselves as guardians of the cities’ security prompted the city audiences to “build a coherent network of implications (feelings, sensations, thoughts, and intuitions), about the critical vulnerability of the cities’ well-being” due to the transmigrants.9 Other than protective hospitality, which denotes the host’s attitude toward vulnerable guests,10 securitizing hospitality implies that both the hosts and the guests are targets of securitizing measures, that is, of measures to remedy the perceived risks and hazards posed by the transmigration.

Second, hospitality denotes the establishment of a relationship between a host and a guest who are strangers to one another through the exchange of goods and services.11 The cities perceived the Eastern European migrants arriving in the ports around the turn of the century as strangers. The “encounter with the unknown,” as well as the doubt surrounding strangers and the potential threat they posed, largely determined the extent to which city actors’ hospitality practices were imbued with securitization.12 Third, hospitality is suitable to make sense of the paradoxical situation in the ports that may be described as refusing reception. Hospitality can easily transform into its opposite, hostility, and thereby, imply rejection.13 Yet, even unwanted guests can—and have to be—hosted, although the host may fear, distrust, or despise them.14 Overall, with the arrival of Eastern European emigrants, two basic city elements came into conflict in the ports: the agora where commerce and exchange need open reception, and the fortress where the city community needs order and protection from the outside to develop.15

A wealth of literature exists on the emigration from Eastern Europe to the Americas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a lot of work dedicated to Jewish migration.16 While earlier studies mostly focused on the arrival and settlement of the migrants in the New World,17 more recent research has focused on the migration process itself, whereby port cities as transit stations have come under scrutiny.18 So too have Antwerp and Rotterdam. In addition to general overviews about the functioning of the emigration ports,19 several studies have explored and adequately described the handling of the Eastern Europeans’ transmigration by the port cities.20 Some effort has been made to capture the agency of the migrants that remains hidden in most available sources.21 While noticing that Eastern Europeans’ transmigration involved practices and discourses of both hospitality and securitization in the ports, existing research has not established any analytical link between these practices. Researchers interested in migration control have focused on (state) practices deployed in order to handle migration as a security problem. They have studied (private-run) medical control centers as well as local and national authorities’ expulsion practices.22 Historians studying private initiatives for the support of the migrants, on the other hand, have been attentive to aid societies accommodating arriving migrants, often focusing on the reception of Eastern European Jews within the Jewish community.23 Hence, the conflicts, contradictions, and paradoxes in how different actors in Antwerp and Rotterdam acted as hosts toward Eastern European migrants, a set of discourses and practices that are best described by the oxymoron of refusing reception, have not yet been illuminated. Nor have Antwerp and Rotterdam been looked at together and in a comparative manner. While the neighboring ports were competing for the bigger share of the profitable transmigration traffic, they nevertheless observed the other city’s securitization efforts, particularly in times of cholera. Set amid the background of a rather similar socio-political system in Belgium and the Netherlands, the securitizing hospitality in the two cities featured both similarities and differences.

This chapter analyzes the very tensions and contradictions inherent to the reception of Eastern Europeans who were both wanted and unwanted—but in any event temporary—guests in the port cities. Tensions existed between different variants of hospitality offered to the migrants by different city actors, such as securitizing, commercial, and missionizing hospitality. While the city authorities, especially since the outbreak of cholera in 1892, saw transmigration mainly as a security problem, shipping companies and lodging house owners still perceived them as paying guests, and some aid societies used the migrants’ transit stop for civilizing projects. However, interests, concerns, objectives, and intentions within different groups of city actors were not even, but often contradictory in themselves. At the same time, concerns of different actors could align, as did, for example, the city authorities’ and the aid societies’ objectives when securing the migrants’ stay in the ports. Each group of actors, most importantly the city authorities, shipping companies, lodging house owners, and aid societies, was torn between the need to receive the migrants duly, the quality of migrants as an asset for their business, their perception of the danger the migrants might present to the city, and their own economic, religious, or other interests. In the complexity of the situation, different securitizing efforts did not only target the migrants, but could also be directed toward other city actors that were assumed to have jeopardized the city’s security, for example, lodging house owners who did not abide by the city authorities’ conception of hygiene during the cholera epidemic. The objects that were assumed to need protection varied from public health, social status, the city’s international reputation, economic profit, and the migrants’ well-being; these objects fluctuated not only according to the actors’ perspective, but also according to the changing circumstances.

This chapter will investigate Antwerp’s and Rotterdam’s hospitality toward Eastern European transmigrants as an assemblage of sometimes concurring and sometimes contrasting discourses and practices by different city actors whose actions were interwoven and dependent upon each other. The groups of actors include the city authorities and government representatives; agents of foreign and local shipping lines; aid organizations—most importantly Jewish help committees but also Christian proselytization societies; lodging house owners; local media; and the general public that most often remained an observer but was sometimes actively involved. Public policy-makers took into account and relied upon private activities, while private actors operated within a political framework that was continuously subject to change, not least depending on how the steamship companies or the lodging house owners were behaving or on how the media was reporting about Antwerp or Rotterdam as transit stations.

The chapter opens with a short overview over the transmigration through Antwerp and Rotterdam in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The second section analyzes public and private migration policies up until the cholera outbreak in 1892. The third part focuses on how the pandemic affected the way migrants were received in the ports. The fourth section considers the aid societies’ contribution to securitizing hospitality, especially by the Jewish help societies: the Society for the Support of Needy Transmigrants Montefiore in Rotterdam and the Jewish “Ezra” Philanthropic Society for the Protection of Emigrants in Antwerp. The entire period of study covered here thus begins with the outset of mass emigration from Eastern Europe in 1880 and ends with the outbreak of the First World War, which interrupted the migration traffic through Western European port cities.

Hospitality Toward Unwanted Guests: Eastern European Migrants in Antwerp and Rotterdam

At the end of the nineteenth century, Antwerp developed from a peripheral textile center in the Austrian Netherlands into a major distribution port for the rapidly industrializing Belgium.24 By 1900, the city’s population totaled about 300,000 residents, making it the country’s biggest city.25 In Rotterdam, demographic expansion and the city’s economic transformation into an international port also took place in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.26 Around 1850, the city had only 90,000 inhabitants, but this number grew to approximately 320,000 in 1899.27 As with many port cities, both Antwerp and Rotterdam owed their demographic expansion to immigration. Between 1900 and 1918, about thirteen percent of Antwerp’s inhabitants were non-Belgian, most often of German or Dutch origin.28 Rotterdam started to attract migrants during the 1870s port expansion, many of whom arrived from the national hinterland. Between 1880 and 1910, only ten percent of Rotterdam’s newcomers came from abroad, primarily from Germany and Belgium.29 Eastern Europeans also contributed to the rising population in these port cities from the 1880s onwards.30 In Antwerp, people from the Russian Empire constituted the third-largest migrant community.31 In fact, while some transmigrants only resided a couple of days in the port cities, others’ (transit) stay lasted for varying lengths of time, ranging from several weeks to many years—or a lifetime.

Starting from the 1880s, as transportation became more affordable, even poorer people from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires started migrating toward the Americas, in particular to the United States.32 With the arrival of Eastern Europeans, the port cities’ attitude toward transmigration changed dramatically. In Western Europeans’ mental maps, Eastern Europe was a culturally underdeveloped region where people lacked notions of hygiene and order. Russian and Polish Jewish migrants in particular were associated with rootlessness and uncontrolled movement, and were considered as carriers of diseases and epidemics that supposedly originated in the East.33 Previously, the port cities had mostly seen single men from Central Europe migrating to the United States. Yet, from the 1880s onwards, Eastern Europeans, and Jews in particular, traveled as families, making the transit more complex to deal with.34 Moving away from seeing migration as a valuable source of income, port city actors were afraid transmigration would turn into a financial burden and a sanitary problem and might disturb the social order.

The outbreaks of cholera in 1892, 1905, and 1909 decisively marked this change in attitude. In the pandemic context, transmigrants, who until then had been mostly feared for their poverty, came to be seen as potential carriers of the infectious disease. For the city authorities, in particular, transmigration turned from being seen only as a lucrative business opportunity—in fact, it remained lucrative—into also being perceived as a security issue. Many city actors transformed the commercial hospitality they had provided for the less numerous, less outlandish, and financially and physically abled single migrants from Western and Central Europe into a new form of securitizing hospitality. When receiving the Eastern Europeans, most city actors, including the aid societies that supported the emigrants on their transit stop, now became particularly eager to make sure that the migrants continued their journey as quickly as possible.

There is debate among historians about the extent to which special distrust toward Jews determined the handling of migrants at the borders and at the embarking and disembarking stations. Some argue that the debates on Jewish migration around 1900 must be understood in the general context of reactions toward Southern and Eastern European migration, whereas others point to a specific concern among receiving societies regarding the “so-called Jewish problem.”35 This chapter analyzes the port cities’ hospitality toward Eastern European migrants, both Jews and non-Jews. To be sure, Antwerp and Rotterdam’s securitizing hospitality was to a large degree determined by anti-Semitic opinions and stereotypes due to contemporaries’ impression that most migrants were Jewish. However, the cities’ reluctant reception of migrants—bordering on refusal—was just as saturated with anti-Russian sentiments and a general dislike toward people from Eastern Europe.36

In contrast to the German emigrants or the Western European immigrants that Antwerp and Rotterdam were well acquainted with, Eastern European migrants represented strangeness and were thought of as speaking outlandish languages, wearing bizarre clothes, and following odd religious practices.37 Contemporary observers reporting in the media expressed this same impression of strangeness for the Jewish communities, which reinforced the alignment of hospitality practices and discourses. Not least, the transmigrants’ ever-rising numbers made the city actors’ concern as to how to approach the transmigration continue to grow.38 Especially since 1895, the number of Eastern European transmigrants increased rapidly in both cities. In 1906, a total of 35,366 people from Eastern Europe traveled through Antwerp. At the peak of migration in 1912/13, some 47,935 transmigrants per year passed through the Belgian port.39 Rotterdam saw its first high point in 1907 with more than 40,000 Eastern Europeans traveling through the city. Like Antwerp, the peak came in 1913, with more than 50,000 transmigrants—especially from the Russian Empire—choosing Rotterdam as their debarking station.40

Public–Private Migration Policy: Business, Protection, and Mobility Control in the 1880s

When migration from Eastern Europe slowly started to take off in the 1880s, a policy and regulative framework to channel the activities around transmigration were already in place in the port cities. These sets of rules were meant to guarantee the economic profit that the emigration traffic could bring for the developing port cities by securing the migrants’ transit experience. Until the outbreak of cholera in 1892, these regulatory mechanisms continued to function in mostly the same way. A decade before the pandemic, however, and with the sharpening of the US immigration policy, health checks were already becoming more frequent in the ports. These medical controls primarily targeted Eastern European migrants who were suspected of carrying infectious diseases.41

In Belgium, the young state soon realized the economic advantage it stood to gain from the emigration traffic, and started to promote Antwerp as a port, issuing laws to regulate the traffic from the late 1830s.42 These regulations were intended not only to protect the emigrants and the citizens of Antwerp, but also to convince foreign governments—and the migrants themselves—of the serious character of the Belgian emigration service.43 From 1850, the Emigration Inspection Service was in charge of the surveillance of emigration, including medical controls and the inspection of ships.44 A law from 1873 created the position of the Government Commissioner for Emigration who would henceforth play a central role in all official activities concerning emigration. The commissioner was responsible for investigating every possible manner of increasing emigration traffic through Antwerp. Simultaneously, he had to make sure that regulations were correctly enforced, that emigrants were protected from bad-faith agents and lodging house owners, and that migrants were properly informed of their rights. The commissioner sent all his findings to the governor and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs; his office thus left a wealth of correspondence, reflecting the degree to which Belgian authorities conceived of emigration via Antwerp as an important political and, at times, security issue.45

This was not true to the same extent in the Netherlands. While there is plenty of official communication regarding Eastern European emigrants in Antwerp, comparable sources do not survive in the Dutch archives.46 A law from 1861 first established the so-called Commissions for the Surveillance and Control of Emigration in the port cities as well as in inland border towns.47 The primary task of the Rotterdam commissioners was to foster Rotterdam’s reputation as an emigration port. The Commission controlled the emigrants’ lodging houses and their accommodation on the ships, checked the contracts signed with the shipping companies’ agents, and offered medical inspections. The Surveillance Commission also opened an information office where migrants could find advice and support during their transit stay. They placed advertisements in German newspapers, distributed leaflets among the migrants to inform them about the Commission’s existence, and posted the text of the 1861 law in train stations, ocean liners, and in the Rotterdam lodging houses to inform the migrants about their rights.48 The Commissioners were committed to protecting the emigrants as far as possible—so long as trade and traffic were not hampered by the protection measures.49 Yet, external factors soon came into play, affecting commercial hospitality in Rotterdam, and shaping practices of the inspection of transmigrants in both port cities.

From 1880 onwards, the stricter immigration regulations enacted by the United States reverberated in European ports. Cities like Antwerp and Rotterdam turned into centers of migration control and health checks.50 The steamship companies and the authorities of the transit countries assumed control of this because they had to cover the costs associated with the return of a migrant who was denied entry into the United States.51 Over the years, as the United States refused entry to an increasing number of Eastern Europeans, the Belgian and Dutch governments transferred the responsibility for taking care of stranded and returned migrants to the shipping companies, the Red Star Line and the Holland America Line respectively.52 Hence, the securitization of transmigration in Rotterdam and Antwerp developed as a mix of private and public initiatives and responsibilities, with waiting halls and medical control centers in the ports run by the steamship companies.53 However, national and city authorities viewed the steamship companies—there were also foreign companies operating in the ports—and their subagents in particular not only as an asset for the city, but also as a potential source of danger, both for the migrants and for the cities. To counteract fraudulent shipping agents, the Belgian authorities enacted an authorization procedure to control the agents’ reliability.54 Fraudulent agents and subcontractors, some of whom were condemned by court procedure,55 nevertheless remained a frequent phenomenon in both cities, and the authorities and aid societies were kept busy with protecting migrants from them, mainly in order to secure the cities’ reputation as emigration ports.56

Hospitality practices in both cities were shaped by the perception of the Eastern European migrants as helpless and disoriented. The general view on Eastern European migrants in the ports, including the Jewish help organizations,57 tended to inspire pity upon them, often by infantilizing them and depicting them as deprived of any agency.58 Contemporary accounts abound of astonished descriptions of the emigrants’ weird clothes, movements, and gestures that all seemed to demonstrate their profound misery and suffering, especially with regard to the Jews.59 Local and national media had an important role in constructing this image; by describing the migrants as victims, journalists in the port cities were seemingly trying to convey the idea of a compassionate city. A Belgian news agency dispatch from 1903 read as follows:

For the past two days, men, women, and children wearing bizarre clothes have been wandering the streets of Antwerp. These people are Macedonian refugees who had to flee their native soil to search for peace elsewhere as they cannot find it in their home country. Where are they going? They would not be able to tell themselves, poor wretches.60

Regardless of whether the Eastern European migrants, especially the Jews, had had to flee from prosecution and violence in their home countries, they were usually perceived as victims in the port cities. Not least because of the migrants’ assumed victimhood,61 in the early phase of Eastern Europeans’ emigration via Antwerp and Rotterdam, public authorities, private companies, and aid societies offered a type of hospitality that can best be characterized as paternalistic protection. The protective measures always implied practices of control that, in turn, were meant to protect the cities from disturbances of public order. This concern was based on the fact that migrants from Eastern Europe were more likely to stay in the port cities due to financial problems or health issues, and therefore more likely to rely on poor relief. Migrants from Western Europe who had settled in the port cities, on the contrary, were often viewed as business competitors.62

The authorities’ securitizing effort was more pronounced in Antwerp than in Rotterdam. Dutch authorities at the national, provincial, and city level were less committed to the control of transmigration than were their Belgian counterparts. In Rotterdam, private actors, shipping companies, and aid societies provided the bulk of activities for securitizing hospitality toward Eastern European migrants, and the authorities there controlled such activities less than the Belgian officials did.63 However, nuances need to be made to this overall picture: When many Romanian Jews arrived in Rotterdam in 1900, the municipality provided a special building to accommodate them and thereby to securitize the situation, as the authorities deemed that the Eastern Europeans would otherwise have threatened public order by wandering around.64 Yet, overall, Belgian authorities showed more anxiety in controlling transmigration; they provided greater safeguards and care, but, at the same time, they contained and restricted the migrants’ mobility more than their Rotterdam counterparts. To put it bluntly: more hospitality implied more securitization, which once again confirms the intrinsic affinity between the two concepts.

The Outbreaks of Cholera and the Reception of Eastern European Transmigrants Since 1892

On June 20, 1911, at a time when the danger of cholera—mostly spread by contaminated water and food—was ever present, the Antwerp daily newspaper Le Matin published an article pointing to the supposedly blatant difference between Antwerp’s and Rotterdam’s handling of the transmigration of Eastern European migrants.65 The author seems to have represented business interests in the lively transmigration traffic, revealing himself to be a fierce critic of the strict Belgian migration regime that included health checks by the authorities at the train station. According to the journalist’s Dutch interview partner, in Rotterdam, only private shipping companies carried out health checks, doing this on their own initiative and at the migrants’ hotels shortly before embarkation, not in the central station or in special halls erected for this purpose like in Antwerp. Impressed by the Dutch liberal spirit that viewed Eastern European migrants as clients, even during a cholera outbreak, the Belgian author concluded:

The same emigrants who are so dangerous in Antwerp become entirely inoffensive in Rotterdam… Our minister of the interior used the cholera phantom to justify the creation of the health control center in the central station.66

To be sure, there was a difference in approach toward transmigration between Rotterdam and Antwerp, even in times of cholera. Yet, it is safe to say that the Dutch port city followed most Western Europeans’ view that the cholera epidemic originated in the East and that Russian migrants in particular posed a potential danger for public health.67 Amidst a global context of the medicalization of borders, Rotterdam was similar to other cities and, as the historian Barbara Lüthi put it, the “image of the Ostjude (eastern Jew) symbolized widespread fears of a foreign invasion, which often was imagined as an invasion of germs.”68 There is some evidence that Dutch authorities, with the outbreak of cholera and the closing of the Hamburg harbor to Russian migrants in 1892, installed stricter border controls to hinder Russian migrants from reaching the port of Rotterdam—some of these migrants arrived in Antwerp instead.69 Belgian authorities hesitated to install such border controls, as this would have affected the steamboat companies’ business interests and, by extension, the city’s economic wealth.70

It is safe to say that in both Antwerp and Rotterdam, starting from 1892, hygiene and sanitary conditions became the most important issues concerning transmigration for the authorities, the steam shipping companies, and the aid organizations. Numerous hygienic measures adopted in the context of the cholera outbreak, such as the Dutch border controls or the quarantine in the Antwerp harbor, explicitly targeted “Russian migrants” only. However, the way in which city actors integrated the intensified securitization around cholera into their previously established hospitality structures varied considerably, with some actors contributing very little to the increased securitization effort, like the lodging house owners or, to a lesser extent, the local media.

In Antwerp, hygiene measures ranged from medical checks upon the emigrants’ arrival, disinfecting their luggage, an obligatory bath at the hotel, or quarantine in the harbor.71 However, in their practical application, the quarantine measures were uneven and inconsistent, once more giving evidence of the tensions and concerns shaping the securitization of hospitality toward Eastern European migrants in the Belgian port city. To be sure, most city actors agreed that “this category of [Russian Jewish] emigrants” represented an “acute danger for our city;” and that Russian migrants were “unwelcome here from a hygienic point of view and with respect to their [unlikely] admission to the United States.”72 The sanitary danger appeared even more acute when migrants arrived by boat from the Baltic seaport of Libau. Given the “disastrous sanitary conditions” on board the ships, the migrants had to undergo a severe medical check and were not allowed to disembark for at least twenty-four hours.73

There was less agreement concerning the quarantine measures imposed by the US administration in the summer of 1893. During the first cholera epidemic, the US government demanded that migrants from Eastern Europe quarantine for at least five days in the European port cities before continuing their journey to the United States.74 The Belgian Emigration Commissioner judged these quarantine measures to be “inhumane toward the migrants” and “disastrous for the port of Antwerp.”75 The Red Star Line, seeing its business interests at stake, added that the quarantine rules were “illegal in Belgium.”76 Finally, the Antwerp Governor urged the Minister of Foreign Affairs to stop the quarantine measures (though they were never put into practice anyways)77 because they “were damaging for the steamship companies as well as for the migrants to whom we owe protection.”78

As the cholera epidemic made Eastern Europeans appear as an acute danger for public health, commercial and protective hospitality gestures did not disappear, since the business interests of steamship companies and the port city as a whole in transmigration remained the same. The emigrant hotel erected by the Holland America Line in the Rotterdam port emblematically represented the merging of commercial, protective‚ and securitizing hospitality. Built in 1893 according to modern standards regarding sanitary facilities, fire protection, lighting, and aeration, it was intended to guarantee the migrants safe and comfortable accommodation with, additionally, a “splendid view over the Maas,” as a local newspaper noted in its praising article about the new hotel.79 At the same time, the hotel contributed to the securitization of transmigration because it included extra quarantine rooms for people suspected of caring a contagious disease.80

However, the great majority of migrant hotels in Antwerp and Rotterdam offered inadequate accommodation, especially in times of an epidemic.81 The many shabby lodging houses, many of which were run by the Red Star Line in Antwerp, not only lacked decent sanitary facilities, but they were also often overcrowded. Considered to be a major problem even before 1892, in times of cholera, the lodging houses and their owners became a main concern for public and private actors trying to improve hygiene and thus decrease the risk of cholera infections among the migrants—and the city dwellers.82 Help societies contributed to this effort by controlling the migrants’ lodging houses, boasting about how they were contributing to the betterment of the situation, a success that the city authorities attributed to the official hygiene service.83 Residents of the Antwerp Handelslei, a street near the central station, saw the lodging houses as a security problem, too. In a protest letter to the Antwerp Mayor from May 1906, these Antwerp citizens declared that they were bothered by the presence of Eastern Europeans in the streets and by the opening of yet more migrant accommodation. The authors urged the authorities to take measures against the shabby hotels: these provided the actual reason for why migrants spent their time outside, thereby endangering public order and health.84 Together with private companies and the emigration commissioner, city dwellers used migrants’ security as a rhetorical means to secure their own objectives, namely a lively and profitable emigration traffic, or a peaceful neighborhood.

The commercial objectives pursued by hotel owners were often able to hinder attempts by both local and national health authorities to ameliorate the hygienic situation in the lodging houses. This, in turn, fed into the securitization discourse concerning the Eastern Europeans and the risk they posed to public health when staying in overcrowded accommodation. Yet, while most city actors agreed that the deficient sanitary conditions in the city were highly problematic, there was a broad consensus that migrants’ place of origin and their lack of hygiene were primarily to blame for the outbreak of diseases. These pejorative descriptions of Eastern Europeans have to be placed in their colonial context, where notions of “hygiene” were intensely debated and Eastern Europeans’ transmigration was often viewed on par with “colonial hygiene.”85

However, the securitization of transmigration in the port cities was not all-embracing. In the Belgian port city, securitization discourses and practices were not entirely in accordance with each other, especially in the case of quarantine measures. Business interests in the ports were strong enough to counter effective measures against the spread of disease in the lodging houses. Moreover, non-exhaustive research among the local press indicates that neither Antwerp’s nor Rotterdam’s local newspapers actively participated in making the transmigration of Eastern Europeans in times of cholera a serious security problem. Among Rotterdam’s authorities, transmigration did not develop into a pressing political and security issue at all.86

Aid Societies’ Hospitality and the Safeguard of Interests and Objectives (1880–1914)

Neither the Rotterdam nor the Antwerp public welfare bureau provided any material help for the transmigrants.87 Hospitality toward the often-needy Eastern European migrants in its most basic understanding, that is, providing food, accommodation, and clothing, was entirely left to private actors. As transmigrants from Eastern Europe became more numerous, the Jewish Montefiore society in Rotterdam and the Ezra society in Antwerp became the main private actors catering for Eastern European transmigrants, both Jews and non-Jews. Hence, hospitality practices in accordance with the Jewish religious and moral codex largely determined the reception of transmigrants by private actors. The hachnosas ourechiem principle, which translates as “hospitality,” asks each Jew to open his or her house for travelers. The Jewish help committees were meant to remove the burden of this religious duty from the individual by assuming responsibility themselves and bundling the various hospitality practices together.88 Jewish help organizations did not, however, receive migrants in a radically different way compared to the authorities or other city residents. The Jewish aid societies generally saw their Eastern European co-religionists as victims of prosecution, which was a main motive behind their hospitable gestures.89 They provided migrants with (kosher) food, new clothes, medical care, and temporary lodging, as well as with practical information and overseas contacts. Like the official emigration services, the societies protected their co-religionists from swindlers who offered them expensive accommodation of the lowest standard; from unscrupulous shipping agents; from the “white slave trade,” the alleged trafficking and sexual enslavement of European women90; and from Christian institutions trying to proselytize among the Jews.91

The help that aid committees provided for migrants was not pure charity, but was also carried out in efforts to safeguard their own interests and objectives, which often—sometimes even explicitly so—aligned with those of the authorities.92 An important motive of the financial supporters of the help committees was the concern of the established Jews that their Eastern European co-religionists might become a burden for the general public, thereby potentially discrediting the Jewish community in the city.93 By catering for the arriving migrants, the help societies strove to sustain and further develop the Jewish community’s bourgeois cultural capital.94 The aid committees, therefore, had a strong interest in helping the transmigrants continue their journey quickly.95 Most importantly, the aid committees wanted to avoid the situation whereby Eastern European migrants started begging in the streets, thus disturbing public order and risking expulsion by the public authorities. In order to facilitate the transmigrants’ departure, national authorities sometimes even paid for return tickets of impoverished Eastern Europeans, rather than seeing them settle permanently in the port cities.96 Public authorities and help organizations cooperated even when calibrating the type of reception offered to the Eastern European migrants.97

The Jewish communities’ hospitality toward migrants was largely shaped by negative stereotypes about their Eastern European co-religionists, stereotypes which the Jewish communities shared with the general public. Western emancipated Jews viewed emigrants as backwards, with strange clothing, language, and behavior, as well as commenting on their orthodox traditional religious practices.98 The reception that Western Jewish communities provided for the Eastern Europeans was often imbued with a civilizing and educating project.99 This civilizing project often targeted the migrants’ supposed lack of hygiene, which in the context of the cholera outbreak took over most other security considerations. It is against this background that we have to read the article about the Montefiore lodging house in Rotterdam, published in the illustrated magazine Op de Hoogte, in a report praising the Jewish help society in 1914. The article noted that “Dutch cleanliness” prevailed in Montefiore’s lodging house, despite the restricted means and minimal personnel the society had at its disposal.100 The media industriously conveyed the image of the “caring” city, while at the same time cultivated the idea that migrants were in need of “civilizing” measures.

In Antwerp, the most significant help organization, the Jewish “Ezra” Philanthropic Society for the Protection of Emigrants, was founded in 1903 and active in the Belgian port city until the 1940s.101 Although Ezra’s hospitality practices were diverse, inspired both by religious as well as socioeconomic objectives, its activities all aimed at controlling and securitizing transmigration, and thus securing the city of Antwerp, the migrants, and the Jewish community. Moral obligations toward the migrating co-religionists and the societies’ own concerns in securing the Jewish community’s status in the city went hand in hand to shape Ezra’s hospitality toward Eastern Europeans. The Rotterdam-based Society for the Support of Needy Transmigrants Montefiore, active from 1883 to 1914, provided accommodation and practical help for the migrants.102 The aid committee was an initiative of a Rotterdam Jew, and was directed primarily toward Jewish migrants; but, like the Antwerp Ezra, it gave support to non-Jewish migrants too.103 Both Jewish and non-Jewish migrants, in order to receive help, had to prove their needs through processes that the Montefiore society controlled on a regular basis.104 Thus, even when looking at the aid organizations, we should not differentiate too strictly between the reception of Jewish and non-Jewish transmigrants in the port cities. The control that migrants underwent when presenting themselves to the help organizations also emphasizes similarities in the practices performed by aid organizations on the one hand, and the authorities on the other, when confronting Eastern European transmigrants. Both port cities’ securitizing hospitality toward Eastern European migrants depended entirely upon the contributions by private help committees, especially the Jewish. As the authorities and the aid societies followed similar interests and objectives, city officials trusted the private actors to keep the migrants from the streets and to play a significant role in helping secure public order.

Rotterdam also saw the foundation of Christian conversion institutions, like the so-called Dutch Society for Proselytizing among Israel, which was named Elim, after the oasis where according to the Old Testament Moses and his followers paused during their exodus from Egypt.105 Started in 1892, Elim grew into a well-organized society that earned official recognition in 1901 when its statutes received royal consent. To be sure, the alignment of the provision of practical help to the migrants and the pursuit of special, particularly religious, goals were most evident in case of conversion societies like Elim. Yet, other Christian societies catering for their migrating co-religionists, like the transnational Catholic Saint Rafael Society, also pursued its own agenda when supporting the migrants.106 In addition to practical help, the transmigrants were to receive religious enlightenment during their stay.107 Saint Rafael not only offered information and arranged decent accommodation; most importantly, it allowed the transmigrants to speak with a priest before departure.108 One might argue that the goal-oriented hospitality of the Christian societies was geared less toward rejecting migrants than was the reception provided for migrants by their Jewish co-religionists. While Jewish societies mainly feared an extended stay in the ports by the migrants, Christian societies, in contrast, needed time to do their proselytizing work, so they were less eager to push the migrants toward an immediate departure. To some extent, Christian societies viewed the migrants as less of a danger than their Jewish counterparts and the authorities, but instead welcomed them as (potential) Christians. Elim’s and Saint-Raphael’s highly focused but less securitizing hospitality once again testifies to the complexities and paradoxes of hospitality in the port cities around 1900.

Concluding Remarks

The critical notion of hospitality combined with the analytical concept of securitization has allowed us to go beyond the usual dichotomy between “migration control” imposed by the authorities and “philanthropy” offered by the aid organizations in the context of Eastern Europeans’ transmigration through the port cities of Antwerp and Rotterdam. Practices of hospitably and of providing security—for the migrants and the city—were intimately intertwined, regardless of which city we look at. There was no contrast between, on the one hand, city authorities securitizing the transit migration and, on the other, aid societies’ benevolent behavior toward the arriving strangers. Jewish help committees were just as eager to see the Eastern Europeans leave again quickly because they feared that their continuous presence might negatively affect the Jewish community’s status within the city. The securitization efforts undertaken by Belgian authorities and the city of Antwerp were more pronounced than those undertaken by Dutch authorities and the city of Rotterdam. Yet, most actors’ securitizing hospitality practices toward Eastern European migrants show more similarities than differences in the two port cities, so that we are justified in speaking about a common securitizing hospitality toward Eastern European transmigrants in Antwerp and Rotterdam. All city actors who provided hospitality for the migrants did so by following self-interested agendas, driven primarily by the pursuit of economic, social, and health security.


  1. 1.

    All translations from French and Dutch into English are my own.

  2. 2.

    Feys and Prokopovych (2016).

  3. 3.

    Feys (2013).

  4. 4.

    Feys and Prokopovych (2016), Feys (2013), van de Laar (2016).

  5. 5.

    Liepāja in present-day Latvia.

  6. 6.

    Derrida (2001: 4), referring to Kant (1970).

  7. 7.

    Benveniste et al. (1973: 77).

  8. 8.

    Conze (2012: 458–459).

  9. 9.

    Balzacq (2011: 3).

  10. 10.

    Lashley (2001: 6).

  11. 11.

    Selwyn (2001: 19, 34).

  12. 12.

    Friese (2004: 70).

  13. 13.

    Derrida (2001: 3), Selwyn (2001: 20).

  14. 14.

    Derrida (2001: 3). On the etymological relationship between ‘guest’ and ‘enemy’—hostis/hospes—see Benveniste et al. (1973: 75–79).

  15. 15.

    van den Broek Chávez and van der Rest (2014: 33–34), Kotkin (2005).

  16. 16.

    See most recently, Goldin et al. (2020) and the classic Wischnitzer (1948). See also Zahra (2016).

  17. 17.

    Just (1988).

  18. 18.

    Alroey (2011), Boyden (2013), Brinkmann (2013a), Caestecker and Feys (2010), Hoerder (1993), Feys and Prokopovych (2016).

  19. 19.

    On Antwerp, see Spelkens (1976). On Rotterdam, see van der Valk (1976).

  20. 20.

    On Antwerp, see Caestecker (2013), Caestecker and Feys (2010); and the chapter on transmigration in Ronin (1993). On Rotterdam, see van de Laar (2016) and Leenders (1993). See also some of the semi-scientific books, such as Everaert (2002), Zevenbergen (2001).

  21. 21.

    Goldin et al. (2020), Caestecker (2013), Ronin (1993).

  22. 22.

    On Antwerp, see Caestecker and Feys (2010), and on Rotterdam, see van der Valk (1976).

  23. 23.

    On Jewish aid societies, see Brinkmann (2007). On the Dutch case, see Tammes (2013). See also Vloeberghs (2010), Groeneveld (1999), Coene (1998), Van Schip (1996).

  24. 24.

    Winter (2009).

  25. 25.

    Kruithof (1964: 509–510).

  26. 26.

    Bruggeman and van de Laar (1998: 150).

  27. 27.

    Boumann and Boumann (1952: 15–17).

  28. 28.

    Devos (2010: 251).

  29. 29.

    Lucassen (2006: 25–38).

  30. 30.

    Schreiber (1996), Tammes (2013: 9–13).

  31. 31.

    Ronin (1993: 353).

  32. 32.

    Weber (2013: 85), Zahra (2016).

  33. 33.

    Lüthi (2013: 35).

  34. 34.

    Alroey (2011: 37).

  35. 35.

    Lüthi (2013: 30).

  36. 36.

    Ronin (1993: 10), Lüthi (2013: 35).

  37. 37.

    Brinkmann (2007: 73–74).

  38. 38.

    Spelkens (1976: 114–115), van der Valk (1976: 165).

  39. 39.

    Spelkens (1976: 114–115).

  40. 40.

    van der Valk (1976: 165).

  41. 41.

    Lüthi (2013: 30).

  42. 42.

    Spelkens (1976: 57), Caestecker and Feys (2010: 263).

  43. 43.

    Spelkens (1976: 62).

  44. 44.

    Spelkens (1976: 58–59), Caestecker and Feys (2010: 263).

  45. 45.

    Rijksarchief Beveren, Archief van de Provincie Antwerpen (hereafter RBA), BE-A0511/PAA618 Scheepvaart en Landverhuizing (hereafter SL).

  46. 46.

    The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted my research in the Dutch National Archives. Four archival boxes might contain additional documents about transmigration via Rotterdam.

  47. 47.

    Commissie van toezigt op den doortogt en het vervoer van landverhuizers.

  48. 48.

    Stadsarchief Rotterdam (hereafter SR) 444-01, Archieven van de Gemeenteraad en het College van Burgermeester en Wethouders van Rotterdam (hereafter AGBW), inv. 6035: Verslag van de toestand van de gemeente met bijlagen; van der Valk (1976: 153, 158–160).

  49. 49.

    Nationaal Archief Den Haag (hereafter AND), Ministerie van Waterstaat, Handel- en Nijverheid inv. 129: letter, July 26, 1883.

  50. 50.

    Brinkmann (2013b: 18).

  51. 51.

    Brinkmann (2013b: 2).

  52. 52.

    AND, 2.05.03 Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken: A-dossiers, inv. 293: Commissie voor de herziening van de wetgeving op de landverhuizers, 1912.

  53. 53.

    Felix Archief Antwerpen (hereafter FAA), Archief van het Havenbedrijf Antwerpen, inv. MA-HB/308: Wachtzaal en toebehoren voor de Emigratiedienst, Red Star Line.

  54. 54.

    RBA, SL, inv. 194.

  55. 55.

    Gazet van Antwerpen, May 24, 1907.

  56. 56.

    FAA, Archieven van de Stad Antwerpen, Publieke taken (hereafter AP), inv. 731/1057; RBA, SL, inv. 190; Archives Nationales Bruxelles (hereafter ANB), I 160 Archives du Ministère de la Justice, Sûreté publique (hereafter MJS), inv. 256; Ezra (1928: 4).

  57. 57.

    Ezra (1928: 15).

  58. 58.

    Le Matin, Journal Quotidien, February 8, 1906.

  59. 59.

    Romer (1986: 75).

  60. 60.

    ANB, MJS, inv. 255.

  61. 61.

    Ronin (1993: 203). Recent research has raised doubts concerning the relationship between anti-Jewish violence and the emigration movements from Eastern Europe. Brinkmann (2007: 82).

  62. 62.

    La Voix du People, December 31, 1891.

  63. 63.

    Leenders (1993: 125).

  64. 64.

    SR, AGBW, inv. 6082: Verslag van de toestand van de gemeente; Montefiore (1901: 18).

  65. 65.

    Vloeberghs (20092009).

  66. 66.

    Le Matin. Journal Quotidien, June 20, 1911.

  67. 67.

    Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, July 27, 1894.

  68. 68.

    Lüthi (2013: 30). See also, Assainissement et Salubrité de l’Habitation (1914).

  69. 69.

    FAA, AP, Landverhuizing 1876–1923, inv. MA/2257/2; RBA, SL, inv. 232: Belgian Delegation The Hague to Provincial Governor Antwerp, June 21, 1893.

  70. 70.

    RBA, SL, inv. 232: Emigration Commissioner to Antwerp Governor, August 16, 1893.

  71. 71.

    FAA, AP, Gezondheidsdienst. Onderrichtingen voor landverhuizerslogementen, 1906–1928, inv. MA/27816 A: Emigration Service, sitting report, September 29, 1908; RBA, SL, inv. 229, 232.

  72. 72.

    RBA, SL, inv. 232: Emigration Commissioner to Antwerp Governor, July 18, 1895. See also ANB, MJS, inv. 265.

  73. 73.

    RBA, SL, inv. 232: Emigration Commissioner to Antwerp Governor, May 13, 1896.

  74. 74.

    Markel (1999).

  75. 75.

    RBA, SL, inv. 237: Emigration Commissioner to Antwerp Governor, October 7, 1893.

  76. 76.

    RBA, SL, inv. 237: RSL to Antwerp governor, October 24, 1893.

  77. 77.

    RBA, SL, inv. 237: Emigration Commissioner to Antwerp Governor, October 2, 1893.

  78. 78.

    RBA, SL, inv. 237: Antwerp Governor to Minister of Foreign Affairs, October 30, 1893.

  79. 79.

    Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, February 6, 1893, quoted in: Zevenbergen (2001: 57).

  80. 80.

    Romer (1986: 73), Wentholt (1973: 57–58).

  81. 81.

    In 1903, Antwerp counted eighteen so-called logementshuizen, sixteen of which belonged to the Red Star Line. Everaert (2002: 14).

  82. 82.

    FAA, AP, inv. 731/1059: Police, report on lodging houses, July 1873.

  83. 83.

    Société Belge de l’Archange Raphaël 1890: 6; FAA, AP, Gezondheidsdienst, inv. MA/27816 A: Onderrichtingen voor landverhuizerslogementen, 1906–1928.

  84. 84.

    FAA, AP, Landverhuizing 1876–1923, inv. MA/2257/2: Letter May 15, 1906; Gezondheidsdienst, inv. MA/27816 A: Antwerp Mayor to Police Inspectors, April 26, 1906 and Medical Service to Antwerp Mayor, June 12, 1913.

  85. 85.

    Assainissement et Salubrité de l’Habitation (1914: 112).

  86. 86.

    SR, AGBW, inv. 6034–6123: Verslag van de toestand.

  87. 87.

    The archives of the Antwerp Weldadigheidsbureel and of the Rotterdam Gemeentesecreatie Armenwezen do not contain any documents about the reception of Eastern European migrants.

  88. 88.

    Van Schip (1996: 399).

  89. 89.

    Montefiore (1901: 4).

  90. 90.

    According to Greefs and Winter (2020: 210), most alleged incidences of “white slave trafficking” have been exposed as propaganda. However, there are indications of personal bondage via a system of transfer premiums and personal debts, which likely made it difficult or even impossible to leave the trade.

  91. 91.

    Weber (2013: 86), Ezra (1928: 3–4).

  92. 92.

    Ezra (1928: 4).

  93. 93.

    Weber (2013: 86), Leenders (1993: 126), Alroey (2011: 37).

  94. 94.

    Lässig (2004).

  95. 95.

    Montefiore (1901: 6), Weber (2013: 88).

  96. 96.

    FAA, AP, inv. 731/1063 and 731/1065; ANB, MJS, inv. 285.

  97. 97.

    Van Schip (1996: 424).

  98. 98.

    Weber (2013: 88).

  99. 99.

    SR, Arch. Jood. Gem. inv. 788, Stokvis, secretaris Montefiore to Comité uitgeweken Russische Israëliten, July 20, 1891, quoted in Leenders (1993: 126).

  100. 100.

    B. Canter, De Stichting Montefiore te Rotterdam, in: Op de Hoogte. Maandschrift voor de huiskamer, vol. 11 (Jan. 1914): 51–55.

  101. 101.

    Ezra. Société Philanthropique pour la Protection des Emigrants à Anvers.

  102. 102.

    Vereniging tot Ondersteuning van Behoeftige Passanten ‘Montefiore.’

  103. 103.

    Montefiore Jaarverslag 1883, in: Weekblad voor Israëlietische Huisgezinnen (WIH) 15 (1884) nr. 27, 18 July, 1884, 1; Ezra (1928: 4).

  104. 104.

    SR, AGBW, inv. 2890: Statuten der Vereniging Montefiore-Stichting te Rotterdam, 1885; Van Schip (1996: 438).

  105. 105.

    SR, 3001 Rotterdamse publicaties, nr. XXVI F 213: Werk onder Joodsche landverhuizers te Rotterdam 1900; Elim (1902).

  106. 106.

    Société Belge de l’Archange Raphaël, Œuvre protectrice des émigrants.

  107. 107.

    Zevenbergen (2001: 56).

  108. 108.

    Société Belge de l’Archange Raphaël (1890: 7).