The Second World War radically changed the nature, people and geography of the diamond trade. During the war, the traditional centers of the European continent were paralyzed, and other centers rose to prominence. After the war, things did not return to their original form. Many leading figures in the industry the overwhelming majority of them Jewish perished at the hands of the Nazis.
Amsterdam and Antwerp diamantaires who remained behind after the German occupation of their countries attempted to keep the bourses and the factories operating. But rough was almost impossible to come by, and they were constantly harassed by the Nazis. A story was told of a German raid on the premises of the Vereeniging Beurs voor Diamanthandel in Amsterdam. When the Germans entered, a waiter passed around coffee to diamantaires sitting in the canteen.
They all dropped their stones into the dark liquid, and the waiter collected the cups. After the Germans left, they collected their goods. But most stories did not end as fortunately. Most of the European bourses erected plaques engraved with the names of members who died during the period. Belgian and Dutch diamantaires who managed to escape the Nazi onslaught set up businesses elsewhere.
Many went to England, where a short lived cutting industry developed in the Midlands, in the vicinity of the town of Stafford. During these years, two bourses were set up in London's jewelry district of Hatton Garden. The London Diamond Club was created in 1940, and the London Diamond Bourse was formed a year later. Other diamantaires fled to the United States and Palestine. The more than 500 diamantaires who gathered in London were determined to rebuild what they had left after the war.
They had managed to transfer large quantities of diamonds to London, and had obtained the cooperation of the British government to register and safeguard the stones during their sojourn in London. For this purpose, the Correspondence Office of the Diamond Industry was created. When the war ended, the diamonds were returned to Antwerp. Of the 27,000 workers who had once constituted the industry, only 3,500 remained.
But recovery was quick, and, by the end of 1945, some 11,000 people were at work. Whereas the Antwerp diamond financial and rough trade was predominantly Jewish, the cutting industry was not. So, during the war, when the Jewish dealers fled or were captured by the Nazis, the Belgian cutting industry remained intact, although largely immobilized. When the war ended, and the trade began filtering back to Antwerp, the cutting industry was able to get back to work.
Amsterdam was never able to fully recover from the war. In contrast to its southern neighbor, both its trade and cutting industry had been predominantly Jewish. When the country was liberated, almost nothing remained. A small industry and a slightly larger trade did develop, but the country was to remain a very minor player of the international scene.
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