Romi Goldmuntz

05 June 2019 - 11:12

Romi Goldmuntz was born in Cracow (Galicia), then part of Austria, on 8 July 1882. He was one of eight children. When he was two, his parents moved the family to Antwerp.

At fifteen Romi, like many East-European Jews, became a diamond cutter and immediately joined the Antwerp Diamantbewerkersbond [General Diamond Workers’ Association of Belgium] (ADB). By 1904 he and his brother Leopold had become manufacturers. His business grew phenomenally, and by 1920 employed 600 workers.

Romi Goldmuntz

Romi Goldmuntz photo from: Belgische Juweliers Vereeniging, Guldenboek (Antwerpen, 1920) p. 58.

Antwerpia in Scheveningen

Jewish diamond retailers who were still Austrian nationals were forced to leave Belgium before the First World War broke out. Romi Goldmuntz, who in 1914 was vice chairman of the Diamond Club, spent most of the war in the Netherlands. Diamond retailers gathered in Scheveningen and started various clubs. Club Antwerpia, where the Galicianers converged, started as a social group, but the members soon went back to business. Under the aegis of Romi Goldmuntz, Club Antwerpia expanded into the most prominent diamond exchange.

Hotel Alteburg


Antwerp diamond traders met in hotel Alteburg on Gevers Deijnootplein in Scheveningen. (The Hague Municipal Archive)


Diamond smuggling

At the end of the war Antwerpia transferred to Bergen-op-Zoom, closer to the Kempen, where the traders had their stones polished. The practice among Antwerpia members of smuggling rough material into Belgium to be processed there and then exporting it back again was in fact illegal because of the British blockade, which prohibited trade with establishments in occupied territory. In the neutral Netherlands scams abounded for ‘certificates of origin.’ Enough was smuggled to keep thousands of diamond workers in Antwerp busy throughout the war. The Algemene Nederlandse Diamantbewerkersbond [General Diamond Workers’ Union of the Netherlands] (ANDB) condemned these practices, and Henri Polak joined the supervisory committee for diamond exports to stop them.


To compensate the war damage, shortly before the end of the war the assets of subjects of countries that had fought against Belgium were ‘sequestered.’ The property of Goldmuntz in Belgium was confiscated as well. Even though he had purchased rough diamonds in Berlin during the war, his sequestration record was closed via the normal procedure after only four months without any consequences.  

Doubts about Antwerp

At the same time articles began to appear, especially in newspapers published in French, depicting East-European Jews as enemy aliens. Many diamond traders were therefore reluctant to return to Belgium. The ADB periodical De Diamantbewerker, strongly countered this view. Antwerp author Willem Elsschot also warned that this attitude endangered the transfer of the diamond industry. Romi Goldmuntz and ADB-trade union chairman Louis Van Berckelaer went to the Netherlands to convince diamond traders in exile to return to Antwerp. They succeeded with support from the influential trader J.M. Walk, who offered his vast stock of rough diamonds at pre-war prices.

J.W. Walk


Photo J.W. Walk from: Belgische Juweliers Vereeniging, Guldenboek (Antwerp, 1920) p. 56

Transfer to Cognac

Although Goldmuntz switched to trading rough diamonds after the war, he remained involved in the problems that manufacturers faced. Socialist mayor of Antwerp Camille Huysmans consulted his close friend about diamond matters. Goldmuntz argued that the prosperity of the diamond industry depended on preserving the exclusive London (main seller of the raw material) – Antwerp (main processing site) axis. He also preferred transferring operations to England, if a new war broke out. This was at odds with the plan of the colonial and financial lobby groups, in which it had been agreed with the Belgian government that the diamond centre would be transferred to Cognac, near Bordeaux.

Second World War

After he informed Huysmans about the turmoil in Cognac, Goldmuntz was commissioned by the government in June 1940 to safeguard the Belgian diamond industry in England. On 17 June 1940 France surrendered. The Germans launched a charm campaign to lure Jewish traders in Cognac back to Antwerp. After the Germans had extracted their knowledge and stocks of diamonds, the Jews who had returned were deported in late October 1942. In November 1943 Goldmuntz helped set up the Comité Juif Belge, which assisted Jews in hiding and after the war helped search for survivors.


Together with Goldmuntz, Huysmans formed the Correspondence Office for Diamond Industry (COFDI) in 1941 to discourage diamond retailers from leaving, so that the Antwerp diamond industry could resume operations as soon as possible after the war. Thanks to Goldmuntz’s friend Oppenheimer, chairman of the Ruwsyndicaat, the COFDI obtained stocks of diamonds and funding for equipment to put 5,000 men to work immediately after the war. Goldmuntz travelled to the United States as well to convince diamond retailers who had fled there to come back. In the socialist Volksgazet Goldmuntz was repeatedly called the ‘Sinterklaas’ [Santa Claus] of the Belgian diamond industry. The Antwerp philanthropist died in May 1960, at age 78.

Welcoming Ernest Oppenheimer


Welcoming Ernest Oppenheimer (standing) in the Diamond club. At the right on the photo sitting next to Oppenheimer is Romi Goldmuntz, 30 November 1945. (Amsab-ISG)

Romi Goldmuntz in Israël


Romi Goldmuntz in Israël (Felixarchief Antwerpen)

Funeral of Romi Goldmuntz


Photo with the report on the funeral of Romi Goldmuntz in Volksgazet, 17 May 1960. (Amsab-ISG)


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