On August 8th, 1956, a fire spread through Le Bois du Cazier coal mine in Marcinelle, Belgium, claiming the lives of 262 men representing 12 different nationalities. The disaster was the largest industrial tragedy of its kind in Belgian history, leaving in its wake hundreds of widows and orphans. More than half of the 262 victims were immigrants from Italy, who filled the need for laborers in Belgium’s former economic heartland.
The tragedy put an end to a treaty that Belgium and Italy signed in 1946 to encourage Italian workers to come to Belgium to work in mines and led to stricter safety regulations for coal miners across the nation. A visit to Le Bois du Cazier encourages visitors to question the costs and benefits of industrialization and to consider issues of workplace safety. It also offers visitors the opportunity to reflect on the lives and past contributions of immigrants in Belgium and the factors influencing immigration policy today.