History of the Jews in Amsterdam

Amsterdam has historically been the center of the Dutch Jewish community, and has had a continuing Jewish community for the last 370 years.[1] Amsterdam is also known under the name "Mokum", given to the city by its Jewish inhabitants ("Mokum" is Yiddish for "town", derived from the Hebrew "makom", which literally means "place"). Although the Holocaust deeply affected the Jewish community, killing some 80% of the some 80,000 Jews at time present in Amsterdam, since then the community has managed to rebuild a vibrant and living Jewish life for its approximately 15,000 present members. The former Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, is Jewish. Cohen was runner-up for the award of World Mayor in 2006.[2][3]

Marrano and Sephardic Jews

Permanent Jewish life in Amsterdam began with the arrival of pockets of Marrano and Sephardic Jews at the end of the 15th, and beginning of the 16th century. Many Sephardii (so-called Spanish Jews) had been expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492 after the fall of Muslim Granada.

From 1497, others remained in the Iberian peninsula, practising Judaism in secret. The newly independent Dutch provinces provided an ideal opportunity for these crypto-Jews to re-establish themselves and practise their religion openly, and they migrated, most notably to Amsterdam. Collectively, they brought a trading influence to the city as they established in Amsterdam.

In 1593, Marrano Jews arrived in Amsterdam after having been refused admission to Middelburg and Haarlem. These Jews were important merchants, and persons of great ability. Their expertise, it can be stated, contributed materially to the prosperity of the country. They became strenuous supporters of the House of Orange, and were in return protected by the Stadholder. At this time, commerce in Holland was increasing; a period of development had arrived, particularly for Amsterdam, to which Jews had carried their goods and from which they maintained their relations with foreign lands. Quite new for the Netherlands, they also held connections with the Levant and Morocco.

The formal independence from Spain of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (1581), theoretically opened the door to public practice of Judaism. Yet only in 1603 did a gathering take place that was licensed by the city. Three congregations formed in the 1610s which merged to form a united Sephardic congregation in 1639.


The first Ashkenazim who arrived in Amsterdam were refugees from the Chmielnicki Uprising in Poland and the Thirty Years War. Their numbers soon swelled, eventually outnumbering the Sephardic Jews at the end of the 17th century; by 1674, some 5,000 Ashkenazi Jews were living in Amsterdam, while 2,500 Sephardic Jews called Amsterdam their home.[4] Many of the new Ashkenazi immigrants were poor, contrary to their relatively wealthy Sephardic co-religionists. They were only allowed in Amsterdam because of the financial aid promised to them and other guarantees given to the Amsterdam city council by the Sephardic community, despite the religious and cultural differences between the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim and the Portuguese-speaking Sephardim.

Statue of Anne Frank, by Mari Andriessen, outside the Westerkerk in Amsterdam.

Only in 1671 did the large Ashkenazi community inaugurate their own synagogue, the Great Synagogue,[5] which stood opposite to the Sephardic Esnoga Synagogue.[6] Soon after, several other synagogues were built, among them the Obbene Shul[7] (1685-1686), the Dritt Shul[8] (1700) and the Neie Shul[9] (1752, also known as the New Synagogue). For a long time, the Ashkenazi community was strongly focused on Central and Eastern Europe, the region where most of the Dutch Ashkenazi originated from. Rabbis, cantors and teachers hailed from Poland and Germany. Up until the 19th century, most of the Ashkenazi Jews spoke Yiddish, with some Dutch influences. Meanwhile, the community grew and flourished. At the end of the 18th century, the 20,000-strong Ashkenazi community was one of the largest in Western and Central Europe.[4]

The Holocaust

Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands on May 10, 1940, and established a civilian administration dominated by the SS. Amsterdam, the country's largest city, had a Jewish population of about 75,000 (including diarist Anne Frank), which increased to over 79,000 in 1941. Jews represented less than 10 percent of the city's total population. More than 10,000 of these were foreign Jews who had found refuge in Amsterdam in the 1930s.

On February 22, 1941, the Germans arrested several hundred Jews and deported them from Amsterdam first to the Buchenwald concentration camp and then to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Almost all of them were murdered in Mauthausen. The arrests and the brutal treatment shocked the population of Amsterdam. In response, Communist activists organized a general strike on February 25, and were joined by many other worker organizations. Major factories, the transportation system, and most public services came to a standstill. The Germans brutally suppressed the strike after three days, crippling Dutch resistance organizations in the process.

In January 1942, the Germans began the relocation of provincial Jews to Amsterdam. Within Amsterdam, Jews were restricted to certain sections of the city. Foreign and stateless Jews were sent directly to the Westerbork transit camp. In July 1942, the Germans began mass deportations of Jews to extermination camps in occupied Poland, primarily to Auschwitz but also to Sobibor. The city administration, the Dutch municipal police, and Dutch railway workers all cooperated in the deportations, as did the Dutch Nazi party (NSB). German and Dutch Nazi authorities arrested Jews in the streets of Amsterdam and took them to the assembly point for deportations - the municipal theater building, the Hollandsche Schouwburg[10] When several hundred people were assembled in the building and in the back courtyard, they were transferred to Westerbork. In October 1942, the Germans sent all Jews in forced-labor camps and their families to Westerbork. All were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau within a few weeks.

In May 1943, German authorities ordered 7,000 Jews, including employees of the Judenrat in Amsterdam, to assemble in an Amsterdam city square for deportation. Only 500 people complied. The Germans responded by sealing the Jewish quarter and rounding up Jews. From May through September 1943, the Germans launched raids to seize Jews in the city.[11]

The Germans confiscated the property left behind by deported Jews. In 1942 alone the contents of nearly 10,000 apartments in Amsterdam were expropriated by the Germans and shipped to Germany. Some 25,000 Jews, including at least 4,500 children, went into hiding to evade deportation. About one-third of those in hiding were discovered, arrested, and deported. In all, at least 80 percent of the prewar Dutch Jewish community perished.

In the spring of 1945, the Canadian Forces liberated Amsterdam.


Princess Margriet opening the Cheider with Arthur Juda Cohen

In 1964 Adje Cohen began Jewish classes with five children in his home. This grew into an Orthodox Jewish school (Yeshiva) that provides education for children from kindergarten through high school. Many Orthodox families would have left The Netherlands if not for the existence of the Cheider : Boys and girls learn separately as orthodox Judaism requires, and the education is with a greater focus on the religious needs. By 1993 the Cheider had grown to over 230 pupils and 60 Staff members. The Cheider moved into its current building at Zeeland Street in Amsterdam Buitenveldert. Many prominent Dutch Figures attended the opening, most noteworthy was Princess Margriet who opened the new building.[12][13]

Jewish community in the 21st century

Most of the Amsterdam Jewish community (excluding the Progressive and Sephardic communities) is affiliated to the Ashkenazi Nederlands Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap. These congregations combined form the Nederlands-Israëlietische Hoofdsynagoge (NIHS) (the Dutch acronym for the Jewish Community of Amsterdam). Some 3,000 Jews are formally part of the NIHS.[1] The Progressive movement currently has some 1,700 Jewish members in Amsterdam, affiliated to the Nederlands Verbond voor Progressief Jodendom. Smaller Jewish communities include the Sephardic Portugees-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap (270 families in and out of Amsterdam) and Beit Ha'Chidush, a community of some 200 members and 'friends' connected to Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionist Judaism. Several independent synagogues exist as well.[14] The glossy Joods Jaarboek (Jewish Yearbook), is based in Amsterdam, as well as the weekly Dutch Jewish newspaper in print: the Nieuw Israëlitisch Weekblad.

Contemporary synagogues

The Tuschinski Theater, founded by Polish-Jewish-Dutch businessman Abraham Icek Tuschinski

There are functioning synagogues in Amsterdam at the following addresses.

Ashkenazi: Nederlands Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap (Modern Orthodox; Orthodox)

Progressive: Nederlands Verbond voor Progressief Jodendom (Progressive)

Reconstructionist: Beit Ha'Chidush (Jewish Renewal/Reconstructionist Judaism/Liberal Judaism)

Sephardic: Portugees-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap (Sephardic Judaism)

Kashrut in Amsterdam

Kosher food in Amsterdam restaurants and shops is available.[22] There is the possibility of eating kosher in Restaurant Ha-Carmel,[23] and the well-known Sandwichshop Sal-Meijer.[24]

Jewish culture

The Joods Historisch Museum[25] is the center of Jewish culture in Amsterdam. Other Jewish cultural events include the Internationaal Joods Muziekfestival (International Jewish Music Festival)[26] and the Joods Film Festival (Jewish Film Festival).[27]

The Anne Frank House hosts a permanent exhibit on the story of Anne Frank.

Jewish cemeteries

Field A-7 of the Jewish Cemetery of Diemen, which can be seen from trains leaving Amsterdam from the East.

Six Jewish cemeteries exist in Amsterdam and surroundings, three Orthodox Ashkenazi (affiliated to the NIK), two linked to the Progressive community and one Sephardic. The Askhenazi cemetery[28] at Muiderberg is still frequently used by the Orthodox Jewish community. The Orthodox Ashkenazi cemetery[29] at Zeeburg, founded in 1714, was the burial ground for some 100,000 Jews between 1714 and 1942. After part of the ground of the cemetery was sold in 1956, many graves were transported to theOrthodox Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery[30] near Diemen (also still in use, but less frequent than the one in Muiderberg). A Sephardic cemetery, Beth Haim,[31] exists near the small town of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, containing the graves of some 28,000 Sephardic Jews. Two Progressive cemeteries, one[32] in Hoofddorp (founded in 1937) and one[32] in Amstelveen (founded in 2002), are used by the large Progressive community.

See also


  1. 1 2 NIHS General Information. Accessed July 17, 2007
  2. "Amsterdam closes a window on its red-light tourist trade" by Anushka Asthana, The Observer, September 23, 2007.
  3. "John So, Lord Mayor of Melbourne wins the 2006 World Mayor Award". www.worldmayor.com. 2006-12-05.
  4. 1 2 Ashkenazi Jews in Amsterdam. Edward van Voolen. Accessed July 21, 2007
  5. https://web.archive.org/web/20070706090926/http://www.jhm.nl/building.aspx?ID=2. Archived from the original on July 6, 2007. Retrieved July 21, 2007. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. Etching showing the Portuguese and High German Synagogues, at the Amsterdam City Archives
  7. Archived July 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. https://web.archive.org/web/20070706065818/http://www.jhm.nl/building.aspx?ID=4. Archived from the original on July 6, 2007. Retrieved July 21, 2007. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. A rare photo of a round-up of Jews in 1943, in the Uiterwaardenstraat.
  11. Cheider
  12. van Kemenade., J (4 February 1994). "Margriet opent Cheider" (PDF). Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  13. Jewish Amsterdam. Accessed July 20, 2007
  14. "Gerarddou.org". Gerarddou.org. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  15. 1 2 3
  16. Siraad.nl (Dutch)
  17. "Beeldbank.amsterdam.nl". Beeldbank.amsterdam.nl. 1998-12-04. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  18. "NIK.nl". NIK.nl. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  19. "Hacarmel.nl". Hacarmel.nl. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  20. "Sal-meijer.com". Sal-meijer.com. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  21. "Joods Historisch Museum". Jhm.nl. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  22. "Joodsmuziekfestival.nl". Joodsmuziekfestival.nl. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  23. "Joodsfilmfestival.nl". Joodsfilmfestival.nl. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  24. "Amsterdam Diemen cemetery". Jhm.nl. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  25. "Portuguese cemetery Beth Haim". Jhm.nl. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  26. 1 2 https://web.archive.org/web/20070929124852/http://www.ljgamsterdam.nl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=29&Itemid=43. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2007. Missing or empty |title= (help)


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