Though some Jews came earlier, reliable documentary evidence dates only from the 1100’s; which shows regular persecution and expulsion. The most violent persecution was in 1349 and 1350. Accused of spreading the Black Plague, rioters massacred most local Jews and expelled survivors. For the next two hundred years, the number of Jews in the area was likely close to zero. By the time the Dutch principalities rebelled against Spain late in the sixteenth century to form the United Provinces of the Netherlands, there were probably no Jews left.
While they were few, surviving literature and poetry has many anti-Semitic references, emphasising the perfidy of the Jews and their role in the death of Jesus.
ARRIVAL OF THE MARRANOS
From the sixteenth century Portugese merchants included many Marranos, who had been expelled from Spain in 1492 and had come to Amsterdam which was a worldwide trading center. Initially secret Jews, they formed a community in Amsterdam, which only recognised Protestantism. Their leaders were arrested, in 1603. As a result, some moved to Alkmaar, Rotterdam, and Haarlem, which offered protection. The majority, remained in Amsterdam and founded a second community in 1608.
While the Protestants were furious that the Jews were not being repressed, the secular authorities were not eager to punish them as they had become important traders and merchants. Religious tolerance statutes were issued in 1619 which left the decisions regarding Jews to each local authority. Amsterdam welcomed them with freedom of religion but with limited commercial and political rights.
In 1620, the first Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe arrived in Amsterdam. They had formed a community by 1635.
Politically, Jewish internal affairs were managed by the kehilla, the Jews' semi-autonomous governing body. The Jews judged themselves in bet dins (religious courts), organized their own educational system, and appointed leaders from within their own ranks. Jewish political isolation from the rest of society was then typical in Europe.
While the Jews isolated themselves economically, socially and politically they had economic and social integration that the rest of European Jewry would not know for hundreds of years, eventually uniting with others far more than other Jewish communities in this period. Governed by the kehilla, they lived in a Jewish quarter – the artist Rembrandt, for example, lived and worked here. The anti-Semitic violence in other countries was non-existent in the Netherlands. The Sephardim (Jews from Spain/Portugal) were more prosperous than the Ashkenazim (Jews from Eastern Europe) who spoke primarily Yiddish, made no lasting contributions to Dutch culture, brought in their rabbis from abroad and had separate kehillot (organising councils).
By the mid-eighteenth century, the Netherlands was in a serious decline with competition from England and France resulting in economic instability. By the end of the eighteenth century, 54% of the Jewish population ( sephardim and ashkenazim) survived only on charity.
The autonomous kehillot were abolished by Napoleon Bonaparte, after he annexed the Netherlands and turned it into the Kingdom of Holland.
THE HOLOCAUST ERA
From 1939-1940, 34,000 refugees entered the Netherlands as Jews fled Nazi Germany. The Netherlands maintained an open-door policy for immigration. In 1940, when occupied by the Germans, 140,000 Jews lived in Holland representing 1.6 percent of the population. Soon after the Nazi occupation, the first anti-Jewish laws removed Jews from their professions, their schools, and their homes. In late 1941, a deportation plan provided for the removal of Jews from the provinces and their concentration in Amsterdam. This was launched on January 14, 1942, beginning with Zaandam. Dutch nationals were ordered to move to Amsterdam, while those who were stateless were sent to the Westerbork camp.
The attempt to make Holland Judenrein (clean of Jews) was completed when the Nazis began to deport Jews countrywide on October 2, 1942. 12,296 were deported. In May 1943, the rate of deportations was accelerated. Most were sent to Auschwitz and Sobibor. A relatively large percentage of Holocaust survivors in Amsterdam did so by either hiding with non-Jews, or forging documents with the help of non-Jews. The most famous example was the Frank family, who survived for several years hidden in Amsterdam. Anne Frank’ diary has become the most widely-read account of life during the Holocaust.
In April 2005, Holland’s prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, apologized for his country’s collaboration with the Nazis. The Dutch wartime government “worked on the horrible process whereby Jews were stripped of their rights,” Balkenende said before he helped mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Westerbork transit camp.
The Netherlands, at the centre of Western Europe, was a Spanish colony in the sixteenth century and saw bitter conflict and religious persecution. Geographically, a small country located at the mouths of some of Europe's great trading rivers its population was highly concentrated and divided by religious affiliation. Revolt occurred for religious freedom against the occupying Spanish Roman Catholics (for detail see Macrohistory and World Report)
After Independence religious tolerance was seen as the key to political stability, with all denominations living together peacefully to maintain trade with the rest of the world which was the new nation's lifeblood.
After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, many Marranos fled first to Portugal but left when the Inquisition arrived. Amsterdam became the most popular destination, as they could openly practice their religion. The first half of the seventeenth century, saw it as the world's leading trading city and the home of a thriving Jewish community. In 1654, some Jews sailed to the Americas and founded the first Jewish community in the New World.
Some of the earliest refugees from Spain and Portugal fled to the Canary Islands and from there to Flanders. Not long after the beginning of the sixteenth century, colonies of New Christians established their headquarters at Bruges and Antwerp secretly attending organized services by rabbis invited and smuggled in from Italy. This attracted other Italian Marranos to settle in Flemish cities. They surreptitiously published a prayer-book. The systematic smuggling of crypto-Jews from Portugal on their merchant ships led the Netherlands authorities to set up an unofficial Inquisition in Zeeland, which compelled some Marranos to land temporarily in England until they could go to Flanders.
Portuguese Marranos who spread throughout the world established contacts with family and friends who remained in Portugal. Trading-houses abroad became a means of insurance if they had to leave Portugal. (More detail see The Jews Come to Holland)
The Sephardi synagogue in Amsterdam was authorised in 1639 and built between 1671-5. in 1656 a Dutch Jew named Menasseh ben Israel, petitioned Oliver Cromwell to allow Jews to return to Britain. Bevis Marks, London, a smaller version of the synagogue in Amsterdam was opened in London in 1701 (see Britain)
The first Jews to settle permanently in the Netherlands were descendents of Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Their arrival in the Netherlands was a result of dramatic changes on the Iberian peninsula, where Jews had lived for centuries. In 1492, under the pressure of the Inquisition, the Jews of Spain were forced to chose between exile and conversion to Catholicism. Many Spanish Jews fled to Portugal where, in 1497, they were subjected to forced conversion en masse. Nevertheless, in Spain and Portugal some Jewish converts remained secretly faithful to Judaism in the privacy of their homes while living as Catholics in the eyes of the larger world.
Following the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal in 1536, a close watch was kept on forcibly converted Jews. This led many to seek refuge elsewhere, including Brazil and France. A half century later, some arrived in the Republic of the United Netherlands as merchants. They settled in Amsterdam from where they dealt in Brazilian sugar and tobacco and in Indian diamonds, spices, and cotton, often via commercial connections they still maintained with Lisbon. In Amsterdam, many Spanish and Portuguese converts and their descendents chose to revert to Judaism. Because of their Iberian origins, we refer to this group as Sephardic Jews (Sepharad being Hebrew for Iberia); and, because their vernacular language was Portuguese, we also refer to them as Portuguese Jews.
Jews from Central and Eastern Europe began to arrive in the Republic following 1630. These so-called Hoogduitse (High-German) and Ashkenazim (Ashkenazic Jews, Ashkenaz being the Hebrew word for the German lands) spoke Yiddish, a mixture of vernacular German with Hebrew and Slavic elements and written in Hebrew characters. Most of the Ashkenazim who arrived in Amsterdam were refugees from the carnage of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and from the depredations of Bogdan Chmielnitski during the Ukrainian uprising against Polish rule in 1648.
Many of the Ashkenazic immigrants arrived in Amsterdam in desperate straights. They were permitted to settle in Amsterdam in part because of the openness of the city and in part because of the financial support and guarantees forthcoming from their Sephardic co-religionists, this despite the differences between the two communities. Indeed, Portuguese and Ashkenazic Jews spoke different languages and came from quite different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Despite these differences both groups were viewed in the eyes of the outside world simply as Jews, a single religious community.
During the early years of the seventeenth century Jewish settlement in Amsterdam encountered few problems. Unofficially, Jews were permitted to practice their religion in the privacy of their homes. Officially, however, Jews were denied full rights. In about 1615, social and religious tension led to the consideration of legislation restricting Jews. Although such legislation was not adopted, in 1619 it was decided that each individual city and town in the Netherlands was free to decide whether they wanted to admit Jews and, if so, under what conditions. Dutch cities and towns were also free to legally restrict Jews to reside in separate 'ghettos’ although in practice this was never enforced.
THE RISE OF THE 'MEDIENE'
During the eighteenth century, Jews began to settle outside of Amsterdam. In addition to Jewish life in Mokum (from Hebrew 'Makom,' or 'place'), as Jews referred to Amsterdam, a vibrant Jewish life arose in the cities and towns of the provincial Netherlands or, as Jews called it, the Mediene (from the Hebrew word for 'state'). In cities such as The Hague, Rotterdam, and Middelburg Sephardic communities arose that looked to the mother community in Amsterdam for example.
The first Ashkenazic communities in the Netherlands, however, followed a different pattern. These settlers bypassed Amsterdam, moving from Germany directly into the Groningen, Gelderland, Overijssel, and other eastern provinces of the Netherlands. Askenazic communities were also formed in the semi-independent trading towns in west of the Netherlands and on the banks of the Zuiderzee. From a Jewish point of view, a new community or Kehilla (from the Hebrew word for 'congregation') only came into being when it counted among its members at least ten adult men aged thirteen or older. Indeed, a gathering of ten such adult men (in Hebrew Minyan) is the basis for Jewish religious services.
In the new communities of the Mediene, religious services were held in private homes or farm houses until a construction of synagogue was permitted or could be afforded. In addition to a synagogue, the infrastructure of each new community also included a Mikva (ritual bath), a study house for religious instruction, and a separate cemetery in which to bury the Jewish dead.
Each Jewish community in the Mediene was seen as autonomous. Synagogues, Mikvas, study houses, and cemeteries were financed through an internal structure of tax levies, donations, and fines. Elected elders (Hebrew: Parnassim) established such rules (Hebrew: Takkanot) and presented them to the local civil authorities for approval. The Parnassim were held responsible for the order and social and economic welfare and conduct of the portion of the so-called 'Jewish Nation' under their control.
Traditional Jewish occupations in the Mediene included commerce, shop keeping, and trade in, and slaughter of, cattle. Depending on its size and wealth, each Jewish community employed its own rabbi, cantor, teacher, and scribe. In accordance with Jewish dietary laws, the presence of a local ritual slaughterer and inspector was an absolute necessity. In smaller communities several or all of these functions were performed by a single individual. In every community, charitable organizations served both social and religious functios, ensuring care for the poor, the sick, the dying, and the dead, as well as support for brides without dowries, pregnant women, widows, orphans, needy students and teachers, etc.
RISE AND DECLINE
Throughout the eighteenth century Amsterdam remained the fulcrum of Jewish life in the Netherlands. This began to change in 1796 with the granting of full civil rights to all inhabitants of the Netherlands, Jews included. As a result, Jews were permitted to settle wherever they desired. During the first half of the nineteenth century a great number of new Jewish communities were established across the Netherlands. In terms of communal administration, Jewish Netherlands was divided into twelve 'main synagogues' which were divided into 'ring synagogues' and 'subsidiary churches.' Originally this hierarchy was under strong central control, however, the institutionalization of the division between church and state in the Netherlands during the second half of the nineteenth century led to increased autonomy of local communities.
Jewish life in the Mediene reached its apogee in around 1885. Thereafter - except in those towns and cities with a marked industrial character - the number of Jewish communities in the Mediene declined. In the communities that remained, processes of emancipation and integration brought great changes to the character and organization of Jewish life. Alongside traditional religious and charitable organizations, new Jewish secular organizations arose, social, political, and Zionist.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, many of the country's smaller Jewish communities lost their independence or ceased to exist. As a result, Amsterdam reemerged more as the center of Jewish life in the Netherlands.
During the Second World War, the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany. The Germans destroyed almost all Jewish life in the Mediene. What little that remained in the aftermath of Nazi terror declined steadily during the postwar years.
In 2005, the jewish communities belonging to the Nederlands Israëlietisch Kerkgenootschap, the Netherlands' main Jewish organization, counted over 5,000 members. Its thirty-two communities are grouped into four districts: Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and a provincial rabbinate.
The Kerkgenootschap Verbond van Liberaal-Religieuze Joden in Nederland (the Netherlands' central organization of Reformed Jews) today comprises nine local communities with a total membership of about 1100 families. The largest of its communities is that of Amsterdam, with a total of 1,650 members.
The Portugees Israëlietisch Kerkgenootschap, the descendants of Amsterdam's original Portuguese Jewish community, now totals 270 families.
Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community in Early Modern Amsterdam (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997), pp. 1,2, 4 and 18.
The Portuguese conversos who made their way to Amsterdam in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries would not have been conspicuous upon arrival, despite their ignorance of Dutch and their Iberian dress. Foreign immigration to the United Provinces was at a peak in these years. In at least one quarter of the city, around the Bloemstraat, it was easier to make oneself understood in French or Flemish than in Dutch. Later in the seventeenth century the German poet Philipp von Zesen described the Amsterdam Exchange as a place where "almost the whole world trades" - one could find there "Poles, Hungarians, Walloons, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Muscovites, Persians, Turks, and even, occasionally, Hindus." Some of the foreigners were temporary residents, but by the late sixteenth century thousands of foreigners had already settled permanently in Amsterdam. Some had fled war, some religious persecution; others were drawn by economic opportunities in the bustling metropolis on the Amstel.
It was into this milieu that a few Portuguese converso merchants and their families introduced themselves in the last years of the sixteenth century. By 1603 one could speak of a tiny ex-converso community which had established Jewish worship with the aid of a rabbi from Emden. Not long thereafter, in 1609, the community entered a period of extremely rapid growth. In that year the Twelve Years Truce ended a Spanish embargo on Dutch commerce and shipping which had also blocked Dutch trade with Portugal, then under Spanish rule. The truce opened up rich possibilities in Amsterdam for "Portuguese" immigrants, who brought with them experience in Portuguese colonial trade.
What had begun as a small nucleus of merchant families had developed by 1639 into a relatively conspicuous community of well over a thousand persons. Portuguese Jews could be seen entering and leaving the public synagogue they had built, burying their dead at the cemetery they had established just outside the city and negotiating on the Stock Exchange floor.
During its heyday in the 1670s, the community had a population of about 2,500; its wealth was given concrete expression in the form of an elegant and monumental new synagogue (still a landmark in Amsterdam); and with its Hebrew printing press, diaspora-wide welfare activity, and distinguished rabbis, its reputation in the Jewish world was firmly established. It would have taken a canny observer indeed to perceive that the community was in fact facing a precipitous decline. (pp. 1-2)
[The Sephardim] - generally, in the first half of the seventeenth century, they tended to specialize in Portuguese colonial wares such as sugar, tobacco, spices, and diamonds, trading almost exclusively with Lisbon, Porto, Madeira, and the Azores. Being engaged in this branch of commerce, it was highly advantageous for them to be located in Amsterdam, which was the main northern entrepôt for colonial commodities. But as a result they were also highly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of Dutch-Iberian relations. This situation changed, however, in the second half of the century (after the signing of the Treaty of Münster in 1648), when Spanish and Spanish-American ports were opened to Dutch "Portuguese" merchants. The focus of their activity shifted in this period to two new routes: trade between the Caribbean and Spanish America, and the wool trade between Spain and Amsterdam.
Once communal institutions had been firmly established, the city became a magnet for other Jews. Yiddish-speaking Ashkenzi Jews trickled in - then flooded in - from Germany and Poland, most of them poor and unlearned. They were not welcomed by the Portuguese Jews and lived, for all practical purposes, a separate collective existence. The "Portuguese" community grew almost entirely from converso immigration. (p. 4)
Settlement in Amsterdam was an act of liberation and an opportunity to repossess the past. From this point of view, the efforts of the Amsterdam "Portuguese" to reconstitute their Jewishness bear comparison to the efforts in modern times of once-colonialized or otherwise culturally dominated peoples to restore an "authentic" lost heritage. (p. 18)
Jews Historical Museum Amsterdam August 2014 with song InterConsult21 (3.00)
Amsterdam "The City That Remembers" Napoli Underground (29.22)
Esnoga Synagogue, Amsterdam (3.51)
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
JEWS of theNETHERLANDS / HOLLAND
In the sixteenth century the Netherlands were a Spanish colony revolting against religious persecution.
Religious tolerance was seen as the key to political stability with all denominations living peacefully together to maintain the worldwide trade that was the new nation's lifeblood.
Many Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 fled first to Portugal and from there to Amsterdam. The first half of the seventeenth century saw the development of a thriving Jewish community. In 1654, some Jews sailed to the Americas and founded the first New World Jewish community .
The systematic smuggling of crypto-Jews from Portugal led to the creation of an unofficial Inquisition in Zeeland so that some landed temporarily in England where they woulld have to wait before going to Flanders. The Sephardi synagogue in Amsterdam was authorised in 1639 and built between 1671-5. in 1656 a Dutch Jew, Menasseh ben Israel, petitioned Oliver Cromwell to allow Jews to return to Britain. Bevis Marks in London is a smaller version of the Amsterdam synagogue and opened in 1701.
Once communal institutions had been firmly established they became a magnet for new Jews. Of these many were yiddish-speaking Ashkenzi Jews from Germany and Poland so creating two communities.
Amsterdam was the fulcrum of Jewish life in the Netherlands until 1796 when full civil rights were given to all, so Jews were now permitted to settle widely. They began to settle in the the provincial Netherlands or, as Jews called it, the Mediene (from the Hebrew for 'state').
The first Ashkenazic communities in the Netherlands, however, followed a different pattern.
Jewish life in the Mediene reached its apogee in around 1885. There was subsequent decline except in towns and cities with a marked industrial character.
During the Second World War, the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany. They destroyed almost all Jewish life in the Mediene. Much of the Nazi destruction has since been rebuilt.