Community in Netherlands - World Jewish Congress

Netherlands

There has been a consistent and vibrant Jewish presence in the Netherlands since Jews settled there after being expulsed from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th century. Tragically, this community was decimated during the Holocaust. Between the Spanish exile and the Holocaust, however, Dutch Jews contributed to one of the most prosperous and enlightened eras in the history of the Netherlands and Europe, producing such figures as the notable 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, whose work continues to exert an effect on ethics, politics and philosophy well into the 21st century. Today, there are approximately 29,900 Jews in the Netherlands. The representative body of the Dutch Jewish community is the Organization of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands (Nederlands-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap, or NIK), the Dutch affiliate of the World Jewish Congress

WJC Affiliate

Nederlands-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap

Telephone: 31 20 301 8484

Email: info@nik.nl
Website: http://www.nik.nl/

President: Joop Elzas
CEO: Ruben Vis

 


Community News


History

Dutch Jewry began to flourish with the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal when, in 1492, many of the expellees fled first to Portugal and then to Amsterdam. By the first half of the seventeenth century, there had developed a prosperous Jewish community of traders, merchants and scholars. In 1654, a group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews living in Holland sailed to the Americas and founded the first New World Jewish community, in what was then New Amsterdam and subsequently was renamed New York. In fact, Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, commonly referred to as “The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue” is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States.

The city of Amsterdam became one of the most favored destinations for Sephardic Jews exiled from the Iberian Peninsula, and because most of the refugees were traders and merchants, Amsterdam profited substantially from their arrival. The flux of Sephardic Jews played an important role in Amsterdam’s growing status as a world leader in trade. Many Jews supported the House of Orange, and were in return protected by the stadholder. Even though the Jewish religion was not formally recognized, Dutch pragmatism resulted in the Jews of Amsterdam enjoying substantial freedom in their religious and economic life. However, they were denied political privileges such as participation in government. Jewish communal authorities were heavily involved in the so-called re-judaization, which assisted people and families who had lived clandestinely as Jews to return to a full Jewish life. In the process, several individuals rejected Rabbinic Judaism and law and were placed in herem (Heb. excommunication). The most famous of those to receive a complete herem was the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who, despite being banned by the community, exerted an intense influence on western intellectual development.

The Jews of Amsterdam built an international trading network that mirrored the Jewish Diaspora. Ashkenazic Jews began settling in the Netherlands in 1620, and by 1635 had established a separate community in Amsterdam. The migration of Sephardic Jews from the Netherlands to the Caribbean Antilles began in the mid-17th century, after the Dutch fleet captured the island of Curaçao from the Spaniards in 1634. With the Netherlands experiencing economic difficulties (in part due to the loss of its New World colonies) some Sephardic Jews left and immigration slowed. The Ashkenazic Jews became the majority in Amsterdam, even as the Sephardic Jews kept positions of power and remained the significantly wealthier community.

As the Netherlands declined as a world power, so did the economic conditions of Dutch Jewry, and by the early 19th century, 60 percent of the Jewish community lived in poverty. Following their full emancipation, Dutch Jews once again became an integral part of the country’s commercial and cultural life. In the 1930’s, following the Nazi ascent to power in Germany, German Jews, including Anne Frank and her family, found refuge in the Netherlands. The German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II resulted in the destruction of almost all Jewish life in the country, and the deportations of many Jews to the Nazi death and concentration camps.

Dutch Jews returned to the Netherlands after the war and rebuilt their communities, which in many ways are more secure now than they were before World War II.

Jews have been prominent in Dutch public life. Five Jewish women – Estella Agsteribbe, Anna Dresden-Polak, Elka de Levie, Helena Nordheim, and Jud Simons - were on the Dutch gymnastics team that won a gold medal in team combined exercises at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Of the five, only Elka de Levie survived the Holocaust. Estella Agsteribbe was murdered in a gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Anna Dresden-Polak, Helena Nordheim, and Jud Simons were gassed at Sobibor. In the modern era, Uri Rosenthal served as Foreign Minister of the Netherlands from 2010 to 2012; Job Cohen was Mayor of Amsterdam from 2001 to 2010 and leader of the Dutch Labor Party from 2010 to 2012; and Tobias Asser was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

On November 25, 2014, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders expressed his government’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and opposed unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood. Koenders explained that such recognition “does not contribute to the priority issue of restarting negotiations,” and said that the Netherlands would recognize Palestine “at a strategic moment.”

 

The Years of the Holocaust

Between 1939-1940 34,000 Jewish refugees fled to the Netherlands, which had an open-door immigration policy, and by the time of the German invasion in May of 1940, there some 140,000 Jews were living in Holland. Anti-Semitic laws requiring Jews to register themselves and banning them from the professions were passed almost immediately after the occupation. 159,806 Jews registered, including 19,561 persons born of mixed marriages. In February 1941, a Jewish council was established. Many Dutch objected to the new rules and workers went on strike to protest the arrest of several hundred Jews who had been sent to Buchenwald and Mauthausen.

The Nazis and their Dutch collaborators afterward separated Jews from the rest of the population and imprisoned 15,000 Jews in forced-labor camps. In late 1941, a deportation plan was ratified providing for the removal of the Jews from all the provinces, with Dutch nationals ordered to move to Amsterdam, while those who were stateless were sent to the Westerbork and Vught camps. By the end of April 1942, Jews were forced to wear a yellow Star of David. It was exceedingly difficult, bordering on the impossible, for Jews to escape from the country, and many went into hiding or lived on forged documents with the help of non-Jews. The most famous of Jews who went into hiding in the Netherlands were the Otto Frank, his wife, and their two daughters, Margot and Anne. They were hidden for several years in an Amsterdam building, before being betrayed and taken prisoner on August 4, 1944. The diary kept by Anne Frank during that period has become the most universally-read memoir of the Shoah. Anne and her sister Margot were deported first to Auschwitz-Birkenau and from there to Bergen-Belsen where they died shortly before the liberation of the camp in April 1945.  

An estimated 30,000 Jews remained in the Netherlands during World War II. Many of them were aided by the Dutch underground. Approximately two-thirds of this group survived the war. Not all the Dutch were so righteous. In fact, many betrayed Jews for money. An Amsterdam group called the Henneicke Column received 7.5 Guldens for every Jew delivered to the Germans, a reward that was later raised to 40 Guldens. As many as 9,000 Jews may have been killed as a result of being betrayed. On October 2, 1942, the Nazis deported 12,296 Jews. In May 1943, the rate of deportations was accelerated. The last train left Westerbork for Auschwitz on September 3, 1944. During these two years, 107,000 Jews were deported from Holland, mostly to Auschwitz and Sobibor. Only 5,200 survived, less than 25 percent of the Dutch Jewish population before the war.

In April 2005, Holland’s prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, apologized for his country’s collaboration with the Nazis. Marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Westerbork transit camp, Balkenende said that the Dutch wartime collaborationist government “worked on the horrible process whereby Jews were stripped of their rights

 

Demography

Hebrew University Demographer Sergio Della Pergola 2016 Jewish population estimate for the Netherlands was 29,900, making it the 15th largest Jewish community in the world. Amsterdam, with a community of 15,000, remains the focus of Jewish life. There are also significant Jewish communities in Rotterdam and The Hague, and small ones in Amersfoort, Arnhem, Bussum, Eindhoven, Enschede, Groningen, Haarlem, Hilversum, Leeuwarden, Leiden, Utrecht, and Zwolle. Contemporary Dutch Jewry is overwhelmingly Ashkenazi.

Community Life

Dutch Jewry is organized into three councils based on affiliation: Ashkenazi Orthodox, Sephardi Orthodox and Reform. The Organization of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands (Nederlands-Israëlitisch Kerkgenootschap, or NIK), an umbrella organization of more than 25 groups with more than 5,000 members, is the Dutch WJC affiliate. The NIK works for the interests of 32 communities in four districts: Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and a provincial rabbinate. The Portugees Israëlietisch Kerkgenootschap, representing the descendants of Amsterdam's original Portuguese Jewish community, (around 270 families) is mainly composed by Sephardic Orthodox Jews. The Kerkgenootschap Verbond van Liberaal-Religieuze Joden in Nederland, which is the Netherlands' central organization of Reform 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. A comprehensive welfare structure has been created in the post-war period. There is a Jewish hospital in Amstelveen and retirement homes in Amsterdam and Scheveningen.

Religious and Cultural Life

There are currently some 100 synagogues catering to all Jewish denominations in the Netherlands, of which some 30 are actively used for religious services. Amsterdam has eleven Ashkenazic and three Sephardic synagogues. Kosher food is readily available in Amsterdam with six different kosher restaurants open for business. The Hollandia matzot factory in Enschede is one of the few matzot factories in Europe and probably the only one that serves more non-Jews than Jews as matzah has become an integral part of the Easter festival breakfast in many Dutch households. Amsterdam is one of the few European cities with a Shabbat boundary (Eruv) and there are eight mikvaot (ritual baths) in the country.

Jewish Education

There are three Jewish day schools in Amsterdam as well as an ultra-Orthodox Cheder, day care, primary and secondary schools. There are also several religious institutes of higher learning, including a NIK-affiliated seminary that trains teachers and rabbis. For Jews and non-Jews interested in Judaism, Jewish culture and Hebrew the Crescas institute offers a variety of courses.

youth

There are five youth movements, Bnei Akiva, Haboniem-Dror, Hasjalsjelet, Tikwatenoe and Tzofim. There is a student union, the Joodse Sudenten en Jongerenvereniging (IJAR) affiliated with the European Union of Jewish Students. There are also Jewish camps.

jewish media

The only Jewish weekly publication is he Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad. Founded in 1865, it is one of the oldest news magazine in the Netherlands.

Information for Visitors

There are many Jewish sites of interest in the Netherlands. The Jewish Historical Museum, the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Baruch Spinoza’s House, the Judaica library of Amsterdam University, and the Anne Frank House are all worth a visit. The Anne Frank House draws an enormous number of visitors from all over the world. It also houses an exhibition exposing contemporary European intolerance. In recent years, many synagogues have been restored in the country but the Groningen and Enschede synagogues are especially impressive for their surprising size, decoration and architecture. Close to the location of the former detention camp at Westerbork there is a Holocaust memorial. The old Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam, where Jews lived for some 300 years together with their non-Jewish neighbors (including the painter Rembrandt) is also well worth a visit.

Israel

In 1947, the Netherlands voted in favor of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and established diplomatic relations with the nascent Jewish state in 1949. The Netherlands was initially among the most supportive countries of Israel in Europe and one of the few countries to establish an embassy in Jerusalem. Following the Six-Day War, the Dutch people raised about $4.2 million for Israel in donations. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the Netherlands was one of only two European countries, together with Portugal, that allowed passage of American aircraft ferrying military equipment to Israel. Since 1948, more than 7,000 Dutch Jews have immigrated to Israel.

Israel Embassy
Buitenhof 47
2513 AH The Hague

Telephone: 31 70 3760500

 

updated

April 2020

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