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.”