This page offers some historic background information on the Jewish
community in the Netherlands, as may be observed from our database. In
the late Middle Ages, hardly any Jews resided in the provinces that
today make up the Netherlands. In the 17th and 18th centuries Jews gradually entered the provinces of Holland,
Groningen, Overijssel etc.
In the "Seven Provinces" (the predecessor of modern Netherlands) that fought their freedom from Spanish occupation in the 17th century, there existed a certain level of welfare and a certain degree of freedom of religion. In this respect these areas were different from the other parts of Europe.
The first group of Jews who settled in the Netherlands of those days, in the 17th century, were the generally rather wealthy Sefardic Jews, who came from Spain and Portugal.
In the 17th century, in part as a result of the Thirty Year War that raged in the German territories, also the Ashkenazi Jews migrated to the Netherlands.
Most Ashkenazi Jews who moved to the Seven Provinces were poor or
impoverished. For a map of the area of the Seven Provinces, you
are referred to
a hand-drawn map by Jansonius made in 1658.
The fact that the Jews in the Seven Provinces enjoyed a certain degree of freedom of religion, did not necessarily imply that they were allowed to live in all cities. Jews were not allowed to live in cities such as Utrecht and Gouda until ca. 1800
Another limitation was that Jews were almost not allowed into the Guilds (associations of craftsmen) of those days. This meant that Jews, especially outside of Amsterdam, could only practice a limited number of professions and trades.
This is why in the older generations there are many butchers, cattle traders, peddlers and money lenders.
Around 1800, as a result of the English blockade during the Napoleon times, Amsterdam suffered severe economic stress. In those days some 25,000 Jews lived in Amsterdam, amongst a total population of around 220,000. In this period many Jews moved to other parts of the country, such as the cities of Groningen, Meppel and Harderwijk.
Since many Jews were forced to live off trade, they were severely affected by the economic depression.
After 1810 a certain equality developed for the Jewish community as compared to other communities, but this did not immediately entail a permit to practice a wide range of trades. In the first half of the 19th century the authorities made great efforts to achieve integration within the Dutch society. This effort was supported by the Jewish establishment.
This was expressed amongst others by the abolishment of Yiddish, until then the lingua franca of the Ashkenazi Jews in schools and synagogues.
Thus, prayer books were translated into Dutch with the intention to promote the use of Dutch amongst the Jews.
Later on, this trend also increased assimilation.
In the first half of the 19th century a relatively large number of people in Amsterdam tried to earn a living in the growing diamond industry. Until the Second World War the diamond industry was an important branch of industry for the Amsterdam Jews.
Boas Diamond Polishing Compound
In addition, in the 19th and first half of the 20th century many
attempted to make a living from peddling and from work in the clothing
and cigar industries.
In the 19th and first half of the 20th century there was always great poverty amongst the largest Jewish community in Holland, the Jews of Amsterdam.
This was true not only for the Ashkenazi Jews, but also for the so-called Portuguese (Sephardic) Jews. In the early generations, in the 17th century, there were certainly also wealthy merchants of Portuguese/Spanish descent who made their way to the Netherlands and who influenced the development of the city of Amsterdam. However, by the end of the 19th century also many Portuguese Jews belonged to the proletariat.
The book "Pinkas Geschiedenis van de Joodse gemeenschap in Nederland" ("Pinkas History of the Jewish community in the Netherlands"), written by Jozeph Michman, Hartog Beem and Dan Michman, states that circa 1866 over 50% of the Amsterdam Jews lived off welfare. This percentage was only about 15% amongst other population groups.
By the end of the 19th century we witness a migration from the rural areas to the three large cities. In the period from 1920 till 1940 we see a migration of the more affluent population to locations around the large cities.
We may make a careful statement that by the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the relatively small upper layer of well-established and intellectual Jews showed a greater tendency towards marrying non-Jewish partners, than the vast majority of small tradesmen and members of the Jewish proletariat that developed in the 19th century.
Especially in the 19th century we see that much effort was taken by Jews who lived in the smaller locations to find Jewish partners, who often came from far away. And all of this in days when boats and carriages were the common means of transport.
Where possible, further specific aspects of the relevant family will be given within the concise description of each family tree.
Following is a list with a number of historic sources on the Internet.
One can find many historic sources concerning the Jewish community in the Netherlands. We will mention a few of them:
On the Internet site of the Jewish Historic Museum in Amsterdam under the heading "Nederland" much information and sometimes rich historic facts can be found, concerning many small and large Jewish communities in the Netherlands. Most of them don't exist anymore today.
Another source worth mentioning is the Jewish Virtual Library where one can find a detailed description of the Jewish community in the Netherlands.
Also Wikipedia has a good description of the Jewish community in the Netherlands throughout the centuries.