A brief history of Jews in Amsterdam

Jewish Historical MseumJewish name for Amsterdam is Mokum, which in Hebrew means ‘place’ and in Yiddish ‘safe place’. For centuries the city received refugees escaping religious wars and persecutions in other parts of the world. Jews escaping discrimination and persecution, French Huguenots, East European protestants escaping counterreformation, Hungarians and Czechs escaping Soviet Stalinism after 1956 and 1968, refugees from Yugoslavian and African internal wars. Today 45 percent of Amsterdam population is of foreign origin.

Amsterdam Jewish history guided tour

The best way to learn about Jewish community and history in Amsterdam is through a walking tour with a knowledgeable personal guide. You can book such a tour through our main Jewish community webpage.

Sephardi Jews immigration during the Dutch Golden Age

First Jews arrived to the city in the 16th C. from Portugal. After the fall of Malaga in 1488 and the Alhambra decree (1492) in Spain, Catholic rulers of Portugal and Spain persecuted the non Christian Jewish population. The arrangements were made with Amsterdam city council to accept the refugees and for decades to come Sephardi Jews, many of them wealthy merchants and craftsmen, settled in the city. A number of Jewish families moved from Amsterdam at the beginning of 17th C. to the Hague, but it must be said that some Dutch cities as Utrecht refused to accept Jews at the time.

Ashkenazi Jews immigration

Second wave of Jewish immigration came during the Ukrainian wars of independence with Polish - Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid—17th C. Cities in the East of Poland had a large Jewish population and Khmelnitsky’s Cossacks invasions brought death and terror of an unknown savage cruelty. Following decades more brought more wars and persecutions in Germany and Eastern Europe resulting in another wave of immigration of poor Ashkenazi Jews to Amsterdam.

They all found the refuge in the city, built synagogues and schools, contributed to the city development and wealth. The street in the Old City - Jodenbreestraat (Jewish wide street) was in the 17th C. the centre of Jewish life. It is here that then famous young painter Rembrandt van Rijn had his house, it is just a step from here that synagogues have been built. The whole area was called Jodenhoek (Jewish Quarter) and it was stretching South and East was inhabited by the Jews.

Jewish contribution the the life of Amsterdam

In the 19th. C. Jews played an important part in the life of Amsterdam. Several landmark city institutions as department stores De Bijenkorf and Maison de Bonneterie as well as the city most luxurious Hotel Amstel were established by Jews. In the 1921 a unique cinema palace Tuschinski constructed by a group of Jewish investors led by the Jewish immigrant from Poland Abraham Icek Tuschinski, who gave its architecture a unique mixture of Art Deco and Jugendstil. To this day all of these institutions remain important to the life of Amsterdam.

The Holocaust

During the WWII, Nazis closed the Jewish Quarter, partly by raising the bridges connecting this part of the city with the rest of Amsterdam. The occupiers introduced many limitations on Jewish life, gradually leading to the deportation and extermination of the whole Jewish population of the city. Very few have returned after the liberation in 1945. While today Amsterdam continues its historical tradition of tolerance and freedom, the citizens of Amsterdam preserve dramatic memory of Holocaust not only in the Jewish Historical Museum but also in Amsterdam Museum and Amsterdam Resistance Museum. Hollandsche Schouwburg Theater which served during the war as an assembly centre before the deportation to the Nazi concentration camps is today a monument. There is also the special Auschwitz Monument in Wertheimpark to memorize victims of the Nazi concentration camp and the National Dachau Monument in Amsterdamse Bos dedicated to the memory of the Jews deported and killed in the Dachau concentration camp.