Amsterdam Jewish Quarter

by Tanja
Amsterdam Portugese Synagoge

The neighbourhood just east of the center of Amsterdam, near Waterlooplein is called Plantage or the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter (Jodenbuurt). It is an area with large buildings, broad streets and lots green and parks. There are four museums in the Amsterdam Jewish Cultural Quarter that tell the Jewish history of Amsterdam and they can all be visited with one ticket.

Jewish Cultural Quarter

Learn about the history of the Jewish people in The Netherlands at the Jewish Historical Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue and the Hollandsche Schouwburg and the National Holocaust Museum.

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1. Amsterdam Jewish Historical Museum

Jewish Historical Museum at the Amsterdam Jewish Quarters. Photo by: Ruud van Zwet.

The Jewish Historical Museum is housed in four former synagogues in the Amsterdam Jewish Cultural Quarter. On show is only a part of the grand collection: art made by Jewish artists, Jewish religious art, ceremonial objects and war documents. The Amsterdam Jewish History Museum is worth a visit because of its large collection of books, brochures, magazines, jewish magazines and films (documentaries), photography and musical collection. There are also temporary exhibitions at this Amsterdam museum.

RECOMMENDED READ: Temporary exhibitions in Amsterdam 2019/20

The Amsterdam Jewish Historical Museum was founded before the Second World War, in 1932 and reopened after the war in 1955. Since 1985 it is located in the four former Synagogues in the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter.

Children’s museum

Inside the Jewish Historical Museum there is a section especially made or children: the JHM Children’s Museum. Kids can play in a typical 3-storey large Jewish house and playfully learn about Jewish life and traditions. Children under the age of 6 are free of charge

2. The Portuguese Synagoge Amsterdam

The Amsterdam Portuguese Synagogue was built in 1675. It was the biggest synagogue in the world at the time: a sober structure, almost protestant looking, as was fashion at the time.

The interior of the Portuguese Synagoge in Amsterdam.
Foto: David Aschkenas

The floors are covered with fine sand to keep moist from penetrating and destroying the (original!) wooden floorboards, a technique commonly used in the 17th century in The Netherlands. There is no electricity and no heating in the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. A thousand candles light up the ‘Esnoga’. Just like it’s always been.

Jewish Library inside the synagogue

Inside the Portuguese Synagogue a rich library is housed. The Ets Haim collection was founded in 1616, which makes it the oldest functioning Jewish Library in the world. The library can be visited by appointment only.

Visiting the Portuguese Synagoge

The Portuguese Synagoge is still used for services, but can be visited every day from 10.00 to 16.00, except Saturday and Jewish holidays.

Guided Tour through Jewish Amsterdam

On this 1,5 walk you will stop at the Portuguese Synagogue, the Amsterdam Jewish Historical Museum, Waterlooplein, the Museum of Resistence and the Jewish Theatre. You will also visit the memorial of the Auschwitz monument in the Wertheim Park.

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3. Hollandse Schouwburg

Hollandse Schouwburg
At the Hollandse Schouwburg (Holland Theatre) in the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter, the jews were gathered to be put on transport to the concentration camps.

The Hollandsche Schouwburg was a theatre in the Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam. It dates back to 1882. The Nazi-Germans who occupied The Netherlands used the building as a deportation center for Jews.

From 1966 the Hollandse Schouwburg started being used as a memorial. The monument contains a memorial wall, bearing the 6,700 family names of the 104,000 Dutch Jewish victims of the Second World War, and an educational exhibition for young people.

The Hollandse Schouwburg can be visited without a ticket.

RECOMMENDED READ: Free things to do in Amsterdam

4. The National Holocaust Museum

Since 2016 the National Holocaust Museum was opened across the street from Hollandse Schouwburg. The building has a special history. During World War II it was a teachers’ training college. The resistance used the building to smuggle some 600 children out of captivity and get them to hiding places.

The museum is still in the setting up fase, but can be visited. The museum shows Jewish life and the holocaust in film, photographs and films.

RECOMMENDED READ: Temporary exhibitions in 2019

The history of the Amsterdam Jews

In 1700 there were 10.000 Jews living in Amsterdam, the biggest Jewish community of West-Europe. Many fled the Spanish inquisition in Spain and Portugal, attracted by the peaceful and tolerant climate of 17th century Amsterdam.

Many of the Jews who came from the South of Europe brought along interesting trade contracts and contacts with the Mediterranean. Jews were not allowed to enter any existing professions so they entered into new professions such as bank and diamond cutting and specialized themselves in these businesses. They even financed the Dutch East Indies Company. It is is clear the arrival of the Sephardic Jews instigated the famous Dutch ‘Golden Century’, a period of great wealth and power for Amsterdam.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 60.000 Jewish people living in Amsterdammm’s old Jewish quarter: the slums around Waterlooplein, Jodeenbreestraat and Weesperstraat. In the 1920s they moved to new buildings in the East of Amsterdam. They settled in what is now called the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter.

The Holocaust in Amsterdam

In 1933 the Nazi’s took power in Germany. Many Jews fled to The Netherlands, thinking it was safe country. Such was not the case because in 1940 the German troops occupied The Netherlands.

In the first years of the war, the Jews were slowly prohibited more and more things: going to the park, taking the bus, going to school and so on. From August 1942 to November 1943, the nazi’s started to actively arrest Jews in Amsterdam. During ‘razzias’ entire Jewish families were taken from their homes. At the Hollandse Schouwburg, in unhygienic and inhumane conditions they waited days and even weeks to be deported to Camp Westerbork in East-Netherlands. From there, most were transported to concentration camps in Germany and Poland.

Only around 28.000 Amsterdam Jews out of 120.000 survived the Second World War. The Amsterdam Jewish Quarter was raided and left in ruins.

Of about 140.000 Jews that were living in The Netherlands before the war, a about 101.800 were murdered either by gas, torture, starvation or illness in concentration camps. That is 87 % of the Jewish population, one of the highest percentages of Europe.

After 1945 a community of 30.000 Jews remained in The Netherlands.


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1 comment

Steven Norwitz March 14, 2015 - 02:41

do you know of any tours of the jewish quarter and also a day trip to the Kroller Muller museum from Amsterday