Copyright 2023 - Henk van den Beukel
Looking at the history of the jews in The Netherlands, we may distinguish three periods in this history:

I.          The period until the disastrous year 1349
II.         The period from ± 1400 till the French Period
III.        The French period till present

I.          The period until the disastrous year 1349

The first jews probably joined the Romans as merchants, traders, etc to Gallia and the Rhine region. The oldest known “Judenviertel” is that of Cologne (± 331 A.D.), while Paris already had a synagogue in 582. Later on jewish settlements are mentioned in Metz (888), Mainz (906), Cologne (1012) en Treves (1066). Moreover, it is known that in 1290 the jews were expelled from England (some fled towards our regions?). We find the first data on jews in our country in a "schepenbrief" from 1295 of Maastrichts, while in 1325 the first jews show up in Gelderland. After that rather soon data follow from Holland, Utrecht, Zeeland and Overijssel. From the three northern provinces no data are known in the first period. That, however, there did live jews in these regions - anyway with our eastern neighbours - may be proven by a charter of May 19, 1348 in which it is mentioned that Reinhold van Coevorden together with Johan Vinke von Holt owes money to a jewish money lender Vivus, son of Isaäk van Schüttorf.

The growth of the number of jews in our country during the first half of the 14th century can be explained from the fact that the getto's of a.o. Cologne, Worms and Mainz became overcrowded (with a migration to the east and west as a consequence), and from the fact that the jews were expelled in 1306 from France. That the jews did experience difficult living conditions in this period was already shown by being expelled from England and France. In particular the church preached hatred against “the murderers of Jezus”. Due to the fact that the various professions were assembled in organisations with a strong religious character, for the jews little more was left than trade in second hand goods or acting as money lender. The intolerant attitude of the church towards the jews, recognisable in that time from the "jews hat" or the "jews patch", did not remain without consequences.

It started already with murdering jews during the crusades of 1309 and reached its sad climax in the disastrous year 1349. In 1346 and 1347 there was a big famine in Europa due to failed harvests. When moreover in 1348 the plague spread itself over Europa the big masses sought for an object for revenge. Though these initially were the maimed and the lepers, rather soon the jews were considered to be the great evildoers. For the masses at large the fact that the jews turned out to be immune for “the black death” was the best proff of their guilt. That this was caused by the better hygiene of the jews people could not even guess at that time. The consequences of these jews hatred and persecutions of jews were horrendous – complete jewish communities were massacred. Like for instance by the end of August 1349 in a.o. Arnhem, Deventer, Zutphen, Gouda and Utrecht. While this massacre of the jews initially was an expression of powerless anger of a whipped up people's mass, later on the motive of robbing rather prevailed. Only very few were able to survive this year of disaster. Data on this disaster are registered in the Haskoras Neschomaus, jewish memorial books in which the victims are memorised. This disastrous year 1349 may be considered as the conclusion of the first period of European Juadïsm.

II.         The period from ± 1400 till the French Period

After this disastrous year 1349 there are almost no jews anymore in our country, but rather soon jews come here again from Westphalia. Already in 1380 we can speak of a jewish colony again in Nijmegen, when in 1426 a jew in this place rents a house “to be used by all jews” which refers to a jewish community of at least fifteen families. Also in Arnhem there is again a jewish community by 1439. Hoever, the hatred against the jews is still rooted deep which is for instance shown by the separate quarters for the jews and the obligatory wearing of the so called jew sign (a “silveren Joedenhoede”). When around 1500 all jews are expelled from the German "Reichs stätte", most of them migrate to the east and settle down in a.o. in Poland, Bohemia and Hungary. Others try to survive, continuously moving between different cities, with trade. Also in The Netherlands most cities expel their jewish inhabitants, although in some places people knew to stand firm, often escaping persecution by being baptised. Consequently, soon after 1500 the jews had disappeard almost everywhere in our country. However, already in 1544 Nijmegen allows jewish families again and around that time we also see jewish inhabitants in a.o. Roermond, Venlo, Grave and Bommel. In 1573 a jew is allowed to settle in Groningen and in 1580 Sittard has a group of jewish butchers. At the beginning of the 17th century also a number of cities in Holland like: Amsterdam (1592), Alkmaar (1604), Haarlem (1605) and Rotterdam (1610) allow settlement then. The Staten van Holland decide then that each city is free to allow jews or not. They do, however, apply certain limitations as is shown in a decree from 1616. This decree contained a.o. the following stipulations for jews: A – Ban to defame christianity in word or writing. B – Ban to convert a christian to judaïsm. C – Banning sexual intercourse with christian women (not even whores). Until then it almost always concerned jews coming from Germany into our country. A totally different group are the jews from Spain and Portugal. In Spain the jews were heavily persecuted during the whole 15th century. As a consequence many of them either let themselves being baptised (the so called Marans) or fled to Portugal and later on to North Africa and Italy. In particular the Marans fled during the 80-years liberation war to our country and settled in the western part of our country (especially in Amsterdam). They return, once settled here, to their old religion – initially of course in secret. There was a big difference between these jews from Spain and Portugal (the Sephardim) and their fellow believers from Germany and Poland (the Ashkenazim). The first ones formed a more selective group. Initially coming from an islamic environment and later on baptised, they were more accommodated to the European culture and according to West European views more civilised than their fellow believers from the East. These had been living more isolated with as a consequence that they knew the jewish habits and customs far better and and abided to these. Moreover, the Spanish and Portuguese jews  were often well-to-do businessmen, while the jews from Germany and Poland were often impoverished refugees, who were expelled from their country. Especially the revolt of the Cossacks in Poland in 1648 made many of them to flee to our country. As regards the jewish settlements in the provincie of Drenthe: “Koopman Michiel” is probably the first jew who settled himself in Drenthe (Hoogeveen 1691). After this followed Coevorden (1697) and Meppel (1742). All these jews are coming from Westphalia. Up to 1795 the jews were bound by all kinds of regulations. Due to that they could for instance not become members of a guild and were obliged to vow an oath specifically formulated for them in lawsuits. Morover, each city or village could decide by itself on accession or refusal of jews. When decided for accession, each city then had its own limiting stipulations. A typical example of those limiting stipulations was a publication of November 20, 1782 by the "Drost en Gedeputeerde Staten der Landschap Drenthe". According to this publication, only three jewish families per "kerspel" in Drenthe were allowed to settle. Generally these were then a butcher slager, a merchant and a skinner. The latter one was obliged to live at the uttermost border of the village because of the danger of contamination and the stench. The profession of butcher occurred by the way rather often among the jews. Maybe because the christians considered due to a kind of superstitious beliefs that the jews were better and purer in slaughtering cattle due to the old cleanliness. By the end of the 18th century the attitude towards the jews became somewhat more tolerant and all kind of regulations weren't always strictly followed anymore. The big change came, however, only during the French Period.

III.        The French Period till present

The French Period, with its freedom, equality, and brotherhood, brought the big change for the jews. Rather quickly they now got the same rights and obligations as the other citizens.

To name some examples:
1796– The emancipation of the jews in the Bataafse Republiek - freedom to settle where wished.
1806– The "Landschapsbestuur van Drenthe" states: nobody can be prevented to rent houses to jews.
1808– The "Landdrost van Drenthe" reports to the "Hoge Bestuur": there is no discrimination among jews and christians anymore - the same treatment, the same rights, priviliges and encumbrances.

After the French Period we see a rapid growth of the number of jewish inhabitants. As regards Drenthe, in particular due to settlement from the German border regions. In 1808 Drenthe counted 784 jewish inhabitants, in 1830 already 1168 and in 1860 already 2,178. We find the largest concentrations then in Hoogeveen, Coevorden and Meppel.
Moreover, many jews settle themselves in the countryside in relation to thier trade.

By the end of the 19th century we see on the contrary a migration from the villages towards the larger places – better roads facilitate trade.

During the thirties of the 20the century much interest arises for zionism and for Palestine. Many jews emigrate then to Palestine, in particular because in Germany the pogroms start. Then again a heavy period commences in 1940 for the jews in our country. It starts with all kind of regulations against the jews ending with the deportation to the extermination camps.
The jews in Europe are again hit by a heavy blow. About half of the 12 million European jews is murdered. As regards the province of Drenthe: After the war only 150 of the more than 2,000 jews return, and on paper there exist still independent jewish communities in Assen, Meppel, Hoogeveen, and Emmen. Real jewish life then hardly exists anymore in Drenthe.[1]

[1] Drawn from

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