In past visits to Amsterdam I’ve taken in the Anne Frank House which is a must for anyone visiting the Dutch capital but as tickets to the museum need to be booked months in advance due to very high demand this trip I decided to spend the day instead in the Jodenbuurt which is Dutch for “Jewish Neighborhood” to see a section of the city I hadn’t explored in-depth before.

The area around Waterlooplein , also known as the Plantage district, became the center of Jewish Amsterdam in the l6th and 17th century having received an influx of Sephardic Jews fleeing religious persecution in the Spanish Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. Known for its religious tolerance Amsterdam’s Jewish community swelled over the centuries to around 80,000 by World War II however only an estimated 20% survived the Holocaust. Today, the city has a small Jewish community of around 15.000 which has helped preserve, maintain and create a number of important monuments and memorials that are well worth visiting.

After exiting the Waterlooplein Metro station I began my journey at the nearby National Holocaust Memorial Hollandsche Schouwburg which began it’s public life in 1892 as a Dutch theatre before being designated as a Jewish theatre by the occupying Nazi’s in World War II who used it as a prison and deportation center for Dutch Jews being sent to concentration camps.

photo by author

In the memorial hall 6,700 surnames pay tribute to the 107,000 Dutch Jews whom the Nazi’s deported never to return with an estimated 80,000 having passed through the theatre.

The ruins in the rear of the building have been made into a memorial and is a somber place brightened a bit on each side by tulips, the national symbol of the Netherlands, which carry wishes for a better future from visiting schoolchildren.

photo by author

photo by author

Access to the memorial is open to the public without charge daily except for Jewish holidays.

Across the street is the National Holocaust Museum which opened its doors in May 2016  however development is ongoing over the next few years. ‘Phase 1’ of the museum up to 2018 will see part of the ground floor of the building being used for presentations, exhibitions, lectures and films. The story of the Holocaust will be told by temporary exhibitions in an artistic format and using personal historical accounts.

Nearby tucked away in a corner of Wertheim Park is the Auschwitz Monument which consists of 6 broken glass mirrors on top of urns with the of ashes of Holocaust victims who perished in Auschwitz. This monument, entitled ‘Nooit meer Auschwitz’ (Auschwitz never again) by Jan Wolkers, was unveiled in 1977 but moved to its present location in 1993.

‘Auschwitz monument’ by FaceMePLS used  with CC By 2.0 

The park, the oldest in Amsterdam, is named for 19th century Jewish banker and philanthropist A.C. Wertheim and was opened to the public in 1812.

A rugged statue commemorates the February 24, 1941 strike of the Amsterdam dock workers to protest persecution of Jews stands in front of the Portuguese Synagogue. The strike, which spread to all walks of Dutch life with 3000,000 joining within two days, is considered to be the first large scale public protect against the Nazi’s in occupied Europe and was the only mass protest against the deportation of Jews to be organized by non-Jews. The monument unveiled in 1952 by Queen Juliana is called ‘De Dokwerker” and was sculpted by Mari Andriessen, a Dutch artist who during the war refused membership in the Nazi-led artist union and hid Jewish friends in his home to save them from deportation at grave risk to himself.

photo by author

While not a Jewish monument or memorial the Resistance Museum is within the Plantage neighbourhood a few blocks from the Hollandsche Schouwburg and examines how the Dutch people reacted to their occupation by Nazi Germany between 14 May 1940 and 5 May 1945.

I was interested to learn that early in the occupation the Nazi’s went fairly easy on the conquered Dutch nation seeing them as Aryan brothers even releasing Dutch soldiers captured during the German invasion and five-day fight for the low country so the resistance movement was slow to develop. That changed when the widespread persecution of the Jews began and the 25 February, 1941 strike broke out with more active underground resistance building up until the April, 1945 liberation of Amsterdam by Canadian troops.

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The museum has an excellent free audio guide that describes the artifacts on display.

One of the most beautiful synagogues of the world dating from 1675, this Sephardic synagogue is in fact a whole religious complex with the synagogue, archives, a mortuary, and a library with more than 25.000 books and 560 manuscripts in Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, Arabic and Yiddish.

 

photo by author

Across the street from the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam is the Jewish Historical Museum which is housed in four restored 17th and 18th Century Ashkenazi synagogues.  The museum was founded in 1932 but was closed by the Nazi’s and much of the collection was lost.  After reopening in a different location in 1955 the museum – the only one of its kind in the  Netherlands to focus on Jewish history, religion and culture – has occupied its current address on Nieuwe Amstelstraat  since 1987.

photo by author

The Jewish Historical Museum’s permanent exhibition follows several themes such as the role of religion and tradition, links with Israel, the persecution of Jews during the Second World War, personal life stories and the mutual influence of Jewish and Dutch culture.

The memorials to those loved ones lost in the Holocaust are literally at your feet as I found while strolling a leafy side street. Amsterdam has 400 memorial cobblestones, which have been placed in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims as part of a commemoration project that a German artist began in Berlin in 1996.

photo by author

While in the district it’s worth a detour to the Rembrandt House Museum on the Jodenbreestraat  or “Jewish Broad Street” because  although Rembrandt himself was not Jewish his paintings often reflected his 17th-century life among Jews in the city.

Rembrandt lived and worked in the house between 1639 and 1656 and the historic interior has been reconstructed.

I would highly recommend a day-long walking tour of Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter as after four centuries Jewish history is Amsterdam history.