AMSTERDAM JEWISH QUARTER
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In Amsterdam, you can see proof of what used to be a thriving Jewish neighborhood, including the Portuguese Synagogue, Jewish Historical Museum, and the Hollandsche Schouwburg.
It’s a concentration of Amsterdam’s Jewish heritage, or what’s left of it.
You can walk the Jewish quarter on your own with a good map of where important events took place.
If you plan to visit the museums it’s good to know that one ticket (17euros) allows 5 entrances: the Historical Museum, the Children’s Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue, the Hollandsche Theater, and the Holocaust Museum.
Buy your ticket online or in person.
Or enter free if you have the AMSTERDAM CITY CARD.
If you are not planning to enter any museums or the synagogue, I recommend taking a walking tour for a better understanding and richer experience.
SEPHARDIC JEWISH PORTUGUESE SYNAGOGUE
In the late 15th century, in a desperate search for religious freedom, many Sephardic Jews fled Spain and Portugal towards the Netherlands.
They became known as the Portuguese Jews and once integrated, they built and completed the Synagogue in 1675.
Candles are still used for services and concerts, as there is no electricity in the synagogue to this day.
You can’t tell from the exterior entrance how grandiose it is inside with its large interior windows that let in natural light.
For security reasons, there is an external area through which all visitors have to pass before entering the actual synagogue,
There are several other synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, but the Portuguese Synagogue is the most impressive and on the UNESCO Heritage list.
Ets Haim Library
The library is located on the synagogue complex. It’s the oldest functioning Jewish library which includes works of science, humanity, philosophy, like the works of Spinoza.
in addition, it also has close to 30,000 works relating to 400 years of Jewish culture and history.
Open to the public by appointment only. Mr. Visserplein 3, 1011 RD
AMSTERDAM JEWISH QUARTER HISTORICAL MUSEUM
The Joods Historisch Museum traces the history and interactions of the Jewish people in the Netherlands.
See paintings and exhibits from 1600-1900. Learn how the Sephardic and Ashkenazi diaspora flourished and integrated with the Dutch society.
This small museum has a collection of Jewish artworks and photos and an important children’s section that outlines Jewish family traditions.
Location: Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1
Behind the Portuguese Synagogue, in a large courtyard, is a statue representing a dockworker.
In Feb 1941 – Dockers and workers from the communist party went on strike to protest against the way Nazis treated the Jewish people in Amsterdam.
The strike paralyzed the city, and on subsequent days, hundreds and thousands of people had joined the protest.
To this day, on Feb 25, there is a ceremony in the same square where the protests took place.
Jewish organizations, transport workers, and city officials come to honor the memory of those who fought for equality.
Artist: Dutch sculptor Mari Andriessen
Today the Hollandsche Schouwburg is a memorial and a very sad place indeed.
Hollandsche Schouwburg was well known and appreciated for great Dutch performances.
But in 1941, the Nazis changed the name to Joodse Schouwburg. The Jewish Theatre became the only place Jewish people could perform or be a part of an audience. They were not allowed elsewhere.
Not long after this change, in 1942, the Nazis transformed the theatre into a detention center.
Over time thousands of Jews were forced to register here and wait within the theatre hall for their deportation.
THE WALL OF NAMES
The wall of names is very moving — with thousands of Jewish names who died in the camps. Sit in the garden where the theatre hall used to be.
During WWII, over 80 percent of the Jewish dutch population died, the majority in Auschwitz and Mauthausen.
Location: Plantage Middenlaan 24
Contemplate the Auschwitz Memorial in the quiet park Wertheimpark, in memory of the Holocaust victims.
On the ground, the artist created 6 large flat squares made of mirrors representing the 6 million Jewish people and their families.
At the time, 140 thousand Jewish people lived in Holland and half of those in Amsterdam.
The mirrors that make up the memorial are broken on purpose to symbolize the shattered lives of the Jewish community.
If you bend over, you can see your face in these mirrors. It is not to forget and understand that it could have been us.
The artist: Jan Wolkers
Written on the memorial, you can read: Nooit Meer Auschwitz.
Never again Auschwitz
Place a pebble on the headstone. It is the Jewish way of showing respect for the victims.
This square just off of Amsterdam Jewish quarter is a flea market today.
But back in the 1880s, the Jewish community was not allowed to own shops and sold their goods on the streets bordering the canal.
Today it’s known for its inexpensive flea market where you can get anything from old clothes to old cameras.
Of course, Rembrandt and Spinoza are two other reasons why you’ll come here.
Note: The biography of a neighborhood. It’s an interesting retrospective of how Waterplein has evolved over the centuries. It’s due in June 2020.
In Waterlooplein, next to the city hall, Spinoza stands proud. Say hello to a high historical figure of the Dutch Golden Age.
Spinoza was the son of Portuguese Jewish immigrants and became an important 17th-century Dutch philosopher.
His parents had a house on the grounds of what is today the Moses and Aaron Church not far from the statue.
It’s very ironic considering that the Jewish community banned Spinoza for his radical theories on God, which he apparently expressed in public.
The life-size bronze statue along the Zwanenburgwal canal has a pedestal that reads: “The purpose of the state is freedom.”
Artist: Dutch sculptor Nicolas Dings
REMBRANDT IN AMSTERDAM
Contrary to what some might think, Rembrandt wasn’t Jewish.
In the 17th century, this famous painter did have a strong connection with the Jewish people in Amsterdam.
He lived just off Waterlooplein, in the heart of the former Amsterdam Jewish quarter and many of his paintings depict portraits and scenes of dutch Jewish life.
Visit Rembrandt’s house to understand his life and work.
He lived here from 1639-1658. For etching demonstrations and more exhibits, be sure to visit the modern annex.
Be aware there is a narrow spiral staircase up a few floors.
The Rembrandt House Location: Jodenbreestraat 4,
STOLPERSTEINE IN AMSTERDAM JEWISH QUARTER
As you walk through the Amsterdam Jewish Quarter you may notice brass metal plaques, on the ground, in front of certain houses.
These plaques are called Stolpersteine, which means stumbling stones. Gunter Demnig, a German artist, created this project in the 1990s.
His objective was to help families honor the memory of those deported by the Nazi persecutions.
Families order these stumbling stones from the artist and he embeds them in front of the victim’s house.
They are topped with a brass plaque and have the person’s name, date of birth, and place of death engraved.
There are over 70 thousand+ stumbling stones in the ground in roughly 21 countries.
In Amsterdam, you can find them in the Jewish quarter around Waterlooplein, the Portuguese Synagogue, and near the Rembrandt house among other places.
Keep your eyes open as other stumbling stones are scattered around the city.
AMSTERDAM JEWISH QUARTER
Walking through and around the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam can be a moving experience.