Never to be Forgotten: The Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam
Located in Amsterdam, the Jewish Quarter (in Dutch: Jodenbuurt) is a neighborhood with bitter history during the World War II. I spent a day exploring the neighborhood and visiting places that preserved to remind us of the sorrowful period of history in humanity.
Often being called as the Jewish Cultural Quarter of Amsterdam, in the neighborhood, you will find important places and monument related to the World War Two, such as Jewish Historical Museum, Jewish Children Museum, Portuguese Synagogue, February Protest Monument, National Holocaust Museum and Hollandse Schouwburg.
It was a gloomy day when I walked through the neighborhood. I did not need a second thought to visit these places. They are not happy places that ones could wish to observe during a vacation, but what else that matters from our travels but to enrich own knowledge and the better understanding of others?
Jewish Historical Museum and Jewish Children Museum
Both museums are located in the same building. I am not familiar with Jewish culture and tradition, thus the museum was a perfect start to get to know the Jewish tradition in general, the history of the Jewish migration from Portugal and Spain to the Netherlands, the struggle of the Jewish during and after the World War Two until the modern day of the Jewish in the Netherlands at present days.
In the year of 1579, the Netherlands published a decree that no one could be prosecuted for their religious belief. The decree made the Netherlands as a safe region for the Jewish to live as immigrants. The Dutch, whom majority were Protestants, were tolerant towards the religious practice of the Jewish immigrants but they applied some economic restrictions against the Jewish. The Jewish were slowly integrated into the Dutch society and later on also being involved in the Dutch politics. I will not bore you with further details but to recommend on visiting the museum if you are not familiar with the Jewish tradition and curious about the Jewish history in the Netherlands.
The synagogue complex is larger than I thought. It was built by the Jewish immigrants from Portugal in 1670-ish to resemble the legendary temple of Salomon in Jerusalem. The synagogue has an underground treasure chamber where the public can see the preserved Jewish ceremonial objects such as gold-inlaid Torah coverings; and Ets Haim library – well, a small part of its collection. The library is protected by the Dutch laws as the nation’s heritage. Aside to that, the areas that open for public include the winter synagogue that used to serve as a school for the Jewish congregation.
I also entered the main synagogue, the largest building at the center of the complex. I had an eerie feeling when entering it. I was alone and it was cold. There was no electricity inside the synagogue! The building was maintained to its originality back in 1670-ish, without electricity and heating system. There were golden chandeliers, candlesticks, and candles all over the room, making the synagogue looked like a majestic ancient place for mass-gathering. It was impressive and spine-chilling at the same time.
February Protest Monument
The February Protest Monument (De Dokwerker) is a memorial sculpture made by Mari Andriessen to remember the first strike in Amsterdam (February 1941) after the Dutch surrendered to the Nazis. The strike was organized by the Communist Party of the Netherlands opposing the Nazis early deportation of the Jewish men and boys to the concentration camps Mauthousen and Buchenwald. More than 300,000 people joined in the strike with majority protestors were the shipyard and dock workers. The protest lasted for two days as the Nazis managed to suppress the protestors. Many protesters were arrested, and Amsterdam City was fined by the Germans for 15 million guilders.
The 1941 February strike is commemorated by the Dutch annually on February 25. At present days, the monument becomes a symbol of solidarity against discrimination especially on freedom of belief/religions.
National Holocaust Museum
Holocaust, also referred in Hebrew as “Shoʾah” (which means “a burnt sacrifice offered whole to God”), was state-sponsored persecution and murder of millions of Jews by the Nazi regime. The National Holocaust Museum is dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust especially in the Netherlands. It is small, and I am guessing it is still in working progress.
There were displays of mementos belong to the victims as part of the exhibition called “Tangible Memories from the Jewish Monument”. The idea of the exhibition was to bring the victims out the anonymity by gathering objects, photographs, documents, and other tangible memories to paint a picture of the lives that were connected to them. All information about the victims and their life stories is available online as well. To be honest, it’s hard not to get emotional when reading the life stories behind of each memento.
The picture on your left below here showed a medallion belongs to Rosa Schlamowitz. She was only 13 years old when she was killed during a transfer to Sobibor, a Nazi death camp in Poland. Rosa lost her parents when she was 11 years old. The second picture showed the napkin rings of two sisters, Yvonne Fransman and Loes Fransman. Yvonne went into hiding by living separately from her family. However, she was captured by the Nazi and died on her way to Auschwitz. Her complete story is available online: Yvonne Fransman in Jewish Monument.
The Hollandse Schouwburg used to be a theater building where ballet and opera performance took place. It is a beautiful building dated back to 1890-ish. Majority performers in the building were known as Jewish. Its fate changed in 1941 when the Netherlands fell under the Nazi regime. The Nazis renamed the building as the Jewish Theater and used by the Nazis as a prison and deportation center. It was believed there were more than 40,000 Jewish, men, women, and children were detained in the building before deported to the Nazi Death Camps in Auschwitz and Sobibor. It’s just that I could not imagine how tens of thousands people were fitted inside this medium-sized theater building during the war. It’s beyond words.
The theater building was renovated after the war and it served as a war memorial for the holocaust victims. There are 6,700 family names of 104,000 Jews written on the wall of the building as remembrances of those who were murdered in the war. As the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, ‘to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.’
A single ticket of Jewish Cultural Quarter will allow you to visit Jewish Historical Museum, Jewish Children Museum, Portuguese Synagogue, National Holocaust Museum and Hollandse Schouwburg.
The entrance to the Jewish Cultural Quarter is free for I Amsterdam City Card holder. For more information, please visit:
The official website of the Jewish Cultural Quarter: JCK – Admission
The official website I Amsterdam City Card: I Amsterdam Card