The first documented presence of Jewish inhabitants in Aalten and Bredevoort dates to the seventeenth century. Until the Napoleonic era, the Jewish community was limited to four families residing in the side streets of Aalten. In 1767, a synagogue was established in a former private residence. Prior to then, religious services were held in a synagogue in a private house in Bredevoort. By 1850, the Jewish population of Aalten and Bredevoort had grown to the point where a new synagogue was needed. This building, located on the Stationsstraat, was formally inaugurated in 1857. The cemetery of the Jewish community of Aalten was located in a wooded area on the Haatsestraat. The cemetery officially became the property of the Jewish community in 1852 but was probably already in use as early as 1820.

In 1900, the Jewish community of Bredevoort was merged into the Aalten community. Community leadership consisted of three members. Community facilities included a religious school with one teacher and a ritual bath. Community organizations included a burial society for men and a women's society providing help to the sick and deceased.

Teacher and students of the Jewish school in Aalten, 1925

Teacher and students of the Jewish school in Aalten, 1925

The majority of the Jews of Aalten belonged to the middle class and worked as kosher butchers or cattle traders. A building housing a factory belonging to pipe manufacturer Marcus Gans stood on the Haartsestraat until 1917.

During the 1930s, the Jewish population of Aalten increased as refugees arrived from Germany. During the Nazi occupation, the Jews of Aalten, like Jews throughout the Netherlands, were isolated and then deported. The first deportations to the concentration camp at Westerbork took place in 1942. The rest of the Jews of Aalten were forced to leave their homes in 1943. Slightly more than half of the Jews of Aalten survived the war by going into hiding; the rest were deported to the Nazi death camps and murdered.

During the occupation, Aalten offered refuge to both Jews and non-Jews seeking to hide from the Germans. At one point, Aalten hid 2,500 Jews and non-Jews amidst its population of 13,000. Many of those in hiding were assisted with money collected by the members of the local Dutch Reformed Church.

Two attempts were made during the war to set fire to the synagogue of Aalten. The interior of the building was damaged but the Torah rolls and other ritual objects were saved. The Jewish cemetery of Aalten also was vandalized during the war.

Interior of the synagogue in Aalten, ca. 1993

Interior of the synagogue in Aalten, ca. 1993

Following restoration during the 1950s and again during the 1980s, the Aalten synagogue was inaugurated anew in 1986. The synagogue now serves both religious and cultural functions. Each year, the small but active Jewish community of Aalten organizes a heavily attended Chanukah service.

In December, 2000, during the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Aalten synagogue, a plaque bearing the names of the Jews of Aalten murdered during the Second World War was unveiled on the wall of the synagogue.

A new Torah scroll, written in Israel by Josef Giat was dedicated in June 2005.

The Jewish population of Aalten

The size of the Jewish community over time