Arnhem is one of the first cities in the northern Netherlands in which Jews settled. The first report of a Jewish presence in Arnhem dates to 1237.
During Medieval times, the position of Jews in Arnhem was vulnerable at best. During the Plague epidemic of 1349 Jews were imprisoned and their possessions confiscated. Beginning in 1451, at the instigation of a papal representative, the Jews of Arnhem were forbidden to lend money to Christians and were forced to wear distinctive badges, this despite their being under the protection of the city council. From the late-fifteenth century until the end of the seventeenth, there is no further mention of the presence of Jews in Arnhem.
Jews settled anew in Arnhem during the time of the Republic of the United Netherlands. In 1737, the Jews of Arnhem were granted political rights. Membership in guilds, however, was denied them. During this period synagogue services were held in a private residence.
At first, the Jews of Arnhem buried their dead in nearby Huissen and in Wageningen, two places with long histories of Jewish settlement. In 1755, Arnhem Jews established their own cemetery at Zandbergen aan Onderlangs. In 1756, the Jewish community organization of Arnhem was officially recognized by the municipal authorities. The very same year, a new synagogue was opened in the Nieuwe Walstraat. In 1780, Jonas Daniël Meijer - who was later to play the main role in the Emancipation of the Jews of the Netherlands - was born in Arnhem. With the arrival of Napoleonic rule late in the eighteenth century the formal emancipation of the Jews of the Netherlands finally became a fact.
As the capital of the province of Gelderland, Arnhem experienced rapid growth in the nineteenth century Arnhem. The Jewish community grew apace, causing it to require a larger house of worship. In 1853, the community opened a new synagogue Pastoorstraat at the very site of the birthplace of Jonas Daniël Meijer. The building stands to this day.
The growth of the community also called for new cemeteries. During the nineteenth century, two additional Jewish cemeteries were opened, one at De Valk (Bovenover) and the other at Onder de Linden. The dead of both cemeteries were later re-interred at the cemetery at Moscowa, opened in 1866. This cemetery is still in use but now also contains non-denominational and Catholic sections and a crematorium.
In Jewish eyes, Arnhem reached its zenith in 1881 when it was declared the capital of the regional Synagogal District and the seat of the chief rabbinate of the province of Gelderland, an honor previously held by the city of Nijmegen.
The Jewish community of Arnhem boasted a number of societies for the study of Torah as well as numerous charitable organizations. The community also maintained a Jewish school and homes for the Jewish elderly and Jewish soldiers .
Most Arnhem Jews worked as shopkeepers, wholesalers, salesmen, market workers, and butchers. Jacques Coenraad Hartogs, the founder of the Algemene Kunstzijde Unie, the forerunner of the modern multinational AKZO, was a member of the Arnhem community. The economic well-being of Arnhem Jews eventually was such that just prior to the Second World War the community numbered few poor members.
During the 1930s, the community absorbed a large number of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. During the war, almost all of the Jews in Arnhem were deported to Nazi death camps and murdered. A monument to their memory can be found in the Jewish section of the cemetery at Moscowa.
The Jewish community of Arnhem was reestablished after the war. The synagogue on the Pastorstraat was restored and reopened in 1950. It remains in use to this day. Late in the 1960's, a Liberal (reformed) congregation was founded in Arnhem. Arnhem's Jewish old age home, Beth Zikna, closed its doors in 1998. It had been opened in 1960 as a successor to Beth Mikloth Lezikno, which was closed by the Germans during the deportations in 1942.
In 1998, the Arnhem Synagogue Foundation was established to ensure a complete restoration of the synagogue to its original state. The restoration began in 2001 and was completed in 2003. In a ceremony attended by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, the Foundation formally handed the synagogue over to the community. In 2001, a group of volunteers from the Dutch Christian foundation "Penance and Reconciliation" (Stichting Boete en Verzoening) commenced restoration of the Jewish cemetery at Zandbergen aan Onderlangs.
Today, the Jewish communities of Zevenaar, Doesburg, Dieren, Oosterbeek, and Velp formally belong to the Arnhem community.
The Jewish population of Arnhem
The size of the Jewish community over time