In eighteenth-century Assen, as throughout the Dutch province of Drenthe, a simple rule applied to questions of Jewish settlement. In each town, only three Jewish families were allowed to reside at any one time, those of a trader, a butcher, and a dealer in hides and bones.
The first Jewish trader settled in Assen in 1750. The arrival of a second in 1774 created a public protest but ultimately the second trader was permitted to remain. Until 1800, the two traders and their families were the only Jews in Assen. During the nineteenth century Assen developed into a regional economic, cultural and social center. As Assen grew, its Jewish population grew apace.
In 1778, the first Jews to settle in Assen received permission to establish a cemetery behind the Asscherbos on the Twijfelveld. Eventually, the community also made use Jewish cemeteries in nearby Norg, Veenhuizen, Rolde, Borger, and Zuid Laren.
Religious services in Assen were initially held in a private home. Not until 1832 was a synagogue finally built on the Groningerstraat, in part with the help of donations from Catholic and Protestant residents of Assen.
In 1840, the status of the Jewish community of Assen was raised from Bijkerk, or local synagogue under the authority of the Jewish community of nearby Hoogeveen, to Ringsynagoge, or full-fledged regional synagogue in its own right.
By the mid-nineteenth century, the Assen community maintained its own religious school and a number of other social and cultural institutions including a burial society, a society for the promotion of Jewish knowledge, a society for the maintenance of the furnishings and appurtenances of the synagogue, a youth club, and, for a brief time, an amateur theater company. The community also cared for its own poor.
As Jewish families continued to flock to Assen from throughout Drenthe, the community began to outgrow its synagogue. In 1901 a new, larger synagogue was built in the Groningerstraat on the very location of the old synagogue.
By the twentieth century, Jews had begun to profit from Assen's steady economic growth. In the early years of the century, the majority of the Jews of Assen worked as traders, cattle dealers, small-scale manufacturers, slaughterers, and butchers. The community also counted among its members a number of landowners and government employees.
During the war, the Jews of Assen suffered the same measures as Jews elsewhere. A Jewish school was established following the expulsion of Jewish children from Assen's public schools in September, 1941. The school was closed in the summer of 1942, not long before the expulsion of Jews from Assen began. In October, 1942, the Jews of Assen were taken to the concentration camp at Westerbork and from there to the Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe. Only a few returned. A mere dozen of Assen's Jews survived the war in hiding.
The synagogue on the Groningerstraat was badly damaged during the War and most of its contents disappeared. The building was ultimately sold to the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1974, the glass-in-lead windows of the former synagogue were sent to Israel and installed in the recreation hall of Kibbutz Beit Keshat.
In 1988, the Jewish communities of Assen, Emmen, and Hoogeveen were united into a single community: the Israelite Community of Drenthe. Three monuments in Assen preserve the memory of the city's murdered Jews. In recent years, Assen's Jewish cemetery has been maintained by the municipal government.
Not far from Assen is Veenhuizen, established in 1821 as a rehabilitation center for beggars and vagrants. In 1839, a synagogue and Jewish cemetery were opened at Veenhuizen. After 1890, Jews no longer numbered amongst the residents of the institution and the synagogue and cemetery were abandoned. Following the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938, a number of Jewish refugees from Germany were accommodated as charity cases at Veenhuizen. The nearby village of Norg now maintains Veenhuizen's former Jewish cemetery.
The nearby village of Rolde, whose Jews once belonged the Assen community, also contains a Jewish cemetery, located at Ruige Veld. A three-year long restoration of this cemetery was completed in 2004.
In the nearby Norg a monument was erected to the one hundred twenty Jewish forced labourers in labour camp De Fledders. They were detained in the camp from July 1942. The monument consists of a glass plate between two concrete curved holders on a brick platform, in the form of a Star of David.
The Jewish population of Assen
The size of the Jewish community over time