The first records of Jews residing in Bourtange date to the 1720's. At first, the Jews of Bourtange belonged to the Jewish community of nearby Pekela but, by 1835, the Bourtange community achieved independent status and a synagogue of its own. The small building, located on the Batterijstraat, was rebuilt several times during the nineteenth century.
Between 1840 and 1895, the community buried its dead in a cemetery on the Oude Jodenkerkhoflaan (literally, the Old Jewish Cemetery Lane). Roughly a dozen gravestones still remain at this site. From 1897 on, the community used a new cemetery, De Stobben, midway between Bourtange and the village of Vlagtwedde, which had an independent Jewish community of its own between 1895 and 1923. Twenty-six stones still remain at this site.
By the late nineteenth century, the Jewish population of Bourtange had peaked. It declined slowly thereafter.
During the Second World War almost all the Jews of Bourtange were deported to Nazi death camps in Poland.
Only a few managed to survive the war in hiding. In 1948, the Bourtange community was merged into the Jewish community of the town of Stadskanaal. The Bourtange synagogue was then sold. Since 1989, the former synagogue building has housed the The Jewish Synagogue Museum. A plaque at the museum bears the names of the Bourtange Jews deported and murdered during the War. In 2000, a reconstruction of the Bourtange community's former Mikve was opened at the museum.
The municipality of Sellingen maintains what remains of the Jewish cemeteries at Bourtange en Vlagtwedde.
The Jewish population of Bourtange and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time