Jewish traders settled in the peat-cutting settlement of Emmen in about 1840. At first, they were included in the Jewish community of the nearby town Coevorden but their numbers grew so quickly that in 1876 they were recognized as an independent community in their own right.
A synagogue was consecrated on the Julianastraat in Emmen in 1878 and was enlarged several times over the decades that followed. From 1885 until 1915 the community buried its dead in a cemetery of located on the Oranjekanaal in the direction of Westeres. In 1915, the community opened a new cemetery directly behind the synagogue. The Emmen community maintained a religious school, a study fellowship for men, and a women's society for the care of the interior of the synagogue. A local Jewish theater group was active during the 1920s.
During the early years of the community, most of the Jews of Emmen were traders who dealt with local farmers. Later, some became shopkeepers, with a number eventually owning stores on Emmen's main shopping street. Economic conditions, however, were not ideal and by the outset of the twentieth century, twenty percent of the Jews of Emmen were dependent on charity.
During the Second World War, the same anti-Jewish measures were applied in Emmen as elsewhere in the Netherlands. The majority of the local Jews were deported in 1942 and were subsequently murdered in Nazi death camps. Only a few dozen managed to survive the war in hiding. The synagogue was used by the Germans as a warehouse for possessions seized from local Jews and came through the war undamaged.
After the war, a small Jewish community was established anew in Emmen. The synagogue was sold to the municipality for a token sum in 1974 and was restored in 1975 and again in 1994. The building is still used occasionally for religious services by the Jewish community of the province of Drenthe. Two plaques mounted inside the synagogue contain the names of local Jews murdered during the war. A monument to their memory was unveiled near the synagogue on the Julianastraat in 2000. On the Jewish Day of Atonement of the very same year the synagogue was severely damaged by a bomb attack. The damage was repaired and the synagogue was re-consecrated in 2001.
From 1899 on, the nearby twin village of Nieuw-Amsterdam-Veenoord boasted a synagogue of its own. The community also had its own cemetery, located on the Boerdijk. Despite having their own synagogue and cemetery, and regardless of their repeated applications, the Jews of Nieuw-Amsterdam (Veenoord) were never recognized as an independent community.
The cemetery at Nieuw-Amsterdam-Veenoord is today maintained by the municipality of Sleen.
The Jewish population of Emmen and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time