Contemporary evidence indicates that Jews resided in Enschede from the middle of the seventeenth century on. Due to local policies restricting Jewish settlement, their numbers grew slowly during the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, by 1748, Jewish religious services were being held in private residences.
After the introduction of civil equality throughout the Netherlands in 1796, the Jewish population of Enschede increased. Religious services moved to a rented room in the Walstraat. By 1834, the community had grown to the point that a synagogue was built on the Achterstraat. This synagogue was financed in part by contributions from non-Jews. In 1862, the synagogue was destroyed by a fire that swept through Enschede. A new and larger synagogue was consecrated on the Stadsgravenstraat in 1865. The Enschede community continued to grow during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, by the 1920s, a larger synagogue was required once again. In 1928, the Prinsenstraat synagogue was consecrated. This domed synagogue, designed by architect K.P.C. de Bazel, is still in use.
The first cemetery used by the Jews of Enschede was located on the Molenstraat. The cemetery ceased to be used in 1841 and was cleared away in 1947. Between 1841 and 1927, the community buried its dead in a cemetery on the Kneedweg. A new cemetery was opened on the Noord Esmarkerrondweg in 1928.
During the nineteenth century, the majority of the Jews of Enschede worked in trade and banking. Many lived in extreme poverty. During Enschede's boom years of economic development at the end of the nineteenth century, Jewish families including Menko, Menco, Frankenhuis, and Van Dam controlled important shares of the local weaving industry and manufacturing of textiles and clothing.
Voluntary organizations within the Enschede community included a synagogue council, a council for aid to the poor, and a number of charitable, cultural, and athletic organizations. Little is known about Jewish education in Enschede during the nineteenth century but, by the 1920s, the Enschede community maintained a religious school serving almost 100 pupils. Between the two World Wars several Zionist organizations took root in Enschede and its surroundings. During the 1930s, Enschede's Comité Duitsche Vluchtelingen (Committee for German Refugees) provided material and spiritual succor for victims of Nazi persecution.
At the outset of the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, a number of voices in Enschede - including those of the mayor and some members of the clergy - rose in protest against anti-Jewish measures. At first, the police declined to participate in the deportation of Jews. Nevertheless, in the end the situation of Jews in Enschede was no better than elsewhere. Following the expulsion of Jewish children from local public schools, Jewish elementary and high schools were opened in Enschede. Round-ups of Jews for deportation began in October of 1942. During 1942 and 1943 more than half the Jews of Enschede were deported. Few survived the concentration camps, however, a relatively large percentage of local Jews succeeded in hiding and avoiding deportation. The latter were saved with the help of the local Jewish Council and members of the Dutch resistance.
The Prinsenstraat synagogue came through the war undamaged. Today, its vestibule contains a plaque in memory of the more than 700 Jews of Enschede and surroundings murdered during the war. A number of other memorials elsewhere in the city keep the memories of the victims alive. For a short time after the war, the Menko-Van Dam House, one of two mansions on the Trompstraat designed by the architect K.P.C. de Bazel, served as a halfway house for Jews returning from concentration camps and hiding places. From 1962 until the 1980's it was used by the Jewish community as an old age home.
During the post-war years, the Jewish communities of Enschede, Goor, and Oldenzaal were fused into one. Recently, the communities of Enschede, Almelo, and Hengelo have been united in the Cultureel Samenwerkingsverband Twente (Cultural Cooperation Alliance of the Province of Twente). During the 1970s, a Liberal (Reformed) community was established in the province. A variety of other Jewish religious, social, and cultural organizations are also active in the region. Not least, Enschede is the home of the Netherlands' sole remaining matzoh factory.
In 1998, a committee was formed for the preservation of the Prinsenstraat synagogue. The building was awarded national historical monument status soon thereafter. A major restoration of the synagogue under the supervision of the Rijksdienst Voor Monumentenzorg, the Netherlands' national monuments preservation agency, began in 2001. The reopening of the synagogue in April, 2004 was well attended by dignitaries and the general public.
The Jewish population of Enschede and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time