Few Jews were permitted to settle in Gouda prior to the granting of full civil equality to the Jews of the Netherlands in 1796. Indeed, in 1746 the municipal council of Gouda resolved totally to bar Jews from settling in the town. Despite this, there was a sufficient number of Jews in Gouda at the close of the 18th century to permit the founding of an organized community.
During the early years of the community, the Jews of Gouda gathered to pray in a private residence on the Lange Groenendaal. In 1798, the community purchased a former Anabaptist church building on the Turfmarkt and refurnished it as a synagogue. The building eventually fell into disrepair and was replaced with a new structure built on the same site in 1827.
In 1815, the Gouda community received permission to establish a cemetery of its own on the Boelekade, near the present-day Kleiwegplein. Prior to then, the Jews of Gouda had buried their dead in the Jewish cemetery at Rotterdam. The cemetery on the Boelekade was expanded in 1846 and once again in 1856. In 1930, the Gouda community opened a new cemetery located on the Bloemendaalse Verlaat in the direction of Waddinxveen.
The Gouda community was governed by a community directorate and council, the second of which also served as council for distributing aid to the poor. Jewish voluntary organizations in Gouda included a burial society, a fellowship for the study of the Talmud, and a women's organization. The Gouda community also maintained a poorhouse, a home for the elderly, and a Jewish school. During the nineteenth century, most Jews in Gouda worked as street vendors, as traders in hides, and in rope-making factories.
In 1910, Jacobus Kann, a banker and Zionist leader in The Hague, established the Joodsche Tuinbouw-, Veeteelt- en Zuivelbereidingsvereeniging (Jewish Horticultural, Cattle, and Dairy Association) at Gouda for the training of pioneers for Palestine. In its early days, the number of students at the association's farm, the Catharinahoeve, was small. The association was revitalized during the 1930s and went on to train many Jewish emigrants to Palestine, both before and in the years immediately following World War II.
The rolls of the Jewish community at Gouda were augmented in 1935 when the community at Woerden was merged into its ranks. The Jewish population of Gouda also increased during the first year of the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. In 1940, a number of the many foreign Jewish refugees who had taken up residence in the Netherlands arrived in Gouda following the mass expulsion by the Germans of foreign Jews from cities and towns in the coastal regions of the Netherlands.
A separate school for Jewish children was established at Gouda following the Germans' wartime barring of Jewish pupils from the town's public schools. The school remained open until April of 1943 and the completion of the deportation of Jews from Gouda.
Deportations of Jews from Gouda commenced late in August of 1942. Local members of the Dutch collaborationist party NSB joined the Germans in implementing the deportations. Almost all the Jews living in Gouda, including the residents of the Jewish old age home, were deported and later murdered. The interior of the synagogue was vandalized and destroyed during the war; the synagogue's Torah scrolls were hidden and later recovered, as were a number of its ceremonial objects.
Jewish life in Gouda did not resume following the end of the war. The farm school at Catharinahoeve was sold a few years after the war, as were the synagogue and Jewish home for the aged. The Jewish community at Gouda was formally abolished in 1964 and subsequently was administratively merged into the Jewish community at Rotterdam.
In 1976, rising groundwater levels in the region led to the clearing of Gouda's Jewish cemeteries and the removal of the remains of the dead to the Jewish cemetery at Wageningen. The entrance gate of the former cemetery at the Boelekade and a portion of its walls have been included in the memorial monument that stands at the Raoul Wallenbergplantsoen. A plaque identifies the monument as dedicated to the memory of the Jews of Gouda murdered during the war.
A plaque mounted on the façade of a youth work center at the corner of the Boelekade and the Jan van der Heijdenstraat in 2001 marks the site of the former cemetery Jewish cemetery at the Boelekade.
Also in 2001, a Jewish religious service - the first to be held in Gouda since 1943 - was conducted in the building on the Turfmarkt that had once served the Gouda community as its synagogue.
Jewish life at nearby Oudewater fell under the jurisdiction of the Jewish community at Woerden beginning in 1821. The Oudewater community achieved independent status in approximately 1835 but was merged into the community at Gouda in 1877. The synagogue at Oudewater dated to 1910 and remained in use only briefly. During its existence, the Oudewater community maintained a women's society for the upkeep of the interior and accouterments of its synagogue.
A monument erected at Moordrecht near Oudewater in 1999 is dedicated to the memory of four Jews who had gone into hiding in the village during the war but who eventually were apprehended, deported, and murdered.
The Jewish population of Gouda and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time