Jews first settled in Groenlo during the second half of the seventeenth century, but it was not until a century later that an organized Jewish community arose in the town.
During the administrative reorganization of the Jewish communities of the Netherlands in 1814, the Groenlo community, which formally included that of nearby Lichtenvoorde, received the status of Ringsynagoge (regional community). The Bijkerken (local Jewish communities) at nearby Winterswijk en Aalten came under the aegis of the Jewish community at Groenlo in 1862.
Religious services were held in a rented house during the early years of Jewish settlement at Groenlo, Later, a generous donation by King Louis Napoleon enabled the Groenlo community to construct a synagogue of its own, located on the Noteboomstraat. In 1822, the community built a new synagogue on the Schoolstraat. The Schoolstraat synagogue was renovated in 1878 in a neo-Moorish style.
Over the centuries, the Jews of Groenlo buried their dead at two cemeteries. The first, located at Vragende just outside of the village of Lichtenvoorde, was used by the Groenlo community until 1909. The second cemetery was located in a park on the Kanonswal in Groenlo.
The Groenlo community was headed by a directorate and council which also appointed a treasurer for raising and distributing funds to the Jewish community in Eretz Israel. Voluntary organizations within the Groenlo community included a study fellowship and men's and women's burial societies. The community also engaged a teacher to provide religious education to its children. A school was established early in the nineteenth century and a new schoolhouse was constructed sometime during the 1860s. In the years that followed, financial problems and conflicts within the community led to a decline in the school's enrollment.
Between 1674 and 1895 the municipal lending bank at Groenlo was controlled by Jewish leaseholders. Despite this, for much of the community's history the majority of Jews in Groenlo were not well off. Only during the second half of the nineteenth century did the overall economic circumstances of the Jews of Groenlo improve. Eventually, the Groenlo community emerged as one of the most prosperous in the Netherlands. At the outset of the twentieth century, the majority of Jews in Groenlo was active in the textile business or the book trade or worked as dealers in livestock. Many community members took part in public affairs and several were active members of non-sectarian organizations. Regardless, the Jewish population of Groenlo slowly declined over the course of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
Under the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, the majority of the Jews of Groenlo were deported to Nazi death camps in Poland and murdered. Almost a quarter of the Jews of Groenlo, however, managed to escape deportation by going into hiding. During the war, the Groenlo synagogue was used as a storage place for the belongings of deported Jews. The building was sold after the war and eventually was converted into a private residence. The accouterments of the synagogue were saved.
The Jewish community at Groenlo was officially dissolved in 1950 and placed within the administrative district of the community at Borculo. After the Borculo community was itself dissolved, Groenlo was placed under the administrative aegis of the Jewish community at Winterswijk. A monument in memory of the vanished Jewish community of Groenlo was unveiled in 1986. The Jewish cemetery at Groenlo has been declared a national monument and is maintained by the local municipality. In 2004, excavations in a canal near the Beltrummerpoort in Groenlo unearthed approximately fifteen Jewish amulets dating to the late-seventeenth century.
The first mention of the presence of Jews at Lichtenvoorde dates to 1740. The Lichtenvoorde community was too small to conduct religious services or to organize education for its children and thus turned to the facilities of the Groenlo community to fulfill these needs. The Jews of Lichtenvoorde did maintain a cemetery of their own, located on the Kerkdijk in the nearby small settlement of Vragende; as mentioned above, until 1909 the cemetery was also used by the Jews of Groenlo. The last Jews of Lichtenvoorde were deported and murdered during the Second World War; a dozen Jews from elsewhere in the Netherlands who had attempted to hide at Lichtenvoorde were eventually betrayed and came to share the same fate as the local community. The Jewish cemetery at Vragende is maintained by the local authorities.
The Jewish population of Groenlo and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time