The first reference to the presence of Jews in Harderwijk dates to 1590. Sometime during the second half of the seventeenth century, a Jewish butcher settled in Harderwijk, despite a ban on Jews in the town. In 1715, a Jew became a leaseholder of the municipal lending bank, which remained in the hands of Jewish leaseholders until the middle of the nineteenth century. The presence of a university in Hardewijk attracted numerous Jews, especially those desiring to study medicine or law.

During the 1720s, the Jews of Harderwijk were assigned a cemetery adjacent to the walls of the town, behind the Grootepoort. In 1759, permission was granted for Jews to hold religious services in a room furnished to serve as a synagogue; an actual synagogue was not opened until 1773.

Voormalige synagoge Harderwijk, ca. 1950

Former synagogue in Harderwijk, ca. 1950

By 1760, Jews were granted the rights of residents of the town. In 1762, they were declared eligible for full citizenship. The rules and procedures of the Jewish community of Harderwijk date to the 1770s. At the time, the city council reserved the right to intervene in the community in the event of internal conflicts and, until the arrival of Napoleonic rule, still required Jews from outside of Hardewijk to apply for permission before settling in the town.

By 1813, thirteen Jewish families resided in Harderwijk, the breadwinners of which were traders, slaughterers, and tobacco growers. In 1817, the community opened a new synagogue on the Jodenkerksteeg. Two decades later, the synagogue was on the verge of collapse; it was fully restored in 1839 and went on to serve the community until the eve of the Second World War. In 1852, the Harderwijk community opened a new cemetery in the nearby village of Tonsel.

Jewish community organizations in Harderwijk included a three-member synagogue council that also served as a committee to aid the poor, two study fellowships, and a women's organization. In the public realm, several Jews rose to serve as members of the town's municipal council. The children of the Harderwijk community received their education in a Jewish school but from 1857 on followed secular subjects at the local public school.

Familiefoto van de familie Beem gemaakt in Harderwijk, ca. 1910

The Beem family, ca. 1910

At the close of the nineteenth century, the Jewish population of Harderwijk began to decline, largely due to the departure of many community members to the west of the Netherlands. In the early 1920s, approximately eighty Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe were interned at Harderwijk. In 1925, a Jewish Military Home was opened in the town to serve the many Jewish soldiers stationed in the surroundings.

During the early stages of the German occupation in the Second World War, Jewish refugees from Germany were expelled from the coastal regions of the Netherlands. A number of them were resettled in Harderwijk and its surroundings. During the War, almost all the Jews of Harderwijk were deported and murdered in Nazi death camps. Only a few managed to survive the war by going into hiding. The synagogue building itself came through the war undamaged but its interior was plundered. After the war, the Torah scrolls of the Hardewijk synagogue were donated to the Jewish community of Winschoten.

The Jewish community of Harderwijk was officially dissolved in 1947 and administratively merged into that of Apeldoorn. The synagogue was sold soon after the war and subsequently used as a community center.

Herinneringswand in synagoge Harderwijk, 2011

Exhibition wall in former synagogue about the Jewish life in Harderwijk, 2011

Since 2003, the building has been the property of the Stichting Algemeen Christelijk Jeugdwerk and used as a center for interchurch youth services. A plaque affixed to the building in 1995 commemorates the murdered Jews of Harderwijk. In April 2011 a wall in memory of the deported Jews and the vanished Jewish life in Harderwijk was opened in the former synagogue in the Jodenkerksteeg.

The Jewish cemetery De Veldkamp, located on the Lindenlaan is now maintained by the municipality.

The best-known Jewish native of Harderwijk was Hartog Beem (1892-1987), a scholar of Jewish history and linguistics, and a pioneer in the study of the history of the Jews of the Mediene and of the Western European dialects of Yiddish.

The Jewish population of Harderwijk and surroundings:

The size of the Jewish community over time