A Jew from Heerlen is mentioned in a document from Cologne dated 1270, indicating that in all likelihood Jews resided in Heerlen during the late Middle Ages. It is certain, however, that several Jewish families were living in Heerlen by the outset of the eighteenth century. By 1726, the Heerlen community consisted of six families who held religious services in the home of one of their numbers. At the time, almost all the Jews in Heerlen worked as butchers.
The Heerlen community's first synagogue was located on the former Veemarkt near the present-day Wilhelminaplein and Dautzenbergerstraat. The synagogue was renovated in 1852 but it is not known when it originally was consecrated. A women's society for the upkeep of the interior of the synagogue was founded in 1898. In 1936, a new synagogue was built on the Stationstraat on the site of the Heerlen community's second cemetery.
The first known Jewish cemetery in Heerlen was acquired in 1778 after extensive negotiations. It was located behind the Huis de Croon (no longer extant) on the former Dorpsstraat (the present-day Emmastraat). By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Dorpsstraat cemetery was nearly full. As a result, a new Jewish cemetery was opened in 1811 on the former Schinkelsteeg (the present-day Stationsstraat). By the start of the twentieth century, the Heerlen community buried its dead at a third cemetery, located on the Akerstraat next to Heerlen's public cemetery.
A large number of German Jews settled in Heerlen and nearby Kerkrade in the years following the 1933 Nazi takeover of Germany. A Jewish school was opened in Heerlen following the expulsion of Jewish children from public schools during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. The school functioned from September 1941 until February,1943. Approximately half of the Jews of Heerlen were murdered by the Germans during the war, however, many Jews from Heerlen and its surroundings, including almost one hundred children, were able to go into hiding with the help of local Pastor Pontier and a Dutch resistance group (the NV-Group) led by Jaap Musch.
During the war, the interior of the synagogue was plundered and vandalized and then used as a storage place. The synagogue's Torah scrolls and ceremonial objects were hidden in Amsterdam in advance of the plundering but were never recovered. The Heerlen synagogue was consecrated anew in January, 1945 following the Allied liberation of the southern half of the Netherlands. It was restored in 1959 but was closed in 1985 due to a decline in community membership. Following the closure, a plaque from the synagogue commemorating Heerlen Jews murdered during the war was moved to the Jewish cemetery on the Akerstraat.
In 1986, the Jewish communities of Heerlen, Roermond, and Maastricht were fused into a single community, the NIHS Limburg. In 1998, on May 4, the anniversary of the 1940 German invasion of the Netherlands, a granite monument inscribed with the names of 62 Heerlen Jews murdered during the war was unveiled in the Akerstraat. The Akerstraat cemetery is presently maintained by the local authorities. In 1990, two memorials were unveiled in the village of Nieuwenhagen in the Landgraaf municipality.
The Jewish population of Heerlen and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time