Documents from Kampen dating from the fourteenth century refer to the presence of Jewish traders in the town at the time. A separate mention refers to a robbery in a "Jews' house" (Judenhuys). In addition, the town of "Kamp," no doubt a reference to Kampen, is mentioned in a contemporary list of Jewish communities along the river IJssel that were destroyed in 1349 and 1350 during the persecutions of Jews in the aftermath of the bubonic plague.

In 1661, several Portuguese-Jewish merchants applied for and received permission to settle in Kampen. They were assured freedom of religion and the right to build a synagogue. They also were promised that no Ashkenazi Jews would be permitted to settle in Kampen without their assent. In return, they pledged to advance commerce in Kampen to the best of their abilities. Their presence formed the nucleus of a small Jewish community that gathered for prayer on the Nieuwstraat, not far from the Muntplein, in the house of one of their numbers.

Ashkenazi Jews began to settle in Kampen by the beginning of the eighteenth century. By 1767, their numbers had reached the point that they were able to open a synagogue of their own in a rented space behind the Nieuwe Muur near the Koornmarkt (the present-day Voorstraat). The Ashkenazi Jews purchased the building in 1778 and enlarged the synagogue in 1794. The Jews of Kampen inaugurated a cemetery at the Bolwerk near the Veenepoort in 1764.

IJsselkade met synagoge, ca. 1909

IJsselkade with synagogue, ca. 1909

Jews were regarded well in Kampen during the eighteenth century, although the town fathers did attempt to impede the arrival of poor Jews. Community leaders were conscious of their own economic position and attempted to limit new Jewish residents to merchants and financiers. During the second half of the century, the municipal authorities of Kampen a number of times intervened in conflicts within the Jewish community. As the century came to a close, most of the Jews of Kampen were involved in retailing, the livestock trade, and the meat business. Several Jews had managed to be accepted into the merchants' guild.

The Jewish population of Kampen grew following the introduction of civic equality in the Netherlands in 1796. As the nineteenth century began, trade and retailing remained among the most frequent occupations of local Jews. Later in the century, Jewish entrepreneurs played important roles in the local cigar manufacturing and textile industries. Although Kampen was the oldest Jewish settlement in the province of Overijssel, Zwolle was selected as the seat of the regional consistory.

Kampen's old Jewish cemetery was closed in 1829 and a part of its contents was moved across the roadway to the present-day Ebbingestraat five years later. Later, a new cemetery was founded on the Zandberg at IJsselmuiden. By the mid-century, the old Ashkenazi synagogue was no longer adequate. It was replaced with a new building on the Ijsselkade in 1847. From its earliest years, the Kampen community had provided education for its children. In 1822, the school moved to a building on the Boven Nieuwstraat. The building remained in use until 1855 when the school was moved to the old synagogue building on the Voorstraat. Voluntary organizations in Jewish Kampen during the nineteenth century included a youth organization, a charitable organization, a society to aid the sick, and a women's society.

Beginning at the outset of the twentieth century, the Jewish population of Kampen began to fall, in part due to the town's economic decline.

Under the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, the Jews of Kampen suffered the same measures as Jews elsewhere, despite the initial resistance shown by the mayor and a part of the non-Jewish population. By late 1942, almost all of the Jews of Kampen were deported to Nazi death camps. Only a few managed to survive the war in hiding. Many Jews from elsewhere in the Netherlands also managed to find hiding places in and around Kampen. During the war, the synagogue was used as a storage place by members of the Dutch collaborationist NSB party. The synagogue building itself was not damaged, but its contents were destroyed.

After the war, Jewish life did not resume in Kampen. The community was officially dissolved in 1947 and administratively merged into that of Zwolle. The synagogue building was sold. Since 1984, the former synagogue has housed a cultural center named "Beet Zikkaron" (Beth Zicharon, House of Remembrance). A marble plaque containing the names of the murdered Jews of Kampen is mounted on its façade. In 1947, the remaining graves at the Jewish cemetery on the Ebbingestraat were removed to the cemetery in IJsselmuiden. The IJsselmuiden cemetery was restored with private support in 1985 and is now maintained by the local authorities.

In 2004, rumors arose concerning the dumping of remains from the former Jewish cemetery on the Ebbingestraat into local waterways during the 1950's. An official investigation could not substantiate the rumors.

The Jewish population of Kampen and surroundings:

The size of the Jewish community over time