The first reports of Jews residing in Maastricht date to the thirteenth century. The city's Jewish community subsequently was destroyed during the first half of the fourteenth century following the persecution of Jews throughout the region.
Prior to the introduction of full civil rights for the Jews of the Netherlands in 1796, the city fathers of Maastricht granted residence only to those Jews whose presence they felt would be economically advantageous. Jews not deemed important were compelled to reside outside of Maastricht in the nearby village of Eijsden. Nevertheless, by 1782, the number of Jews in Maastricht had risen to the point that the city's first public synagogue service was held in a private residence located on the Markt. With the arrival of Napoleonic rule in 1794 the Jewish community of Maastricht was granted official recognition. Jews also were given permission to hold religious services in a private residence located behind Maastricht's city hall, between the Hoenderstraat and the Koeslingestraat.
With the arrival of the nineteenth century, the Jewish population of Maastricht quickly grew almost ten-fold. By 1809, a larger place of worship was required and the community rented space for a new synagogue in a building on the Kleine Gracht. Most of the Jews in Maastricht lived in close proximity to this synagogue.
The Jews of Maastricht had close ties to Jewish communities across the nearby Dutch-German border. Under Napoleonic rule, the Maastricht community was placed under the aegis of the Jewish community of the German town of Krefeld. With the reorganization of the Jewish communities of the Netherlands during the 1820s, Maastricht was selected as the seat of the chief rabbi for the provinces of Limburg, Louvain and Luxemburg, and the city Brussels (the latter three being under Dutch rule at the time). Until 1860, troubled economic circumstances combined with the ultra-orthodox stance of the chief rabbinate led to a series of short incumbencies and frequent replacements of chief rabbis. This situation was addressed in 1861 by the adoption of a more modern charter for the community replacing its original charter which dated to 1816.
In 1839, work commenced on the construction of an imposing new synagogue complex in the Capucijnengang near the Bogaardenstraat. Construction of the complex was financed in part by donations from the city of Maastricht, the national government of the Netherlands, and the country's King, Willem I. The complex - consisting of the synagogue, a ritual bath, a sexton's residence, and new quarters for the community's school (originally founded in 1833) - was completed and consecrated in August, 1840.
In 1821, the Jewish community of Maastricht founded a cemetery along the Tongerseweg in the village of Wolder. Previously, the Jews of Maastricht buried their dead at the cemetery at the Maagdendries.
During the late nineteenth century, the infrastructure of Jewish life in Maastricht was officially headed by a community directorate and council. Voluntary organizations included an association for aid to the poor, a women's society for aid to needy expectant mothers, a society for assisting travelers, and a society for visiting the sick and organizing remembrance services for the dead. At the time, the majority of the Jews of Maastricht were involved in trade or the retail sector; many others were craftsmen or small manufacturers.
By the outset of the twentieth century, Jewish community membership in Maastricht and throughout the province of Limburg took a steep downward turn. Regardless, the Maastricht community remained substantial in size. Between 1900 and 1940, several new Jewish organizations were formed in Maastricht including a social club, a burial society, and a youth club. During the 1930's the community was strengthened by the arrival in Maastricht of Jewish refugees from Germany and Eastern Europe. Even as late as the outset of the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War a new Zionist youth group was formed in Maastricht.
During the early stages of the German occupation, the Jews of Maastricht enjoyed the protection of the local police and a part of the general public. However, in September 1941, Jewish children were expelled from public schools and a Jewish elementary school was established. From June, 1942 through April, 1943 the majority of the Jews of Maastricht were apprehended, deported, and subsequently murdered. A number of Jews from the north of the Netherlands managed to find hiding places in the surroundings of Maastricht. One group of Jews that managed to flee from Maastricht across the border into Belgium was later betrayed and apprehended.
The Maastricht synagogue was vandalized during the occupation and used as a storage place. Its furnishings were heavily damaged but a portion of its ceremonial objects were saved. In 1965, it was discovered that the community's archives also had been saved.
Jewish life in Maastricht resumed following the war. The synagogue was rededicated in 1952. It was restored during the 1960s and refurnished with furniture formerly belonging to the synagogue at Meerssen. In 1990, a plaque was unveiled in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Maastricht synagogue. Maastricht's Jewish cemetery was restored by volunteers in 1996. In October 2005 a plaque was unveiled on the Jewish cemetery in Maastricht, in remembrance of the 45 Jewish children who perished in the Second World War.
In 1986, the Jewish communities of Maastricht, Heerlen, and Roermond merged to form the regional community NIHS Limburg. Yaakov Shapiro has served as rabbi of the community since 2001.
The Jewish population of Maastricht and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time
61 (NIG Limburg)