During the first half of the fourteenth century, the Jewish community at Nijmegen was the most important in all of what is today the Netherlands. At the time, the Jews of Nijmegen were mostly involved in money lending. Local Jews had a cemetery of their own, located to the southeast of the town. The community was destroyed in 1349 during the widespread persecution of Jews committed by Christians during the plague epidemic of the time.

Jews settled anew in Nijmegen not long after the destruction of the first community. Like their predecessors, the new arrivals were also mostly involved in money lending. By 1386, several of them had been awarded citizenship in the town. Mentions of the revived community's cemetery, located outside of the Wijmelpoort (Wijmel Gate) not far from the Kronenburgertoren (Kronenburger Tower), date to as far back as 1382. The cemetery was sold two centuries later.

Early in the fifteenth century, the community purchased four buildings located in an alleyway running between the Stikke Hezelstraat and the Beneden Houtstraat; thereafter, the alleyway was known as the Jodengasch (Jews' Alley). One of the four buildings was converted to a synagogue and is referred to in archival materials as schola judeorum (the college of the Jews). In 1430, the community was granted permission to construct a ritual bath. In 1452, a church synod held at Cologne decreed that Jews be required to wear a distinctive badge or article of clothing; the decree also applied to the Jews of Nijmegen. From then on, the Jewish population of Nijmegen declined; by the close of the fifteenth century, the community ceased to exist. In 1544, a new generation of Jews attempted unsuccessfully to settle in Nijmegen.

Prentbriefkaart van de synagoge in Nijmegen, ca. 1920

Postcard of the synagogue in Nijmegen, ca. 1920

A small number of Jews are reported to have been living in Nijmegen and its surroundings at the outset of the seventeenth century; a proper Jewish community, however, did not arise again in Nijmegen until the 1660s. In 1683, the Jews of Nijmegen established a cemetery near the town walls behind the Mariënburg; the cemetery subsequently was enlarged twice during the eighteenth century. During the same period, graves were twice reported to have been desecrated.

Religious services were held in private homes during the early days of the reestablished community,. The first of these domestic synagogues, located in a house on the Vleeschhouwerstraat, was closed by municipal authorities in 1697 following complaints about noise emanating from the building during religious services. In 1713, a wealthy leader of the community purchased the former inn De Sleutel (The Key) in the Groote Straat from the municipal authorities and had it converted into a synagogue. The former inn served the community as its house of prayer until 1755. In 1756, the community consecrated a new synagogue, located in the Nonnenstraat - a building that still stands today. During the 1760s, the community purchased two additional buildings and also constructed a ritual bath, all in the Nonnenstraat. Throughout the eighteenth century, Jewish education in Nijmegen was limited to private lessons from religious teachers.

As in other cities and towns in the Netherlands at the time, the economic activities of Jews during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were limited by their being barred from guild membership. Jews faced numerous other restrictions. Initially, they were barred from full citizenship in the town. Beginning in 1721, Jews were allowed to purchase limited rights of citizenship for large sums of money. Such sales of rights were made only to those Jews whose presence, activities, or wealth was deemed advantageous to Nijmegen by the town fathers. Due to this provision, Jewish lending bank leaseholders, doctors, merchants, craftsmen, and manufacturers eventually came to play an important role in the economic and social development of Nijmegen.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, most Jews in Nijmegen were poverty-stricken. Many worked as street vendors or as sellers of secondhand goods. Their economic situation improved somewhat by the end of the century.

In 1804, Nijmegen was selected as the seat of the chief rabbinate for the province of Gelderland. The provincial chief rabbinate remained based in Nijmegen until 1881 when it was moved to Arnhem. A Jewish school was established in Nijmegen in 1827; its students received instruction in secular as well as Jewish subjects. The school was moved to a new building located near the Nonnenstraat synagogue in 1873. A Jewish craft school for sewing and knitting existed in Nijmegen for a short time in the mid-century.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Jewish community of Nijmegen was governed by a council of four members which also comprised the community's directorate. Other official positions included two treasurers for the collection and disbursement of contributions to the Jewish community in Eretz Israel. Jewish voluntary organizations in Nijmegen included burial societies as well as societies for maintaining the synagogue and for providing assistance to the poor and the sick.

By 1891, the old Jewish cemetery founded in 1683 had run out of space. As a result, the community established a new cemetery on the Broerdijk in Groesbeek, along the present-day Kwakkenbergweg. Between 1806 and 1811, the community also made use of a separate section of Nijmegen's public cemetery.

By the decades of the twentieth century, the Jewish population of Nijmegen still comprised what was a mid-sized community by the standards of Dutch Jewry. In 1913, the community consecrated a new synagogue on the Gerard Noodtstraat. At the time, most Jews in Nijmegen worked in the textile industry or as shopkeepers, vendors, or slaughterers. Several Jews came to serve as members of Nijmegen's city council. A Jewish recreational society and a theater society were founded and a Zionist youth movement arose late in the 1930s. Nijmegen's location near the Dutch-German border attracted a large number of German-Jewish refugees to the town following the rise of Hitler. This caused the local Jewish population to grow to its highest level in a century; on the eve of the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940 approximately 530 Jews resided in Nijmegen.

In November 1940, in Nijmegen as throughout the Netherlands, all Jews were expelled from the civil service. Jewish children were banned from public education at the start of the school year in 1941 and a Jewish elementary school was established for younger Jews to attend. Deportations of Jews from Nijmegen commenced in the autumn of 1942 and were completed in April, 1943. Almost all the Jews of Nijmegen were murdered by the Germans; of the approximately 50 Nijmegen Jews who came through the war alive, most survived in hiding, and only a handful came back from the camps.

During the war, the synagogue on the Gerard Noodtstraat was confiscated by the Germans and used as a warehouse. Germans and Dutch members of the collaborationist NSB party destroyed its contents; its torah scrolls and other ceremonial objects were never recovered.

Jewish life in Nijmegen commenced anew after the war. The former Jewish school was reopened as a synagogue; it was repaired in the late-1960s and since the 1980's has been open for religious services on the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as well as monthly throughout the rest of the year. The synagogue on the Gerard Noodtstraat was sold after the war and since the 1980s has housed Nijmegen's natural history museum. The former synagogue on the Nonnenstraat for a time housed part of the Het Valkhof Museum (formerly the Commanderie van Sint-Jan Museum). In 1999, the building was sold back to the Jewish community of Nijmegen for the symbolic sum of one Dutch Guilder; it was consecrated anew as a synagogue in 2000. The old Jewish cemetery behind the Mariënburg was cleared away in 1962. A monument in memory of the Jews of Nijmegen murdered during the Second World War was installed on the Kitty De Wijzeplaats in 2000.

The Jewish population of Nijmegen and surroundings:

The size of the Jewish community over time


ca. 270