In 1610, the city fathers of Rotterdam issued permits to engage in trade within the city to a small number of Portuguese Jewish merchants. The permits guaranteed freedom of worship and the right to build a synagogue and establish a cemetery. In 1612, these provisions were challenged by the local Remonstrant Church. This prompted a number of Jewish families to depart Rotterdam for Amsterdam. Those Jews who remained in Rotterdam prayed together in the attic of a private home and buried their dead in a cemetery in Rubroek, located in what later became the Jan van Loonlaan. A second group of Portuguese Jews arrived in Rotterdam in 1647. Their numbers included a forefather of the De Pinto family, a family that was to become prominent within Dutch Jewry.
In 1647, the city council of Rotterdam awarded local Jews all of the rights enjoyed by their coreligionists in Amsterdam. The Rotterdam Jewish community grew quickly thereafter and soon opened a synagogue in a house at the corner of the Wijnhaven and the Bierstraat. The community also founded a school for the study of Talmud, the Jesiba de los Pintos (the Yeshiva of the Pintos). The school moved to Amsterdam in 1669. During the second half of the 17th century, most of the leading Portuguese Jewish families in Rotterdam engaged in international trade.
During the final decades of the 17th century, the community's synagogue was moved from the Wijnhaven to new quarters on the Scheepmakershaven and then on De Boompjes. The Jewish cemetery was filled to capacity in 1693, soon after, the Portuguese community opened two new cemeteries one after another in the Crooswijk quarter. The newer of the two, located on the Oostzeedijk, was transferred to the Ashkenazi community of Rotterdam during the 17th century.
Membership in the Portuguese-Jewish community declined over the first decades of the 17th century. By 1736, the community ceased to exist. Thereafter, the few Portuguese Jews who remained in Rotterdam attached themselves to the Ashkenazi community.
Ashkenazi Jews had arrived in Rotterdam from Germany in Poland during the mid-seventeenth century. By the 1660s, their numbers were large enough for them to organize a community of their own. By the 1670s, the Ashkenazim of Rotterdam had their own rabbi, synagogue, and cemetery. The synagogue, located on the Glashaven, was consecrated in 1674.
In their early years in Rotterdam, Ashkenazi Jews were out-shadowed by their Portuguese coreligionists. The situation changed following the outset of the eighteenth century as the Ashkenazi community grew in size and the Portuguese community declined. By the close of the seventeenth century, the Ashkenazi community had outgrown its first synagogue and, in 1702, replaced it with a new synagogue nearby. That synagogue was soon replaced by the synagogue on De Boompjes which was consecrated in 1725. In the very same year, the Ashkenazi community published its statutes.
The basement of the synagogue on De Boompjes contained a hall for the celebration of festivities. The kosher butcher shop of the Ashkenazi community was located behind the synagogue. In 1784, an annex synagogue was built adjacent to the rear of the synagogue on De Boompjes. The structure fell into disrepair and was replaced with a new annex fifteen years later. At the time, the majority of Jews in Rotterdam resided in the immediate surroundings of the De Boompjes synagogue.
The Ashkenazi community at Rotterdam founded a Jewish school of its own in 1737. Also in 1737, the community opened a new cemetery on the Dijkstraat in the present-day quarter of Kralingen. The Kralingen cemetery was expanded several times and remained in use until the opening in 1895 of a new cemetery located on the Toepad in Rotterdam. This cemetery remains in use today. Another Jewish cemetery also existed in the town (now quarter) of Delfshaven.
At the close of the eighteenth century, 2500 Jews lived in Rotterdam, comprising the largest Jewish population in the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam. At the time, the majority of the Jews residing in Rotterdam worked as small retailers or traders. The exclusionary practices of local guilds ensured that the economic status of most of the city's Jews remained poor. The granting of full civil rights to Jews in 1796 caused this situation gradually to change. Newly found civil equality also occasioned a number of conflicts within the Jewish community. Beginning in 1814, under the reign of King Willem I of the Netherlands, the Jewish community at Rotterdam confirmed its regional importance by being named as the seat of the provincial chief rabbinate.
The Jewish population of Rotterdam grew fourfold over the course of the nineteenth century. This mainly was due to the economic emergence of Rotterdam which attracted many Jews to the city. Their numbers were augmented by Eastern European Jews emigrating to America via the port of Rotterdam, quite a number of whom chose to remain in the city rather than travel onward.
Although the economic emergence of Rotterdam attracted Jews, poverty remained rife amongst the city's Jewish population. A six-member council to aid the poor and various other aid organizations were founded by the community to address this situation. Jewish voluntary and social organizations bloomed as the city's Jewish population expanded. Priority was given to Jewish education and the education of the children of the community's poor. Rotterdam Jews maintained burial societies, societies for aiding the sick, travelers' aid societies, and societies providing aid to orphans and the aged. Religious organizations proliferated and, on the secular front, the Jews of Rotterdam maintained a wide variety of social, and political organizations as well as sports and recreational clubs.
The nineteenth century also witnessed the ongoing integration of the Jews of Rotterdam into public life and society at large. Jews participated in municipal affairs and also became active in the press, legal affairs, education, and medicine. Many Rotterdam Jews rose to the tops of these fields.
As the Jewish population of Rotterdam left traditional Jewish neighborhoods and began to reside throughout the city, a number of small new synagogues were founded. A separate Portuguese Jewish community came into existence in Rotterdam during the middle of the nineteenth century but maintained itself only for twenty years. During its brief revival, the Portuguese community had a synagogue and cemetery of its own in Crooswijk. In 1891, the Jewish community of Rotterdam opened a new central synagogue located on the Botersloot. The central synagogue building was restored in 1939 and in the same year became home to the community's archives.
As the nineteenth century moved towards its close, tensions emerged between conservative factions of the community and factions pushing for change internally and within society at large. Jewish newspapers arose reflecting such splits. Following its founding in 1908, the Nederlandse Zionistenbond (Union of Dutch Zionists) exercised a strong influence on a portion of the Rotterdam community.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, the growth of Jewish Rotterdam peaked. Nevertheless, a number of smaller synagogues continued to be built including the Lev Jam synagogue located on Joost van Geelstraat, inaugurated in 1928. The arrival of large numbers of German Jewish refugees in Rotterdam during the 1930s caused the ranks of the community to swell anew. A portion of the newly-arrived refugees was housed by the Dutch government in a camp located at Hook of Holland.
The German bombardment of Rotterdam on May 14, 1940 laid waste to the center of the city and destroyed the synagogues on De Boompjes and Botersloot. Under the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, the Jews of Rotterdam suffered under the same measures as Jews throughout the country. Jewish children were expelled from Rotterdam's public schools in September, 1941. The community then founded separate Jewish schools as well as established a network of social organizations. An attempt also was made to continue the religious life of Jewish Rotterdam.
Deportation of Jews from Rotterdam began late in July 1942 and was completed by the end of June 1943. Almost all of Rotterdam Jews were forced to assemble for deportation in the harbor of the city, at Loods 24 (Shed 24). Before the war was over, most of the Jews of Rotterdam perished in Nazi death camps. Only 13% of the prewar Jewish population of the city was alive at the end of the war, having survived the camps or come through the war in hiding.
After the war, Jewish life in Rotterdam arose anew with the Lev Jam synagogue as its center. In 1954, a new synagogue was consecrated the A.B.N. Davidsplein. A Liberal Jewish community was founded in Rotterdam in 1968. The Liberal community shares a cemetery in Rijswijk with the Liberal Jewish community of The Hague. The Jewish communities at Rotterdam maintain a number of voluntary and social service organizations.
A monument to the Jews of Rotterdam murdered during the Second World War was unveiled in 1981in the garden of Rotterdam's city hall. A monument to the deported was unveiled at the site of Loods 24 in 1999. The entranceway to the former Jewish hospital on the Schietbaanlaan was restored in 2001 and now serves as a memorial monument as well.
In April 2013 a monument for the 686 deported Jewish children was unveiled at the Stieltjesstraat, next to the Loods 24 site.
The Jewish population of Rotterdam and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time