A surviving chronicle from the second half of the thirteenth century indicates that Jews had lived in Sittard and were victims of the persecutions and pogroms that followed the bubonic plague epidemic of 1349-13 50. For a century and a half thereafter, not a single Jew lived in Sittard.
Jews settled in Sittard again sometime early in the sixteenth century, due to the location of the town along an important trade route. The status of local Jews, however, remained uncertain, and in 1597 Jews were barred from the town.
Jews are reported to have reappeared in Sittard during the 1720s. The oldest remaining gravestones in the Jewish cemetery on the present-day Fort Sanderbout Street date from 1715 (although the ground of the cemetery was not officially purchased by the local Jewish community until 1838). In 1725, the city fathers of Sittard permitted local Jews to open a synagogue. The synagogue, located in the Molenbeekstraat, remained in use until 1853; the building was finally razed in 1963. Throughout the eighteenth century, Jews regularly were reported to be among the members of roving gangs of robbers that plagued the surroundings of Sittard.
Under the Napoleonic rule of the Netherlands, the Jewish community at Sittard was assigned to the jurisdiction of the Jewish consistory at Krefeld. In 1816, as part of the redistricting of Jewish communities in the Netherlands under the rule of King Willem I, the Jewish community at Sittard was declared a Ringsynagoge or regional community.
The Jewish population of Sittard increased throughout the first half of the nineteenth century causing the community to outgrow its synagogue in the Molenbeekstraat. A new synagogue was opened in the Plakstraat in 1853. In 1856, the synagogue building was expanded to include an apartment for the sexton, a ritual bath, a bakery for Passover Matzos, and a room for study. The women's gallery of the synagogue was expanded in 1892.
Official bodies of the Jewish community at Sittard included a community council and directorate and a treasurer for the collection and disbursement of donations to the Jews of Eretz Israel. Local Jews also maintained a number of voluntary organizations, social, religious, and cultural. During the 19th century, the community supported a school for the Jewish poor at which only religious subjects were taught following the introduction of educational reform in the Netherlands in 1861.
The cemetery in Fort Sanderbout remained in use until 1869 when a special Jewish section was opened in the local public cemetery on the Wal. The Jewish section of the cemetery remained in use until 1889 when the Sittard community purchased another plot of land for a new cemetery. In addition, several Jewish families from Sittard buried their dead in a Jewish cemetery, locally referred to as the 'Jodenputje' (the "Jews' Ditch"), in the village of Limbricht.
During the closing years of the 19th century, the Jewish community at Sittard was plagued by a number of internal conflicts that led to a temporary schism. At the time, most local Jews worked in the meat business, in the trade in cattle and horses, and in the retail and clothing trades. The Jews of Sittard were well-integrated into local life and even took part in annual carnival celebrations.
Following the Nazi takeover of power in Germany in 1933, Sittard, due to its location near the Dutch-German border, absorbed many German-Jewish refugees.
The synagogue at Sittard was closed immediately following the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. The interior of the building was plundered and vandalized over the course of the German occupation. The synagogue's Torah scrolls, however, were hidden in a local museum and later recovered. As elsewhere in the Netherlands under the German occupation, Jewish children were expelled from Sittard's public schools in September of 1941. A Jewish school was soon opened in the town and functioned until the completion of deportations in April 1943. Deportation of Jews from Sittard to the detention camps at Westerbork and Vught and on to Nazi death camps in Poland commenced in the summer of 1942. Only a few of Sittard's Jews managed to find hiding places and escape deportation and death.
The Sittard synagogue was repaired soon after the liberation of the Netherlands and was reopened in 1945. Most of the Jews who returned to Sittard following the liberation left the town and, in 1947, the Jewish community at Sittard was officially disbanded and the locale placed under the jurisdiction of the Jewish community at Maastricht.
The synagogue was razed in 1953. In 1964, a Jewish cemetery was opened in a section of the public nonsectarian cemetery Vrangendael located on the Wehrerweg in Sittard. The other Jewish cemeteries in the town were then cleared away and their remains re-interred at Vrangendael.
In 1994, a memorial stone commemorating the Jews of Sittard murdered during the Second World War was moved from the cemetery to the municipal gardens.
In 1995 two memorial plaques were unveiled in the Molenbeekstraat and the Plakstraat, to remember the former synagogues.
During the Second World War, hiding places for forty-eight Jewish children were found in the nearby village of Brunssum. A monument to the Jewish victims of Nazi-terror was unveiled in Brunssum in 1989.
The Jewish population of Sittard and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time