The first Jewish family to settle in Steenwijk did so prior to 1700. In about 1720, the city fathers of Steenwijk attempted to stimulate trade by enticing additional Jews to live there. This policy was unsuccessful at first although more Jews did move to Steenwijk as the century progressed. At the same time, other Jews encountered difficulties when trying to establish themselves in Steenwijk; this continued even after the granting of civil rights to Jews in 1796.
A Jewish cemetery located on the Schapendrift in the south of nearby Noordwolde dates to approximately 1775. The cemetery on the present-day Eesveenseweg in Steenwijk was established in 1795 and was enlarged in 1807, 1860, and 1911.
At the outset of the nineteenth century, the Jews of Steenwijk gathered for prayer in the home of one of their numbers. In 1813, the community purchased a room in the Gasthuisstraat, which they enlarged, renovated, and converted into a synagogue in 1819. During the 1850s, conflicts over religious reform led to a split in the community. The construction of a new synagogue on the corner of the Gasthuisstraat and the Kornputsingel marked the resolution of the conflict and the reunification of the community.
During the first decades of the nineteenth century, Jewish children in Steenwijk received their lessons in a classroom in the municipal school. The Jewish community built a school of its own in 1849 and opened a new schoolhouse adjacent to the synagogue in 1917.
The Steenwijk community was governed by a directorate and council and included amongst its officials a treasurer for the collection and distribution of aid to the Jews of Eretz Israel. Local voluntary organizations included a burial society, a society for the upkeep of the interior of the synagogue, and a fellowship for the study of Torah.
The Jews of Steenwijk enjoyed a decent standard of living. Heads of households worked mostly in the trade of textiles and in the meat business. One Jewish resident of Steenwijk was the owner of a business trading in spices. A number of Steenwijk Jews held positions in municipal and provincial government.
During the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands, the Jews of Steenwijk were subjected to similar measures as Jews elsewhere. In September 1942, a number of Steenwijk Jews were imprisoned in a so-called work camp in the proximity of nearby Staphorst. Unlike in many other places, approximately half the Jewish population of Steenwijk was able to find hiding places in which they managed to survive the war. The rest of the Jews of Steenwijk were deported to Nazi death camps and murdered. The synagogue building and its interior came through the war undamaged despite having been used as a storage place. Even the Torah scrolls and ceremonial objects remained untouched.
Jewish life in Steenwijk was resurrected for a short time after the war. The synagogue building was sold in 1948 and eventually razed. A number of ceremonial objects from the former synagogue were donated to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. In 1964, the Jewish community of Steenwijk was formally dissolved and merged into the Jewish community at Zwolle.
The Jewish cemetery on the Eesveenseweg is now cared for by the local authorities. A project involving the restoration of 180 gravestones in the cemetery was completed under the auspices of the Beth Chaim Foundation in 2001. The house for the preparation of the dead at the cemetery was rebuilt in 1985; its façade now incorporates a stone in memory of the Jews of Steenwijk murdered during the war.
In October 2007, at the corner of the Gasthuisstraat and the Van den Kornputsingel, where the Steenwijk synagogue was from 1870 to 1952 a copper plaque was unveiled.
Willemsoord, a colony for the poor founded in Steenwijkerwold during the 1820s, contained a quarter for Jewish residents, the Jodenpol. The Jews of the quarter comprised a separate Jewish community that existed from 1830 until 1890. The community had its own synagogue, Jewish school and cemetery, the latter located on De Pol, a street close to the present-day Prins Willem Alexanderstraat. The cemetery is maintained by the municipality of Steenwijk.
Oldemarkt and Kuinre
A few Jewish families resided in the nearby villages of Oldemarkt and Kuinre during the nineteenth century.
The Jewish population of Steenwijk and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time