The Hague

Jewish settlement in The Hague dates to the seventeenth century and the arrival of a number of Portuguese Jewish diplomats, physicians, and merchants. The first Ashkenazic Jew to settle in The Hague, a ritual slaughterer, arrived in 1674. More Ashkenazic Jews followed during the 1680's.

By the final decades of the seventeenth century, two Portuguese Jewish congregations had been founded in The Hague. Both moved from location to location until permanent sites for their synagogues could be found. Congregation Beth Jacob consecrated a synagogue on the Korte Voorhout in 1707. Congregation Honen Dal consecrated its synagogue, located on the Princessegracht, in 1726. The two congregations joined together in 1743 under the name Honen Dal. The Ashkenazic community initially conducted their religious services in a private home. They opened their own synagogue on the Voldersgracht in 1723.

Despite the arrival of increasing numbers of Ashkenazic Jews, Portuguese Jews maintained control of local Jewish institutions. A degree of friction existed between the two groups. In 1694, Ashkenazic Jews purchased land for a cemetery on the present-day Scheveningseweg. From the start, Portuguese Jews also buried their dead in the cemetery but, by 1710, the Portuguese had pressured the Ashkenazim into dividing the cemetery into separate burial grounds for the two groups. During the same period, the provision and sale of kosher meat was mostly the realm of Ashkenazic Jews. Their prices included a tax to benefit the Ashkenazic poor. This practice was resented by the Portuguese but, in 1710, a solution was found.

By the eighteenth century, growing wealth and international connections provided local Portuguese Jews with a large measure of influence. A number reached high posts in diplomacy and finance and circulated amongst royalty. Portuguese Jews demonstrated an openness to the culture, art, literature, and music of Dutch society. Within the Jewish world, the Portuguese community of The Hague produced several important rabbis. By the late eighteenth century, however, worsening economic conditions had reduced many members of the Portuguese community to penury. Despite this, the community continued to produce influential personalities in the centuries that followed.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Ashkenazic population of The Hague grew to surpass that of the Portuguese. Most Ashkenazic Jews lacked the connections enjoyed by the Portuguese and still resided in the poor Jewish neighborhood near the center of the city. As time passed, their condition did improve somewhat, albeit quite slowly largely due to trade guilds remaining closed to Jews. During the eighteenth century, Askenazi rabbis contributed to the emergence of The Hague as a center of Jewish culture, a trend that was reinforced by the establishment of a Hebrew-language printing house in the city.

Prentbriefkaart van het standbeeld van Spinoza in Denk Haag, ca. 1904

Postcard of the Statue of Spinoza in The Hague, ca. 1904

The Napoleonic occupation of the Netherlands brought with it the Emancipation Decree of September, 1796 and a total transformation of the legal and social status of Jews. Initially, only a small number of local enlightened Jews expressed enthusiasm for this momentous development. This small group followed the lead of the Amsterdam-based Dutch organization Felix Libertate and worked for social change. Within the Jewish world, community structures were transformed to reflect the liberal and emancipated spirit of the times. The Jewish community of The Hague played an influential role in the implementation of a new consistorial system, in no small part because the consistory itself was based in The Hague. Initially, few Jews benefited from these changes, but over the course of the next hundred years, the lives of almost all Jews would be transformed.

Following emancipation, many Dutch Jews from the provinces migrated to The Hague. They were attracted by factors including improvements in their legal position, loyalty to the reigning House of Orange (which returned to The Hague in 1813), and the renewed importance of The Hague as the country's center of government.

The Jewish population of The Hague continued to increase throughout the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Despite the scope of social change during this period, most of the Jews in The Hague continued to live in poverty in the large Jewish neighborhood near the city's center. The Hague's relatively small population of well-off Jews, however, produced a steady stream of bankers, parliamentarians, painters, poets, and writers, as well as the first Jew to achieve a ministerial cabinet post in the national government. At the same time, the community continued to produce prominent rabbis.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, The Hague's Ashkenazic community had outgrown the synagogue it built in 1723. In 1844, a new Ashkenazic synagogue was consecrated. Construction of the synagogue, located on the Wagenstraat, was financed in part by contributions from King Willem II. 1887 saw the completion of another Ashkenazic synagogue, located in the Voldersgracht, which was to remain open until 1926. Smaller synagogues served congregations scattered throughout the city. In addition, a Jewish family named Lehren maintained a private synagogue in their home.

The history Jewish education in The Hague can be traced to the eighteenth century. Despite the official opening of Dutch secular schools to Jewish children in 1798, Jews rich and poor continued to prefer Jewish schools for their children. Despite official government opposition, Yiddish remained the language of instruction in Ashkenazi schools until the mid-nineteenth century. Following the passage of educational reform legislation in 1857, The Hague's remaining Jewish schools continued on as purely religious institutions. Ultimately, following the passage of another educational reform act in 1920, all independent Jewish schools were closed and replaced with optional religious instruction within secular schools.

The financing of aid to the Ashkenazic poor through voluntary donations and a tax on kosher meat continued until the 1830s. In 1836, a council was established to administer aid to the poor. The community maintained an old age home, orphanage, and hospitable. Community members also formed voluntary charitable organizations dedicated to providing aid to the sick, poor brides, young mothers, and the destitute elderly. Voluntary organizations in the religious sphere included a burial society, a society to care for the interior of the synagogue, and various societies for the study of Jewish law. Other voluntary organizations provided aid to Jewish education.

From the end of the nineteenth century until the eve of the Second World War, the Jewish population of The Hague grew threefold. During this period, most of the city's Jews worked in the retail sector, in municipal and national government, or as independent professionals. Several founded large companies. Jews settled throughout the growing city, leading to the establishment of additional prayer houses and voluntary organizations. A vibrant Jewish community also arose in The Hague's fishing village, Scheveningen, in part due to its popularity as a seaside vacation resort amongst the Jews of Antwerp. Polish Jews who settled in Scheveningen during and after the First World War formed their own tight-knit community. In 1926, they consecrated a synagogue on the Harstenhoekweg. In the same year, the Jewish community of the wealthy suburb of Wassenaar was separated from the Jewish community of the city of Leiden and merged into that of The Hague.

The growth of The Hague's Jewish community also affected the old Jewish quarter near the center of the city. In 1925, the Ashkenazi community opened a central administrative building on the Nieuwe Molstraat around the corner from the synagogue on the Wagenstraat. The community also opened a large new synagogue on the De Carpentierstraat in 1937.

The secularization of The Hague community, begun in the nineteenth century, continued in the twentieth. New Jewish social, cultural, and athletic organizations arose. In addition organizations aimed at Jewish youth were founded to counter a rising trend toward assimilation. Between the two world wars, Zionist and anti-Zionist organizations came to play a central role in Jewish life in The Hague. The wave of Eastern European Jews that settled in Scheveningen following their expulsion from Germany following the Nazi takeover in 1933 became enthusiastic participants in local cultural, religious, and Zionist activities.

The 1930s saw the rise of Liberal (Reform) Judaism in The Hague, aided in part by the arrival of Liberal Jewish refugees from Germany. Despite strong opposition from the local Orthodox Jewish establishment, a Liberal Jewish community was founded in The Hague on the very eve of the Second World War.

Prentbriefkaart van de Voldersgracht in Den Haag tijdens de Haagse Feesten in februari 1901

Postcard of the Voldersgracht in The Hague during The Hague Festivals in February 1901

The wartime occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans affected the Jews of The Hague just as it did Jews elsewhere. In May of 1940, the Germans established their central occupational administration for the Netherlands in The Hague. A significant number of Jews committed suicide.

In September, 1940 all Jews not holding Dutch nationality were forced to leave the coastal regions of the Netherlands. Almost 2,000 Jews were expelled from The Hague and Scheveningen as a result. The Jews that remained in The Hague were subject to registration of persons and property, dismissal from the civil service, and a ban on the practicing of professions.

Late in 1940, the Jewish Coordination Commission was founded to aid Jewish interests. It was superseded a year later by the German-controlled Jewish Council (Joodse Raad). After the expulsion of Jewish children from public education in September 1941, a number of Jewish elementary schools, high schools, and vocational schools were established. These functioned until the very last deportations of Jews from The Hague in September 1943.

Between May 1940 and August 1942, anti-Jewish measures were implemented one after another. The situation worsened when a member of the Dutch Nazi party (NSB) was appointed mayor of The Hague. Collaboration with the Germans by The Hague's police force expedited deportations, which began in August, 1942.

During the early months of the deportations, Jews were confined at the Scheveningen prison prior to being transported out of the city. This function was later served by the former Jewish orphanage on the Paviljoensgracht. Despite protests from the Council of Churches and the commiseration and, sometimes, aid from some quarters of the population, deportations continued apace until the last day of September, 1943, ironically, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. All told, approximately 80% of the 10,000 Jews of The Hague were deported. Most were murdered. Of the remaining 2,000, most survived the war in hiding.

During the war, almost all of The Hague's many seven synagogues were plundered, heavily damaged, or destroyed, whether willfully or during bombardments. Most appurtenances, including Torah scrolls, were never recovered. Only the Portuguese synagogue survived the war undamaged. Its Torah scrolls and other ceremonial objects were hidden in Amsterdam and recovered after the war.

Following the war, religious services were resumed at the synagogues on the Wagenstraat, De Carpentierstraat, and the Harstenhoekweg in Scheveningen. Eventually, the synagogues on the Wagenstraat and De Carpentierstraat were closed and their buildings sold. Since 1981 the synagogue building at Wagenstraat is owned by the Turkish community and is now a mosque.
The present-day synagogue and offices of The Hague's Orthodox Jewish congregation are located on the Cornelis Houtmanstraat.

The Portuguese Jewish Community of The Hague was officially dissolved in the aftermath of the war and its synagogue on the Princessegracht sold to the Liberal Jewish Community, which has used the building since 1976. An extensive restoration of the building was completed in 1997. Currently, a new Liberal Jewish center is being built next to the synagogue. The Dutch artist Corneille donated a wall of glazed tiles for installation at the Center. The work, entitled "Bird of Peace," contains motifs from Jewish history.

The Jewish cemetery on the Scheveningseweg was restored during the late 1980s.

Today, almost all of the Netherlands' Jewish organizations have branches or offices in The Hague. The Hague is the seat of the Embassy of the State of Israel to the Netherlands, and of the Dutch-Jewish organization CIDI (Center for Information and Documentation Israel).

Throughout The Hague, plaques, monuments, and names of streets and institutions commemorate aspects of the Jewish past. In 1994, the Mr. L. E. Visserhuis Jewish old age home was opened on the Doorniksestraat in Scheveningen. The home commemorates Visser, a famed Dutch Jewish jurist who, during the war, was expelled from his position as Minister of Justice. A square on the renovated Bezemstraat is named after renowned Rabbi Maarssen. A replica of the plaque "Rachel Weeps," a memorial to the Jewish students of The Hague's high schools deported during the Second World War, was installed on the wall of The Hague's historic church, the Nieuwe Kerk. The original plaque by sculptor Theo van de Nahamer, a native of The Hague, can be seen in The Hague's educational museum, the Museon.

Joods kindermonument op het Rabbijn Maarssenplein

Also on Rabbijn Maarssenplein in November 2006 a Jewish children's monument was erected in memory of the 1700 schoolchildren that were deported during the war. The monument, designed by the artists Sara Benhamou and Eric de Vries, in the form of chairs, is both a monument and a playground for children.

In 2003, what may be the most important of all monuments to the city's Jewish past was returned to The Hague from Russia. The remains of the archive of The Hague's Jewish community, a stack of documents almost thirty feet high, had been taken by the Germans in 1943 and, after the war, moved from Germany to Russia. The documents are now kept at The Hague's Municipal Archive.

In 2013 the Jewish Heritage Foundation in The Hague launched its website.

On April 2, 2014 a plaque was unveiled commemorating the Joods Lyceum at Fischerstraat and its students.

The Jewish population of The Hague and surroundings:

The size of the Jewish community over time