Jews first settled in Venlo during the second half of the 14th century, at a time when Venlo was enjoying a period of prosperity. A street in Venlo named Jodenstraat (Jews' Street) dates from this time. At the outset of the 15th century, several Jews were active as money lenders and pawnbrokers in Venlo. Jews seem to have left Venlo following the decline of the city's economy during the 1460s. Almost a century later, in 1544, three Jews were granted permission to settle with their families in Venlo to establish and run a lending bank. They also were granted permission to ritually slaughter animals for meat and to establish a cemetery. Their rights were revoked two years later.
Jews did not settle in Venlo again until after the granting of civil rights to the Jews of the Netherlands at the close of the 18th century. Most of the first arrivals were Jews from Germany. The first synagogue service to be held in Venlo in modern times took place early in the 19th century in an attic room on the Keulsepoort. In 1827, the community's synagogue was relocated to a building that had once housed the local protestant poorhouse.
In 1828, the Jews of Venlo were recognized as comprising an independent community. Prior to then, they had been considered members of the Jewish community at Sittard. In 1865, a new synagogue was built on the Maasschriksel supported in part by donations from King Willem I, the provincial and municipal authorities, and private donors. At the time, the Jewish population of Venlo was at its peak.
During the mid-19th century, the Jewish community of Venlo was governed by a board and council. Other official community bodies included a board for administering aid to the poor. The Jews of Venlo also maintained social and cultural voluntary organizations. Jewish education was provided to the children of the community by a teacher who also served as a cantor and ritual slaughterer. From 1820 until 1887, the Venlo community buried its dead at a Jewish cemetery located on the Kerkhofweg. A new cemetery was established some years later on the Ganzenstraat.
At the turn of the 20th century, Jews in Venlo were integrated into the society at large and lived amongst non-Jews. For the most part, local Jews enjoyed decent economic circumstances. Most worked as shopkeepers, butchers, or merchants, and several were manufacturers. During the 1920s, a Jewish cultural society was established in Venlo; the society also published a Zionist newspaper. Several members of the Venlo community participated in local government. During the 1930s, a large number of Jewish refugees arrived in Venlo from Germany. The community organized a refugee committee to assist them in settling in.
During the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands, the Jews of Venlo suffered the same measures as Jews elsewhere in the country. Large-scale deportations took place in August, October, and November of 1942. Approximately a quarter of the local Jewish population managed to go into hiding and several local Jews were able to escape abroad. In 1943, 700 Jewish prisoners from the concentration camp at Vught were sent as forced laborers to a German military airbase near Venlo. The last Jew remaining in Venlo was deported from the city in April, 1943. Only a few of the Jews deported from Venlo during the war survived to return afterward. The Venlo synagogue was heavily damaged during an aerial bombardment in 1944; however, some of the synagogue's Torah scrolls and ceremonial objects were salvaged.
During the war, more than 100 Jewish children were taken in and hidden by farmers in nearby villages including Sevenum, Broekhuizervorst, and Tienray. In 1958, a plaque was installed on the wall of a house at Tienray in honor of those who hid and saved Jewish children.
The few Jews who returned to Venlo after the war attempted to reestablish Jewish life. From 1945 to 1947 synagogue services were held in a room in a Protestant church. A Liberal Jewish community existed in Venlo for a short time during the 1960s. In 1965, a decision was taken not to restore the Venlo synagogue, and the building was razed. For all intents and purposes, the Venlo community had ceased to exist by 1975. In 1986, the community was administratively dissolved and the locale was placed under the aegis of the Jewish community of Limburg.
The local Jewish cemeteries are maintained by the municipality of Venlo. In February 1999, a monument was unveiled in memory of local Jews murdered during the war.
In 2004, in course construction work on Havenkade, close to the ancient Jodenstraat, the remains were unearthed of what might possibly be the oldest Jewish ritual bath in the Netherlands. This alleged 13th-century mikve in Venlo was restored and in September 2011 it was transferred to the Limburg Museum. For a long time however there have been doubts about this mikve, and at a symposium in February 2014 it proved not to be a mikve at all.
The Jewish population of Venlo and surroundings:
The size of the Jewish community over time