It is not known exactly when Jews first settled in Zaandam, but it is certain that an organized Jewish community arose in the town by the beginning of the 19th century.

During the first half of the 19th century, the community held religious services in a synagogue located on the Kuiperspad. The Kuiperspad synagogue also housed the community's Jewish school.

A new synagogue, built on the Gedempte Gracht, was completed and consecrated in 1865. Beginning in 1887, the community buried its dead in a cemetery of its own on the Westzanerdijk.

Prentbriefkaart met de synagoge aan de Gedempte Gracht te Zaandam, tegenover de Koeienmarkt, ca. 1905

Postcard of the synagogue at Gedempte Gracht in Zaandam, ca. 1905

The Zaandam community was governed by a board consisting of five members. Other official positions within the community included a treasurer for the collection and disbursement of aid to Jews in Eretz Israel. The majority of the Jews living in Zaandam worked as craftsmen, merchants, were shopkeepers. Since 1896 Zaandam was home to a scent and flavorings factory, owned by two Jews named Joseph Polak and Leopold Schwarz.

Affiche van de essencefabriek Polak & Schwarz te Zaandam

Essence industry Polak & Schwarz te Zaandam

Zaandam, like the town of Weesp, was a favorite place amongst Amsterdam Jews at which to marry. Marriage fees were lower in Zaandam and Weesp; however, to marry in Zaandam, couples had to inscribe themselves as local residents for a period of six weeks.

The Jewish population of Zaandam and its surroundings began to decline at the turn of the 20th century. This trend continued over the decades that followed. Just prior to the Second World War however, a substantial number of Jewish refugees from Germany and Central Europe settled in Zaandam.

During the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands, many people in Zaandam and surroundings took part in the February Strike in 1941 protesting initial arrests and deportations of Jews. The Jews of Zaandam were the first to be deported from the province of North Holland to the city of Amsterdam. From Amsterdam, they were sent to the detention and transit camp at Westerbork and from there were deported to concentration camps in Poland. Very few of their numbers returned alive. Several dozen local Jews managed to survive the war in hiding. The synagogue was damaged during the occupation; parts of its interior and contents were destroyed and the rest stolen. Six Torah scrolls, however, were hidden and recovered after the war.

A Jewish community took shape once again in Zaandam during the postwar years. The synagogue was restored in 1950. The building was sold in 1974 following a second restoration; the local community had become too small to be able to continue to support a synagogue of its own. The former synagogue presently serves as an art exhibition hall.

A monument to the memory of local Jews murdered during World War II was unveiled in the town hall at Zaandam in 1990. A similar monument stands in the local Jewish cemetery. In 2002, a monument to the Jewish employees of the former Polak and Schwarz scent and flavorings factory was unveiled at the entrance to the Maison d'Essence apartment complex, built on the site where the factory once stood. A bronze statue of a book-filled bookcase emplaced at the Vaartkade in Zaandam stands as a memorial to Dutch-Jewish writer Carry van Bruggen, who spent her childhood years in Zaandam.

The Jewish population of Zaandam and surroundings:

The size of the Jewish community over time