The first reports of Jews living in Groningen date to the end of the sixteenth century. At the time, Jews were denied permission to reside permanently in the city. The residential status of Jews in Groningen continued to remain uncertain throughout the seventeenth century, despite Jews being allowed to engage in commerce and despite one of their numbers being appointed leaseholder of the municipal lending bank. As late as 1691, Jews in Groningen still were forbidden to gather together for prayer. In 1710, the city council of Groningen passed measures limiting the number of Jews from German East Friesland allowed to enter the city.
The situation began to change in 1711 when a Jew from Amsterdam obtained the lease to operate Groningen's municipal pawnshop and was granted the right to hold religious services in a house on the Poelestraat. Not long thereafter, the ongoing growth of the city's Jewish population prompted local Jews to rent a house on the Steenstilstraat and equip it to serve as their synagogue. As the eighteenth century progressed, several Jews managed to become members of Groningen's merchants' and market vendors' guild, this despite strong opposition. Eventually, Groningen's butchers' and button makers' guilds also opened their ranks to Jews.
An organized Jewish community finally came into being in Groningen during the 1740's following the approval of its statutes by the city council. The Groningen community built a new synagogue in the Volteringstraat, the later Kleine Folkingestraat, in 1756. At the time, the majority of the Jews of Groningen lived in closed proximity to the new synagogue. The Volteringstraat synagogue was opened despite opposition from Christian citizens. Local enmity toward Jews was so strong that the synagogue had been constructed without windows so that Jews could worship in anonymity. From 1776 until 1808, Groningen's mayor and city council went so far as to closely watch over the internal affairs of the Jewish community.
In 1813, Abraham Deen, chief rabbi of the newly established Jewish consistory of the north of the Netherlands chose Groningen as his residence over the competing city of Leeuwarden, enabling the former to emerge as the leading center of Jewish life in the region. In 1848, the Groningen community split over the wish of its leaders to modernize Jewish worship. This led to the founding of a separate ultra-orthodox community in 1852. In 1881, the split was healed and the community reunited.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the Groningen community maintained numerous religious, cultural, social, and recreational organizations. From its founding, the community had provided education to its children. Jewish education in Groningen was modernized in 1815. Following the introduction of compulsory primary education throughout the Netherlands, enrolment in the Jewish school fell. By the end of the nineteenth century, the school only taught Jewish subjects.
The first Jewish cemetery in Groningen, the Jodenkamp (Jews' field) near the Bloemsingel, was purchased in 1747. Prior to then, the Jews of Groningen buried their dead in Leeuwarden, Appingedam, and Noord and Zuid Pekela. From 1838 until 1909, the Groningen community used the Moesstraat cemetery, a section of the public non-sectarian Noorderbegraafplaats cemetery located on the former Boteringepoort. A new cemetery was inaugurated on the Winsumerstraatweg, the present-day Iepenlaan, in 1909.
As the nineteenth century progressed, Jews became influential in the economic life of Groningen. As in other provincial capitals, many of Groningen's Jews were vendors, shopkeepers, butchers and livestock dealers. Other Jews, such as the Polak and Levie families, were important in the development of local retail emporia and industrial concerns. Jews were also active at the University of Groningen. In 1851, Izaak Van Deen, the son of chief rabbi Van Deen, was appointed to a professorship at the university, thereby becoming the first Jewish professor in all of the Netherlands. Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929), the Netherlands' first female medical student and later a pioneering women's rights activist, was of Jewish origin and studied at the University of Groningen. Not least, the Netherlands' one of the most respected painters of the Hague School, Jozef Israëls, was born and raised in Groningen.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Jewish population of Groningen remained relatively stable, despite a general demographic trend of migration to the west of the country. A large new synagogue - a remarkable building built in a neo-Byzantine style with neo-Moorish elements - was constructed in 1906 on the Folkingestraat. In January 1940, a young peoples' synagogue was opened on the nearby Folkingedwarsstraat.
During the inter-war period the Jewish community at Groningen blossomed. The majority of Groningen's Jews by then had achieved middle class status and many practiced professions. New Jewish organizations at the time included Zionist and anti-Zionist groups - these not always on the best of footings - as well as Jewish scouting, gymnastic, and sports associations. A Jewish theater group was also active. During the 1930's, the arrival of 250 Jewish refugees in Groningen served to bolster the size of the community.
Under the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, anti-Jewish measures were felt first in the field of education, both at public schools and at the University of Groningen. Professors and teachers were fired and Jewish students expelled. Separate Jewish elementary, middle, and high schools were established in September of 1941. 1941 also saw the banning of Jewish livestock traders from the Groningen livestock market at the instigation of members of the Dutch collaborationist NSB party. A branch of the German-controlled Joodse Raad (Jewish Council) responsible for the entire province of Groningen was opened in the city of Groningen in November of 1941.
Deportation of Jews from Groningen commenced in August, 1942 with the round-up of 600 Jewish men for confinement in work camps. Deportations continued through April of 1943. Relatively few Groningen Jews managed to escape deportation by going into hiding, although a group of university students did manage to find hiding places for a number of Jewish children.
After the war, Jewish life in Groningen was reestablished by those few Jews who returned to the city from hiding or from concentration camps. The Folkingestraat synagogue came through the war undamaged but was sold in 1952. The building first housed a laundry and dry cleaning plant and then became a church and assembly hall of the Apostolisch Genootschap (Apostolic Fellowship). The Stichting Folkingestraat Synagoge (the Folkingestraat Synagogue Foundation) was established in 1973 with the aim of restoring the former synagogue. Beginning 1981, the building was once again used as a synagogue, albeit part-time. Today, a number of Jewish youth and student organizations are active in Groningen. The Stichting Joods Maatschappelijk Werk (Jewish Social Work Foundation) and the Joodse Ambulante Geestelijke Gezondheidszorg (Jewish Society for Outpatient Mental Health Care) maintain branches in the city.
The Jewish cemetery on the Bloemsingel was cleared away early in the 1950's; remains from the cemetery were re-interred at the Moesstraat cemetery. The cemetery on the Iepenlaan was refurbished in 1985 and again in 1999 by the Dutch Stichting Boete en Verzoening (Foundation for Penance and Reconciliation). In 2001, volunteers from the Dutch Christian fellowship Kerk en Israël (Church and Israel) commenced restoration of gravestones at the Moesstraat cemetery. Both cemeteries currently are maintained by the local municipal authorities. Several monuments in Groningen are dedicated to the Jews of the city murdered during the Second World War.
Jewish population of Groningen and surroundings: