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AMSTERDAM , constitutional capital of the *Netherlands.

Ashkenazim until 1795

demography and economy

The beginning

The first Ashkenazim arrived in Amsterdam from the end of the 1610s onwards. They left the German countries owing to the Thirty Years War, which devastated the economy and resulted in anti-Jewish measures. At first they depended socially and economically on the Sephardi community, but were in the same position as to legal status.

The first Ashkenazi synagogue services were organized for Rosh Ha-Shana and Yom Kippur 1635. Until then the growing group of Ashkenazim had visited the Sephardi synagogue. From 1636 they hired a room to serve as a synagogue, which resulted in the establishment of an independent Ashkenazi kehillah in 1639. Its first rabbi was Moses ben Jacob Weile of Prague. The community acquired its own cemetery in Muiderberg in 1642.

While the first Ashkenazim were of German descent, a second group of Ashkenazi immigrants settled in Amsterdam in the wake of the *Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648–49 in Poland and the Russian invasion in Lithuania in 1655–56. These Polish Jews brought with them their own minhagim and soon established their own minyan. Although the existing Ashkenazi community was opposed to it, they formed their own kehillah with a rabbi and cemetery in 1660. The Polish community maintained ties with the *Council of the Four Lands. In 1670 the Polish kehillah numbered 70 members versus the 238 of the so-called High German kehillah. Only by pressure of the local authorities were the two communities unified in 1673. From then on, only the chief rabbi was allowed to have a minyan; Chief Rabbi Saul *Loewenstamm followed the Polish rite. After his death in 1790 this Polish minyan was allowed to be held in a room under the Uilenburgerstraatshul. From the beginning of the 18th century the Ashkenazi community called itself Talmud Torah.


The Jewish population clustered in the eastern quarters of the city. While the Ashkenazim kept growing in numbers, the Sephardim had stabilized. The great migration from Eastern Europe started after 1726. In 1674 there were 5,000 Ashkenazim. This number quadrupled in the next century. In 1795 Amsterdam counted 22,000 Ashkenazi inhabitants.

Ashkenazi Jews from Amsterdam, in their turn, founded communities in England and the New World. The communities in Surinam, Curaçao, and London were considered daughters of the Amsterdam one. The London Great Synagogue was therefore called the "Dutch Jews' Synagogue."


Ashkenazi Jews were active in those parts of economic life that were not organized via the guilds. On the whole, the Amsterdam government was not very strict in the enforcement of protective laws, which enabled Jews to work on the edge of privileged jobs. They worked in the markets, were peddlers, opened small shops and were active in the money business, the diamond industry, the silk industry, the tobacco industry and in sugar refining. The majority of the Ashkenazi Jews were very poor. In 1795 87% of them lived on poor relief, while the city average was only 37%. There was a small elite consisting of wealthy businessmen such as Ruben Gompertssohn, Abraham Auerbach, and Benjamin *Cohen. Much of their business was with Germany and Poland, where they could exploit their Ashkenazi network. In London, too, branches of Amsterdam Ashkenazi firms were established by the firms of Cohen, Goldsmid (Goldsmith), Preger (Salomons), Diamantschleifer, and Van Oven. The economic crises of 1763 and 1772–73, which affected Dutch economy as a whole, also damaged the Amsterdam Ashkenazi community.



The economic elite supplied the kehillah with community leaders. The most wealthy members were elected to be parnassim. This oligarchy ruled the community with a firm hand. They were in close contact with both the local authorities and the Sephardi mahamad. Within the city the Ashkenazim enjoyed the status of a semi-autonomous "High-German Jewish Nation." This meant that the community could handle all internal affairs, including justice. The parnassim took care of relief for the poor, taxed the members and represented the kehillah outside the Jewish community. They could even put someone in jail or exile him from Amsterdam, and they were allowed to have a small police force.

Religious establishment

Just as in the Sephardi community (after which the organization was modeled), the rabbis were subordinated to the parnassim, which was a source of regular tensions. The religious establishment was headed by the chief rabbi, who presided over the local bet din. Until 1749 two dayyanim supported him in this task; from that year on, the members of the Beth ha-Midrash Ets Haim (erected 1740) supplied the two other members. The community had two ḥazzanim and two upper-wardens in its service. A whole range of melammedim, school teachers, educated the Ashkenazi youth. There were several schools, such as Lomde Torah for boys up to 13, the school of the orphanage Megadle Jethomim (since 1738) and talmud torah for the youngest children. Many ḥevrot (membership associations) organized lessons for adults. At least once a week the ḥevrah rabbi gave a lesson.


The Great Synagogue was erected by Elias Bouman in 1671. It had place for 399 men on the ground floor and 368 women on the balconies. In 1730 it was joined by the Neie Shul, which was built next to the Great Synagogue. The latter was replaced by a much larger synagogue in 1750–52, in which 596 men and 376 women could follow the service. The complex of synagogues in the heart of the Jewish quarter was completed by two smaller ones, the Obbene Shul (1685) and the Dritt Shul (1700, completely rebuilt 1778). These two synagogues were attended by people from the lower social classes, while the more prominent and wealthy members attended both the Great Synagogue and the Neie Shul. From 1766, the Jewish inhabitants of the Uilenburg-quarter could visit their own synagogue, the so-called Uilenburgerstraatshul.


Most chief rabbis were from Poland. Some of them were important Talmudic scholars and prominent dayyanim, such as David ben Aryeh Leib *Lida (1679–1684). The most famous personality, Zevi Hirsch ben Jacob Ashkenazi (who obtained his title Ḥakham Ẓevi in Amsterdam), served the community from 1710 until 1714. He left the kehillah after a conflict with the parnassim, being succeeded by Abraham Berliner from Halberstadt (1714–1730). After a period in which the community was split into factions over the choice of a new chief rabbi, the local authorities decided that Eleazar ben Samuel of Brody should be entrusted with the task (1735–1740). The son-in-law of the Ḥakham Ẓevi, Aryeh Leib ben Saul *Loewenstamm from Rzeszów, thereupon became Amsterdam's chief rabbi (until 1755). He became the founder of the Dutch rabbinical Loewenstamm dynasty: his son Saul ben Aryeh Leib Polonus succeeded him and served until 1793, when his grandson Moses Saul Loewenstamm took over (until 1815).


The economic position of the Jews in the city was endangered by the 1748 Doelist Revolt. The Doelists advocated the expansion and enforcement of the protective laws and wished to secure the position of the guilds. Had the local government adopted the Doelist position, the Jews would have suffered grave economic losses. Thanks to the stadholder William iv, however, order was restored in the city and the Doelist coup aborted. In the second half of the 18th century the Amsterdam Jews gradually politicized. Although they did not participate in local government, they became more and more involved in the political battle between the enlightened Patriot faction and the Orangist faction. The parnassim tried to secure the neutrality of the community, but the great majority of the members supported the Orangists. In the 1787 Patriot Revolution, which also caused regime change in Amsterdam, Ashkenazi Jews battled on the streets with Patriotic mobs. When stadholder William iv was reinstalled with the help of his brother-in-law, the king of Prussia, Amsterdam Jewry celebrated this victory extensively.

culture and intellectual life


The vernacular of the Amsterdam Ashkenazim was West-Yiddish, which was brought in by the first settlers from Germany. The influx of Polish immigrants did not change the predominance of the West-Yiddish dialect. From the end of the 17th century this language was spiced up with a growing number of hollandisms. Hebrew was taught at the Jewish schools and by private teachers. Only at the end of the 18th century did a small part of the community, its elite, use Dutch as its vernacular. But in the lower social classes too, the language contacts between Dutch and Yiddish were extensive.


During the 18th century Amsterdam was widely know in the Ashkenazi world as the capital of Hebrew and Yiddish printing. Amsterdam was renowned for its quality of printing and the typesetting of Hebrew letters, known as otiyyot Amsterdam. Besides Christian and Sephardi printers, some of whom also printed Yiddish books, Ashkenazim too were very active in this field.

*Uri Phoebus started his printing firm in 1658, moving to Zolkiev in 1692. R. Moses ben Simon *Frankfurt (1678–1768), besides a printer also dayyan, published many classical Hebrew works and Yiddish translations. He believed the classics of Hebrew literature should also be accessible to the Yiddish reading public. The most prominent Ashkenazi printer was Samuel Proops (1702–1734), who printed many siddurim, maḥzorim, and halakhic works as well as musar literature for the entire Ashkenazi world. In 1730 he published Appiryon Shlomo, the first sales catalogue of Hebrew books. The firm was continued by his family until 1849.

Yiddish literature

Of especial importance were the two Yiddish Bible translations. Jekuthiel ben Isaac Blitz's translation was published in 1676–79, while the rival work by Joseph Witzenhausen was printed in 1678. Numerous translations of Hebrew books into Yiddish were printed, including Sefer *Josippon, *Manasseh ben Israel'sMikveh Israel, the travelogue of *Benjamin of Tudela and Menorat ha-Ma'or of *Aboab. But original works in Yiddish were printed, too. One of the bestsellers became the universal Jewish history book She'erit Yisro'el by Menahem Mann ben Shlomo *Amelander. Contemporary history was presented in a number of chronicles. In the years 1686–87 (and possibly over a longer period), the Amsterdam Ashkenazim could read the news in the oldest known Yiddish newspaper, the Dinstagishe un Freitaghishe Kurantn.

Intellectual life

Besides the traditional patterns of religious learning, a number of Amsterdam Jews developed new intellectual activities, often parallel to contemporary Christian developments. In the 18th century some studied at the universities of Leiden and Harderwijk. Hartog Alexander van Embden (Herz Levi Rofe) obtained the rank of doctor in medicine at Harderwijk University in 1716. Active as a physician, Hebrew printer and keeper of a bookshop, he was part of a small group of Jewish intellectuals, interested in science and scholarly debates. In 1775 David ben Phoebus Wagenaar translated *Mendelssohn'sPhaedon into Hebrew, which remained unpublished. Salomon *Dubno, the grammarian, teacher, and friend of Mendelssohn, spent the last years of his life in Amsterdam and had profound influence on a circle of young Ashkenazim. Eleasar Soesman was active as a publicist for both Jewish and Christian audiences and therefore wrote both in Hebrew and Dutch. He was in contact with various Christian scholars, especially theologians and Hebraists, for whom he wrote his Hebrew grammar Mohar Yisrael (1742).

Like the Sephardim, the Amsterdam Ashkenazim were great lovers of the theater. Yiddish theater not only blossomed during Purim, when all kinds of Purimshpiln were produced and performed, but also on a more regular basis. From 1784 onwards, Jacob H. Dessauer led a Jewish opera- and theater-group, which also included women. This group was very active and performed many contemporary plays for a Jewish audience.

[Bart Wallet (2nd ed.)]

Sephardim until 1795

After the northern provinces of the Netherlands proclaimed their independence of Catholic Spain (Union of Utrecht, 1571), *Marranos of Spanish and Portuguese origin became attracted to Amsterdam where little inquiry was made as to their religious beliefs. Portuguese Jewish merchants began to settle in Amsterdam, in about 1590, but did not openly reveal themselves as Jews. In 1602 a group of Sephardi Jews arrived with Moses Uri ha-Levi of Emden, and apparently held religious services in a private home. Prominent in the community were Samuel Palache, the ambassador of Morocco to the Netherlands, and his family, who lived in Amsterdam as professing Jews, and did much to assist Jews to settle in the country. Subsequently, increasing numbers of Marranos from Spain and especially Portugal took refuge in Amsterdam, which was now becoming one of the most important international commercial centers. The legal status of these Jews long remained unclarified. While the Reform Church opposed Jewish settlement in Amsterdam, the civic authorities favored it. In consequence, the newcomers, though not formally recognized as citizens, enjoyed religious freedom and protection of life and property, especially in relation to foreign powers. Until the Jews officially attained civic *emancipation, they were debarred from practicing all trades organized in guilds, but the municipality rejected any attempt to ban Jews from other professions.

From 1607 religious services had been held at the home of Jacob *Tirado, who organized a congregation under the name Beth Jaäcob (Casa de Jacob) with 15 fellow-Jews. In 1614 they erected a synagogue with the permission of the authorities. Another congregation, Neveh Shalom, was organized in 1608 by a group of wealthy Marranos with Isaac Uziel (d. 1622) as rabbi. Both congregations cooperated in the establishment of a society for providing dowries to poor brides, in 1615, and a school called Talmud Torah in 1616.

The religious and intellectual life of the community in Amsterdam became marked by tensions between the strict authoritarian orthodoxy of the rabbis and the majority of communal leaders on the one side and the critical libertarian, individualist views of influential intellectuals on the other. This conflict was all the more acute as it was the consequence of the underground existence which the Marranos had formerly led, and their sudden freedom in an open society. A split developed in the Beth Jaäcob congregation, apparently because of a bitter religious controversy. The more orthodox wing, under the leadership of the ḥakhamJoseph *Pardo, seceded in 1619 to found the Beth Jisrael congregation, while a freethinking physician Abraham Farrar, led the Beth Jaäcob congregation. The Beth Jaäcob synagogue was awarded by the municipality all the property of the congregation and three-fifths of its capital. However, the three congregations continued to cooperate in the central institutions. In 1639 they reunited under the name kk (Kahal Kadosh) Talmud Torah and services were henceforward conducted in one place of worship. The magnificent synagogue dedicated in 1675 became the model for Sephardi synagogues in many other places.

The intellectual life of the community, in both its religious and secular aspects, attained a high level. As a center of Jewish learning throughout the Marrano Diaspora, Amsterdam Jewry wielded a powerful influence and became a focus of intellectual ferment. The Talmud Torah school was celebrated for the breadth of its syllabus and excellence of its teaching, covering not only talmudic subjects, but also Hebrew grammar and poetry, and in the upper classes Hebrew only was spoken. It flourished during the 17th century under the leadership of Saul Levi *Morteira, and subsequently under the ḥakhamIsaac Aboab de *Fonseca. Its pupils officiated as rabbis in numerous Sephardi communities in Western Europe and the Mediterranean countries, and it produced Hebrew writers and poets. Most of the religious literature in Spanish and Portuguese intended for the guidance of the Sephardi communities was composed and printed in Amsterdam. The first Jewish printer there was *Manasseh ben Israel, who began printing in 1627 and produced more than 70 books. Other Sephardi printers included Joseph *Athias and David de *Castro Tartas. Their publications were sold locally and throughout the Spanish-speaking Jewish Diaspora, and even in Eastern Europe and Asia, The community included such diverse personalities as the rabbis Manasseh ben Israel, Jacob *Sasportas, the physicians Abraham Zacutus *Lusitanus and Ephraim *Bueno, the kabbalist Abraham Cohen *Herrera, the playwright Antonio *Enriquez Gomez, the physician and thinker Isaac *Orobio de Castro, the poet Daniel Levi de *Barrios, and the rebel-philosophers Uriel da *Costa and Baruch *Spinoza, instancing all the manifold trends in the intellectual life of the Amsterdam community. Jewish attachment to messianic hopes and yearning for a change from exile existence were powerfully demonstrated in the ferment aroused by *Shabbetai Ẓevi in the middle of the 17th century. The majority of the community in Amsterdam became ardent followers of the pseudo-messiah and only a minority vigorously opposed him. The leadership of the community remained for a long period in the hands of former Shabbateans, including the rabbis Isaac Aboab de Fonseca, Moses Raphael *Aguilar, and Benjamin *Mussaphia. Even in the early 18th century when Solomon *Ayllon was the Portuguese ḥakham a controversy arose over the Shabbatean work of Nehemiah Ḥayon. The chief rabbi of the Ashkenazi community, Ḥakham Ẓevi *Ashkenazi, who joined in the dispute, was excommunicated by the Portuguese congregation in 1713.

The role of the Jewish Portuguese merchants in the economic life of Amsterdam remained modest until the end of the war against Spain in 1648. Subsequently many other ex-Marranos settled in Amsterdam, and became extremely prosperous. Jewish merchants in Amsterdam were one of the first groups to engage in recognizably modern capitalist-type activities. Their foreign interests included trade with the Iberian peninsula, England, Italy, Africa, India, and the East and West Indies. Jews in Amsterdam also engaged in industry, especially in the tobacco, printing, and diamond industries; the last eventually passed almost entirely into Jewish hands. By the end of the 17th century many Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam were active in the stock market, owning a quarter of the shares of the East India Company. They thus became prominent on the stock exchange and helped to organize and develop it. Confusion de Confusiones by Joseph *Penso de la Vega (Amsterdam, 1688) is the first work written on the subject. The claim of certain writers that the wealth of Amsterdam was mainly due to Jewish economic activity is, however, an exaggeration. The economic position of the Sephardi Jews was jeopardized during economic crises in the republic, especially critical in 1763. The community parnas, Isaac *Pinto, the banker-philosopher, arranged for tax relief on food and fuel for the poor members of the community and for their emigration overseas, but it soon became evident that the community could not carry the burden. After the French conquest of the Netherlands in 1794, the Sephardi community became even poorer: two-thirds of the 3,000 members depended on relief. In 1799, 36.7% of the general population in Amsterdam and 54% of the Sephardi community were living on relief. Few of the wealthier families managed to retain their property.

[Jozeph Michman]

Emancipation, Stabilization and Integration, 1795–1870

emancipation in the batavian-french period


In 1795 the Dutch Republic was replaced by the Batavian Republic, a satellite state of the revolutionary French Republic established by joint forces of Dutch Patriots and French invaders. This regime change had massive impact on the country, because the Orangist elite was replaced by new Patriotic authorities and new laws created gradually a different type of state. From a federal republic it became a central state. Also in Amsterdam the local government was reformed, however, initially without a change of attitude towards the Jewish community. The regime change led to fights on the streets between radical Patriots and Jewish Orangists. Continuation of these fights was prevented by the establishment of waiters of the Jewish quarter at the end of August 1795. The local authorities entrusted the parnassim the control of the quarter in order to maintain order.

A small group of Jewish intellectuals influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment and Dutch Patriotism founded a club, *Felix Libertate. Although also open for non-Jews, two-third of its members were Jewish. The club wanted to gain citizenship for Jews in the Batavian Republic and the introduction of democracy within the Jewish community. On September 2, 1796, Felix Liberate was successful in its first task: the national government decreed the emancipation of the Jews. This meant equal rights for Jews in politics and before court. One of the first fruits of the emancipation decree was the right of the Amsterdam Jews to vote. Also Jews were appointed to public offices, such as Moses Salomon Asser who became a member of the judicial committee of the city in 1798.

Split in the community

An internal change within the Ashkenazi kehillah appeared to be much more difficult. After the emancipation decree was issued, Felix Libertate asked for new regulations. The members of the club wanted instead of the oligarchic parnassim a new, democratic elected board of directors, which could reorganize the kehillah and issue social improvements. The parnassim rejected their proposals, because it would reduce their power and influence. They were backed by the local authorities, for whom the parnassim were one of the pillars to keep order and silence in the city. As a result, the enlightened members decided to secede from the kehillah, using the new religious freedom laws to found a new community. On April 8, 1797, the Neie Kille, as the new community was called in Amsterdam Yiddish, had its first synagogue service. Its official name became Adat Jesurun. Appointed as its rabbi was Isaac Ger Graanboom (1738–1807), one of the dayyanim of the kehillah. It acquired a cemetery as well, in Overveen. The Neie Kille introduced small changes in liturgy, such as the use of Dutch for making announcements. Only a tiny minority of the Amsterdam Ashkenazim joined the Neie Kille: in 1799 there were 108 paying members and a total of 700 individuals involved in it. From 1799 the Neie Kille had its own synagogue at the Rapenburgerstraat.

Although the vast majority, consisting of circa 20,000 people, remained faithful to the Alte Kille, the parnassim considered the new community as a serious threat to their power. Both sides were heavily engaged in a propaganda war, which was fought over in a series of competing pamphlets: the Yiddish Diskursn (July 1797–March 1798). Things radically changed when on both the national and local level a coup brought into power a radical enlightened regime. In the few months in 1798 during which the radicals ruled the city, the balance of power within the Ashkenazi community also changed. The parnassim were fired and replaced by enlightened "provisional directors." This new board wanted re-unification with the Neie Kille and an accommodation of the whole community to the innovations of the enlightened group. But after a new coup brought into power a more moderate group, the parnassim were re-installed and the troubled relationship between the two Ashkenazi kehillot was continued.

Only pressure from King Louis Napoleon, who ruled over the Kingdom of Holland from 1806 until 1810, could bring together both communities in 1808. The terms for the reunification were the abrogation of all innovations of the Neie Kille, but a relatively large representation of the enlightened faction within the influential strata of the kehillah. Thanks to the existence of the Neie Kille for a couple of years, the enlightened Jews could acquire a grip on the policy of the entire kehillah following the re-unification.

The Sephardi community

The Sephardi community remained relatively detached from the frictions between conservative and enlightened Jews. Some of the Sephardim were active in Felix Libertate but were already part of the establishment of the Portuguese kehillah. They could work from within the community for changes. One of them, Dr. Immanuel Capadoce, served as well as the private doctor of King Louis Napoleon. The parnassim of both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi community continued mutual consultations regarding the position of the Jews in the city. In 1810 they agreed on a concordat dealing with mixed marriages and its consequences for membership rules.

New situation

After the annexation of the Kingdom of Holland to the French Empire, the discontent with the political situation grew in Dutch society. Also the vast majority of Amsterdam Jewry, traditionally an Orangist stronghold, opposed the French rulers. This became all the more clear when the compulsory recruiting of Jewish boys into Napoleon's army resulted in riots in the Jewish quarter. This could not hinder a number of young Amsterdam Jews from serving in the army. After the defeat of Napoleon the son of the last stadholder returned to Holland, becoming as William i the first king of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Amsterdam Jews widely celebrated his return. In the Ashkenazi community a number of French regulations regarding the liturgy were immediately abrogated, resulting in the reintroduction of Yiddish to the synagogue. The new political situation did not, however, result in a return to the pre-Batavian period, which meant that the political emancipation remained in force.

demography and economy


The period 1795–18. 0 was both from a demographic and economic point of view a period of stagnation. The migration to Amsterdam from Central and Eastern Europe declined greatly in the 18th century. America was the new favorite migration destination for many Jews. Because of the poverty in Amsterdam Jews even left the city, but many of them stayed within the Netherlands. Because of the emancipation decree they could settle in small provincial towns and villages. In 1795 3,000 Sephardim and 22,000 Ashkenazim lived in the city. This number diminished to 2,534 Sephardim and 18,910 Ashkenazim in 1809. In particular, Sephardi community shrank in this period. The total number of Amsterdam Jews grew from 25,156 in 1849 to 29,952 in 1869. Throughout the period Jews made up 10% of the city's total population.


Most of the Amsterdam Jews were poor. The economic crises of the late 18th century and the introduction of the Continental System in 1805 by the French, which forbade all economic contacts with England and cut Holland off from its colonies, affected the economy of Amsterdam, and its Jews as well. In 1820 no less than 78% of the city's Ashkenazim depended on welfare for the poor. This percent diminished gradually to 55% in 1849. Also within the Sephardi community poverty rose to high numbers: in 1849 63% received aid to the poor. The number for the total population was much better: less than 20%. Most Jews lived in the Jewish quarters, only 3.5% wealthy Jews lived in other quarters.

A consequence of the abrogation of the guilds in 1809 was that all jobs were open for Jews. But in fact, many Jews stayed within the old patterns and only a small group benefited from the new situation. In the second half of the 19th century the economic situation improved. The Jews profited from the improved education and the economic recovery of the city after 1860. Jewish peddlers and keepers of small shops founded the first warehouses. Also intellectual positions, such as journalist, lawyer, and doctor, together with governmental jobs provided a growing number of Jews their daily bread.


Sephardi community

The social. nfrastructure of the Amsterdam Sephardim remained largely intact in the period 1795–1870. Community life was concentrated around the Esnoga. The economic crises at the end of the 18th century and during the Batavian-French period had seriously affected the Sephardim, resulting in a growing number of poor members. The social differences within the community widened. Relatively easily the more well-to-do Sephardim integrated into Amsterdam society, using the opportunities created by the emancipation. Within the community Sephardi identity was nourished, especially to stress the difference from the Ashkenazi community, with which they forced into a joint national organization.

Ashkenazi community

The Ashkenazi kehillah was led by a small elite, consisting of rich businessmen and the newly emerging intellectual elite. Many of these intellectuals had their roots in the former Neie Kille. The largest part of the community, however, consisted of poor people. They did not have the money to rent a seat in one of the official synagogues. Therefore a number of chevreshuls provided in their religious needs. Although from 1827 personal minyanim were forbidden, in 1850 no less than seven chevreshuls were accepted within the community. The gap between the elite, striving for integration in Dutch society, and the vast majority of the community, attached to the Jewish quarter, grew immensely.

In contrary to many German Jewish communities, Reform did not take hold in Jewish Amsterdam. A small group, united in Shokharee De'a, strove in the 1850s for the introduction of Reform-like changes in synagogue liturgy. When on their invitation a German Reform rabbi, Dr. Isaac Loeb Chronik, came to Amsterdam, riots broke out in the Jewish quarter. Chronik subsequently left for Chicago. Only in 1861 did Shokharee De'a achieve a little success: the introduction of a choir in the Great Synagogue. This inspired two Jewish musicians, Aharon Wolf Berlijn (1817–1870) and Isaac Heymann (called the Gnesener Chazzen, 1827–1906), to compose new melodies for the synagogue liturgy. Also the atmosphere in synagogue changed, with the introduction of measures to encourage decorum. In 1867 an experiment began for having sermons in Dutch in the synagogue once every two weeks, which led to the decision to replace Yiddish completely by Dutch in 1872.

Religious leaders

Rabbis and schoolteachers for the Ashkenazi community were trained at the reorganized Dutch Israelite Seminary (from 1836), while the Portuguese Israelite Seminary Ets Haim continued to deliver well-trained rabbis and teachers for Amsterdam and the Sephardi diaspora. Until 1822 Daniel Cohen d'Azevedo served as the Sephardi chief rabbi, but after his death no successor was appointed until 1900. After the death of Chief Rabbi S.B. Berenstein in 1838, a period without a chief rabbi began for Ashkenazi Amsterdam as well. No suitable candidate was found in the Netherlands, while the leaders were hesitant to have a chief rabbi from the German countries. They did not want to import along with the chief rabbi a division between Reform and Orthodoxy. Finally, Dr. Joseph Hirsch *Duenner (1833–1911) became the new chief rabbi in 1874, besides being rector of the Seminary following his appointment in 1862.

Social Work

Due to the poverty of the majority of Jewish Amsterdam, special importance was given to social work. In 1825 the Dutch Israelite Poor Relief (Nederlandsch Israelitisch Armbestuur) was founded and given the responsibility for the Ashkenazi poor, which had previously been a task of the parnassim. The organization was funded both by the government and the Jewish community. In the 1830s half of Amsterdam's Jewry depended on its welfare. It operated a hospital for the poor, which had existed since 1804. In 1845 a separate Doll House was founded. The Sephardim had their own hospital from 1820. There were as well houses for the elderly. The Sephardim had their Old Men's House, Mishenet Zeqenim, from 1750 and an Old Women's House, Mesib Nefes, from 1833 on the Rapenburg. The Ashkenazi Old Women's House, Rechoboth, was located at the Nieuwe Keizersgracht.


The Jewish schools were generally known for their low quality. The schools that were active as early as the 18th century continued their existence in the first half of the 19th century, until the School Law of 1857 turned the Jewish schools into state schools. This was part of a policy of national integration and improvement of education. Religious instruction was since then given after school and on Sundays. Only the Sephardi schools managed to survive a bit longer, until 1870.

But even before the new law, many Jewish children attended private schools or were given education by private teachers; some also attended Christian schools. In 1797 no less than 320 Jewish children were enrolled in church schools. That was nearly one-third of the total of 1,000 Jewish children receiving education. After 1870, many Jewish children did not go to religious schools anymore, because of finances or out of lack of interest. This resulted in loosening ties with Hebrew and the Jewish tradition.

integration and position in the city

Jewish politicians

After the emancipation decree Jews were able to take part in local politics. Jewish participation in the city council was nearly continuous. Until the constitutional changes of 1848 it was primarily Sephardim who were chosen as representatives of the city's Jewish communities: Abraham Mendes de Leon, Immanuel Capadoce, Jacob Mendes de Leon, and Samuel Teixeira de Mattos. After 1848 Ashkenazim, too, obtained seats, such as Ahasveros S. van *Nierop, who represented the liberal faction.

Jewish philanthropists

Two men acquired a special position within the city. Samuel Sarphati (1813–1866), a Sephardi doctor, initiated and developed many institutions for better education, poor relief and the promotion of labor and industry. He was a thriving force behind the modernization of Amsterdam and built the Amstel Hotel and the Palace for People's Industry. He was faithful to the Jewish tradition and also served the Sephardi community in a number of functions. His idealism inspired others to work for the general good. After his death a park and a street were named after him. His friend and, to some degree, successor was Abraham Carel Wertheim (1832–1897). The Ashkenazi Wertheim, a banker, was a philanthropist and politician as well. He was especially interested in culture and sponsored the local theater. Although he was a freemason and did not observe Shabbat and kashrut, he was a leading figure in Jewish Amsterdam and served as a parnas of the Ashkenazi kehillah for many years.

Jewish elite

The politicians and philanthropists were part of the elite of Amsterdam's Jewry, which consisted of old business dynasties, such as the De Jongh (Rintel) family. Also bankers were well represented within this circle. The families Bisschofsheim, Koenigswaerter, Raphael, Hollander and Lehren had branches of their firms all over Europe. Some of them left the Netherlands before 1850, but others took their places (Rosenthal, Wertheim, Lippmann). Also lawyers obtained a position within the elite. J.D. *Meyer, the members of the *Asser family, and M.H. *Godefroi all enjoyed prestigious positions within both general society and the Jewish community. A large part of the elite integrated in Dutch society and became detached from the majority of the Jewish community, but they did not completely assimilate because they developed a specific Dutch-Jewish patrician culture. Marriage partners were found among themselves and in Germany. Only a tiny minority converted to Christianity, as did Isaac da *Costa, Abraham Capadoce, and S.Ph. Lipman. Some families remained strictly Orthodox, such as the *Lehren family. The brothers Zevi Hirsch (1784–1853), Meyer (1793–1861), and Akiba (1795–1876) Lehren had an extensive network all over the Jewish world. They led the Pekidim and Amarkalim organization, which helped and controlled the yishuv. They alos supported the struggle of German Orthodoxy against the Reform movement.

culture and intellectual life


The process of using the vernacular, which started already in the 18th century among the elite, spread in the 19th century over the whole community. The knowledge of the Iberian languages dropped dramatically within the Sephardi community. Although the language was maintained in same parts of the synagogue liturgy, Dutch entered relatively easily in the Sephardi domain. In the early 1850s Dutch replaced Portuguese as the language of the sermon, because most people left the synagogue when a Portuguese sermon was preached. The replacement of Yiddish by Dutch was more difficult. The proletariat, including Sephardim, spoke Amsterdam Yiddish. Gradually this language was replaced through a combined effort of the government and the Jewish elite. The closing of the Jewish schools was a major step, because since then Jewish children were educated only in Dutch.

Intellectual life

In the first half of the 19th century a circle of Jewish intellectuals advocated the Hebrew language. In 1808 the society Chanog lanangar ngal pi darko was founded in order to promote Hebrew. Mozes Lemans, Hirsch Zwi Sommerhausen and Mozes Cohen *Belinfante played an important role in this society. They published several textbooks and prepared a translation of Tenakh into Dutch. A new society was founded with a common objective in 1816, Tongelet. The members devoted themselves to writing poetry in Hebrew. They published two volumes with their work. Circa 50 members were involved. Samuel Israel *Mulder, Gabriel *Polak and Abraham Delaville (1807–1877) were its most prominent members. Within the Dutch Jewish community they served in several functions; they had as well an extensive network in the European Jewish intellectual world. A third society, Reshit Chochma, was founded in 1813. Within this body traditional Jewish study was the objective, but Mendelssohn's Be'ur was included in the curriculum as well. Until the middle of the 19th century the yearly meetings were conducted in Hebrew.

[Bart Wallet (2nd ed.)]

1870–1940: Rapid Growth and the Creation of an Amsterdam Dutch-Jewish Sub-Culture

1870 has been widely accepted in Dutch and Dutch-Jewish historiography as the beginning of a new period (see *Netherlands). The general economic. Social and political developments which caused the change, affected Amsterdam, as the capital and as a major harbor, especially, and Jewish society in this city was deeply affected too.

demography and professional occupations

This period was first of all characterized by rapid demographical growth of the Jewish community in Amsterdam – from 30,039 (almost 11% of a total population of 281,502) in 1869, through 59,117 (11+% out of 531,733) in 1899 and 65,558 (8.5% out of 768,409) in 1930, to 79,497 "full Jews" according to the German racial census, plus almost 7,000 "half-" and "quarter"-Jews) (about 10% out of 803,073) in 1941. Amsterdam Jewry's importance within Dutch Jewry grew even more: from 44% in 1869, to about 60% in 1920, and almost 57% in 1941. The growth resulted from several sources: high birth rates (between 1869 and 1889; but between 1905 and 1932, a sharp decline occurred, dropping more than 40%, from 164 births per 1,000 to 87.2 births per 1,000) and low mortality rates.

The major reasons for the growth of Amsterdam Jewry were internal migration from the little communities in the countryside to the capital because of economic, cultural, educational and religious motivations; and the immigration from abroad – a limited number of Eastern European Jews at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, a considerable number of Jews from Germany in the 1920s, and many thousands of refugees from Germany after the rise of the Nazi party to power in 1933. Until 1870 most Jews were living in the central and eastern neighborhoods. But when the size of the community grew and an affluent middle class emerged, Jews settled also in Amsterdam-south and later in the neighboring "new-south" neighborhood (in the 1930s many German-Jewish refugees concentrated in this area too). The older neighborhoods remained centers of the Jewish proletariat, which made up for a major part of Amsterdam Jewry. Though during the 1930s less than 10% of the city's Jewish population still lived in the so-called "Jewish quarter," this area continued to have a dominantly Jewish character.

Jews worked in a variety of professions, but concentrated mainly in a limited number of them (about 75%): diamond cutters (2,095; 5.8%, vs. 2% among the general city population in 1941); textile and cleaning (7,229; 20% vs. 7.8%); commerce (11,668; 32.4% vs. 20.9%); free profession (6,523; 18.1% vs. 8.3). On the other hand, Jews were extremely lowly represented in the construction, food, transportation, banking and housekeeping professions.

The Jewish proletariat

Apart from the small class of wealthy Jews, the majority of the community in Amsterdam in the first half of the 19th century were in serious economic straits and still lived in cramped quarters. Their position improved after 1867 with the development of the diamond industry, which became a "Jewish" profession involving many diamond workers and traders as well (called "The profession" among Amsterdam Jews). When in 1876 the industry underwent a serious crisis, the diamond workers established a strong trade union, under the leadership of Henri *Polak, the first such organization in Holland. Socialism gained ground among the Jewish proletariat, the diamond trade union became the corner stone of the Social Democratic Workers Party, and Polak one of its leaders.

jewish social institutions

The size of the Amsterdam community together with the extent of poverty created the necessity for the establishment of a network of Jewish social services, which transformed a strong Jewish tradition of ẓedakah into modern modes. This network included country-wide organizations whose headquarters were in the capital, such as the Dutch-Jewish Organization for the Poor (Nederlandsch-Israëlitisch Armbestuur), and health care institutions such as the Joodsche Invalide and the Nederlandsch Israëlitisch Ziekenhuis (hospital). In the 1920s a (pro-Zionist) Union of Jewish Women was established, which focused on welfare activities. Many organizations dealt especially with youth. Many of those institutions were supported by rich assimilated Jews.

jewish politics between socialism and zionism

As mentioned, as from the 1860s socialism and its varieties found strong inroads in Jewish society, and the Amsterdam socialist organizations were known for their pronounced Jewish color. Through socialism and the Social-Democratic youth movement many lower middle class and lower class Jews became involved in city and countrywide politics. Among the middle class, Jews were already prominent in municipal activities in the beginning of the second half of the 19th century, and contributed to the modernization process of the city; as time proceeded, many became active in the Liberal party and represented it both on the municipal and provincial level. Several Jews in various political parties served for long periods on the municipal council; when in 1933 four of the six city counselors (wethouders) were Jewish, albeit from different parties, served council, antisemitic voices protested "Jewish dominance."

Political Zionism found support in Amsterdam from its inception. Among those who welcomed the movement was Chief Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hirsch *Duenner; on the occasion of the first Zionist Congress in 1897 he held a sermon titled with the biblical quotation: "For this child we prayed." In the early 20th century the movement found some adherents among students in Amsterdam, but for a long time Zionist support was confined to intellectual and orthodox circles. After World War i, a strong Zionist youth movement was formed. The number of youths in the Zionist movement grew from 350 in 1929 to 800 in 1939. However, other Jewish political parties, as were activive in Eastern Europe, found no ground here.

jewish daily life and folklore

Amsterdam Jewry was the nucleus of Dutch Jewry, and because of its size established a clear sub-culture. As part of the "Hollandization" process, Jews turned to speaking Dutch instead of Yiddish around the beginning of the second half of the 19th century. On the other hand, however, many Yiddish words made their way into local slang (until today). A pronounced expression of the special features of Amsterdam Jewishness was to be found in the Waterlooplein market. The peculiarities of Amsterdam Jewish life at the turn of the 19th century has been depicted in literature, especially by Herman Heijermans in some of his critical stories ("The Diamond City," "The Ghetto").

religious denominations and secularization

The two separate communities of Amsterdam Jewry – the Ashkenazim who were the great majority, and the Sephardim, who were a tiny minority – continued to exist, but cooperation intensified.

The appointment of Dr. Joseph Hirsch *Duenner to the directorship of the rabbinical seminary (Nederlandsch-Israëlitisch Seminarium), and in 1874 as chief rabbi of Amsterdam and the province of North-Holland, inaugurated a marked change. Although strictly preserving the Orthodox character of the community, he raised the academic level of the seminary and educated a group of rabbis who achieved a high standard of scholarship. He also included representatives from all sectors in the leadership of the Ashkenazi community, even the nonobservant such as the banker A.C. *Wertheim. In this way, Duenner prevented religious dissension towards Reform Judaism, which had started some time before his coming. He also built a basis for a nucleus of Modern Orthodoxy (the seminary became its stronghold); however, he could not stop the general process of secularization, caused by the enormous economic and social changes. Consequently, the majority of Amsterdam Jewry became non-observant and hardly visited the synagogues; yet they continued keeping to some basics of Judaism thus creating a clear Jewish sub-group. Mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews expanded (the number of mixed marriages increased from 6.02% in 1900 to 16.86% in 1930) but still remained quite low until as compared to other western European countries. In the 20th century, with the relocation of affluent Jews to new neighborhoods, some new (Ashkenazi) synagogues were built in them.

Liberal (Reform) Jewry was finally introduced in Amsterdam only in 1932, through an outside initiative by the World Union for Progressive Judaism. It succeeded in rooting in the city as a result of the influx of German Jewish Refugees as from 1933; it thus became a predominantly "German-Jewish" phenomenon. One of the refugees joining this community was Otto Frank, the father of Anne.

education and culture

The Education Act of 1857, enacted in the spirit of separation of church and state, withheld subsidies for religious schools. This brought in its wake the rapid decline of Jewish schools for the poor, and the transition of Jewish children to the general school system. The law foresaw the closure on Sabbath of schools with more than 50% Jews, and in the 1920s this was the case with 20 schools. Only one Ashkenazi school for the poor, Talmoed Touro, could be preserved, as well as a high school. Special Jewish education, especially on Sundays, was unable to cope with the consequent decline in Jewish knowledge. Only at the beginning of the 20th century could a change for the better be made, and an organization for Special Jewish Education (Joodsch Bijzonder Onderwijs) was established. After the enactment of the new constitution in 1917, new efforts were undertaken and several new schools were established in the 1920s. But in 1932 still only about 800 children learned at Jewish day schools.

From the end of the 19th century, Amsterdam became a foremost cultural center of the Netherlands. Jewish writers, painters, theatrical artists, and others took an active part in Dutch cultural life. Writers included the above-mentioned Herman Heijermans (1864–1924); Israel *Querido (1872–1932); Jacob Israel de Haan (1881–1924), who went to Ereẓ Israel, changed sides and joined the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, and was murdered against this background; and his sister Carry van Bruggen de *Haan (1881–1932). The jurist, Prof. Tobias M.C. *Asser (1838–1913) won the Nobel Prize.

refugees from nazi germany and the threat of the 1930s

The rise of Nazism to power in Germany made a considerable and immediate impact on the Jewish communities in surrounding countries, including the Netherlands. Amsterdam became a major refuge: thousands of Jews (as well as non-Jewish political refugees) settled in the city for shorter or longer periods between 1933 and the German invasion in May 1940. At the moment of invasion more than 7,000 such refugees were staying in the city. Their presence during the pre-war years caused the establishment of a Committee for Jewish Refugees, headed by Prof. David *Cohen, backed by the Jewish community organizations and prominent Jews. Due to its many activities, its considerable budget, and the contacts it developed with the Dutch authorities and international organizations (Jewish and non-Jewish), this committee became the most important and powerful Jewish organization in the 1930s. The Nazi threat and the refugees also strengthened the Zionist movement and the tiny community of Liberal (Reform) Jews. Two local publishers, Querido and Allert de Lange, published Exilliteratur. Two cabaret-groups were established by well-known Jewish refugee cabaretiers from Germany, and others influenced the still young Dutch film industry. On the other hand, for antisemitic groups the Jewish refugee "invasion" became a major issue through which they strengthened their rows; consequently, many local Jews showed an ambivalent attitude towards those Jews.

1939–1945: The Holocaust

Being the capital and hosting a Jewish community of more than 80,000 souls made Amsterdam the main target for anti-Jewish policies; many of the general measures were tried out and took shape first in Amsterdam, and focal institutions of persecution were established in it. Therefore, the impact of persecutions was intensely felt in this city. Only 25% of Amsterdam Jews survived the Holocaust. (For an account of the general picture of the Holocaust in the Netherlands, see *Netherlands.)

first anti-jewish measures

Amsterdam was conquered immediately after the German invasion of the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. As Dutch Jews, especially in Amsterdam, had followed the developments in Germany in the 1930s carefully, the awareness of the dangers awaiting ahead were well understood by many (even though the Final Solution, which was not yet decided upon, was not foreseen). Some 128 Amsterdam Jews consequently committed suicide during the first days of German rule, even though persecutions had not yet started. In the fall of 1940 and the beginning of 1941 a series of discriminating decrees were enacted, defining Jews, firing Jews who worked in the bureaucracy (including universities and the legal system), registering Jews and Jewish enterprises. This started a process of legal segregation which immediately affected also the economic situation of many Jews. But the Jewish communities as well as other Jewish organizations resumed their activities, and even books could be published (but Jewish newspapers, except for a minor one, were prohibited in the fall of 1940).

joodsche raad voor amsterdam (jewish council)

The Nazi governor of the Netherlands, Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart, had appointed a special supervisor (Beauftragte) for the city of Amsterdam, Senator. H. Böhmcker, who was also in charge of anti-Jewish policies. Under his auspices, an idea of establishing a ghetto in Amsterdam was raised in January 1941. However, this idea was never realized, accept for the installation – together with the establishment the Jewish Council in February – of sign-posts with the word Judenviertel (Jewish neighborhood) on them around the "Jewish quarter" in the center of the city. This non-ghetto has therefore been nicknamed "the optic ghetto."

On February 9 clashes between youngsters belonging to the militia (wa) of the Dutch National-Socialist Movement (nsb), who wanted to carry out a pogrom in the Jewish quarter, and some organized Jews, resulted in the death of one Dutch Nazi. German forces reacted by closing that Jewish quarter on February 12 for a short while; Böhmcker ordered on that same day the establishment of a Jewish Council for Amsterdam, according to the model of the Judenräte which had been established in Poland in 1939–1940. In a mode unparalleled in the entire Nazi-occupied Europe and North Africa, two chairpersons were appointed to the Council: the diamond industrial, politician and head of the Amsterdam Ashkenazi community Abraham Asscher; and the Zionist activist, university professor and chairperson of the Jewish Refugee Committee David Cohen. They were officially assisted by a committee of representatives of the Jewish population, but this committee had hardly any influence on the policies. The competences and authority of the Joodsche Raad gradually expanded to encompass the entire Jewish population in the country (through a network of representatives). It published a weekly, Het Joodsche Weekblad, serving to inform the Jewish population of anti-Jewish measures and of internal issues; and as from the fall of 1941 administered the segregated Jewish education system as well as cultural activities. It was used by the Germans to impose many of the persecutions. As such, the Council employed thousands of employees.

In April 1941, in the wake of the establishment of the Joodsche Raad, a branch of Adolf Eichmann's office (named Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung) was established in the city, to supervise the activities of the Council. It later on served as the main authority carrying out the deportations.

"february strike"

On February 22–23, 1941, the Germans for the first time carried out a round-up ("razzia") in the "Jewish quarter" and arrested 425 men. They were assembled in a square, brutally treated, and later deported to Mauthausen, where they all died. The round-up caused protests by the non-Jewish population, which resulted in a two-day strike in Amsterdam and its surroundings (February 25–26), a unique occasion in Europe (which was never repeated in the Netherlands too, even when systematic deportations to the death camps started). The German authorities suppressed the strike with force; additionally, Seyss-Inquart reacted with a threatening speech on March 12 in the Amsterdam Concert-gebouw, stating that the Jews were declared enemies of Germany, and whoever supported them would have to bear the consequences. And indeed, no retreat in anti-Jewish policies was felt; on the contrary: in June 1941, still a year before the beginning of the Final Solution in the Netherlands, another 300 Jews were rounded-up in Amsterdam and once again sent to Mauthausen, where they died.

concentration of jews in amsterdam, deportations and hiding

Between January 1942 and April 1943, most parts of the country were declared as forbidden for Jews to live in; their Jewish inhabitants were mostly evacuated to Amsterdam. Additionally, many decrees limited the possibility of Jews to move around (such as the use of public transportation, cars and even bicycles). As from the beginning of May 1942 Jews had to wear a Yellow Star with the word Jood on it. Jewish bank accounts and assets were channeled to the Lippmann-Rosenthal bank in the Sarphatistraat, a cover institution created by the German authorities. A first deportation

train left the Amsterdam Central Railway Station with 962 persons to the transit camp Westerbork in eastern Holland in the night of 14–15 July. An assembling center for the Amsterdam Jews was created in the Joodsche (formerly: Hollandsche) Schouwburg (i.e. theatre), in the Jewish quarter; this site serves today for the commemoration of the Holocaust of Dutch Jewry. Deportations came to a close on September 29, 1943, on the eve of Rosh Ha-Shana 5704; the last Jews officially living in Amsterdam, including the chairpersons of the Joodsche Raad, were arrested and sent away.

religious life

In view of the harsh persecutions and the disastrous number of murdered Jews, it is amazing to note that religious life could go on relatively unhindered during this whole period. True, in the very beginning kosher slaughtering – without prior stunning – was prohibited, but when a solution was found for that by the Amsterdam rabbis, slaughtering continued as long as meat was available. Maẓẓot for Passover were distributed even in 1943. Official prayers went on, and Jews were not arrested in synagogues. Synagogues were partially plundered during the last stage of the war, but never desecrated. Thus, all synagogues, including the impressive Sephardi and Ashkenazi ones in the center of the Jewish quarter, remained in tact, and could be reopened after the war.

reactions of non-jewish neighbors

The reactions of the non-Jewish citizens cannot be generalized. On the one hand, expressions of solidarity were expressed at different stages of the persecutions. The February strike of 1941 was a genuine such expression. When the Yellow Star was imposed, some Amsterdammers wore yellow flowers. Other helped in helping Jews to find shelter or flee. A special such case was the smuggling of hundreds of Jewish children, brought to the Joodsche Schouwburg and smuggled out on the initiative of Jewish employees and the assistance of a German guard, to the neighboring kindergarten ("crèche"), from where the children were directed to hiding addresses throughout the country.

On the other hand, Dutch city officials were instrumental from an early stage in registering Jews, the local police played a major role in arresting and deporting the Jews, streetcar drivers worked additional hours during the round-ups, and others denunciated hiding Jews.

Altogether, Amsterdam Jewry was so badly hit in the Holocaust, that the colorful and sparkling Jewish life which had existed in the city for more than three hundred years, was almost entirely disrupted. After the war Amsterdam became once again the major Jewish community in the Netherlands, but never returned to its former importance, both for the Jewish world and for Dutch society.

[Dan Michman (2nd ed.)]

Contemporary Period

Jewish survivors, who returned to Amsterdam after the Holocaust, continued prewar patterns and mostly resettled in its southern neighborhoods. This was even intensified since the postwar Jewish population had a very different socio-economic structure. The proletariat, lacking the social networks and the money one needed to go into hiding, was nearly completely wiped out. Their quarters, known as the original Jewish neighborhoods in the center of Amsterdam, were demolished by the municipality in the interest of renovation and traffic requirements. In time, middle- and upper-middle class Jews spread out into several new suburbs like Amstelveen and Diemen, but the majority still lives in Amsterdam itself, especially in Buitenveldert. This "Greater Amsterdam area" comprised some 20,000 Jews in the year 2000. They represent less than half of the total Jewish population in the Netherlands, estimated at 43,000. Of these only 70% have a Jewish mother and fewer than 25% are connected with the official Jewish community. The "Greater Amsterdam" community is still by far the largest Jewish concentration in the Netherlands and also the most conscious one when it comes to Jewish identity. Most Amsterdam Jews (56%) still have two Jewish parents, while elsewhere the average is much lower (37%). Jews who are in need of community services such as schools, synagogues, kosher food, tend to move to Amsterdam, the only place in the Netherlands offering all those services. Jews, who do not need them, tend to move out of Amsterdam. Over the years, the original Dutch Jewish community in Amsterdam was not able to keep its numbers from deteriorating, but it was resupplied by several thousands of foreign Jews, many of them Israelis and younger than the original community. The prewar Jewish weekly Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad is the oldest weekly in the Netherlands (since 1862), and it preserved its central place in the organized Jewish community. Immediately after the war, efforts were undertaken to unite the different congregations in Amsterdam into one Grossgemeinde. These efforts failed and the different prewar communities all continued their independent existence.

the ashkenazi orthodox community

The four Ashkenazi synagogues in the center of Amsterdam were sold to the Amsterdam municipality in 1955, followed by the ones in Uilenburgerstraat and Rapenburgerstraat. A smaller synagogue replaced the one in Linnaeusstraat, but it was ultimately closed down in the 1990s for lack of worshippers. In Amsterdam South the prewar synagogue in the Lekstraat was found too large. It continued to be in use but part of it was turned into the Resistance Museum. The synagogues on the Jacob Obrechtplein, in Gerard Doustraat and Kerkstraat continued to be in use, as did the one that is part of the Dutch Israelite Seminary in Gerrit van der Veenstraat. There continued to be a synagogue in use in Amsterdam West. However, in 1965 a new synagogue was opened in the new Buitenveldert neighborhood on the southern municipality border. Its establishment was soon followed by a new Orthodox synagogue in nearby Amstelveen. These areas had become the central Jewish area of Amsterdam. In 1970 the Central Dutch Israelite Synagogue (nihs) bought a complex of buildings in Buitenveldert and transformed it into a Jewish Cultural Center including a synagogue, classrooms, community center and offices. None of the Ashkenazi Rabbis of Amsterdam had survived the Holocaust. Rabbi Justus Tal from Utrecht was nominated chief rabbi of Amsterdam in 1951 and from 1954 Rabbi Aaron *Schuster dominated the scene as chief rabbi and as director of the Rabbinical Seminary. He was educated at the prewar Rabbinical Seminary and preserved the traditions of the prewar community. After he left in 1972, the Ashkenazi community went through a number of changes leaving little of its original character. The Netherlands Israelite Rabbinical and Teachers Seminary in Amsterdam no longer produced rabbis after the war. This made the community dependent on foreign-educated rabbis, who, in general, were much stricter in their interpretation of halakhah. Rabbi Meir Just from Switzerland, already in the country from 1962, became more dominant after 1972. Later rabbis were educated in the ultra-orthodox Rabbinical School of Gateshead, such as Rabbi Frank Lewis (1990s). At the same time the Lubavitch movement started to have an impact on the community. As a result halakhic decisions were increasingly taken without reference to Dutch customs. All these different Orthodox streams stayed united in the Nederlands Israelietisch Kerkgenootschap (nik). The combined membership of the Amsterdam congregations was 5,202 in 1951, but has dwindled over the years. Already in the 1970s it was clear that the real membership was below 4,500 and it further plunged to 2,821 in the year 1998. From 1955 the Ashkenazi Orthodox community of Amsterdam published its own journal Hakehillah, which in the 1990s was renamed Hakehilloth and extended to the whole country.

the portuguese community

Portuguese Jews still use their 17th century synagogue building in the old Jewish neighborhood in the center of Amsterdam where the traditions of the old community are more or less preserved, but since many of the Portuguese moved to Amstelveen they opened a new congregation there in 1995. Only some 800 Portuguese Jews had survived the Holocaust and the community dwindled down to about 450 in 2000. That number includes new immigrants from Morocco, Iraq, and Israel who have joined the community. The Portuguese Rabbi, S.A. Rodrigues-Pereira, survived the war. In 1968 the community for the first time in its history nominated an Ashkenazi-educated rabbi, Barend Drukarch. Working together with the congregation's president, Dr. Jacques Baruch, Rabbi Drukarch adjusted very well. Both men served the Portuguese community for many decades and preserved its tolerant Orthodox attitude. From 1947 the community published its own journal, Habinyan, stressing its independence. It also reopened its famous Ets Haim library as early as 1947 and the part of the library that was sent to Israel as a permanent loan was returned to the Netherlands in recent years and reintegrated in the precious collection. The small community has continuous problems in preserving its prestigious synagogue building and its other historical treasures.

the liberal congregation

Liberal Jews in Amsterdam had a very small congregation of about 130 members left in 1946, which consisted mainly of German refugees. They had no synagogue building and efforts to revive the community seemed to bear no fruit. It was on the verge of disappearance when, in 1954, the Union of Liberal Religious Jews in the Netherlands nominated a Dutch Rabbi, Jacob *Soetendorp, who was a former student of the prewar Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary. He had not finished his studies since he had started to have doubts about the kind of Judaism he was learning. In 1955, Dr. Leo Baeck officially ordained him a rabbi and he stayed with the Amsterdam congregation until 1972. Together with its president, Dr. Maurits *Goudeket, Soetendorp succeeded to revive the community and to guide it through a period of explosive growth during the 1960s and early 1970s. From a mainly German community they also succeeded to mold it into a solid Dutch one. The Liberal congregation opened its own synagogue and community center in 1966, in the south of Amsterdam. In 1954 the community established a journal, Levend Joods Geloof ("Living Jewish Faith"). After Rabbi Soetendorp, Swedish-born Rabbi David Lilienthal served the congregation for 32 years until the end of 2003. A young rabbi, Menno ten Brink, born and raised in the community itself, took over. The Amsterdam congregation had a membership of 1,700 in 2005.

beth hachiddush

This new, havurah-like congregation, is not linked up with any of the world's mainstreams of Judaism nor with the official Dutch Jewish community. It grew out of the gay community in town and started off in 1996 as very progressive when it came to the status of women or homosexuals in Judaism. It attracted many Americans who were used to this type of community in the United States and did not adjust well to the established congregations in the Netherlands. Beth Hachiddush found a permanent home in the renovated synagogue in Uilenburgerstraat, after which it appointed a female Rabbi.


Amsterdam is the only place in the Netherlands with Jewish day schools. Since the Holocaust, the regular Orthodox schools (Rosh Pina and Maimonides), from nurseries up to high school have been functioning. They are in the hands of a private foundation, Joods Bijzonder Onderwijs (jbo), representing in fact the traditional Ashkenazi community. They attract several hundreds of pupils, many from families who do not have a strictly Orthodox lifestyle. Since 1975 there is a ḥeder as well, founded by the Lubavitch community. It grew with the years into a complete educational system. Both school systems attract quite a lot of Israeli children. A kolel, a strictly Orthodox center of Talmud study was opened in Amsterdam in 1976. The Netherlands Israelite Rabbinical and Teachers Seminary in Amsterdam, from the 1990s presided over by Rabbi Raphael Evers, trains teachers, Torah-readers, and shliḥei ẓibbur and it offers the adult education the community was asking for, but it trains no rabbis. In 2003 the Liberal community set up the Mr. Robert A. *Levisson Institute for the training of its own rabbis, having Rabbi David Lilienthal as its first dean. Along with the program of the Institute itself, the students take required studies at the University of Amsterdam and at Crescas, a countrywide Jewish Institute for adult education since 1999.

women's organizations

During the first decades after the war, women were mostly active in the Dutch branch of the Women International Zionist Organization, but in 1964 women in the Liberal congregation of Amsterdam founded a special group of a more emancipatory brand. Frieda Menco-Brommet was its chairperson for many years and shaped its character. The group was striving for more equality in the administrative structure of the congregation and also in its services. It created international contacts with other women's groups and activities were extended beyond Amsterdam by founding the Federation of Liberal Religious Women. It received support from both the board and the rabbinate. In later years Annie van Dantzig-Hagenaar took over and the group, having largely achieved its goals, became very much involved with social matters and serious Jewish education for women. In the meantime the Orthodox women had founded their own group, "Deborah." in 1978. Deborah was chaired for 15 years by Dr. Blume Evers-Emden. In spite of its activities and its progress, women were still barred from being elected to the board of the Amsterdam congregation, even in the early years of the 21st century. On a national level and in several other congregations in the country, they were fully integrated as board members. The failure to achieve anything in Amsterdam is quite exemplary for the restrictive influence of both Rabbi Meir Just, Rabbi Frank Lewis, and the Lubavitch movement on the Amsterdam congregation. Deborah found a partner however in the Federation of Liberal Jewish Women, when it discovered that this group already was a member of the International Council of Jewish Women (icjw). Each country could have only one representative. Together with Annie van Dantzig-Hagenaar, who was eager to cooperate with the Orthodox women, the Dutch National Council of Jewish Women (ncjw) was founded in which the Liberal Women and Deborah are equally represented. This ncjw became the new Dutch member of the icjw.

social welfare foundation

Next to the religious congregations the Jewish Social Welfare Foundation (jmw), founded in 1947, took up a central position in the organized community. Most Jewish organizations including all religious communities are represented in it. jmw over the years developed into a highly professional institution taking care of Holocaust victims, refugees and the old-aged. The last group is disproportionally large. A system of domestic help for the elderly was set up in Amsterdam alone, in addition to the old-age home Beth Shalom, located in Amstelveen. Several previous Jewish old-age homes were concentrated in Beth Shalom as a result of the centralizing policy of the government. jmw also offers community work and alternative frameworks for Jews who are no longer interested in a religious expression of their identity. Among them is a considerable group of Israelis, who are brought together in at least one yearly event. Jewish soccer, also organized by jmw, became very popular during the 1990s and the yearly Jom Ha-Voetbal (Jewish Football day) attracts the largest number of spectators to any annual Jewish event.

remembering the holocaust

During the first decades after the war, Jews joined non-Jews in the general Dutch remembering of the victims of the Second World War on May 4. More than half of these victims were Jewish. Jews also attended the remembrance of the February Strike each year together with the population of Amsterdam. Later on, from the 1970s, separate Jewish memorial ceremonies became more accepted, stressing the specific Jewish character of most victims and getting the function of bringing more Jews together on these sensitive occasions. The Hollandse Schouwburg where some 80,000 Amsterdam Jews were concentrated before their deportation to Westerbork, underwent extensive renovation and a permanent exhibition was placed in it. Thus it was transformed into the monument where each year on Yom Hashoah a Jewish ceremony takes place, attended by non-Jews as well. This development from "general Dutch" to "specifically Jewish" also resulted in the new Auschwitz monument which in the beginning of the 1990s was placed in the Wertheim public garden, a few hundred meters from the Hollandse Schouwburg: a large Star of David constructed of glass plates by sculptor Jan Wolkers. A small monument for the Jews in the Resistance was erected in the late 1980s, also stressing their specific identity while in previous decades this had not been the case. Although the famous Anne Frank house draws some 600,000, mostly foreign, visitors each year, this institution is not in Jewish hands and it plays a minor role in the community.

the periphery

Most Jews in Amsterdam are not connected with the community and freely mix with non-Jews including for marriage purposes. Part of them, however, are the founders of many unofficial Jewish or semi-Jewish frameworks that came to life over the years and usually disappeared again after some time. Some took the form of café's like Gotspe, a café for young Jews in 1973, and Betty's Coffee Shop, Naches and Blanes in the 1980s. In the 1970s Jewish lesbians and homosexuals founded Shalhomo, an organization that continued to exist for 30 years. Other young Jews started debating clubs or groups around the conflict in the Middle East, ranging from defenders of Israel to groups that barely identify with the Jewish State and voice criticism. In the 1990s the Jewish "Women in Black," demonstrated against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the center of Amsterdam every second Friday of the month showing that younger generations of Jews had become more critical of Israel. This is especially true about a group called "Another Jewish Voice," active since the end of the 1990s and apparently seeking to become more accepted by their non-Jewish surroundings by criticizing Israel in a rather unbalanced way.

relations with the surroundings

The relation with the authorities was very positive over the years and although Jews have become a very small minority in Amsterdam, the city had no less than four Jewish mayors nominated (Dr. Ivo Samkalden, Wim Polak, Ed van Thijn, Dr. Job Cohen). After a short difficult period immediately after the war, antisemitism barely existed in Amsterdam and was limited to incidents. If they occurred they were usually followed by large anti-racist demonstrations. The Ajax Amsterdam soccer club was identified with Jews and always attracted antisemitic shouts and incidents in the stadium. From 1997 to 2002, the number of antisemitic incidents rose as a result of frictions with the large Muslim community in Amsterdam. In those years the population of immigrants from Third World countries, mainly Muslims, had risen to about 10% of the Dutch population, and they are concentrated in the large cities. They have become the majority of pupils in many Dutch elementary schools in the larger cities. If incidents took place, they were limited to verbal abuse, but some ended with harassment and stone throwing. As a result mayor Job Cohen started a program for improvement of relations between the different communities. In 2003 and 2004 the situation stabilized.


Many Jews in Amsterdam work in the free professions. They are well represented among Amsterdam's journalists, authors and artists and in spite of their small numbers succeeded to continue a Jewish flavor in these fields. Many nostalgic books were published about the prewar Jewish neighborhoods or even certain streets, Jewish life in Amsterdam before the Holocaust and the like. "Jewish Amsterdam," now greatly reduced to a myth, still plays a role in literature and plays. Authors like Siegfried van Praag and Judith Herzberg, who made themselves felt up to the 1980s and 1990s, are followed by a younger generation still seeking to express itself in a recognizable Jewish way. During the first decades after the war the expressions of Jewish culture were rather modest, but during the 1980s and 1990s interest in Jewish culture only seemed to grow and was not limited to Jews at all. Some of it even has become Jewish culture without Jews, e.g., several klezmer groups became popular, most of them, like "Di Gojim," consisting entirely of non-Jewish musicians. At the end of the 1970s a special Commission for Dutch Jewish history was founded within the Royal Academy of Sciences. It organizes international symposia every six years in Amsterdam while symposia of the same kind take place in-between in Jerusalem. The interest in Dutch Jewish history has been growing ever since among Jews and non-Jews alike and the symposia attract hundreds of people. At the University of Amsterdam a special chair for modern Jewish history was created, also by the same Commission in the early 1990s. The first one to occupy it was Prof. Dr. Rena Fuks-Mansfeld. While Yiddish has disappeared from the streets of Amsterdam, there is an amazing revival of interest in Yiddish on a more academic level. The interest in Yiddish is a phenomenon completely unknown to Amsterdam before 1940. In the 1990s two Yiddish festivals were organized in Amsterdam mainly by Mira Rafalowicz, a champion of Yiddish culture in the Netherlands. From the early 1990s students of Semitic languages at the University of Amsterdam were required to attend courses in Yiddish during their second year. The centenary of the Bund, which had no more than a handful of members left in the Netherlands, was celebrated by a new Jiddisjer Krajz group with the participation of an equally new Haimish Zajn choir in 1997. All events are attended by Jews and many non-Jews. Also in 1997 the Menashe ben Israel Institute was established. It coordinates Jewish Studies at the University of Amsterdam and at the Free University (also in Amsterdam) and it organizes well-attended international study days. In the fall of 2000 the first issue of Di Grine Medine appeared, published by the recently founded Society for the promotion of Yiddish in the Netherlands. This is the country's first Yiddish periodical in two centuries. Another quite recent phenomenon is the great interest in ḥazzanut and especially the reproduction of prewar ḥazzanut. In 1986 the Amsterdam Synagogue Choir, consisting of male singers only, was reestablished. A Lewandowski Choir, came into being as well. It has some 40 singers both male and female. Greatly adding to all this with publications, catalogues and exhibitions is the Jewish Historical Museum, first reopened on the Nieuwmarkt, but in 1987 it moved to the four great Ashkenazi synagogues in the center of Amsterdam opposite the monumental Portuguese Esnoga. The project of the reestablishment of a much larger and modern museum in those buildings was in the hands of Judith Belinfante, its director for 25 years until 1998, and Ted Musaph-Andriesse, chair of the board for an equally long term up to 2000. A special exhibition for children, now known as the Children's Museum, created by Petra Katzenstein, added much to the permanent exhibition. The Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam is the one place visited by the largest number of Dutch Jews in the Netherlands and as such it has a positive influence on Jewish identity and identification.

[Wout van Bekkum and

Chaya Brasz (2nd ed.)]

Musical Life in the 17th and 18th Centuries

There is much evidence of an intensive musical life during the 17th and 18th centuries, especially within the Sephardi community in Amsterdam. These descendants of the *Marranos who had lived in cultural assimilation in their country of origin for generations, retained the cultural and literary expression of their previous way of life, even after they had returned to a strict observance of Judaism. It is known from contemporary sources that many local rabbis had a good knowledge of music and played musical instruments. From the late 17th and throughout the 18th centuries, there were many musical events in synagogues, within the framework of the "academies" or the various societies, or in celebration of some family occasion. The Sephardi synagogue in Amsterdam was dedicated in 1675 to the music of an orchestra and choir. This event made an impression on the life of the community, and the anniversary became a regular festival, accompanied by musical offerings. The choral rendering of Ḥeshki Ḥezki was one of the most beautiful compositions written for this occasion in the first half of the 18th century by Abraham *Caceres. The festival of *Torah served as another occasion for the poets and composers in the congregation to present their works. The ḥatan Torah and ḥatan Bereshit were honored in an elaborate ceremony. Among the compositions written for the celebration, particular mention should be made of the cantata Le-El Elim (words by Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto, music by A. Caceres), first performed in 1738 and often repeated. During the 18th century there flourished in Amsterdam, as in Italy, many societies at whose celebrations musical compositions were heard. Another prominent musical occasion was the contest for the appointment of a new *ḥazzan for the synagogue, at which candidates were called upon to prove their musical talents. Family events, and particularly weddings, were often accompanied by musical plays. The Jews of the 18th century made a notable contribution to the development of Dutch musical life in general; their influence was particularly strong in opera. Among the Jewish activities in this field one of the most noteworthy is the attempt by Sephardi Jews in the mid-18th century to establish a theater which would also play French opera. There was also the important enterprise of a member of the Ashkenazi community from Amsterdam, Jacob Dessauer, who in 1784 founded a German theatrical and operatic troupe, the first of its kind in Amsterdam, in which all the members – actors, singers, and the 23 members of the orchestra – were Jews.

[Israel Adler]


J.C.H. Blom, R.G. Fuks-Mansfeld and I. Schöffer (eds.), The History of the Jews in The Netherlands (2002); M.H. Gans, Memorbook (1977); Y. Kaplan and C. Brasz, Dutch Jews as Perceived by Themselves and Others (2001); J. Michman, H. Beem, and D. Michman, Pinkas: Geschiedenis van de joodse gemeenschap in Nederland (1999); J. Michman (ed.), Dutch Jewish History vols. 1–3 (1984–1993); J. Michman, Dutch Jewry during the Emancipation Period, Gothic Turrets on a Corinthian Building, 17871815 (1995); B. Moore, Victims and Survivors (1997); Studia Rosenthaliana, 1–76 (1967–2005); H. van Solinge and M. de Vries (eds.), De joden in Nederland anno 2000, demografisch profile en binding aan het jodendom (2001); R.G. Fuks-Mansfeld (eds.), Aspects of Jewish life in the Netherlands, a selection from the writings of Leo Fuks (1995); J. Meijer, Hoge hoeden, lage standaarden, de Nederlandse joden tussen 1933 en 1940 (1969); D. Michman, Het liberale jodendom in Nederland, 19291943 (1988); J. Michman and M. Aptroot, Storm in the Community, Yiddish Polemical Pamphlets of Amsterdam Jewry 17971798 (2002); Daniel M. Swetschinski, Reluctant Cosmopolitans, the Portuguese Jews of Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam (2004); R.G. Fuks-Mansfeld, De Sefardim in Amsterdam tot 1795, aspecten van een joodse minderheid in een Hollandse stad (1989). musical life: Adler, Prat Mus, 1 (1966), 191–236; 2 (1966), 173–230; J. Fransen, Les comediens français en Hollande au 17e et 18e siècles (1925); D.F. Scheurleer, Het muziekleven in Nederland in de tweede helft der 18e eeuw… (1909); Shatzky, in: YIVO Bleter, 21 (1943), 302–22.


views updated Jun 27 2018


AMSTERDAM. With a population of around 11,000 in 1514, Amsterdam ranked among the middling towns of Europe at the close of the Middle Ages. Two hundred years later, the city was the fourth largest in Europe, with an estimated population of 200,000. Most of this growth had occurred between 1585 and 1650. It was all the more remarkable because, among Europe's ten largest cities, Amsterdam was the only one that was not a state capital; its expansion was a commercial phenomenon.

Situated on the confluence of the River Amstel, which gave the city its name, and an arm of the sea called the IJ, Amsterdam's location provided a deep and safe natural harbor for international shipping. In the sixteenth century the city was able to capture a substantial share of the expanding trade between Holland and the Baltic, which helped feed the city's waterlogged hinterland. Amsterdam became the most significant of Antwerp's satellite ports in the northern Low Countries.

Amsterdam's position changed dramatically in the course of the Dutch Revolt. Initially loyal to the Spanish king, the city was blockaded for years before it decided to join the rebel side in 1578. Then, in 1585, Antwerp was reconquered by the Spaniards, and in retaliation the rebels cut off shipping on the River Scheldt. Antwerp's merchant community dispersed, with many eventually settling in Amsterdam. Together with the local merchants they initiated a remarkable boom. Already in the 1590s Amsterdam merchants fitted out ships to explore various routes to the East Indies. Their success led to the establishment of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) in 1602, with Amsterdam merchants providing more than half of the initial capital. When the Dutch West India Company (West-Indische Compagnie, or WIC) was established in 1621, Amsterdam merchants were again the most important providers of capital. During the first half of the seventeenth century Amsterdam developed into the "staple" of western Europe, where every conceivable product available on the world market was sold.

The economic boom attracted large numbers of people to Amsterdam, both from within the Dutch Republic and from other countries. During the seventeenth century roughly one third of Amsterdam's population was of foreign origin, while another third had migrated to the city from within the Dutch borders. To make room for all these newcomers, the city's territory had to be expanded. The most significant additions were made in two stages during the 1610s and the 1660s, when Amsterdam obtained its characteristic shape. The old city center was surrounded by a ring of three main canals, designed especially with the newly rich merchant class in mind. The canals were in turn enveloped by a ring of cheaper housing for artisan and working-class households. These two expansions also thwarted the development of suburbs and ensured that all of Amsterdam's population remained firmly under the control of the city's institutions.

Within the confederate Dutch Republic, Amsterdam enjoyed much autonomy. Its politicians, mostly recruited from the merchant community, were also indirectly involved in determining national priorities, ensuring, for example, that Amsterdam's trade interests in the Baltic remained well protected. Amsterdam's four burgomasters, three of whom were replaced each year, were sometimes considered as the most powerful men in the country. The defense of the town's political independence was of great importance to them. The burgomasters ruled Amsterdam itself with the help of a great many corporate institutions. The guilds, for example, were and remained very important in the local economy. During the seventeenth century their number doubled, and they organized as much as a third of the population. Public order was maintained with the help of the civic militias.

The city's culture reflected this emphasis on civic institutions. In 1648 work began on the building of a new town hall, which was to be the largest purely civic building created in seventeenth-century Europe. Its magnificent design in fashionable Dutch classicism, lavishly decorated with monumental sculpture and paintings, was a monument to Amsterdam's achievements. The central hall was significantly known as the Citizens' Hall. Civic virtue was also a central theme in what was to become the most famous painting of Amsterdam's Golden Age, Rembrandt's Nightwatch (1642), which depicts the officers of a militia company guarding the town at night. This, and numerous similar collective portraits of militia officers, were created to be displayed in public.

Amsterdam's political independence, and the commercial attitude of its leading citizens, also helped create a tolerant religious climate, most significantly expressed in the treatment of Jewish immigrants. Holland did not have a Jewish community before the end of the sixteenth century, and when the first Jews arrived from Portugal in the 1590s the authorities were very open-minded about their settlement in Amsterdam. Jewish residents could obtain citizenship rights, albeit on restricted conditions. In the course of the seventeenth century two large synagogues were built in Amsterdam. Although a Jewish neighborhood developed in Amsterdam, it was not a ghetto, and Jews were permitted to live throughout the city.

Economic prosperity lasted longer in Amsterdam than in any of the other Dutch towns. However, in the course of the eighteenth century it became clear that Amsterdam's heyday was over. Most tellingly, the growth of its population, already slackening in the second half of the seventeenth century, was really over by 1740. The extra space that had been added by the extension of the 1660s remained partly unoccupied. The merchants, once the most dynamic force of the city, became conservative in their outlook, and many families retired from business altogether. Banking became the most significant element of the city's service sector, but it did little in terms of local employment. Poverty skyrocketed, especially during the 1780s and 1790s, when ultimately one in five families depended on poor relief. By then, the glory days of the Golden Age were still treasured by the small part of the population fortunateand wealthyenough to live on one of the main canals. Elsewhere, in the narrow back alleys where whole families were crowded into a single room or cellar, Amsterdam had come to look like any other European city.

See also Dutch Literature and Language ; Dutch Republic ; Dutch Revolt (15681648) ; Guilds ; Netherlands, Art in the ; Rembrandt van Rijn ; Trading Companies.


Bodian, Miriam. Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community in Early Modern Amsterdam. Bloomington, Ind., 1997.

Fremantle, Katharine. The Baroque Town Hall of Amsterdam. Utrecht, 1957.

Frijhoff, Willem, and Maarten Prak, eds. Geschiedenis van Amsterdam. Vols. 2 and 3, Zeventiende en achttiende eeuw. Amsterdam, forthcoming.

Gelder, Roelof van, and Renée Kistemaker. Amsterdam 12751795: De ontwikkeling van een handelsmetropool. Amsterdam, 1983.

Gelderblom, Oscar, "Antwerp Merchants in Amsterdam after the Revolt (15781630)." In International Trade in the Low Countries (14th16th Centuries): Merchants, Organisation, Infrastructure, edited by Peter Stabel et al., pp. 234241. Louvain, 2000.

Haverkamp-Begemann, E. Rembrandt: The Nightwatch. Princeton, 1982.

Israel, Jonathan I. Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 15851740. Oxford and New York, 1989.

Lesger, Clé. Handel in Amsterdam ten tijde van de Opstand. Kooplieden, commerciële expansie en verandering in de ruimtelijke economie van de Nederlanden ca. 1550ca. 1630. Hilversum, 2001.

Lourens, Piet, and Jan Lucassen. "Ambachtsgilden binnen een handelskapitalistische stad: aanzetten voor een analyse van Amsterdam rond 1700." NEHA-Jaarboek voor economische, bedrijfsen techniekgeschiedenis 61 (1998) 121162.

Nusteling, Hubert. Welvaart en werkgelegenheid in Amsterdam 15401860. Een relaas over demografie, economie en sociale politiek van een wereldstad. Amsterdam, 1985.

Maarten Prak


views updated May 14 2018



On the eve of the First World War Amsterdam was an extraordinarily full city. The population had roughly doubled since the mid-nineteenth century, to some 700,000, and continued to grow. Some new neighborhoods had been built during the 1870s, most notably the working class neighborhood De Pijp to the south of the city. Likewise, a number of wealthy commuter villages such as Bloemendaal and Hilversum had developed. These expansions, however, were not nearly enough to house the increasing population. Although Amsterdam's population growth slowed markedly during the twentieth century, the city was more than three times as large, geographically, in 2004 as it had been in 1914.

The first decades of the twentieth century saw new developments that, unlike the new neighborhoods of the late nineteenth century, were carefully managed by local governments. The first and largest new expansion, Plan Zuid, designed by the architect Henrick Petrus Berlage (1856–1934), was approved in 1917. It was one of the first such large-scale expansion plans in The Netherlands and had a great influence on similar projects in other cities. The plan also offered an opportunity to modernist architects such as Berlage and to the newly developed Amsterdam school of architecture. Compared to the rather stern modernism of Berlage's architecture, the Amsterdam School stands out for its curvy, Jugendstil-inspired style, which still dominates much of the southern half of the city. During the interwar years, the first garden cities were built. Farther away from the city center, these oases would offer the working classes a healthy living environment, with ample fresh air and green surroundings. To the north of the city, across the Het IJ waterway, neighborhoods arose with alluring names such as "garden village" and, to modern tastes at least, less appealing ones such as "concrete village."

Quantitatively, however, the greatest urban expansion took place after World War II. During the 1950s and 1960s, new residential areas were erected on all sides of the city, more than doubling the built surface. In the early 1970s, the Bijlmermeer district was constructed in the southeast of the city. The Bijlmer was seen by many at the time as the answer to the housing problems of the modern city, but the high-rise apartment blocks soon became notorious for housing criminals and drug addicts. Moreover, Amsterdam began to expand beyond its formal borders, as people moved to Amstelveen and other neighboring towns and commuted to Amsterdam. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new city, Almere, was built in the newly acquired land of the Flevopolder, housing much of the population spillover from the city. Throughout most of the twentieth century, however, Amsterdam continued to face a serious housing shortage, often leading to serious social tensions.


Amsterdam was always an immigrant city, and it experienced a number of smaller and larger waves of immigration during the twentieth century. During the 1930s, numerous Jewish refugees from Germany came to Amsterdam, among them, in 1934, five-year-old Anne Frank. The quick and successful integration of the Frank family into Amsterdam's economy and society was not, however, entirely typical. Relations between the local Jewish community and newcomers were often tense, as were relations between newcomers and non-Jews. There has been continuing debate about the prospects of survival for the Netherland's roughly twenty-two thousand foreign Jews, the majority of whom lived in Amsterdam, during World War II. Foreign-born Jews were among the first to be deported and very few of them returned to Amsterdam after the war.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Moroccans and Turks moved to Amsterdam in considerable numbers, finding housing in often decrepit nineteenth-century housing blocks. Although initially immigrants consisted mainly of young men, family reunification eventually led to the establishment of sizable Turkish and Moroccan communities in Amsterdam. Relations between these immigrants, and their children and grandchildren, and the ethnically Dutch inhabitants of the city never were ideal and reached an absolute low in November 2004 when the film director Theo van Gogh, after releasing a controversial anti-Islamic film, was murdered by a fundamentalist Muslim of Moroccan descent.

After the independence of Surinam in 1975, numerous Surinamese came to Amsterdam. Because their arrival coincided with the building of the Bijlmermeer, where relatively cheap housing was available in considerable quantities, the newly built neighborhood came to house the large Surinamese community.

While newcomers moved to the city, many among the native population were moving out. The ethnically Dutch moved out of the city, to Almere, Purmerend, Amstelveen, and other commuter cities. The places they left open in the city were filled partly by foreign immigrants and partly by the highly educated and affluent Dutch, many of them without children.


The economic backbone of Amsterdam, and arguably its raison d'être, has long been its harbor. During the twentieth century, however, the relative importance of the Amsterdam harbor to the Dutch and European economies declined. The rise of Rotterdam, since the 1870s, as the region's most important harbor, gradually reduced the port of Amsterdam to a junior status. The port of Amsterdam declined but did not disappear altogether. Certain products, such as tobacco, cocoa, and timber, long continued to be landed in Amsterdam in considerable quantities.

Another important economic function of Amsterdam stemmed from its position as the nation's financial center. The Amsterdam stock exchange, built on the Rokin by Berlage in 1903, served as the main stock exchange in the Netherlands, and it attracted considerable financial and banking activity. It nevertheless employed but a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people who lived in Amsterdam. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the city's considerable industrial activity employed the bulk of the population, but it was never a center of industry on the order of cities such as Enschede (textiles), Eindhoven (electronics), and Rotterdam. Still, metallurgy and textile manufacturing were prominent, offering employment to many of Amsterdam's residents.

The production of pharmaceutical drugs, cigars, and beer were typical industries for the city, but they did not retain their links to the city after the Second World War. The influx of Jewish textile workers, refugees from Nazi Germany, helped in the expansion of the textile industry, an expansion abruptly ended by the German invasion of May 1940. Another predominantly Jewish, Amsterdam-based industry also deserves notice. The diamond processing industry formed a reasonably large part of the prewar labor market, and was notable as the first unionized industry in the Netherlands. Socialist politics in prewar Amsterdam, and in the Netherlands generally, owed a considerable debt to the diamond workers.

One industry that remained centered in Amsterdam throughout the twentieth century was printing and publishing. Most of the main newspapers were based in Amsterdam, and the many newspaper mergers during the twentieth century further strengthened the dominance of the city within the Netherlands. Publishing houses, like Dutch cultural life in general, remained very much an Amsterdam affair. This is also indicative of the position of Amsterdam within the Netherlands. The city was not a major industrial center and no longer the nation's main harbor or its seat of government. Among the "softer" industries, and especially as the center of opinion-making and culture, its position remained dominant throughout the modern period.

From the 1960s onward, Amsterdam attracted large numbers of tourists. The city's liberal attitudes toward prostitution and illegal drugs were attractive to some, alluring the young and pleasure seekers from around Europe and the United States to the famous Red Light District and cannabis coffeehouses. Less visibly, the city also became an important attraction for older, more culturally inclined tourists. The relatively intact city center, the Rijksmuseum National Gallery with its unsurpassed collection of Dutch masters, and the Van Gogh museum were among the main attractions for the millions of tourists who visited the city annually during the second half of the twentieth century. This development contributed to the formation of a strongly service-oriented economy.


Compared to the other major Dutch city, Rotterdam, Amsterdam had a relatively easy start to the German occupation. The Luftwaffe bombarded Rotterdam, destroying much of the city and leaving more than two thousand dead. Amsterdam was hit, on 11 May 1940, leaving fifty-one people dead, but the devastation was not comparable to that experienced by Rotterdam. The fear that Amsterdam would be bombed in the manner of Rotterdam was one reason why the Dutch government capitulated. The city fell into German hands largely unscathed, and troops marched into Amsterdam unhindered and without meeting any significant resistance from the populace.

The fate of Amsterdam was to be far worse than some might have anticipated during those first weeks. Home, as it was, to the bulk of the Jewish population of the Netherlands, Amsterdam became the main theater of isolation, discrimination, and ultimately deportation of tens of thousands of people. This process was partly organized by the "Jewish council," led by eminent members of the Jewish community Abraham Asscher and David Cohen. The Jewish council proved to be a highly effective organ for organizing the genocide that followed. Careful to avoid an intensification of German aggression, the council supported cooperation and collaborated both with policies of isolation and, to some degree, administered the deportation. In the process of isolating and deporting the Jewish citizens of Amsterdam, the Germans could also count on a remarkably loyal civil service and especially a highly cooperative local police force.

That is not to say, however, that there was no resistance whatsoever. On 25 and 26 September 1941 members of the clandestine Communist Party instigated a general strike against the discrimination against Jews. The strike, and the demonstrations that came with it, made a great impression on the people of Amsterdam and the Netherlands and continues to be commemorated annually. Nevertheless, the strike was unsuccessful, and on 26 September German troops violently put an end to it. The importance of the strike for the Jewish population of Amsterdam was that it awakened, in some, a sense of duty to help. Children were smuggled out of the city and hidden. A minority of the Jewish community went into hiding with the aid of non-Jewish citizens. Still, the number of Jewish Amsterdamers who survived in hiding were far outnumbered by those who saw no other option but to report for deportation when so required. On 29 September 1943 the last razzia, or roundup, occurred, and the Jewish council was disbanded. Apart from those who remained in hiding, and a small minority who had escaped persecution through marriages, the eighty-thousand-strong Jewish population was gone. Only a handful returned after liberation.

As the occupation progressed, deprivation increased. Shortages of textiles, fuel, and shoes gradually developed from a nuisance into a severe problem. Economic hardship reached its peak in the winter of 1944–1945, when the combination of a train strike, German aggression, and the freezing of canals disabled the supplies of food to Amsterdam and other large cities. As food stocks ran dangerously low, a serious crisis ensued. Long lines of people took to the countryside to buy or barter food from farmers. Black market prices soared. Those who were socially and economically weak, notably the elderly who lacked the support of family or friends, fell victim to starvation. An eruption of infectious disease took even more lives. To avoid freezing, people ravaged their home interiors for firewood, as well as (perhaps primarily) the interiors of others. By the time of liberation, the "hunger winter," as it was known, had led to thousands of deaths in Amsterdam alone.


Amsterdam had long been the center of art and culture in the Netherlands, and the twentieth century brought an intensification of this dominance. During the interwar years, Amsterdam boasted a lively cultural life, including painters of repute. The Concertgebouw was widely recognized as one of Europe's finer concert halls and housed an excellent orchestra. Still, Amsterdam's international appeal was limited. Although the once common view, that the Netherlands were particularly backward in things artistic during the interwar years, has been refuted, it is clear that the city could not compete with Paris, London, or Vienna as a cultural center. The relative importance of Amsterdam in the international cultural scene did increase markedly after the Second World War.

Special mention should be made of the Stedelijk Museum, or city museum. Founded in the late nineteenth century, the Stedelijk became a center of avant-garde art during the tenure of Willem Sandberg as director (1945–1962). Sandberg modeled the museum on New York's Museum of Modern Art and introduced a number of modern artists to the Dutch public, often to both their disgust and that of the press. The 1949 exhibition of members of the CoBrA group was groundbreaking, as were exhibitions of work by the artists of the movement called De Stijl (Dutch for "the style"), Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and Joan Miró (1893–1983). Not only did Sandberg change a somewhat provincial local museum into an important center of modern art and develop a magnificent collection, he also did much to make modern, and especially abstract, art respectable (or even palpable) to Dutch audiences.

More generally, the 1950s and 1960s were an era of great cultural and artistic upheaval. Modern jazz found an audience among the bohemians, intellectuals, and artists of Amsterdam. Musicians moved to the city, not least because of the prevailing liberal atmosphere. In 1968 Paradiso, the city's main venue for pop and rock music, was established in a former church and proved able to attract many international stars. In 1973 the Bimhuis, a venue for jazz and improvised music, was opened, with a likewise international outlook. In combination with the Concertgebouworkest, Amsterdam became host to an exceptionally wide range of musical styles and genres.


Amsterdam was never a politically quiet city. Before World War II, the city experienced considerable political upheaval especially during the years of economic hardship of World War I and the crisis years of the 1930s. Compared to the Netherlands at large, Amsterdam was (and remained) a city of left-wing sympathies. During World War I and the 1930s, when economic hardship struck the working classes, the city was rocked by rioting. Although communist and other revolutionary political movements were involved in agitating among the impoverished unemployed during these troubled times, much of the rioting of 1917 and 1934, when the biggest eruptions took place, had a more or less spontaneous character.

True revolutionary zeal developed after liberation from the Germans, albeit without ever posing a truly serious threat to the official, democratic political order. In the 1946 elections, the Communist Party gained so many seats that it wasable to forma coalition with the Social Democrats, but in the longer run its following was too small to constitute much of a threat. In 1956, after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Communist Party office was besieged by an angry mob. Although it remained a radical voice in the city until the late 1980s, communism was not a particularly potent political force in postwar Amsterdam.

Nevertheless, Amsterdam did experience a considerable amount of militant left-wing activity in the years following liberation. The nation's capital city became the focal point of politically inspired unrest. During the early 1960s, a loose federation of young, highly heterodox activists began to rebel against the status quo. Cigarette smoking, which had only recently been found to cause cancer, became something to rebel against, along with the atomic bomb, NATO, and many other things. The demonstrations and other activities carried out by militants briefly united under the name Provo—an anarchist youth movement and also the name of an anarchist magazine (1965–1967)—elicited considerable police violence but were not initially seen as particularly threatening. This changed on 10 March 1966 when a smoke-bomb was thrown into the wedding parade of crown-princess Beatrix and her German husband, Claus von Amsberg, and shocked the nation.

The significance of Provo in the history of Amsterdam and the Netherlands stems to a large extent from demographic circumstances. The movement itself did not survive the mid-1960s, but it did inspire the baby boom generation that was then reaching adolescence. The sheer number of adolescents in the country, and their eagerness to come to Amsterdam, ensured that the counter-culture would be there to stay. The city seemed engulfed with activism against the Vietnam War, against local policies, and against the establishment in general. Students occupied the university, people slept in the street, and marijuana was consumed in ample quantities. Amsterdam was gripped by the 1960s counterculture. The city changed visibly, but the true confrontations with the authorities were yet to come.

The hard clashes between activists and the authorities, interestingly, did not normally concern issues such as NATO or South African apartheid or other vexing issues, but city policies. The main trend in urban planning had been toward the spatial separation of urban functions, large-scale projects, and a more practical urban infrastructure. The Bijlmer, the Metro, the new city hall, and the opera theater rallied the cities' radicals to violent resistance. The postwar view of urban development, inspired by the likes of the Swiss-born architect and artist Le Corbusier, met little enthusiasm among the extreme Left in Amsterdam. Attempts to move people out of the overcrowded, badly maintained, and ill-planned old neighborhoods and into garden cities farther away seemed socially sound, but many people begged to differ.

The radical Left in the city opted rather for the "compact city" in which various urban functions (working, living, shopping) were to take place in the same space, and large projects and demolition were taboo. From 1970 onward, this movement was strengthened by an energetic and very vocal movement of squatters. Squatting in empty houses and other buildings was, under certain conditions, not illegal. Moreover, at first the squatters could count on considerable public sympathy. The image of the homeless squatter pitted against the heartless landlord was a heroic one, but squatters rapidly lost public sympathy due to the often violent confrontations with the police. The low point in this period was the coronation of Queen Beatrix on 30 April 1980, when she was once more confronted with an unruly city; squatters and the police spent the afternoon in seemingly endless and violent battle. During the later 1980s and 1990s squatting declined, although it never totally disappeared. Along with it, large-scale rioting against urban planners has been marginalized. This is at least partially the result of changed views on what Amsterdam should become. Many of the views of the radical Left on the use of the public space, most notably that of the compact city, have become incorporated into mainstream policies.

See alsoFrank, Anne; Netherlands; 1968; World War II.


Mak, Geert. Amsterdam: Brief Life of the City. Translated by Philipp Blom. Cambridge, Mass., 2000.

Moore, Bob. Victims and Survivors: The Nazi Persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands, 1940–1945. New York, 1997.

Roegholt, Richter. Amsterdam na 1900. Amsterdam, 1993.

Ralf Futselaar


views updated May 29 2018


the "second golden age"
in search of a monumental capital
pride and embarrassment
turning point: 1900

Unlike Europe's three largest cities—London, Paris, and Naples—Amsterdam, with its 217,000 inhabitants in 1800, owed its somewhat more modest ranking not to the presence of court, church, or government but to its past economic glories. After Napoleon's defeat, the Netherlands became a kingdom that inherited the centralist state from the French occupation. Once insignificant, the Hague became the dominant political and administrative center. Although Amsterdam was seen as the capital, it lacked the consuming power of the court, ministries, parliament, and foreign diplomats of the Hague.

Amsterdam's revival was thwarted by the loss of its staple market to London. When Great Britain returned the East Indies to the Dutch, the colony recovered, but did so under strict state control, preventing Amsterdam's entrepreneurs from benefiting from its many resources. Despite the construction of a new shipping lane in 1824, the city's poor maritime accessibility remained an obstacle. Amsterdam's population loss was matched by the deplorable state of its townscape. Landlords facing vacancies decided to tear their houses down to avoid paying property taxes.

The Dutch economy recovered in the 1850s as laissez-faire liberalism came to dominate the political arena. In 1870 most restrictions on private investments in the East Indies were abolished. Few cities benefited from this policy as much as Amsterdam. After the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869, which sharply reduced traveling time to the colony, Amsterdam invested in the North Sea Channel. It opened in 1876, transforming the city's sleepy port into a booming hub that recalled the Golden Age of Amsterdam in the seventeenth century.

the "second golden age"

From the 1870s until the outbreak of World War I, Amsterdam enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth, led by its commercial and financial sector. The stock exchange grew into the Continent's leading market for U.S. railroad bonds and was the gateway for investment in the Dutch East Indies and one of Europe's leading markets for foreign loans, particularly from Russia. Amsterdam banks increasingly controlled the national financial market. Though never considered a leading sector, manufacturing became the city's main employer, specializing in consumer industries and shipbuilding.

Face-to-face communication dictated a tight clustering of offices in the city center, where staff

Population of Amsterdam, 1795–1910
YearPopulationRelative change

and errand boys were within walking distance of the stock exchange and the Bank of the Netherlands, the national clearing house. Proximity to the modernized Post and Telegraph office was mandatory, as it provided the only rapid international communication facilities of the time. The opening of the new Central Railway Station in 1889 added further to the attraction of the area. Department stores, hotels, and leisure and entertainment outlets also fought for a place in the core area.

Few deplored the fact that the legacy of the seventeenth century fell prey to the new building frenzy; it was the toll to be paid so that Amsterdam could escape the fate of "dead cities" such as Venice. But linking the city center with new residential quarters posed substantial problems. In the seventeenth century the city had been planned as a perfect machine for water carriage, the most cost-efficient form of pre-industrial transport. Roads were seen as a necessary evil, which explained their minimal size and poor consistency. Initially, private developers came up with grandiose plans for new boulevards to run through the historic city center, clearly inspired by Baron Georges Haussmann's Grands Travaux in Paris. Eventually, these private plans failed due to a lack of funding. The huge costs of redoing the transportation network necessitated the intervention—however reluctant—of the city.

in search of a monumental capital

By filling in some of the canals the municipality sought the cheapest solution to traffic problems. But a major cut linking the new western quarters with the inner city was unavoidable. It took ten years before the new Raadhuisstraat was open to the public, a delay mainly due to the time-consuming process of compulsory land purchase.

Although the new artery proved effective in reducing congestion, as a new boulevard it could not withstand the comparison with Haussmann's creations. The facades facing the new artery were a far cry from the strict neoclassical monumentality that made New Paris so impressive. Amsterdam lacked both the funds and the legal tools to realize such embellishment.

That the dominant politics of laissez-faire were incompatible with grandiose urban design was a lesson learned in 1867 during discussions of an extension plan drawn by the city's architect, J. G. Van Niftrik. Fearing chaos in the urban periphery where uncontrolled speculative building had led the way, the local council had ordered Van Niftrik's plan. But critical politicians soon realized that despite the design's aesthetic qualities and strict social segregation, the city lacked the means to impose the plan onto private landowners. Van Niftrik suggested massive expropriation of the land that his plan proposed to use. The alderman for public works refused this initiative, rightly suspecting that neither the government nor parliament would be convinced by the request for compulsory purchase "for the common interest." Each expropriation required a separate Act of Parliament, as well as compensation costs paid at market value of the land. This procedure was ruled out by Amsterdam's financial situation.

Yet the need for some planning remained, as even the staunchest liberals conceded. Thus, in 1878 they accepted a plan proposed by the Director of Public Works, J. Kalff. The new plan was "realistic," not once mentioning expropriation. Kalff had accepted the main property lines, such as roads and ditches, as the skeleton for his design. Although legally forbidden to impose a street plan, Kalff convinced developers to permit major radial arteries to run over their property.

Although aesthetically and technically impaired, this plan triggered an unprecedented building boom. Thus Amsterdam received its nineteenth-century belt. Speculative builders constructed flimsy three- to four-story houses, often subdivided into back-to-back single room apartments, along narrow, straight streets. The new quarters were mainly the domain of the lower middle classes, although all had their "golden fringes." Developers built higher quality, more spacious, and luxurious housing along parks, waterways, and broad streets. These houses were often richly decorated with Dutch neo-Renaissance ornaments, referring to the dominant vernacular of the Golden Age and testifying to their tenants' wealth.

pride and embarrassment

Although Amsterdam failed to produce a modern, monumental townscape, civic pride compensated for the lack of state-funded institutions that elsewhere on the Continent were seen as the prerogative of a capital city. In 1876 Amsterdam finally got its own university, after years of lobbying parliament. The city had to pay for this prestigious institution out of its own pocket, but the burden was gladly accepted. From its start, Amsterdam University funded studies that were seen as essential for a merchant city. The university's geography department—the first in the Netherlands—explored the unmapped areas of the Dutch East Indies, where entrepreneurs rightly expected to find great investment opportunities. The city also donated resources to modern laboratories of the university. The rewards came in 1902 and 1910, when two of the university's professors became Nobel laureates in physics.

The bourgeoisie demonstrated its loyalty to the city that had enabled them to amass their fortunes by funding a zoo, several museums, a new park, and the Concertgebouw, a concert hall that within a few years became one of Europe's leading temples of music, where contemporary composers such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss conducted their own works. Without a cent of state funding or royal patronage, the city successfully established itself as the cultural heart of the Netherlands.

All this was hardly relevant for the working class. Increasing immigrant labor led to serious overcrowding of inner city slums, which were within walking distance of the port and major industries. This congestion, combined with rough labor conditions, led to social unrest, including regular and sometimes violent confrontations with police forces. In 1903 unions and the young Socialist Party achieved a major victory when a local strike by dockers and railway men turned into a national confrontation with the right-wing government. Although not a classical factory town, Amsterdam became the epicenter of the Dutch labor movement. The "Red Capital" would continue its role well into the twentieth century.

turning point: 1900

Amsterdam opinion leaders led the way to Amsterdam's turning point with their criticism of capitalism. In addition to exposing the conditions of the working class, they, like their British counterparts of the Arts and Crafts movement, focused on the poor aesthetic performance of industrial society. Blind laissez-faire, they claimed, had produced a depressing urban landscape. Speculative development had transformed the historic core into a free market townscape, with a cacophony of styles, each building trying to shout down its neighbors, and pockmarked with slums. In 1896, when Amsterdam's expansion reached city limits, the city was granted a major annexation. Critics convinced the local council that therein lay the chance for a truly impressive town plan. In 1901 parliament passed a reformist housing act. It enabled cities with an approved expansion plan to expropriate the area on which it was projected, though compensation was still to be paid at market prices.

Amsterdam seized this opportunity and commissioned Hendrik Petrus Berlage, one of the nation's leading architects, to design an expansion plan. It was accepted in 1905, and after major alterations, was executed after 1918.

Few urban designs in the Netherlands were as monumental. Broad boulevards offered wide vistas for public buildings. Building densities were considerably lower than in any other part of the city, offering residents green squares and intimate parks. Here, many felt, Amsterdam finally offered an urban landscape worthy of a capital city.

See alsoCities and Towns; Netherlands.


Bank, Jan. Stads mecenaat en lokale overheid: Honderd jaar private en publieke kunstbevordering in Amsterdam 1899–1999. Amsterdam, 1999.

Knotter, Ad. Economische transformatie en stedelijke arbeidsmarkt, Amsterdam in de tweede helft van de negentiende eeuw. Zwolle, Netherlands, 1991.

Pistor, Rob, et al., eds. A City in Progress: Physical Planning in Amsterdam. Translated by Harold Alexander. Amsterdam, 1994.

Stieber, Nancy. Housing Design and Society in Amsterdam: Reconfiguring Urban Order and Identity, 1900–1920. Chicago, 1998.

Tijn, Theo van. Twintig jaren Amsterdam: De maatschappelijke ontwikkeling van de hoofdstad van de jaren '50 der vorige eeuw tot 1876. Amsterdam, 1965.

Wagenaar, Michiel. "Amsterdam 1876–1914: Economisch herstel, ruimtelijke expansie en de veranderende ordening van het stedelijk grondgebruik." Ph.D. diss., Historisch Seminarium Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1990.

——. "Conquest of the Center or Flight to the Suburbs? Divergent Metropolitan Strategies in Europe, 1850–1914." Journal of Urban History 19, no. 1 (1992):60–83.

——. "Amsterdam as a Financial Centre, 1876–1914." In Cities of Finance, edited by Herman Diederiks and David Reeder, 265–279. Amsterdam, 1996.

——. "Capital without Capitol: Amsterdam's Quest for a Convincing Urban Image, 1870–1940." In Capital Cities: Images and Realities in the Historical Development of European Capital Cities, edited by Lars Nilsson, 10–27. Stockholm, 2000.

——. "Between Civic Pride and Mass Society: Amsterdam in Retrospect." In Amsterdam Human Capital, edited by Sako Musterd and Willem Salet, 49–67. Amsterdam, 2003.

Michiel Wagenaar


views updated May 18 2018


The Dutch city of Amsterdam was the leading commercial center of Northern Europe from the late 1500s to the late 1600s. Located at the point where the Ij and Amstel Rivers meet, Amsterdam dominated shipping between ports of the Baltic Sea and northeastern Europe. A network of dikes and dams, built in the 1200s, controlled the rivers' flow. A meeting place for people of many different cultures, the city attracted a large number of thinkers and artists.

Founded around 1300, Amsterdam was a fairly young city at the beginning of the Renaissance. Its population rose from about 3,000 in 1400 to 30,000 in 1580, making it the largest city in the province of Holland. Like other provinces in the Netherlands, Holland was controlled by the Roman Catholic monarchs of Spain. In 1568 Dutch Protestants rebelled against Spanish rule and took over large parts of Holland. However, Amsterdam's leaders were Catholic, so the city remained loyal to Spain. As a result, it became cut off from the rest of the province, seriously hurting its trade.

Amsterdam surrendered to the rebels in 1578. A new city government took over that included both Protestants and Catholics. Throughout the 1600s, the city encouraged religious tolerance. Although it declared the Dutch Reformed Church the official religion, people were free to practice other faiths privately. In 1650 about one in every five Amsterdamers was Catholic, even though the Catholic Church was officially banned.

From about 1620 to 1700 the Dutch Republic basked in a "golden age." The Netherlands had become the most important economic power in Europe, and Amsterdam was its leading city. Amsterdam's merchants dominated trade with Asia and the Americas. Two large companies, the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company, controlled trade in these regions. Dutch commercial power made Amsterdam one of Europe's leading financial centers.

By 1700 the city had a population of about 205,000, but its influence in European affairs was declining. Rivalry with other countries was wearing down the Dutch Republic. The English harassed the country by sea, while the French attacked it by land. After 1700 the Netherlands was no longer a major European power, and Amsterdam lost its position as the continent's economic center.

Although known mainly as a commercial city, Amsterdam emerged as a major cultural center during the 1600s. It was particularly famous for its painters, led by the great master Rembrandt von Rijn. Rembrandt and his pupils developed the art form known as still life, which featured inanimate objects such as flowers or fruit. Amsterdam was also a literary city. While it produced few important writers of its own, it was home to many thinkers and writers from other countries. The city's publishing houses produced more than 1,400 titles between 1639 and 1650.

(See alsoArt in the Netherlands; Asia, East; Economy and Trade; Printing and Publishing. )

see color plate 11, vol. 3


views updated May 17 2018

Amsterdam Capital and largest city in the Netherlands, on the River Amstel and linked to the North Sea by the North Sea Canal. Amsterdam was chartered in c.1300 and joined the Hanseatic League in 1369. The Dutch East India Company (1602) brought great prosperity to the city. It became a notable centre of learning and book printing during the 17th century. It declined when captured by the French in 1795 and blockaded by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. Amsterdam was badly in the German occupation during World War II (1939–45). A major port and one of Europe's leading financial and cultural centres, it has an important stock exchange and diamond-cutting industry. Sights include the Old Church (c.1300), the house of Rembrandt, the Royal Palace, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House. Industries: iron and steel, oil refining, rolling stock, chemicals, glass, shipbuilding. Pop. (2001) 736,538.