Meppel

Historical documents refer to the presence of Jews in Meppel prior to 1700.  Jews began to settle in Meppel from the 1730's on.  Local authorities responded by tightening residence requirements.  Attempts to prevent Jews from settling in Meppel continued throughout the eighteenth century but too little effect. Meppel, market, about 1920

The Jews of Meppel buried their dead in nearby Zwartsluis until 1767.  In the same year, the Jewish community of Meppel was formally founded and ground for a new cemetery was purchased at Het Boddenkampje, the site of the present-day bridge the Burgemeester Knoppersbrug.   Soon after, this plot was traded for another on the Zomerdijk street in Nijeveen. The statutes of the Meppel community were adopted in 1772.  At the time, religious services were held in a private home; however, the community employed a cantor of its own who also served as its teacher and ritual slaughterer. 

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, the community at Meppel grew rapidly.  To accommodate its larger numbers, the community founded a synagogue on the Touwstraat.  Continued growth led to the enlargement and renovation building in 1865.  The increased size of the community also created the need for a larger cemetery.  The grounds of community's second cemetery, opened on the Steenwijkerstraatweg in 1819, were expanded in 1850.

In 1808, under the rule of Louis Napoleon, the Jewish community at Meppel was declared the central community (Hoofdsynagoge) of its district.  Later, following the establishment of the central consistory of Dutch Jewry (NIK) by King Willem I, the Meppel community was included within the chief rabbinate of Overijssel and Zwolle.  In 1853, Meppel was selected as the residence of the chief rabbinate of the province of Drenthe.  During much of the nineteenth century, the Jewish community of Meppel was embroiled in conflicts, both internal and with the former chief rabbinate at Zwolle.  Conflicts led to a split in the community in 1875.

The Jewish community at Meppel was governed by a directorate and council.  Other official positions included a treasurer for administrating donations to the Jewish community in Palestine and a council for administering aid to the town's many poor Jews.  The Jews of Meppel maintained voluntary organizations included a burial society, a society for aiding the orphans and the aged, a society for the care of synagogue and its furnishings, a women's society, and a rhetorical society (Vereniging ter Beoefening van Welsprekendheid).  A short-lived theater society and an equally short-lived women's glee club were found during the 1870's.  The Society for the Welfare of the Jews in the Netherlands (Maatschappij tot Nut der Israëlieten), the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and the Dutch Zionist Organization (Nederlandse Zionisten Bond) maintained branches in Meppel.  During the second half of the nineteenth century Jews were also active in the secular life of Meppel.  In addition to being members of local economic, social, and political organizations, Jews also served on Meppel's town council. 

A Jewish school was founded in Meppel in 1817 but did not reach full capacity until later in the century.  The schoolhouse was located directly opposite the synagogue.  In 1853 and 1854, a traditionally-oriented Jewish weekly newspaper, De Israëliet (The Israelite), was published in Meppel as a counterweight to the reform-oriented, Amsterdam-based Israëlietisch Weekblad (Israelite Weekly).

Meppel synagogue, (photo archive NIW)Despite a setback in membership rolls during the 1920's and 1930's, on the eve of the Second World War the Jewish community at Meppel was still counted amongst the Netherlands' mid-sized Jewish communities.  During the 1930's, Meppel's strong economy won the town the nickname of "Little Rotterdam".  At the time, most of the Jews in Meppel worked in trade or manufacturing and resided in the town's main shopping streets.  Jews were elected to the positions of councilmen, alderman, and even deputy mayor.  The pre-war period also saw the founding in Meppel of Zionist youth organizations and a number of new Jewish clubs including a women's literary society and several study fellowships and youth clubs.

The German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II put an end to this.  Beginning in August of 1942, young Jewish men from Meppel were sentenced to work camps.  Deportations to the detention and transit camp at Westerbork began in the same month.   In October 1942, on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the majority of the Jews of Meppel were arrested and deported with the collaboration of Dutch police. The homes of deported Jews were plundered and their furniture impounded and stored in the synagogue.  A mere ten percent of the Jews of Meppel managed to survive the war in hiding.  Several dozen Jews from elsewhere in the Netherlands also found hiding places in the surroundings of Meppel.  In 1944, offspring of mixed Jewish-Christian marriages were sentenced to forced labor at nearby Havelte.

The interior of the synagogue was badly damaged during the occupation.  The Holy Ark was completed destroyed.  The Torah scrolls, which had been brought to Amsterdam and hidden, were never recovered.  The synagogue's ceremonial objects, however, were preserved and after the war were donated to the synagogue at Eindhoven. 

Interior of former synagogue, painting of Mark LisserOnly a few Jews returned to Meppel after the war.  In 1964, the Jewish community of Meppel was officially dissolved and administratively merged into that of Zwolle.   The synagogue was sold soon after the war and in 1960, together with the former Jewish school, was razed in the context of urban renewal.  In 1970, a monument in memory of the deported Jews of Meppel was unveiled in the Slotplantsoen.  In 1997, a larger memorial bearing the names of each of the murdered Jews of Meppel was added to this site.

The portal of the Jewish cemetery at Meppel was fully restored in 1974 with support from the national monuments commission of the Netherlands and was cleaned and repaired anew in 2002.  Restoration of the cemetery itself was commenced in 1998 and completed in 2001.   The cemetery is currently maintained by the local governmental authorities.

A Digital Monument to the Jews of Meppel was launched in 2002. In November 2010 a painting of the synagogue interior was revealed at the corner of Synagogestraat and Touwstraat.

Jewish population of Meppel and surroundings:

1767 12 families
1791 120
1809 200
1840 390
1869 585
1899 544
1930 304
1951 30


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