The first Jew to settle in Harlingen arrived at the end of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, the number of Jews that achieved full citizenship in the town grew to twenty. Jews who settled in Harlingen came from many places; most worked as traders, street vendors, or ritual slaughterers.

Parokhet of the Jewish community Harlingen, 1865By the 1760's, an organized Jewish community had come into being and religious services were being held regularly, at first in a private residence and later in the attic of a warehouse. An actual synagogue, located in the Raamstraat, was consecrated in 1812. Charity and aid to the poor were provided by the community. Surviving gravestone inscriptions suggest that the Jewish cemetery, located on the Willemskade near the town walls, was established in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Following the implementation of full civil equality for the Jews of the Netherlands under Napoleonic rule and the simultaneous economic blossoming of Harlingen, the Jewish population of the town rose. Beginning in 1830, the Jews of nearby Franeker fell under the aegis of the Harlingen community. Eventually, Harlingen Jews began to take an active part in the town's public life, although none ever rose to serve on the town council. During the nineteenth century, the Harlingen community maintained a Jewish school, a burial society, a women's society, and a branch of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. The community's synagogue council consisted of five members, one of whom also served as chairman of a society that collected money to provide relief to Jews living in Eretz Israel.

The Harlingen synagogue was restored and expanded in 1877 and again in 1897. The old cemetery on the Willemskade was closed in 1870. Thereafter, the community made use of a separate section of Harlingen's public cemetery located near the water tower on the present-day Begraafplaatslaan; the section was expanded in 1909.

The Pais family greengrocery, ca. 1920 (coll. Visser)At the outset of the twentieth century, the majority of the Jews of Harlingen made their livings in trade, the meat industry, or as brush makers or cigar makers. Despite the relative prosperity of Harlingen Jews, the Jewish population of the town fell during the early years of the twentieth century due to the general trend of Jewish migration from the smaller towns to the larger cities of the Netherlands. Nevertheless, during the same period, the Harlingen community founded a new women's society and a theater society.

In 1942 and 1943, during the middle of the Second World War, all the Jews of Harlingen were deported and subsequently murdered in Nazi death camps. The synagogue was destroyed during a bombardment but the Torah scrolls, which had been hidden, were recovered after the war and sent to Israel. The Jewish community of Harlingen was officially dissolved in 1947 and administratively merged into that of Leeuwarden. The old cemetery on the Willemskade was cleared away in 1953. The contents of its graves were exhumed and interred at the the cemetery on the Begraafplaatslaan. A memorial stone at the Begraafplaatslaan cemetery commemorates Harlingen Jews murdered during the war. The dead are also commemorated in a memorial plaque in the Raamstraat at the site of the former synagogue. The Begraafplaatslaan cemetery is currently maintained by the local authorities.


During the nineteenth century, a number of Jews lived on the North Sea island of Terschelling; they left the island at the end of the century. 

Jewish population in Harlingen:

1796 83
1809 88
1840 195
1869 356
1899 216
1930 56


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