Utrecht

Jews have lived in Utrecht on and off, and under varying circumstances, since the 14th century. During the 15th century, Jews lived in the center of the city in a street that is still called 'Jodenrijtje' (Jew's Row), located in a courtyard behind the Bakkerstraat. Both the city fathers and the Spanish governor of Utrecht expelled Jews from the city several times. In 1546, King Charles V banned Jews from residing within the entire bishopric of Utrecht.

The first Jew to obtain citizenship in Utrecht did so at the beginning of the 18th century. In the aftermath of an epidemic in 1712, all Jews, except those holding citizenship, were expelled from the entire province of Utrecht. The ban did not apply to Jewish students at the University of Utrecht, however. As to other Jews, no exceptions were made, not even on market days. The expulsion decree and ban were lifted in 1736. Thereafter, Jews began to settle in locales close to the city of Utrecht. Between 1720 and 1730, the city of Utrecht unsuccessfully attempted to attract Portuguese-Jewish merchants to the city in the hope that this would strengthen the local economy. In 1733, a number of Jews were awarded citizenship in the city.

Only the intervention of Prince Willem V in 1788 enabled more Jews to settle in Utrecht, albeit in the face of strict restrictions. Most of the first wave of Jews to settle in Utrecht at the time moved there from the nearby town of Maarssen.

In the 18th century, Jews visiting Utrecht for the annual fair gathered for prayer at De Hollandse Tuyn, a rooming house located in the Boterstraat. Synagogue services were arranged by the Reis Chewre, a religious traveler's aid society organized by the Jews of Utrecht. During, the closing decades of the 18th century the Jewish population of Utrecht had grown to such an extent that in 1792 a former Mennonite church located in the Jufferstraat/Springweg was hired for use as a synagogue. Prior to then, Jews residing in Utrecht prayed in a private in the 1792 Korte Nieuwstraat. The former church was purchased by the Utrecht community in 1796 and remained in use as a synagogue until 1981. The building was restored four times over the almost two centuries it the served community as a house of prayer.

During the period of Napoleonic rule in the Netherlands, Utrecht was chosen as the seat of the provincial chief rabbinate. After the redistricting of Jewish communities under the reign of King Willem I, the residence of the chief rabbi was moved to Amersfoort. In the 1830s, the Utrecht community was divided by a series of conflicts over the banning of Yiddish as a language of prayer in the synagogue.

Until 1807 the Jews of Utrecht buried their dead in a Jewish cemetery near the nearby town of Maarssen. In 1808, the community purchased ground for new cemetery on the Zandpad adjacent to the river Vecht.

A religious teacher provided the children of Utrecht community with a Jewish education. In 1821, a new schoolhouse was built for the community's school for poor Jewish children. The number of children educated at the school rose throughout the course of the19th century, this despite the ongoing integration of Jewish children into public education following the passage of country-wide educational reform legislation in 1857

The Jewish community of Utrecht was governed by a community directorate and community council. Other official positions within the community included a treasurer for collection and distribution of aid to Jewish settlers in the holy land and a board for distributing assistance to the local poor. Voluntary organizations included societies dedicated to aiding children, the elderly, travelers, refugees, immigrants, the infirm, and orphans. The Jews of Utrecht also maintained study fellowships. Women's organizations included a society responsible for upkeep of the synagogue. A synagogue choir was established in Utrecht during the last years of the 19th century as were local branches of the Maatschappij tot Nut der Israëlieten in Nederland (The Society for the Welfare of Israelites in the Netherlands), the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and the De Vereeniging tot Beoefening van Joodsche Wetenschappen (The Society for the Practice of Jewish Sciences). The Centraal Israëlietisch Weeshuis (Central Israelite Orphanage) was opened in Utrecht in 1871.

Post card of the Gerzon Brothers in Utrecht, ca. 1916The Jewish population of Utrecht grew rapidly over the first decades of the 20th century. As a result, the seat of the provincial chief was returned to Utrecht in 1917. During the same period, new Jewish organizations arose in Utrecht including Zionist and non-Zionist societies, a youth movement, and a sports club. At the time, the majority of the Jews of Utrecht worked as shopkeepers and as peddlers. Other of the city's Jews worked as wholesale merchants, civil servants, teachers, university professors, and lawyers.

During the early years of the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands, foreign Jews were driven out of the coastal areas of the country. Many came to Utrecht forming a community of German Jewish refugees. All the Jews of Utrecht were affected by anti-Jewish measures implemented by the Germans and their collaborators. In November 1940, local Jews were fired from the civil service. The mayor of Utrecht was later dismissed because of his reluctance in implementing anti-Jewish measures. Jewish children were expelled from Utrecht's public schools in September, 1941. Separate Jewish schools were organized the same autumn. In October, 1941, a representative of the German controlled Jewish Council was appointed in Utrecht.

Deportation of Jews from Utrecht began in September, 1942. Even during the period of deportations, Jewish life in Utrecht remained active, both on the cultural and the religious fronts. The last Jew known to the authorities to remain in Utrecht was deported to the detention camp at Vught in April, 1943. Several hundred other Jews remained behind in hiding, helped in part by resistance groups in Utrecht including the Kindercomité. Other Jews found hiding places in the nearby towns and villages of Zeist, Maartensdijk, and Loosdrecht.

In 1941, on the eve of the Jewish day of mourning commemorating the instruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem, an attempt was made to burn down the Utrecht synagogue. The attempt failed. The synagogue was sealed following the deportation of the last Jew apprehended in the city. The building came through the war undamaged and was reopened on May 10, 1945 just after the liberation of Utrecht. A number of the synagogue's Torah scrolls and ceremonial objects had been hidden and during the war and were later recovered.

Jewish life continued in Utrecht during the postwar period. A monument to the more than 1,000 Jews of Utrecht murdered during the war was erected at the Jewish cemetery in 1948. Utrecht was selected as the seat of the chief rabbinate of all of the Netherlands outside of the cities and surroundings of Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam, each of which had their own rabbinates. The name of the Utrecht-based chief rabbinate was later changed to the Interprovinciaal Opperrabbinaat (Inter-Provincial Chief Rabbinate). In 1988 the seat of the Interprovinciaal Opperrabbinaat was transferred to the city of Hilversum.

By 1981 the synagogue in the Springweg had become too large for the dwindling Utrecht community and was sold. In the time since, weekly religious services have been held in a smaller locale furnished with the Holy Ark of the former Ashkenazi synagogue at Maarssen (founded in 1776). The Jewish community at Utrecht celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1989.
The Jewish cemetery was restored in 1990. In 2004, volunteers from the Stichting Boete en Verzoening (Foundation for Penance and Reconciliation) assisted in the restoration of 200 gravestones at the cemetery.

A Liberal Jewish community was established in Utrecht in 1993. The offices and synagogue of the Liberal community are located in the building of the former Centraal Israëlietisch Weeshuis (Central Israelite Orphanage) on the Nieuwegracht. In 1994, the mayor of Utrecht unveiled in the building a plaque commemorating the former orphanage.

Environs of Utrecht
During the German occupation, approximately 70 Jewish refugees driven from the coastal regions of the Netherlands were resettled at Doorn. Almost half the group was able to hide from deportation, some of the help of local civil servants. Other refugees expelled from the coast were settled at Driebergen, De Bilt, and Zeist. In 2001, a monument was unveiled in the Walkart Park in Zeist in memory of 102 Jews from the town murdered during the war. A war monument erected in 1996 at nearby Baambrugge includes the names of two local Jewish families deported and murdered during the war.

Jewish population of Utrecht and surroundings: 

1809 383
1840 684
1869 676
1899 852
1930 1218
1951 438
1971 300
1998 119


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