If you are interested in visiting Jewish Amsterdam you are in the right place. I made it a point to visit all the most important places in the Jewish Cultural Quarter Amsterdam – many personal reasons made me want to do so.
Amsterdam has had a thriving Jewish community for centuries. Rich in Jewish culture, the city’s fortunes and cultural landscape have been shaped by Jewish people and those who arrived from other parts of Europe.
The large Jewish community in Amsterdam was decimated by Nazi persecution that took place in World War II. Many monuments in the city now pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the holocaust, offering a moment of reflection and remembrance. There are also several sights which celebrate the heritage of the city’s Jewish community.
The Jewish Cultural Quarter Amsterdam is located between the Nieuwmarkt and Plantage. Known historically as the Jodenbuurt, the Jewish Cultural Quarter Amsterdam is home to a collection of culturally and historically important monuments and buildings.
The moments are under the care of The Jewish Cultural Quarter who are tasked with the conservation of Jewish culture in the city. You can visit several of the buildings in the quarter with one single ticket purchased at the entrance to the historic buildings of the Jewish Cultural Quarter Amsterdam.
Take some time to explore the rich and fascinating Jewish history and culture of Amsterdam. In this post you’ll find a useful introduction to the Jewish Cultural Quarter Amsterdam as well as a look at the history of the Jewish community in Amsterdam, and all the places you should visit in Jewish Amsterdam to learn more about it.
I will also include some recommendation of tours of the Jewish Cultural Quarter of Amsterdam at the end of this post.
If you are traveling to Amsterdam soon, my post The Best Places To Visit In Amsterdam will definitely be handy in helping you pick what to see.
The History Jewish Amsterdam
Amsterdam has long been considered the center of the nation’s Jewish community. A Jewish community has been active in the city for the past 370 years. This rich heritage can be traced through a local nickname for Amsterdam which is also known as Mokum, a Yiddish word meaning “town”.
The Jewish population of the city has changed over time. From the 16th century onwards, Amsterdam was a place of safety from persecution for Jewish people from across Europe, in particular those from Spain, Portugal and Central and Eastern Europe.
The European communities arrived in the city in a bid to live free from the persecution that they faced in their home nations. During this time, Amsterdam was just one of the only places in the continent where Jewish people could live freely.
Jewish refugees from Spain first arrived in Amsterdam in 1492 with the Papal Bull which banned Jewish religious practices along with those of other religions.
The sizable Jewish community had an intrinsic impact on the culture and everyday life of Amsterdam, a prime example of this is the number of Yiddish words that have been incorporated into the local language.
Portuguese Jews fled the Inquisition which persecuted non-Catholics and many Jewish Portuguese traders brought their trading connections with them. They swiftly changed from trading with colonies belonging to Portuguese to trading with Dutch-owned colonies such as the Caribbean.
It was during this time that Amsterdam’s fortunes boomed, the thriving trade made it one of the most important ports in the whole of Europe heralding the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century.
To fully understand the safe haven that Amsterdam offered Jewish people in Europe, we need to look back to 1572 and the Freedom of Conscience Act, which was a collection of the Netherland’s northern provinces proclaiming themselves the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands to oust the Spanish.
In 1579, the group signed the Union of Utrecht. One of the rights agreements states that all residents of the republic have the right to personal freedom of conscience. An important policy that is the first ever example of a legally binding human right in Europe.
The order means that the Catholic Church can no longer exist in the country, but it also means that Catholics or anybody else practicing a religion cannot be persecuted.
Jewish people who fled to Amsterdam for safety were able to safely practice their own religion and culture. A large number of Jewish people arrived from Eastern Europe in the 17th century, fleeing persecution.
Many thousands of Polish Jews and the western Russian Empire were slaughtered by the Cossacks between 1646 and 1660. The Ashkenazi Jewish community became the largest Jewish community in the city, outnumbering the Portuguese Jewish community.
By the first days of World War II, around 10 percent of the city’s population of Amsterdam was Jewish, approximately 80,000 people. This number drastically dwindled due to the genocide of European Jews during the war, it’s believed only 15,000 members of Amsterdam’s Jewish community survived.
Despite the atrocities of World War II, Amsterdam remains steeped in Jewish history, heritage and culture. A number of monuments mark Jewish history, museums chart Jewish life and cultural hubs allow for an active modern Jewish community to flourish.
What To See In The Jewish Cultural Quarter Amsterdam
Now, let’s check out all the places in Amsterdam where you can learn about the life of Amsterdam’s Jewish community: step inside storied buildings, learn about life during WWII and hear the tales of Jewish people who have helped shape the identity of the city.
When it was first built, the Portuguese Synagogue was the largest in the whole of Europe. Constructed in 1675, the synagogue was the work of architect Elias Bouman. Bouman looked to descriptions of the Temple of Solomon for inspiration when designing the religious building.
As such the architecture is a mix of classic Dutch design, with vaulted barrel ceilings, and elegant Jewish architectural features. Still in use for religious ceremonies to this day, services are carried out under the glow of candlelight from the impressive chandeliers.
Make sure to plan your visit here carefully as the synagogue is closed to visitors on Shabbat (from sunset on Fridays, to sunset on Saturdays).
You can get combined tickets for the Synagogue and the Jewish Museum of Amsteredam in advance. They include an audioguide.
For more unique places to visit in Amsterdam, head over to my post The Best Hidden Gems In Amsterdam.
Jewish Museum – closed on Shabbat
Get an in-depth understanding of Jewish Amsterdam and the Jewish community in the Netherlands by visiting the Jewish History Museum. The museum is situated inside a complex of carefully restored Ashkenazic synagogues that date from the 17th and 18th centuries – it’s actually very close to the Portuguese Synagogue.
The collection takes visitors on a journey through Jewish life, with displays that chart the history of the Netherlands’ various Jewish communities and details the role they played in the nation’s trade and economy.
Along the way, you can see modern art, ceremonial objects and tales from the Jewish community and culture. A number of interactive displays help to open up the exhibits for a wide range of visitors with many to keep children interested too.
Make sure to take advantage of the audio guide included in the price of the price of the ticket. Like the Portuguese Synagogue, the museum is closed on Shabbat.
You can get combined tickets for the Synagogue and the Jewish Museum of Amsteredam in advance. They include an audioguide.
National Holocaust Names Monument
We literally stumbled upon this monument as we explored the area near the Jewish Museum and were immediately captured by its significance.
This important monument commemorates the lives of the 102,000 Jewish people who were deported by the Nazis during the German occupation of Holland between 1940 to 1945.
Opening in 2021, the monument pays respect to the victims of the atrocities who died in Auschwitz and Sobibor concentration camps, along with the 220 Roma and Sinti victims of the war.
The monument is located in the former Jewish quarter of the city and was the work of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee and was designed under the guidance of American architect Daniel Libeskind.
Made up of four different parts and covering 1,550 square meters, each of the monument’s segments represents each of the letters of the word ‘lizachàr’, a Hebrew word that means ‘In Memoriam’.
The strikingly modern monument welcomes visitors to pay their respects via several different passageways. Each of the bricks that make up the labyrinthine lanes is inscribed with the name of the 102,000 people who were murdered by the Nazis.
The names are ordered alphabetically and detail the date and birth and age of each person remembered. The simple bricks and their reflection in the metal sheets make for a poignant and visually stunning place of remembrance.
Located among the verdant lawns and leafy walkways of Wertheimpark, Amsterdam’s oldest park, is the Memorial to Auschwitz Victims. The setting of the monument among the shade of trees and close to the banks of the Nieuwe Herengracht canal allows for a place of peaceful reflection.
The Auschwitz Memorial was designed by Jan Wolkers, a Dutch writer and artist. The creation is a pool-like space made of large panels of glass. The glass appears mirror-like, reflecting the sky above, but the glass is cracked. The single inscription reads ‘Nooit Meer’ – ‘Never Again’.
This is the final resting place for many of those who died at Auschwitz. An urn containing ashes is buried beneath the mirrored monument. A memorial service takes place annually on the 27th of January.
February Protest Monument
On 25th February 1941, a protest against the treatment of Jewish people in Amsterdam took place among the city’s dockworkers. The general strike took place just days after the first round-up of Jewish people in the city to be deported to concentration camps.
The first measures against Jewish people in the Netherlands began in June 1940 when the country surrendered to the Nazi occupation. Following the surrender, Jewish people began to be forcibly removed from all public positions in the country which included roles at universities.
This action led to student protests and at the same time, there was a growing feeling of uneasiness among the city’s workers, particularly those who worked at the city’s dockyards.
The strike took place under the shadow of the German occupation of the country. The action was organized by the Communist Party of the Netherlands which had been outlawed at the time. Lasting for three days, by 26 February an estimated 300,000 local people from the city joined in the strike. The invading Germans eventually quashed the action with harsh measures.
In 1952 a monument entitled ‘The Dockworker’ was unveiled. The statue depicts a strong dockworker and is intended to commemorate the brave fight.
Anne Frank House
This is a place you should visit in Amsterdam regardless of any specific interest in the history of its Jewish community – it really is a place of incredible significance for everyone.
At Anne Frank House you can get a very personal and in-depth understanding of what it was like for the Jewish population of the city under the threat of deportation from the Nazi. The world famous diarist lived in a hidden attic that was located above a warehouse and some offices.
Hiding from Nazi persecution, she lived in cramped conditions alongside her family, another family and a family friend. The group’s daily lives were skilfully described by Anne in her diary. Sadly, the inhabitants of the annexe were discovered and deported to concentration camps.
Anne’s father, Otto, was the sole survivor and returned to Amsterdam after the war. Otto helped to set up Anne Frank House to remember his daughter and to show the world just what life was like living in fear of being discovered.
Visitors can step inside the hidden annexe, see where Anne lived as a teenager and even glimpse her famous diary.
For a more detailed guide, head over to my post How To Visit Anne Frank House.
Anne Frank Statue
A bronze statue of Anne Frank is located on Westermarkt, just a small distance from the Anne Frank House. This statue of the diarist depicts her looking at the sky with an air of hope.
Another statue of Anne is situated across the street from the apartment where she and her family had when they moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933. The family were living in this apartment when they decided to go into hiding in 1942.
This statue shows Anne as she makes her way to the annexe before she is forced to hide away from the world; she’s wearing multiple layers of clothing, carrying a bag and a briefcase.
Hollandsche Schouwburg, known in English as The Holland Theater, is now a museum but was originally a Dutch theatre. Opening its doors in 1892, the theatre was a popular place of entertainment for the city’s Plantage neighborhood.
However, in 1941, the occupying Nazis requisitioned the theater and turned it into an assembly point. Later the Germans would gather Jewish people there and prepare them for deportation to death camps.
The theater was turned into a memorial site in 1962 and remains in memory of victims of the Holocaust. The theater is now under the care of The Jewish Historical Museum which added a memorial room and an exhibition. Inside the theater, a wall is engraved with the names of 6,700, of the 100,000 Jewish people deported from the country.
Today the Hollandsche Schouwburg is currently undergoing a period of renovation intending to reopen towards the start of 2024. The newly laid out memorial will feature the voices of people who were persecuted and died under German rule as well as stories from those who survived.
The Rembrandt House
This is another place you should visit regardless of any specific interest in the history of Jewish Amsterdam.
The famous Dutch artist Rembrandt lived and worked inside this three-story canal house. He lived here from 1639 onwards when was at the peak of his artistic career and ran the country’s largest creative studio.
Situated on the busy Jodenbreestraat, the house has now been turned into a museum. the Rembrandt House Museum. It was here where Rembrandt painted masterpieces such as ‘The Night Watch’. The interiors of the property have been meticulously recreated to resemble what it looked like during Rembrandt’s time here and offer an insight into the life of the artist.
Although not Jewish himself, Rembrandt spent much of his time painting the various people of the city which included many members of the sizable Jewish community. In fact, it is thought that around a third of his creations had a Jewish connection, one of the most famous examples being ‘The Jewish Bride’.
Rembrandt’s House is a popular attraction in Amsterdam, so get your tickets to the museum well in advance. They include an audio-guide which will take you through the museum.
The Pinto House
This once elegant mansion can be found close to Rembrandt House at 69, Sint Antoniesbreestraat. The name of the house is that of an influential family of Portuguese-Jewish merchant bankers from Amsterdam.
The first owner was Isaack de Pinto who moved to the city from Antwerp. Pinto bought the house in 1651 from Jan Janszoon Carel, a key founder of the wealthy Dutch East India Company.
It was Isaack’s son, David Emanuel de Pinto, who commissioned the eye-catching designs of the façade in 1686. Sadly, the landmark house, which had remained in the Pinto family until the 19th century was left to fall into disrepair.
By the 1970s the house was earmarked for demolition with office blocks and new hotels in the works. Thankfully, the De Pinto Trust saved the house from destruction and five years later it was fully restored.
Today, after being used for a variety of different purposes, including a library, the house was purchased by local neighbors who turned the ground floor into a local space for the community with the upper floors being used as offices.
It may not be the usual tourist spot as essentially the building is now a local library but with its intricately painted ceiling that dates back to the 1700, it’s sure to wow any visitor.
Guided Tours Amsterdam Jewish Cultural Quarter
If you’re looking for a deeper understanding of Jewish life and history in Amsterdam then you might want to consider taking a tour of Jewish Amsterdam.
There’s a long list of tours on offer in the city, but when it comes to choosing which tour of the Jewish Cultural Quarter to book, the selection on offer can be confusing. A lot of the tours do cover similar itineraries, in which case, you may want to spend some time reading reviews and making sure the tour covers the sights which interest you the most.
I have done some of the tours and thought I’d spare you the effort. These are the best tours of Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter.
One thing to keep in mind is that none of the guided tours actually visits Anne Frank House. Some stop there, so you can visit right afterwards.
Life of Anne Frank and World War II Walking Tour
This is the tour I preferred.
Join this walking tour and be led around the area’s important memorials and buildings connected to Anne Frank and World War II. The small group tour provides a welcoming atmosphere and you will be able to get an in-depth understanding of the history of various sights included in the tour.
The expert guide will tell stories of Anne’s life, what it was like for her growing up and the history of the Jewish Quarter during the war.
The tour begins at the 17th century Portuguese Synagogue and follows the heritage of the area, revealing local stories and the background of the Jewish neighborhood. It ends in front of Anne Frank House.
Walking Tour, Jewish Museum & Synagogue Tickets
This tour provides you with a combination ticket to a collection of sights in the cultural quarter. With the ticket, you will have access to the Jewish Historical Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue, the poignant National Holocaust Memorial, and the National Holocaust Museum.
The tour begins with a 2-hour walking tour through the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam where the guide will tell stories of life in the pocket-sized district.
The tour is run by a knowledgeable guide who engages the audience with an array of informative pieces of knowledge. You will be able to learn an array of unique insights into the history of the area during the war as well as being equipped to answer any question.
Jewish Cultural Quarter & Gassan Diamonds
This tour also takes place in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood, Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter. Four historic sights here are gathered together in an area that spans roughly a square kilometer.
It includes a visit to Gassan Diamonds, a famous family-run business. Since the 16th century, Amsterdam has long been noted for its diamond production. Over the years, the expertise has been passed down through craftsmen. There’s even a diamond cut called the Amsterdam cut.
Taking up space inside a diamond factory that was once powered by steam, the central factory gives visitors a glimpse into the process a diamond goes through – including a polishing demonstration by experts.
For more guidance in planning your trip to Amsterdam, you should read these posts: