The Jewish Community of Aalten

A history 1630-1945

Peter Lurvink, "De Joodse Gemeente in Aalten" Walburg Pers, Zutphen.
ISBN 906011.727.1

Website: "Stichting Synagoge Aalten"
Abridged by Hans de Jong, 2013 Rhenen

During the 17th century there existed already a Jewish community in Aalten.
After the Second World War not many Jews returned, and from those who did return, many left for the United States, or moved to Amsterdam, where there was still some Jewish life left.
Since 1857 Aalten had a synagogue of its own, but after the war there were not enough male community members to form a "minyan," - the quorum of ten men, needed for services, and the synagogue building badly needed repairs. In 1980 "Friends of the Aaltense Synagogue" - with outside help – were able to restore the building to its former state.

The history of the Jewish community in Aalten was quite unknown, it mainly depended on the memory of older people.
The "Jewish Community in Aalten," a book written by the amateur historian Peter Lurvink, covered this lack of information. This book, together with the restored synagogue and the Jewish cemetery there, keep the memory of Jewish life in Aalten alive.

Mr. J. Pruim, President of the "Vrienden van de Aaltense Synagogue" foundation, Aalten, January 1991.

Some historical notes
Following the Napoleonic law from 1812, family names were adopted. The Jewish families in Aalten were: Fles, Franken, Schaap, de Haas, van Beek and van Gelder. Not much is known about the Jews of that period.
Only the obliged civil registration, instituted during the 19th century, offered the possibility to trace the history of families, like marriage, birth, decease, or change of address.

The 19th century was a blooming period for the "mediene" – the Jews living outside Amsterdam. The Jewish community of Aalten was always small, with never more than 100 Jews.

In 1796 the "National Assembly of the Bataafse Republiek" cancelled all restrictions on the Jewish community. The Jews residing in the village of Aalten formed a very small group compared to the non-Jewish population.
In the beginning they used the synagogue of Bredevoort, to which Aalten administrationally belonged.
After administrational changes, Bredevoort fell under Aalten's municipal rule; as a result Aalten now counted two Jewish communities.

More information may be found in Peter Lurvink's book, cited above.

The way to Aalten
The Jews had always been a hunted people, and it took a very long time before they were recognized as citizens with equal rights.
The way to Aalten was a long way.
After the lost Bar Kochba rebellion, in about the year 134, the synagogue became more and more the religious focus of the Jewish community. The Jews were dispersed over Asia Minor, the Balkan, North Africa, Spain and Western Europe. Constantine the Great and his successors introduced stringent anti-Jewish measures.
The first great persecutions started during the 11th century - a period of fanatical Christianity - causing Jewish migration to Poland and Russia.
In 1215 The Lateran Council forbade Jews to hold public office and obliged them to wear special Jewish clothing.

The anti-Semitism of the middle ages, propagated by the church, was based on theological grounds and also on envy and superstition. Bit by bit the Jews were expelled from Europe, first from England, then from France and later from the Holy Roman Empire.

During the Eighty Year War (1568-1648) the religious climate in Holland was relatively lenient. Jews from Spain, Portugal and even from Eastern Europe migrated to Holland, drawn by religious freedom and prosperity.
After the Moors were expelled from Spain, the country was conquered by Christian powers.
The Inquisition persecuted the Jews, who fled from Spain to Portugal, Italy, North Africa and Western Europe. After the Spanish conquest of 1585 they fled from the town of Antwerp and moved to Amsterdam and to other towns in the North.
These "Portuguese" Jews formed a prosperous and intellectual community with a western orientation. They spoke a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese flavored with Hebrew words and expressions.
After the pogroms in Eastern Europe, Jews migrated to the West. This group was quite poor. They usually were very conservative and spoke Yiddish. Due to their poor financial situation they were less welcome than their Portuguese brethren. Part of them settled in Amsterdam, others in the Eastern part of Holland.

The Jews in Aalten (1630-1795)
The first reports about Jews in Aalten date from the second quarter of the 17th century. Aalten was a small isolated village, sustained by agriculture and industry. Its population, which never exceeded one thousand inhabitants, was poor, ignorant and to a great extent superstitious.
There was a school, a church and about 150 houses and shacks.
The Jews arrived with their own religion and own language, own dress and own dietary laws.
The first reports about Jews in Aalten are from about 1630. Names like Adam der Jud, Isaac de Jode and Pesch the Jewess appear in documents of those years.

Permission to settle was a local decision. Church elders and traders quite often opposed Jewish presence, on religious grounds and fearing competition. A deed from 1739 mentions four Jewish families, which were allowed to live in a house in Aalten.

In 1748 a special tax was paid, the "Liberale Gifte". The payment of this tax shows that 25 Jews were living in Aalten at that time.It was a progressive tax, only one out of six Jewish families paid the whole amount. The document is the oldest registration of the Jewish inhabitants of Aalten.

In 1726 the province of Gelderland published measures constricting freedom of Jewish travel. Most professions were forbidden to Jews. Since Jews were not part of the Dutch nation, the guilds were closed to them, and therefore they could only become pedlars, rag sellers, or cattle traders.

In 1776 a "Jodenkerk" (a Jew church) is for the first time mentioned in Aalten. Probably that was the start of a Jewish religious community there, independent from Bredevoort, which had a synagogue of its own, built during the years 1700-1715.

In 1776 Gelderland obliged the Jews to register all Jewish marriages with the authorities, within two months of marriage. This measure resulted in a complete marriage registration.

David Markus (1683-1763) was a rich ancestor, married to Dina Jacobs. The couple had six children; three sons were alive when their father passed away.
One son, Gompert David had two sons. One of them took the family name van Gelder and the other one took the name Fles.
The second son, Jacob David, had three sons, who adopted the family name Schaap, and the third one took the name de Haas.

The Batavian (French) Period (1795-1813)
The Batavian Period was a period of great governmental changes. New civil servants were appointed, and an official census was instituted.
In 1796 the National Assembly accorded equal civil rights to all Jews in the Netherlands.
Not all Jews were happy with this measure, because from now on the Jewish religious community resembled the other religious communities, with less clout than before, when it was a "Jewish Nation," a nation within a nation.

In 1798 a list of the members of the Jewish community was compiled; 41 persons, 25 of them belonging to the mentioned Markus family.

In Aalten there were 3332 Protestants and 390 Roman Catholics. The small Jewish community had no building for religious services, no cantor and no cemetery, but they did take care of the poor.
Somewhere between 1737 and 1776 a home synagogue was established, which was also used by Jews from Varsseveld.

An election list from 1812 mentions 11 Jewish names, together with their profession: Butcher, merchant, trader and laborer. The Aalten population register from 1813 mainly mentions the professions of merchant and retailer. Simon Jacob for example managed a kind of department store selling all kinds of products, like cotton, silk, cloth, coffee, thee, tobacco, soap, salt and pans.

The Jews of Aalten were less prosperous than the average population.
In the year 1813, when it became obligatory to adopt a family name, the identifying term "the Jew" disappeared.

Summarizing: From the year 1630 Jews are found in Aalten, usually with the status of guest. Because most professions were closed to them, they became traders or merchants. No more Jews were allowed to settle there, except by marriage.
Since 1795 Jews became equal citizens, but the mentality towards them started to change only during the 19th century.

A prosperous period, 1813-1940
The 19th century was a good period for the Jews of Aalten.
Better roads, industry, trains and daily papers, caused the "Achterhoek" district to lose its isolation.
Mainly by marriage and with a high birth rate, the number of Jews in Aalten, as well as in Bredevoort rose. From the end of the 19th century several new Jewish families settled in Aalten, and in 1933 Jewish refugees arrived from Germany.

The Jewish community of Aalten (1798-1940)

Jewish population

Jewish education
The Jewish community was too small to maintain a Jewish school. The children went to the regular school and Jewish religion was taught by the "Jewish teacher" or by the parents.

The community was also unable to support a special Jewish teacher and so the same person served as a cantor, ritual butcher and sometimes even as a circumciser.
Between 1830 and 1880 fourteen consecutive religion teachers were appointed in Aalten, and another ten between 1913 and 1948. Most teachers were paying guests with Jewish families. Only in the 20th century the community bought a house for the teacher near the synagogue.

In 1884 a small Jewish school was established with a governmental subsidy, where the children were taught Hebrew, translation of prayers and Jewish history. The first year 19 pupils were registered, who went each day after regular school to the Jewish school. Later on they went on Sundays and Wednesdays only.
After 1892 the Jewish community had to maintain the Jewish school on their own account, because there were no more poor children, for whom the lessons were subsidized.
The chief rabbi from Arnhem supervised the educational level and from time to time he visited the school in order to examine the children.

The synagogue and the community elders
Because the number of members of the religious community had risen, the home synagogue became too small. On 31 July 1855 the municipal authorities authorized the building of a synagogue on a parcel near the Koelmanstegge, acquired by Izak David de Haas in 1846. The Dutch and the provincial government offered together a subsidy of 250 guilders.

In 1857 the synagogue was inaugurated. During the coming years several restorations were effected, always followed by a festive gathering. The last great celebration before the Second World War, took place on 5 April 1932, a real jubilee – seventy five years after the inauguration of the synagogue!

In documents from 1810 community elders are mentioned for the first time. Till 1877 there were two elders, afterwards three, and five from 1930. This was a coveted position and till 1900 the Markus and the Haas families were always well represented.

The elders managed the funds and appointed the "chazzan" – the cantor of the synagogue. The income of the Jewish community was small, a part had to be assigned to the chief rabbinate and then funds were needed for the maintenance of the synagogue and the house of the chazzan. The chazzan did not earn very much. Over the years four cantors served in Aalten.

The books for the year 1850 show the following situation.

Church membership
Chief rabbinate
Other members
Candles and Oil
Rental from seats
Rent of church
Chazzan and Beadle
Rental from parcel
Total Income 120 guilders
Total Expense 120 guilders

The cemetery
It is not sure when the cemetery at the Haartsestraat was taken in use. At the start the cemetery of Bredevoort was used. The oldest tombstone in the Aalten cemetery dates from 1827. In the older part of the cemetery 17 tombstones were found, usually with only a Hebrew text. The tombstones in the newer part bear Hebrew and Dutch inscriptions.

The character of the Jewish Community of Aalten
As mentioned before, the Jewish Community of Aalten was very small and the village of Aalten was surrounded by small villages.
Till 1796 the Jews needed official permission to settle anywhere. For their livelihood most of the Jews were dependent on the local population and in a small village like Aalten, with a low income, no great commerce could be expected. Consequently the number of Jews and Jewish tradesmen in these villages was always low.
In 1857 the synagogue was inaugurated; till then services were held at home and one and the same person served as chazzan, kosher butcher, Jewish teacher and even as "mohel."
There was no Jewish social life, but there was a "bikur choulim chewre" – a group visiting sick community members and a "chewre kadiesche" – a burial society.
There was much intermarriage, in Aalten itself and in the surrounding villages. Jews married Jews.
The Jews of Aalten were scattered, no "Ghetto" was formed.
The center of the village had eleven streets: Kattenberg, Land-straat, Dijkstraat, Kerkstraat, Markt, Peperstraat, Hogestraat, Bredervoortsestraat, Haartsestraat, Prinsenstraat, Varsseveldsestraat.

As far as clothing and language were concerned, the small community of Aalten Jews adjusted themselves to their surroundings, more so than Jews living in great towns, who guarded their own character.
In any case the state more and more interfered with the Jewish community, regarding language, dress, marriage and adoption of names. The Jews were considered Dutch citizens, albeit with a religion of their own, but they were not regarded as a separate nation.

The Aaltense "kille" was a conservative and orthodox community, as usual in the countryside. The Shabbat was honored, people went to the synagogue, but they were not fanatic. As yet nobody had severed his religious connection. It was a well knit community, people knew each other and when necessary criticized each other. The process of assimilation and loss of religion was more felt in the big cities.
The Jews of Aalten were usually part of the middle class. They were trades people, shopkeepers and hawkers, with the exception of male and female teachers and cantors, who came from other places and stayed in Aalten for short periods only.
They traded in textiles, in rags and were cattle traders or butchers. They did not belong to the poorest segment of the population, but they were not rich.
Poor people were supported by the Jewish care for the poor, by women associations, or by collections held in the synagogue.

Because many cattle traders and butchers were active within a small population, tensions and feuds were unavoidable, which were sometimes fought out even in the synagogue. Butchers sometimes were in conflict with the cantor, who had to decide if the meat was kosher or not.
Most traders went from one farm to the other, or had an "open table" at home, on which their wares were spread out. Most Jews were peddlers and there were almost no real shops.
The Jews and their trade were part of the economy of the village, and most of the mutual contact between Jews and non-Jews was due to commerce.

As everywhere in the diaspora, the Jewish community formed a separate minority, with their own cultural and religious identity, which they had to defend against a Catholic or Protestant majority. The Jews in the Netherlands were an accepted minority. Sometimes they were exposed to a "mild form" of anti-Semitism, which expressed itself in calling names, but never became violent.
The Jews themselves felt that they were a part of the general community, even if they were different. The integration was furthered by the official policy of the Dutch authorities, and by a slow process of assimilation from the Jewish side.

There were no Jewish aldermen or members of the City council in Aalten, but Jews did serve as board members of social and cultural associations.
One of the founders of "Aaltens Belang" (To the benefit of Aalten), founded in 1898, was the Jewish merchant Abraham van Gelder. This association propagated the modernization of the village, like better roads, street illumination, and garbage collection. Later on several Jewish inhabitants became members of the management.
One of the founders of the "Feestgebouw," (The Festivity Hall) founded in 1907, was Levie van Gelder, a Jewish butcher and Jewish community elder.
In 1928 the "Oudheidkamer," a small museum, was opened, with financial aid from several Jewish inhabitants.
The foundation of a pipe factory, by Gans & Peters, with 15 employees, formed the first small start of industrialization in Aalten.
The "Aaltense Coöperative Zuivelfabriek," (The Aalten dairy factory) had two Jewish shareholders.

It seems that altogether a reasonable integration had been reached. The sometimes reluctant acceptance of the Jews in Aalten, was a gradual process. Jewish traditions and customs were taken into account, like the adaptation of the date of the yearly fair, or the opening hours of shops.
There was no real religious antagonism towards the Jews; it was more a kind of chauvinism which bound religious adherents to their own belief.
Moreover a trend of religious Jewish liberalization had started furthering the relations between Jews and non-Jews.

The Second World War (1940-1945) - Prelude
After the "Kristallnacht" in Germany in 1938, a great stream of Jewish refugees passed the Dutch borders. A small part could be settled in Aalten, but the majority was referred to special refugee camps and others were sent back.
Between 1935 and 1940 about 25 till 30 German Jews were entered in the population register of Aalten.
On the 1st of January 1942, seventeen Jewish inhabitants of Aalten were still registered with German nationality, which they had officially lost on 25 November 1941.

The first two years of the German occupation
The first weeks and months after May 1940 were quite calm.The mayor of Aalten informed the Commissar of Gelderland that no problems or suicides had been registered in Jewish circles. In October 1940 the municipality of Aalten conducted the first registration of Jews: Address, change of address and decease. All 106 employees of the municipality signed the "Aryan declaration."
After March 1941 no more advertisements from Jewish shop-keepers appeared in the local press.
By then anti-Jewish sanctions did appear: Expulsion of Jews from public life, like schools, theaters, parks and swimming pools. Signs "Verboden voor Joden" – Jews not allowed – were being posted in July 1941.
Eight Jewish pupils were removed from school; they had to travel to Winterswijk where a Jewish school had been established. Jewish shops were closed.
The same year other ugly incidents occurred in the village. Graffiti appeared on the walls of the synagogue, and fights broke out with members of the NSB party, which sympathized with the German occupation.
On 8 October 1941, Arnold van Gelder, 19 years old, was arrested in reprisal and sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp, where he died after a short time, probably on 13 November 1941.

1942, the decisive year
During 1942 the anti-Jewish measures escalated, preparing the isolation of the Jews, their deportation and the "final solution" – their annihilation.
More prohibitions were announced: Jews were not allowed anymore to use public transport, contact with non-Jews was forbidden and the wearing of the Jewish star became obligatory.
Then further measures were taken, intended to rob the Jews of their money and their possessions.
The inventory of several Jewish homes in Aalten was made up. These homes had to be evacuated and their contents was stolen. A list of Jews fit for placement in a working camp, was compiled. On 13 July 1942 a list of Aalten Jews was sent to the "Zentralstelle fur Jüdische Auswanderung" – The central office for Jewish emigration – in Amsterdam, where the lists of deportation were compiled. Now there were 78 Jews in Aalten threatened with death.
The non-Jewish habitants of the village tried to soften these measures as far as possible, for example by delivering food to the Jews.

Deportation and hiding
On 3 October 1942 the Jewish working camps were emptied and family members were arrested and transported to Westerbork.
On 24 November the mayor reported to the German authorities in Arnhem that 12 persons were deleted from the population register Aalten, "due to emigration abroad" (Poland).
These twelve did also not return. In the course of the year more Jews were arrested. A few were hidden by Dutch families.
On 10 April 1943 there were no more Jews left in Aalten. In German terms the village was "Judenrein."
From the 77 remaining Jews, 52 were hidden and 25 were deported.
The homes of the deported Jews were emptied and sometimes the inventory was given in loan to the new non-Jewish inhabitants.
The cost of transportation and the "storage" of their possessions were paid by the bank Lippman & Rosenthal in Amsterdam, were all Jewish funds had to be deposited.

At the start mostly the Jewish men went into hiding in order to avoid being arrested and taken to working camps. Later on, when the deportations started, whole families tried to do so.
The Aalten farmers usually were willing to hide Jews; some requested huge payments, others requested no payment at all!
The dangers of being hidden were boredom, feud and sometimes betrayal.

From the 52 hidden Jews, three passed away during the hiding period and six were betrayed, arrested and murdered.
From the 77 registered Jews, 34 died during the years 1940-1945.

There are no complete data regarding Jews born in Aalten, who had been living there part of their life, but who resided somewhere else during the occupation. Taking these Jews into account, the number of victims from Aalten is much higher than the mentioned 34, whose fate is known.
Those who returned after the war were psychologically battered, without money and without relatives. They had to find ways to pick up their life again.

After 1945 - epilogue
After the war the number of the remaining Jews in Aalten declined. People moved to the western part of Holland and to Israel, others passed away. In 1965 there remained 28, in 1981 there were still 21 and after 1991 only a few Jews were left.

After the war, the plundered synagogue was restored. The Torah rolls and the silver ornaments, which had been carefully hidden, were all returned and services were held again.
However, for the small community it became more and more difficult to pay the cost of the cantor, the synagogue and the cemetery. In 1948 the last chazzan left, and finally the required quorum of 10 men could not be completed anymore.

In 1983 the Jewish community was forced to sell the synagogue to the recently founded "Stichting Vrienden van de Aaltense Synagoge" – Friends of the Synagogue in Aalten.
Jewish life has disappeared in Aalten. Assimilation had already started before the war, but it was the war that caused the falling apart of the Jewish community.

The cemetery, the synagogue and a small archive remain, reminding us of three and a half centuries of Jewish life in Aalten. After the war Sallo van Gelder played an important part in keeping the memory of the Aalten "kehilla" alive.
He played an important role in the restoration of the Synagogue, and he was also active in the preservation of the cemetery. Every year he arranged the yearly Hanuka service.
He is still striving to maintain the Jewish tradition of Aalten.

Appendix A in the book
Six Jewish families from Aalten
- van Gelder (Aalten)
- Schaap
- Cohen
- van Gelder (Terborg)
- de Haas (Aalten)
- de Haas (Bredevoort)
Short family trees appear in this appendix.

Appendix B in the book
The Jewish victims from Aalten.

Extracted from source:H.H.G. de Jong
Translated from Dutch:Michael Jamenfeld
Review:Ben Noach
End editing:Hanneke Noach

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