The Jewish Community of Enschede
Names mentioned in this article (in the order of appearance):
Till 1811: Salomon Jacobs, Alex Mozes
After 1811: Chief Rabbi A.I. Herzveld, P.C. Basel ( Amsterdam architect), I. van Dam, M. Frankenhuis, S. Heymans, S.N. (Sieg) Menko, D. de Leeuw, I.I. Rozendaal, Cats, Serphos, Johnny Van Gelderen, A.H. Menko, J.Meijer (writer and historian), Ds. L. Overduin (clergyman), J,Presser (writer and historian), Gerard Sanders.
A short history
It is most likely that Jews lived already in Enschede in the 18th century. They probably held religious services at the home of one of them. Because of the many restrictions regulating Jewish life, the group could hardly expand. As a result of permit problems of Salomon Jacobs –to allow him to reside in the city – the mayors of Enschede wrote in 1767 a letter to the Most Honored Sir, the bailiff of the province of Twente. In this letter they advised that they want to decide themselves if Jews will be allowed to live in their town. Their arguments are as follows:
“…that there are already three Jewish families living here, all burdened with children, 8 or 9 of whom are already grown-up and of marriageable age who, if they stay here…will not be able to make an honest living. It seems to us therefore that it is dangerous to enlarge the amount with another stranger, the more so because we have had this experience when some years ago four Jewish families came to live here and one of them soon fell into the greatest poverty – and another behaved very badly and unacceptable,
Another Jew, coming from Delden, was also refused entry into the city and the letter went on as follows: ‘… the reasons for this refusal by the erstwhile Sir Bailiff Bentink were based on a sound foundation’.
The reply by the bailiff has not been found in the archives.
It is clear that this situation continued for some time. To settle in a town as a Jew one needed a permit. Jews were tolerated in the eighteenth century, but their children were not allowed to attend schools, they were not allowed to serve in the army or own land and could not carry out handy work. The French Revolution and as a result the Batavian Republic in 1795 put a stop to all of this with the “Human Rights” proclamation. The Israelite’s were recognized as citizens and in 1798 this was followed by religious equality. However, during the first half of the 19th century there was no question yet of equality. But as a result of this proclamation Enschede could not keep its gates locked anymore and thus more Jews came into the town. Soon there was a need for a Jewish instructor and in 1809 the community put in a request for one at the Upper Consistory in Amsterdam. Apparently they did not reply and so here follows a letter sent to the Consistory in Zwolle, by the Jewish Community in Enschede:
It is to our regret that we have to inform you of the following – we have already requested from our Consistory several times by letter: that they should exempt us from the sending of letters to them because of the heavy cost of postage: because of the poor state of our community; most of our members live in temporary houses and furthermore they have to live from funds of the poor so that they are not even able to pay for the rent by themselves. They even cannot educate their own children so as to make themselves useful; and at the same time it is beyond us to keep a proper instructor; and we would count ourselves lucky if from one of the large communities an instructor could be sent for these unlucky children; so they won’t be completely lost; we hope that you will be able to comply, and not raise any doubts and that you will see the need and that we cannot pay for the last letter; and hope that you will understand and will spare us from further expenses and remain, sincerely,
To the order of Same, signed by Alex Mozes
P.S. the whole community consists of eight small families.
Improvement in life style
In 1810 there were about 30 Jewish families living in Enschede who were not able to meet their obligations towards the Zwolle province. Their need was so great that they could not even raise the compulsory contribution of fl. 10.- per year. The period of the reign of King William I brought more economic activity, trade was again flourishing and prosperity of the Jewish population was rising. The number of members of the community was growing and a teacher arrived, an indispensable person in a kehilla.
From 1813 there was a house synagogue in Wal Street as there was a minyan with 10 Jewish heads of families. In 1826 the number of community members had grown to 42 and the necessity of a proper house of prayers grew constantly. The High Commission for Israelite affairs promoted in 1827 the auxilliary church in Enschede to be a proper official synagogue and at the same time appointed Alexander Mozes Jongbloed as warden. This meant that the Jewish community was allowed to build its own synagogue. In 1834 Chief Rabbi A.I. Herzveld opened the first synagogue of the Jewish community in Enschede. At that time the Jewish community counted 110 members. On May 7th, 1862 the synagogue was destroyed by the great fire in Enschede. In 1865 a new synagogue was put into use. The community continued growing, however, and because of the prosperity, a larger synagogue was necessary which was built in Prinsen Street from the design by Amsterdam architect P.C. Basel. The festive inauguration of the synagogue took place in December 1928. The Tora scrolls were transferred from the old synagogue in Stadsgraven Street; this building does not exist anymore. The new synagogue has an oriental style combined with a construction of Dutch bricks and it is one of the most beautiful Western synagogues. During the war the building was confiscated by the German SD and this was probably the reason why it was not damaged. Around the year 2000 it was decided to refurbish/restore the synagogue and this was completed in 2004. Today the synagogue is used for services during the High Holidays as well as for special occasions like weddings, lectures and concerts.
An important part of the history of the Jews of Enschede can be written from the details of their cemeteries. From the correspondence between the church council and the municipality of Enschede it turns out that it was not always an easy task to acquire a cemetery for the community. Only after four years of discussions could the second cemetery be inaugurated in 1841. The new Jewish cemetery at Kneedweg was necessary because the old one at Molen Street was being squashed inside the expanding town. This was reported in a newspaper of 1946 as follows:
Already several days they are busy removing the old Jewish cemetery in Molen Street, so that it will be possible to considerably widen the street…. Until now three graves have been uncovered….It should be noted that one of the stones was situated under the edge of the sidewalk and only partly on the piece of land which was considered to belong to the cemetery. It can be assumed that the part where now Molen Street is situated, also belonged to the cemetery.
The human remains , four tombstones altogether (there probably had been 80 persons interred), were transferred to the new cemetery at the Noord-Esmarkerrondweg. This cemetery was inaugurated in 1928. The architects, who built the synagogue at Prinses street, also built a Metaher house which was put into use in the same year as the synagogue. Both buildings were built in the same style and show the power and self-confidence of the Jewish community around the thirties in Enschede. During these years Enschede was renowned as a rich kehilla.
The Church Council: who were its members and what did they discuss?
From a small, poor community, the Jewish community of Enschede grew into one of the largest Jewish communities in the Mediene (Jewish communities in the small towns and villages surrounding the big cities).
A Jewish community is governed by a church council which usually consists of persons belonging to its financial upper echelons. The church council had seven persons, three of whom formed the management. They arranged membership of the community members, frequency of meetings, regulations concerning the manner of voting and the instances in which a meeting should be adjourned, all this according to established rules. The council also decided how Enschede should be represented at provincial meetings. From these rules it is not clear what tasks the church council had, beyond the holding of meetings. Much clearer is the assignment of the church council as to handling the daily management of the community. Members of the synagogue management during the years 1930-1940 were among others: I. van Dam, M. Frankenhuis, S. Heymans, S.N. Menko, D. de Leeuw, and I.I. Rozendaal. It appears from the minutes that among others foreign marriages and the mentioning of civil dates on tombstones were discussed.
Some aspects of Jewish life in Enschede during the thirties
In 1928 the Jewish community in Enschede could be considered a rich community. We know this from the tax assessments by the church council. It is mainly due to this group of around thirty wealthy (mainly textile) manufacturers, that the Jewish community in Enschede made this prosperous impression. Some of the branches of the following families belonged to this top echelon: Menko, Rozendaal, Cats, Serphos, Van Gelderen, Van Dam and Frankenhuis. These families set the scene and determined the management of the Jewish community in Enschede. They supported the poor through poor-relief management. There were also physicians. People with other professions paid fewer taxes like shoemakers, piano teachers, commercial travelers, wholesale traders in sanitary fittings, traders in chemical materials, female laborers in textile factories, butchers, plumbers, agricultural workers, photographers and piano tuners. Young persons neither payed much tax, as they were at the beginning of their career. The Jewish community flourished mostly around 1928. Whilst in 1892 there were ninety six families with 488 members, the general population grew because of the industrial development and this was also the case with the Jewish community which in 1930 had nine hundred and thirteen members. There were kosher butchers, bakers and grocers in the town. There was a school for religious education, a choir and there were societies for theater and sports. In short, there was prosperity and Jews felt safe there. It is obvious that other communities considered the Enschede kehilla to be a prosperous one from a survey made by the Dutch Israelite Council of Synagogues, because Enschede contributed more compared to the other communities.
The Dutch Israelite Poor Relief
Although the numbers show that a large part of the Jewish population in Enschede during that time could not be counted among the well-to-do citizens, few were actually poor. Part of the poor received money as assistance to pay for rent or pharmacy costs , sometimes they were given groceries or fuel. Old people were also given assistance (Misjngenes Zekeinim). All together there were only a few who needed assistance. End March 1943 the activities of the Poor Relief were stopped as by then all Jews had disappeared.
An open or closed society?
The Jews of Enschede lived in all parts of the town. There were some more specific Jewish quarters , there was no sign of a distinct Jewish quarter. Only after 1850 was there a really large Jewish community. More or less coercive rules dating from the 17th and 18th centuries have never been enforced in Enschede. It was, however, desirable for a minimum number of Jews to live in the same area so as to make easier to implement the religious rules like attending synagogue services, the use of the ritual bath, attending religious school, the obligation to have kosher meat and other dishes in a kosher butcher shop and a grocery shop under control of the rabbinate’.
Enough Jews lived in Enschede to comply with these regulations. Also, a certain amount of money was allocated to the so-called minyanists so Jewish males could assist also during week-days to hold religious services. The distance to the synagogue was never too long to walk. The above mentioned matters created an atmosphere for Jews to have little contact with non-Jews. As a minority the Jews in any case had a tendency to shut themselves off from the rest of the inhabitants and this was not different in Enschede. Nevertheless, many middle class Jewish shopkeepers were glad to have non-Jewish customers. As there also was the same kind of isolation amongst Catholics, there was little room for antisemitism. Because of the well known Dutch parochialism (petty mindedness) there remained a clear separation between Jews and non-Jews in Enschede. In spite of the fact that the Jews of Enschede, though in the majority non-orthodox, lived in all parts of the city, wide spread assimilation,was, with exceptions, not a phenomenon. The reason for this is may be that until today Enschede is not an open, welcoming community. Another typical phenomenon in the city is that until the age of twelve, children of all faiths played together but thereafter there was clear sectarianism. In 1888 the Enschede Manufacturers’ Association was established, mainly in order to prevent strikes. Already in 1897 two Jewish manufacturers belonged to this association. In 1929 Messrs. S.N. Menko, A.H. Menko and I.I. Rozendaal were admitted. This association had a society building that became a social and business meeting place, but Jews were not allowed to enter. Instead contacts were made at the adjoining bowling alley. Slowly, though, this state of isolation was being breached. There was, however, discrimination. There also were big financial disputes which led to relations being broken within the Jewish community. Thus, there were two Jewish societies, “The Jewish Sports Society of Enschede”, for the lower middle class and “To Our Pleasure” for the well-to-do, for participating in stage plays and for playing tennis. Although efforts were made to break the Jewish isolation the Jewish community remained quite a closed group. The big financial disputes, the differences in social standing in the already closed Jewish community contributed to the fact that relations could not be at their best. The distance between wealth and poverty, between regent-manager and almost proletariat could not be bridged.
Orthodox or Liberal?
Members of the church council who themselves were hardly religious, saw to it that the community members could perform their religious obligations without problems. During the High Holidays the new synagogue was big enough for about half of the Jewish community. There were a number of Jewish butchers and bakers who supplied food under supervision of the rabbinate and a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and shomer (supervisor) made sure that the food was indeed kosher. The council made it also possible to hold small services with the help of the ‘minyanists’.
To what extend were the possibilities offered by the church council to lead a proper Jewish life indeed used by the Jewish community ? Did everybody use the same concept? Did words like orthodox, liberal, traditional, assimilation, reform, Jewish and religious have the same meaning for everyone?
As to these issues in Enschede no other source is available except for the information yielded from the conversations with orthodox traditional Jews – before the war more frequent than afterward.
These complexities made it difficult to form a clear insight in the religiousness of the kehilla. It was clear that the upcoming reform movement of that time in Germany, England and the U.S. had hardly any or no impact in Enschede. In that context one has to think more or less traditionally orthodox. The impression is then,that during the years before the war the kehilla in Enschede was just as orthodox as that of Amsterdam where 90% of the Jews were in favor of circumcision, marriage and funerals according to Jewish law.
It was disappointing that few people attended lessons on religious subjects, fatal for a religion whereby so much had to be learned. Thus Meijer says about the state of the religious education and its poor results:
‘I still see and hear them sometimes in my mind, those visitors to the synagogue, some with their academic education, getting into trouble with the simple reading of a small piece in Hebrew’.
From this description , as well as others, amongst which the so-called ‘three-day Jews’ (those who only attend synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – New Year and the Day of Atonement) one could conclude that the kehilla of Enschede was not exactly a bastion of orthodoxy.
It is not easy to establish from talks and scarce sources the measure of orthodoxy or liberalism of this community during the thirties. In summing up we could possibly see this community as becoming considerably more liberal and nevertheless keeping its relationship to Jewish tradition; at weddings and funerals Jewish rituals were followed and male babies were circumcised. Only a small part remained really orthodox and those made ample use of the opportunity offered by the non-orthodox synagogue council, enabling them to live their life in a religious way.
German Jewish refugees in the thirties
Because of a lack of written sources it is impossible to review the situation of the German Jewish refugees admitted in Enschede. One of the reasons is that the kehilla in Enschede only in small part was involved in their absorption. Although there was a ‘Committee for German Refugees’ which wrote reports about its activities, none of these reports survived. Another explanation for the non-commitment of the Jewish community could be that many of the Jewish refugees entered the country through Oldenzaal, where the community was much more active. In the end the activities of the refugees committee in Enschede were handed over to the poor-management. In Enschede this committee had special difficulties because of conflicts with the authorities, the customs and the police. Nevertheless in 1934 the committee wrote ‘concerning the cooperation of the Lonneker and Enschede police’. The number of refugees who entered through the ‘Gruene Grenze’ cannot be estimated. They were offered assistance. The number of refugees is unknown partly because some of them, out of fear, were not prepared to register and those lists that were available were apparently burnt when tension increased. The daily management of the committee for assistance to the refugees was left in the hands of the Jewish Council.
During the war – the Jewish Council
From a quote in “Ondergang” (Downfall) by J. Presser: ‘There are few Jewish communities in this country which came out of the war in such a good shape as Enschede with about 500 survivors. How can this be explained? One community member attributed this to the decent attitude of the police, who apparently warned when dangerous raids were about to take place. Elsewhere the local members of the Jewish Council were given highest praise ‘in contrast to other places’ (according to our source) as they propagated going into hiding and gave centralized financial assistance to those who did so. The clergyman from Enschede, Ds. L. Overduin, headed the organization that supplied addresses…’
During meetings the activities of the Jewish Council in Enschede were judged in a very different way. One insider stated that they were not able to do very much ‘because they were being carefully watched’. Another person stated in contrast that: “At this point the resistance was established… I only know that Gerard Sanders (secretary of the Jewish Council) and Johnny van Gelderen made great efforts to enable Jews to go into hiding. To tell you the truth, I have only very positive experiences with the local Jewish Council’. This female informant first worked in Enschede and afterwards in Amsterdam for the Jewish Council and she could therefore compare both bodies. Another witness mentioned: “that obviously the Jewish Council got a bad reputation, but without them it would have been much worse”. It is known from another testimony that the Jewish Council had contacts with non-Jewish organizations. They prepared the ground, with group-Overduin, for providing more or less successful hiding places for Jews in Enschede. In this respect Mr. Sieg Menko should be mentioned, who established contacts with non-Jewish manufacturers who assisted in the organization of funds. “Gerard Sanders supplied the Jews, the Reverend Overduin supplied the addresses and Mister Sieg took care of the money, as far as all these people could not take care of it by themselves, something that indeed occurred at that time….”
There were people who neither knew who the persons were who took care of these matters nor did they notice any of the Jewish activities involved in hiding the Jews. A small part went into hiding, by finding addresses themselves. Obviously the Jewish Council understood better than the community members, that only with the help of contacts with non-Jewish groups something could be done concerning the dangerous situation of the Jews. As mentioned by Presser, about 500 Jews from Enschede survived….
Writer and historian J. Meijer states that actually the real local Jewish orthodoxy had long ago disappeared; it were not the Germans who killed Judaism, but the Jews themselves. The assimilated persons, the mixed marriages, the liberal council members – all are guilty already ‘before the hordes from the East sounded the final accords’. Actually the end begins with the emancipation in 1796 ‘a history steadily leaving the core/essence of Judaism’. This could also be applied to the Jewish community of Enschede, was it not that one should be able to offer the requisite hard proof. Whilst studying the notes of the Synagogue council meetings of the period 1930-1942, one gets an image of the Synagogue council and its members, but not of the members of the community. The Synagogue Council was at least as unorthodox as the community itself, but measures were taken in order to maintain an illusion of orthodoxy or at any rate, as it should be, in spite of all signs to the contrary. The rather remote location as well as the size of the community enabled the community to maintain some independence from ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘Zwolle’; the community wanted to decide by itself in which way matters should be settled. They shut themselves off, also from the terrible things that were happening in Germany. Because of its orthodox attitude the Synagogue council alienated itself from its basis. Because of its ‘regent mentality’ and their wealth the managers of the Jewish community in Enschede found themselves standing rather apart from the rest if their community. In this way the type of council member so fiercely criticized by Meijer came into being, an orthodox manager, who wants the unorthodox community to be orthodox, completely out of any proportion.
The Jewish group in Enschede which at the beginning of the 19th century still was a rather poor but without doubt orthodox community, developed into a flourishing community during the twenties and thirties of the 20th century. Outwardly she seemed to be prosperous, but after examination it turned out that between 60 and 70% of the persons paying church dues, did so from a very modest income. This glamor and semblance of prosperity went on until the arrival of the Germans. It ended then and it turned out that wealth was not a safeguard. The Enschede community went into hiding, was deported and a large part was murdered. Although after the war more people returned than elsewhere, it still was a small group of 500 persons. Only the synagogue reminds the survivors of the glorious times of yesteryear, but during the High Holidays of the Jewish religion this beautiful building is much too big for the small amount of worshippers. Because of aging, migration, emigration and assimilation the number of Jews who paying dues in Enschede and surroundings amounted in the year 2006 to forty and the Jewish community consisted of 70 members.
Extracted from source and slightly augmented from open source Internet information by Yael (Lotje) Ben Lev-de Jong
De joodse gemeenschap te Enschede:1930-1945/L.F. Van Zuylen-
Hengelo(Ov.):Twentse-Gelderse Uitgeverij Witkam b.v. (extinct)
Copyright 1983:L.F. Van Zuylen
Translation from Dutch:Nina Mayer
End editing English:Trudi Asscher
Coordinating of final version:Ben Noach
Grotere kaart weergeven