Asser Hirsch’s ‘Israelite Boarding School for Young Gentlemen’ at Tiel

Asser Hirsch was born on 6 July 1830 in Amsterdam, the son of teacher Samuel Joseph Hirsch and Aaltje Abraham Hes. Aaltje Hes was a younger sister of  David Hes, a well-known mohel (circumciser) in and around Tiel. Asser Hirsch married Betje Marchand on 24 March 1854 in Tiel. She was born on 24 December 1831 in Amsterdam.

The couple had ten children, 7 daughters and 3 sons:

Name Birth date Death date Place
Samuel Julius  28 12 1855 29 10 1898 Tiel
Carolina Rebecca 22 11 1857 07 09 1898 Tiel
Charlotte 08 01 1860 26 11 1922 Amsterdam
Anselm Maurits 29 10 1861 1925
Esther 02 04 1863 02 04 1863 Sobibor
Abraham Meijer 14 01 1865 14 03 1940 Amsterdam
Elize  29 06 1868 14 05 1943 Sobibor
Rachel 15 09 1869 13 03 1943 Sobibor
Lea 16 09 1870 15 03 1872 Tiel
Anna 29 05 1872 > 1953 Liege (Belgium)

Unusual for the time was that only one of their children, Lea, died at a very young age. Three of them died in Sobibor: Esther, Elize and Rachel.

In 1906 Asser Hirsch moved to Deventer, where he died on 2 May 1908. He was however buried in the Jewish cemetery in Tiel (section C, 3rd row from the wall in grave nr 12) next to his wife Betje Marchand. She had died in Tiel on 18 May 1902 and was buried next to their daughter Carolina Rebecca, who died there four years earlier (see Table above).

Asser Hirsch and Betje Marchand originally lived in district E on Bleekveld House nr. 153 but later moved to Hoogeinde nr. D 107, next to the Police station. Both properties were destroyed during World War II.

In the first half of the 19th century the Jewish community in Tiel was flourishing and counted about 300 members. They established their own cemetery along Voor de Kijkuit street (Tiel’s Jewish residents had previously been buried in nearby towns Buren and Culemborg), and started their own synagogue in 1839 on Sint Agnietenstraat. ‘Lernen’ (Yiddish for studying the Torah) has an important role in the life of Jewish men and boys, so a school was set up in 1841 with the emphasis on Jewish religious instruction, especially for the poorest children. Like everywhere else this Jewish school probably kept on expanding.

On 2 May 1848 Asser Hirsch obtained a primary school teaching certificate (level 4, the lowest rank), for both general and religious education. In 1849 at the age of 19 he was appointed teacher at the Jewish School in Tiel. Later he rose to level 3. Besides teaching poor children, he spent increasingly more time organising extra lessons for children of the better off, such as languages, history and algebra. The result was a steady rise in the number of pupils, which lead to the construction of a new school in 1851, as the foundation stone shows. The school was located next to the Synagogue, on the corner of Sint Agnietenstraat and Westluidensestraat, and was built by carpenter Van Baars at a cost of 2,760 guilders. Its realisation had been supported by a contribution of 300 guilders from Tiel’s town council. The building still stands and is immediately recognisable from the rounded arches above the windows on the ground floor.

Asser Hirsch and Betje Marchand originally lived on the nearby Bleekveld. Teachers were poorly paid at that time, made worse by the introduction of a new 1857 education act, which resulted in the government’s termination of its financial support to the school. In anticipation of this, Hirsch had already informed the district school board in 1855 that he had established a private boarding school, the ‘Israelite Boarding School for Young Gentlemen’. This was probably done in consultation with the Jewish community of which he happened to be secretary. It was a ‘special school for primary and further primary education’. From the (scarce) documents that remain, e.g. the population register, it is clear that boys were already boarding with the Hirsch family when they lived on the Bleekveld. He informed the aforementioned board in 1858 that his boarding school already had 19 pupils, and the population register shows that Louis Cohen left Hirsch’s house on the Bleekveld on the first of August 1863 for his parental home in Groningen.

According to correspondence between Tiel’s town council and Hirsch, there were 38 boys and 19 girls registered as pupils on 15 April 1862, of whom 38 came from Tiel and the rest from elsewhere. The parents of these children were guaranteed an excellent general education, supplemented by orthodox Jewish religious instruction of a similarly high level. Furthermore boarding school pupils were assured of good care when ill.

Incidentally, Hirsch continued to arrange lessons (probably also religious ones) for needy children from Tiel, for which he received an annual allowance of 200 guilders from the local Jewish community.

The new school also employed auxiliary teachers, among whom J.P.van Rooij. Space was at a premium, so in 1865 the school moved to the property on Hoogeinde D 107, where D. van de Berg’s French School had been located until then.

The number of pupils rose steadily to about 50, which included several girls. It was not until the turn of the century, when Hirsch was nearly 70 that the number fell. Asser Hirsch closed the doors to his school on 1 May 1902, only a few weeks before the death of his wife Betje. He moved to Deventer in 1906, where he died on 2 May 1908. According to his wish he was buried next to his wife in Tiel.

The Israelite School, also called the ‘Hirsch Institute’, was one of the two special schools in Tiel, i.e. not subsidised by the local authorities. Supervision was carried out by the district school board, which regularly reported their results in the newspaper. Thus the board writes: “the head teacher devotes himself to his task with the utmost diligence”, “the teaching deserves the highest praise” and “the teaching at A. Hirsch’s school continues to distinguish itself favourably”.

The syllabus exceeded the usual level of primary school material and comprised subjects such as elementary French, High German and English. In addition special attention was given to Hebrew and Religious instruction, as the appointment of auxiliary teachers for religious instruction shows.

The pupils who lodged with Hirsch not only attended his school, but some also went to a secondary school in Tiel, the HBS (high school) or (Pro) Gymnasium (grammar school). Advertisements appeared regularly in the Nieuw Israëlitisch Weekblad (NIW: Dutch Jewish Weekly) mentioning (former) students who had completed their education successfully, and included a biannual recommendation to entrust children to his care. Besides the ‘Israelite Young Gentlemen’, girls also regularly boarded at his school.

Sadly registers with names of pupils and their origin are no longer in existence. Some indications can however be found in the Tiel Riverland Regional Archives (RAR): the population registers in which all pupils from the Hirsch boarding school were also included, but the way in which they were entered does not provide an opportunity for analysis either.

The school enjoyed not only national but also international fame, and was unique of its kind: where else could a parent entrust the education of his/her child to someone who also provided a thorough Jewish education? Although no records of fees have been preserved, an education at the Hirsch boarding school would only have been the preserve of the wealthy elite.

The large majority of pupils came from Amsterdam, often several from one family. The popularity of Hirsch’s school abroad clearly reflects the important role that Amsterdam fulfilled in the international Jewish world. Many Jewish scientists and bankers came to Amsterdam and many Dutch Jews went elsewhere to try their luck, regularly with great success. Thus there are pupils from London (e.g. Nijburg, Jacobs, Boekbinder, Falck and Barnett), Kimberley (Levie), Paris (Van Weerden and De Roos), Vilnius (the brothers Fin), Antwerp (Penha), Liège (Dewied), Brussels (Poons), Memphis (Poons), Minsk (Rapoport)), St. Petersburg (Woronick and Karlim), Witebsk (Monossohn) and Sydney (Bobbe).

The arrival of pupils from Russia to Hirsch’s school can be attributed to the pogroms which took place in Eastern Europe in the 19th century. Very likely wealthy Russian Jews also sent their children to the safety of the Netherlands for their physical wellbeing. One of them, Mozes Woronick, settled in the Netherlands after his education at Hirsch’s and became a dentist. He was murdered in Auschwitz on 1 October 1942.

Unfortunately it can only be ascertained in very few cases how long pupils boarded at Hirsch’s. Most of them remained only a relatively short time (half a year to a few years) under Hirsch’s care, but some finished their secondary education in Tiel. One such pupil was Gustaaf Tabak from Amsterdam who arrived at Hirsch’s as a 10 year old in 1882 and left Tiel in 1892 aged 19 after having completed his grammar school education. Many boarding school pupils took part in all Tiel’s social and cultural activities, as various newspaper articles show. In the Tielsche Courant of 26 February 1897 there is for example a report of the match between TVV (Tiel Football Association) and Gorkum. TVV lost the match 0-3 with (former) pupils Woronick, Speijer and Hirsch in the line-up. Of the boys boarding at Hirsch’s who went to secondary school in Tiel, several passed their final exams, either in Tiel or elsewhere.

Hirsch’s school was held in general esteem, as was evident in 1874, when the school celebrated its 25th anniversary. Besides representatives from the Jewish world, the mayor and numerous prominent non-Jewish residents were present to congratulate Hirsch. In the evening ‘a vast crowd merged in front of his house to join in the ovation’: ‘with full approval of the mayor of Tiel’ he was serenaded by the militia’s music corps by torch light.

Also at the 50th anniversary of the Hirsch Institute in 1899, when he had reached the age of 69, he was also the centre of attention. On 30 August 1900, on Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday, he was made Knight in the Order of Orange Nassau.

On 1 May 1902 the Institute shut its doors. The closing words of the district education committee were (once again) laudatory: “This signifies the disappearance of an educational institute, where for many years an important part of our country’s Israelite youth was taught and educated with care, for the school’s management was in capable hands” (Tielsche Courant 12-11-1899). In all more than 250 youths, predominantly boys, stayed at the boarding school for shorter or longer periods. A few stayed for several (often shorter) periods, like Blumen Barcha Rapaport, a girl from Minsk (now in Belarus).

Most of Hirsch’s pupils had already died when the Second World War broke out. Almost all pupils who were still alive at that time were murdered by the Nazis, among whom:

Barend Augurkiesman born 1875 Amsterdam (1942 – Auschwitz)
Barend Gomperts  born 1894 Amsterdam (1944 – Auschwitz)
Samuel Jacob Hakkert  born 1882 Vianen (1943 – Sobibor)
Karel Hoedemakker born 1890 Amsterdam (1943 – Sobibor)
Philip Polak born 1876 Almelo (1943 – Sobibor)
Jacob Visser born 1887 Amsterdam (1944 – Auschwitz)
Henri Vredenburg born 1883 Zutphen (1943 – Auschwitz)
Simon M.J. van Wijnbergen born 1887 Rotterdam (1942 – Auschwitz)
Mozes Woronick born 1879 St. Petersburg (1942 - Auschwitz)

Some family details

Carolina Rebecca, the eldest daughter of Asser Hirsch and Betje Marchand, was born on 22 November 1857 in Tiel, where she died on 7 September 1898. She was married to Samuel Chananya Kleerekoper on 22 April 1875 in Tiel. Samuel was born on 29 October 1843 in Amsterdam, and moved to Tiel in 1866, where he was both a teacher at the Hirsch Institute and rabbi of the Jewish community. They had four children: Estella (1876), Betsie (1877), Jenny (1879) and Asser Benjamin (1880).

Estella Kleerekoper was born on 15 February 1876 in Tiel. She studied pharmacy and obtained her doctorate in 1900 at the University of Amsterdam. She was the first female pharmacist to do so. She never worked as a pharmacist, but excelled in her function as labour inspector, for which she was appointed Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau. She died on 29 September 1942 in Amsterdam.

Asser Benjamin Kleerekoper was born on 22 September 1880. After attending classes at the Hirsch Institute and the grammar school in Tiel, he studied law in Utrecht. He achieved national fame, both as Member of Parliament of the SDAP (Social Democratic Workers’ Party) and a journalist. He died on 14 April 1943 in Amsterdam.

Esther Hirsch was born on 2 April 1863 in Tiel, where she married Jacob Visser on 9 January 1889. He was a son of Deventer butcher Emanuel Visser and Betje Frankfort. Esther and Jacob had two sons and two daughters: Emile (1889), Asser (1898), Betje (1890) and Caroline (1893). Jacob died aged 92 in the Westerbork transit camp on 5 February 1943 and Esther was murdered in Sobibor on 23 July 1943.

Caroline Visser was a teacher and was very musical; she performed many times in Tiel. As a very young child she stayed regularly in Tiel with her grandfather and grandmother, Asser and Betje. In her diary she writes about that period:

 “My memories go back to approximately my third year, when I can still quite clearly remember my Aunt Anna’s wedding, an occasion which has anchored itself in my memory for various reasons. My temper showed itself for the first time then. What happened was that because the other children were allowed to throw flowers, but I only confetti, I refused to play my part and furiously threw the whole basket, confetti and all into the hall.

My grandfather’s house where the wedding took place was a large “patrician’s” house, with large high-ceilinged rooms, a vast reception room opening onto the garden, kitchens as in a hotel, staircases as I had never seen in Deventer. Grandfather ran a boarding school and I can still remember many of the scholars who were there then and I also know many of the stories about them as told by my Mother to which I would listen for hours.

Grandfather was strict and irascible; he normally wore a top hat and morning coat when going out, or a kipah and housecoat when at home. He had beautiful long fine hands and cool grey eyes, white hair and a long white beard. Grandmother was a tiny kind lady, patient like an angel and always upstairs in the sewing room mending socks. It was always she who would console us with a plum or apple when Grandfather had been strict and implacable over our slightest misdemeanours.”

Rachel Hirsch was born on 15 September 1896 in Tiel. She was a music teacher and member of the ‘Vereniging Kunstkring Delft’ (art society in Delft). She lived and worked in Delft. On 23 October 1942 she made a failed suicide attempt. She was deported on 5 March 1943 and died six days later in Sobibor.

Anna Hirsch was born on 29 May 1872 in Tiel. She married Louis de Wied on 27 April 1897. He was a brother of Jules Dewied who had been a pupil at the Hirsch Institute. Their mothers, Betje and Mietje Marchand, were sisters. Anna died in 1953 in Liege (Belgium).

Original sources:-Two articles by “Stichting Ter Navolging Tiel” , submitted by Rene Bennekers.

Extracted from the Dutch sources:- Sara Kirby-Nieweg
Translated from Dutch: Sara Kirby-Nieweg
Review:Ben Noach
End editing:Sara Kirby-Nieweg & Anthony (Tony) Kirby, Ben Noach

Certificate teacher of religion
Certificate of ordination as teacher of Jewish religion - Asser Hirsch - 1848
[Source: Collectie Joods Historisch Museum]
Letter of good standing re Asser Hirsch
Letter of good standing re Asser Hirsch -1854 -(Heb)
[Source: Collectie Joods Historisch Museum]
grave stone Asser Hirsch
Grave stone of Asser Hirsch at Tiel
[Source: Stenenarchief]
Grave stone Betje Hirsch-Marchand
Grave stone of Betje Hirsch-Marchand at Tiel
[Source: Stenenarchief]