Sephardic Jews first came to Amsterdam in the late 15th century, escaping persecution in Spain and Portugal, and settled behind Waterlooplein, bordered by the Amstel and the Herengracht canal. They integrated successfully into Dutch life and flourished, with many working in the diamond industry. After enjoying years of religious freedom in Amsterdam, everything changed with the advent of World War II; the majority of Amsterdam’s 100,000 Jews were herded up and transported to Auschwitz and Belsen concentration camps. By 1945, less than 500 survived.
Today, the Jewish Cultural Quarter houses several monuments to Jewish life in Amsterdam.
The cramped hideaway where Ann Frank and her family existed for two years, before discovery by the Gestapo and deportation to Belsen, is Amsterdam’s foremost memorial to Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. Poignant reminders here include Ann’s diary, height marks left in pencil on the wall and flickering original film footage.
2) Jewish Historical Museum
Based in four ornate synagogues, the museum throws light on every aspect of the Jewish experience in Amsterdam, from the first influx in 1600 to searing accounts of World War II atrocities.
3) Portuguese Synagogue
This was Europe’s largest synagogue when built in 1675; a sign of how successful the Jewish community was in Amsterdam. Amazingly it remains intact, with a richly decorated interior still in use today.
4) Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theater)
Amsterdam’s leading theater became the deportation point for the Jews in 1942; thousands were incarcerated here before being sent to almost certain death in the concentration camps. An eternal flame glows in their memory in the chapel and a Wall of Remembrance is inscribed with the 6,700 surnames of the families eradicated by the Nazis.
A walk around Jewish Amsterdam passes the Jewish Resistance Fighters Memorial in a square in front of the Stadhuis, and the restored Gassan Diamond Factory, where many Jews worked plus the thought-provoking glass Auschwitz Monument by Jan Wolkers in the Plantage’s Wertheim Park.