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The first Jews to settle in the Netherlands‘ capital were refugees from persecution in Portugal and of the Spanish expulsion of 1492. They were given religious freedom but were barred from all professions except medicine. They became active in commerce and industry and, during the 17th century, established synagogues and schools, including the great yeshiva, Etz Hayim. The earliest waves of Ashkenazic Jews came from Poland in the wake of the Chmielniki pogroms in 1648. Shortly after, German Jews settled in Amsterdam. The entire community participated in the development of a rich cultural life. Outstanding among the many scholars of this period was Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel, the diplomat, author, and printer who set up the first printing press in Amsterdam. The community accorded great power to its rabbis, who opposed the study of the Kabbalah, as they did the Messianic movements. They excommunicated the religious rebel Uriel Acosta in 1640 and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza in 1656.

In 1796, in the wake of the French Revolution, Jews were granted equal rights, attaining complete emancipation during the 19th century. They continued to play an important role in the economic life of the city, until the outbreak of World War II.

With the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933, a mass migration of Jewish refugees to the Netherlands began. When Hitler’s armies entered the Netherlands, there were approximately 80,000 Jews in Amsterdam. The familiar Nazi pattern of mass deportation and atrocities against Jews destroyed 85 percent of Dutch Jewry. When the Allied armies of liberation entered Amsterdam in 1945, they found about 25,000 Jewish survivors of this once great Jewish community. The most famous victim of Naziism in Amsterdam is Anne Frank, author of Diary of a Young Girl.

Since then, Amsterdam Jewry, with the assistance of the Netherlands government, has slowly recovered and reestablished itself. In 2007, about 15,000 Jews lived in the city. Schools for children and synagogue services were serving the community. The Ashkenazi community of Amsterdam celebrated its 350th anniversary in April 1986.

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