The history of the Jewisch community in Smilde

In the dim past the territory of modern Smilde belongd to the Benedictine convention “Dickninge at “de Wijk and the Cistercan women’s convention “Maria Campis at Assen. After these conventions were established, the territory became known as “Kloosterveen.” At that time it was still savage and un-productive, although there was some peat levelling. In March 1771 the first sale of the peat grounds of Kloosterveen took place and this date is regarded the foundation date of what nowadays is known as Smilde. Also around 1771 the governing board of the province of Drenthe was completed, which gave the exploitation of this area an enormous stimulus. More and more workers of outside came to Smilde. The social situation was, however, in that time still poor. Many occupants and workers still lived in huts or even in tents.

Smilde developed itself in the first half of the nineteenth century very successfuly. By natural growth and establishment from elsewhere the number of inhabitants increased quickly: of from around 1000 in the year 1800 to about 4500 around 1850. As a result of the strong increase of the population, handicraft and industry strongly grew too. Furthermore, the “Drentse Hoofdvaart also played an important role in the establishment of companies. This canal was important for the traffic from Holland to Germany. In fact, one could speak of an advantageous economic climate thanks to the peat.Under the many new occupants there were also Jews, although the first Jews were not very welcome in that time. In 1782 the government decided that no more then two Jewish family’s could live in a village and the Jews who had lived there should have the profession of butcher, merchant or fellmonger. Fellmongers had to follow their trade to the edge of the village, because of the smell of the skins. After the French revolution the Jews gained more freedom, still it wasn’t until 1806 that the Jews could establish themselves freely. In 1830, there were 66 Jews living in Smilde, and thirty years later that number had increased to 172 

Around 1813 the Jews of Smilde and its surroundings had their own synagogue, the so-called home-synagogue. It was established in a room in the “Assenrode house of the Rebenscheidt family which was rented by Joseph Levi and later by Filippus Benjamin. It was an ideal accommodation for a home-synagogue, because such spaces had to assenrode.pngmeet a number of strict conditions. First of all it had to be able to accommodate all the believers, around that time probably about 40 persons. There also should be a place for the “Heilige Ark” (Holy Ark), this is a cupboard in which the Thora – or the law roles were kept. It also had to provide an opportunity to pray with the face to the East. In 1846, a synagogue was built in the centre of the village. In the portal of the synagogue a memorial stone was introduced with the inscription: Psalm C vs IV: A-5608 (Gaat in tot Zijn poorten met lof) Church masters S Magnus/SJ Cohen Two years after the construction of the synagogue its own cemetery was moored. Around 1850 using a subsidy from the fund “ad Pios Usus a private Jewish lower education school was built. At the time of the construction of the railroad track from Groningen to Zwolle, there was a sudden stagnation in the increase of the population. At the end of World War I there were some 40 Jews left in Smilde. They formed their own, tight community.During the occupation in World War II nearly all Jewish inhabitants of Smilde were deported and assassinated. In 1943, the Jewish school was converted to a civil house. What happened with the furniture and the ritual objects of the synagogue, has been confessed. The buildings themseves have been demolished after the war. In 1950, the Jewish community joined the one in Assen. 

Next is a part of an article written by J.B. Ludwig in the November 1983 edition of magazine “Ons Waardeel”.” From my youth I remember myself the Jews which spread all over Smilde. There were 3 butchers, 3 manufacturers, one grocer, 1 bookseller and 2 families which had unclear occupations as a merchant and they succeeded each other as Rebbe, on duty in the synagogue. In the 70′s of the 19th century there was Izak the Haan, who was born in 1839, in Edam. A couple of years after his second marriage with Betje Rubens, he became a Gazzan of the small Jewish community in Smilde. After Izak had been firstly, with little success became a merchant, he had committed himself to being a volunteer in the army. Few possibilities proved him also there so he had started a baker’s trade in Amsterdam. His wife, who sometimes appealed herself on her origin from the distinguished Sephardim, advised him to study for religious teacher. After he had succeeded, he was appointed to the small sjoel (synagogue) of Smilde. Here he served until 1882 and then left to Gorredijk. In Smilde four children were born, of which the first only lived only four months and the second died after three months. Afterwards the other two children, who were borne next to the little sjoel of Smilde, were Carolina Lea (born on 1 January 1881), the later Carry van Bruggen. And on 31 December 1881 Jacob Israel was born, a well-known poet of Jewish songs.The character of Izak de Haan is depicted among others in the next tale: The service in the synagogue is not characterised by a general silence. On the contrary. In fact frequently they are buzzing. But by the time the Gazzan speaks his prayers everyone is supposed to be silent. As this, and still on Yom Kippur once does not happen and some parnosen still even sjmoezen (church board still just keep on talking) the Gazzan halts in the middle of his prayer. Consternation arises in the sjoel and one question is asked: “Why don’t you go on, Rabbi?” The answer is characteristic: “If my superiors speaks, it is proper for me to be silent”. This kind of non-conformism later also characterised his son and daughter.”

At the “Grietmansbrug house lived the Magnussen family. Simon and Mozes, the two brothers, together had a butchery. At the “Polakkenbrug lived Nathan Magnus, also a butcher, who uncommonly cooperated with a pork butcher. The daughter of Nathan Magnus, Betje, had experienced the misery of WW II in the “Apeldoornse bos”. The “Apeldoornse bos was an institution for Jewish mental patients.

Assenrode huissynagoge

By the “Veenhoopsbrug there lived Nathan and Simon van Dam, father and son. Nathan especially underwent on Sabbath a transfiguration. On Mondays he wore farmer’s clothing with a black sides cap, but to sjoel he went distinguished with a black suite and a cap. He was the living proof of a Drents expression that says “Even the poorest Jews have a Sabbat suite.” At the “van Dam home they built the most beautiful tabernacle according to the regulations of Leviticus 23. Nathan was not only a butcher. He also was a cattle-dealer, but in fact he was lacking fortune. For that reason he borrowed a thousand guilders from his neighbour for his trade, which he returned before Sabbath began only to borrow it again the next Monday. This practice was continued for years. His neighbour never missed a penny.

Not far from the house of the Van Dam family lived at the end of the 19th century Levie Bloemendal and his wife “Duifje de Zwaan”, who together had a manufactury trade. When Levie Bloemendal died in 1899, five years after his wife, his both daughters were left behind. Eva Bloemendal was the oldest and Jansje Bloemendal the youngest. Together they continued their parents’ business. The regular customers of Levie consisted not only of visitors of the shop, but also of farmers, of which some were attracted far outside of Smilde. This task Eva had taken over from her father. When Jansje died in 1925, Eva raised the shop and left Smilde. 

Emanuel Kats, who lived nearby van Dam, had a likewise business. He too visited his customers at home. It was something that he did with a bicycle. Striking was his protection of his daughter Betsy. They were the last Jews to leave Smilde in 1940, before the war started. 

At the “Vroomsdraai lived Van Zuiden with his wife Sientje. He kept himself very close to the Mosaic laws. 

Then there was still Frank, he lived at the beginning of the 19th century near the synagogue and he led the sjoel services. He got his living from a fish trading. He went with a flat wheelbarrow along the houses to sell fish.

Opposite the synagogue there lived a couple, who completely had their own place within the Jewish society, Ms and Mrs “van Hasselt“, also called Mozes and Sientje. They had no children but a wide circle of acquaintances.They obviously agreed with the Yiddish saying of “Toire is the best schoire”. Schoire meant trade and Toire has been inferred to the Torah. Van Hasselt, or in fact his wife, drove a bookshop. He himself did not mind the business much. He had other things to do that he found important. For example he was an agent of an insurance company and the chairman of the burial fund, for which he was found daily on his bicycle in Smilde and surroundings. But his main interest still concerned something else. He was leader of the local department of the Liberally Democratic Association. This was a liberalist political party which was founded in 1901. Van Hasselt was member of the municipal council of Smilde on behalf of this party. He commited himself strongly for a construction of foot path in Smilde. At the time this was a luxury, which the original citizens of Smilde saw as an excessive proposal. In 1918, a politically lively time, a voluntary citizen guard was set up to prevent possible revolutions like the ones that took place in Russia for example.In Smilde a citizen guard was established. Van Hasselt was among the ones who applied for a place in the citizen guard. Great was his disappointment when he was refused membership, particularly because he was publicly very appreciated.

Synagoge Smilde

An another remarkable character among the Jewish population of Smilde was Machiel Cohen, who everyone called “Michiel” . In the last years of his life he was involved, as a successor to Frank, to lead the services in the synagogue. Machiel was born in 1843, and was a second-hand dealer. At his old age he was a friend of the young and old in Smilde. Beside a second-hand dealer of all kinds of goods Machiel was a seen as a miracle-doer in medical health care, something which fulfilled everyone with respect. If you had warts – and that occurred often in that time – you went to Machiel and asked him if he could cure them.He would brush concerning the wart, mumble something unintelligible and say: “After a week the wart wil be gone”, something which frequently appeared to be the case. An another fact worth mentioning is that Machiel every morning visited the “Oude Veenhoop” hotel. Every other day, on a table a glass of gin stood ready for Machiel. It occurred that he had gotten a bequest as a result of which he could take his daily drink. Machiel died in 1928. He fortunately missed the misery, which found 12 years later.

All Jews which still lived in Smilde in 1942, had been deported. Moving was the woman of Nathan Magnus, when she was forced to go in a bus Gedenksteen for deportation: “God has always helped Israel, He also will help us now”. Unfortunately no Jew from Smilde survived the war. Only the oldest son of Simon van Dam, Nathan, survived the war on a marvellous way. During the war Nathan van Dam had moved from Smilde to Rotterdam. Nathan took part in a resistance group and according to the Germans, a Jew who had taken part in the resistance had the lowest right to live. Nathan was arrested in Rotterdam and was transmitted to the Scheveningen prison. His wife had been put on transport to a camp in Poland. Nathan remained the rest of the war in prison, until he was freed on 5 May 1945.

gedenksteen smilde

Pinkas; Jozeph Michman ea; 1992
JB Ludwig; De joden in Smilde; Ons Waardeel 1983; blz 183 ev
T Baas; Problemen rond een huissynagoge; Ons Waardeel 1987; blz 178
JH Luining; De Joodse gemeenschap in SmildeArchief Drentse en Asser Courant, 8 april 1851 ea

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