Jewish artists in Dutch culture

Sources: De Joodse bijdrage aan de Nederlandse cultuur (The Jewish contribution to Dutch culture), compiled and edited by T. Spaans-van der Bijl. (Misjpoge, jubilee number 1987-1992)

Jewish visual artists in the Netherlands, Drs. Christiaan Roosen

In the 17th century Jews were barred from the guild system. They could only flourish in free professions which did not belong to any guild. The same applied to the profession of artist.

In 1796, under the French civil laws, the guild system was abolished. From then on the number of Jewish artists active in the Netherlands increased. Some of them even achieved international fame.

However, despite the imposed restrictions a number of Jewish artists from the 17th and 18th century are also well-known. They came mainly from the Sephardic circles in Amsterdam.

Although little is known about these artists, their names and works have been passed down to us: Salomon Italia, Jacob da Carpi, Juda Machabeu, Aron Santcroos, Jacob Gadella, Joseph Siprut de Gabay and Benjamin Senior Godines.

Abraham bar Jacob was one of the artists who contributed to the Hagada sjel Pesach in 1629, which includes a map of Eretz Israel, one of the first to be printed.

After 1796 Jews were not only able to become free artists, but they could also exhibit and sell their work.

Sought after portraitists were Louis Moritz (1775-1850) and Ezechiel Davidson (1792-1870). Abraham Lion Zeelander (1789-1856, Amsterdam) was a reproductive engraver who copied a number of paintings by 17th century Dutch masters and contemporary artists.

The Wiener brothers were medal engravers, and designers of coins and stamps. During the secession wars with Belgium they left Venlo for Brussels.

Jewish artists were now also able to study at art academies founded by King Willem I.

Up to the 1870’s Amsterdam and The Hague were important cultural centres, where artists like David Bles, Jacob Texeira de Mattos and Samuel Verveer gained fame. Moritz Calisch (1819-1917) who lived and worked in Amsterdam, was a sought after portraitist.

Jozef Israels (1824-1911) was born in Groningen but worked mostly in The Hague, where he eventually settled. He was a leading member of The Hague School of landscape painters. He often painted scenes from everyday life, expressing compassion for the misery of the poor. In later years he focussed on Jewish subjects (A son of the ancient people and A Jewish wedding). He is regarded as one of the most important painters in Jewish and Dutch art of the 19th century.

The re-establishment of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in 1853 led to denominational segregation in the Netherlands, the so-called pillarization. A strong emphasis on individual organisation and identity was the result. In the art of Jewish painters this resulted in a further development of Jewish themes. Maurits Leon (1835-1865) was interested in depicting Jewish subjects, such as synagogue scenes and people praying. In 1870 the "Rijksacademie voor beeldende kunsten" (Academy of Fine Arts) was established in Amsterdam. August Allebe (1838-1927) joined as professor and later became its director. Among his many contacts were the Jewish painters Max Liebermann and Jozef Israels. Among the Academy’s many well-known students were Meyer de Haan (1852-1895), Benjamin Prins (1860-1934), Eduard Frankfort (1864-1920) and Baruch Laguna (1864-1943 Auschwitz).

Towards the end of the 19th century two sculptors from the Sephardic circle came to prominence: Henry Texeira de Mattos (1856-1908) and Joseph Mendes da Costa (1863-1939).

In the 20th century there were many different art movements and trends in which Jewish painters played only a modest part. Jacob Bendien was one of the few who focussed on abstract art. Paul Citroen, his brother-in-law, had already been involved from a young age with the international avant-garde in Berlin. Some artists from the first half of the twentieth century who made their mark in the graphic arts were Marie de Roode-Heijermans (sister of the author Herman Heijermans), Mommie Schwarz, Elias Smalhout, Philip van Praag, Fre Cohen and Max van Dam.

In the thirties many artists were forced to leave Germany, among them Else Berg, Clara Klinghofer, Alice Horodisch Garnmann and the young Otto Treumann. The last three made their names as graphic artists after the war.

The contribution of Jewish artists to advertising design is striking. Johanna Cohen Coster, the caricaturist Jo Spier and Lodewijk Lopes Cardozo are names that stand out.

During WW II many Jewish artists were actively involved in forging documents for the Dutch resistance. More than seventy Jewish artists died in the war, from Sallo Menco who was executed in the Netherlands by the Germans aged 18, to Lion Schulman who died in Auschwitz on 19 February 1943 at the age of 91.

Jules Chapon and Ro Mogendorff achieved fame after the war. Ro Mogendorff (1907-1969) had been influenced as a young child by a painter who lived next-door. She attended drawing classes after school and later studied at the Rijksacademie. She lived and worked in Amsterdam and in France. She visited Israel several times, where she made many drawings. She died in Laren in the Netherlands in 1969. Her work has been exhibited in many places and can also be seen in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. (

Other painters who achieved fame after the war were Ralph Prins, Leo Schatz, Max Bueno de Mesquita, Wessel Couzijn, Jaap Kaas, Job Wertheim and Frank de Miranda. Appie Drielsma was a modern sculptor. He lived and worked in Maastricht, where he died in July 2014.


Jewish writers in Dutch literature, Dr. Henriette Boas

This section only covers writers who were in some way concerned with Jewish subjects.

The 19th century

Isaac da Costa (1799-1860) was born in Amsterdam and studied law in Leiden. He wrote poetry and articles on theological subjects. His book Israel en de Volken, a history of the Jews up to the 19th century, was translated into English: Israel and the Gentiles. The poet Estella Hijmans-Herzveld (1837-1881) was born in Arnhem, where she lived and died

Other writers from the 19th century are the poet J. L. Wertheim (1839-1882) and the author Cornelie Noordwal (1869-1928).

The Jewish writers in the first decennia of the 20th century often came from lower middle-class families and were invariably socialist. Their general knowledge of Judaism was often sketchy, and when they did use a Jewish theme, it was usually against the narrow-mindedness they had experienced at home. The most famous of the Jewish writers from this period was Herman Heijermans (1864-1924), who was born in Rotterdam and died in Zandvoort. He came from a non-religious family who had intended him to go into business. His father was a journalist, a profession Herman would ultimately follow. He settled in Amsterdam, where he joined the S.D.A.P (The Socialist Democratic Labour Party). He had no contact with the local Jewish community and displayed a form of Jewish self-hate. In his book Diamantstad he described the difficult life of the Jewish diamond workers. His two marriages were to non-Jewish women. His first play Dora Cremer (1893) was not well received. His next piece Ahasverus about a pogrom in Russia was published under the Russian pseudonym Iwan Jelakovitch. When it was a great success, Heijermans made himself known as the author. Later pieces were Ghetto, De opgaande zon, Falklandjes and Op hoop van zegen. Towards the end of his life he wrote poetic novels such as Droomkoninkje and Vuurvlindertje.

Another writer was Israel Querido (1872-1932). He grew up in a diamond worker’s family in Amsterdam. After primary school he had to work in the diamond trade as well. He was very musical and became an accomplished violinist. In 1893 and 1894 he published poems under the pseudonym Theo Reeder, and because life as a diamond worker did not suit him, he became a journalist for the Algemeen Handelsblad, a daily newspaper based in Amsterdam. Apart from a number of studies on literature and music (Beethoven), he published several novels, some of them about the diamond cutters’ world: Levensgang, Menschenwee, and De Jordaan, Amsterdams Epos in four parts. He also wrote historical novels: De Oude Waereld in three parts, Simson in two parts and Het Volk Gods in two parts. In the last novel he describes his own Portuguese Jewish background. This also features in his play Aron Laguna (1916), which is worth reading because of the Judeo-Portuguese use of language.

Emanuel Querido (1871-1943 Sobibor) wrote about the rise of the socialist workers’ movement in the Netherlands in his novel Het geslacht der Santilianos, which he published under the pseudonym Joost Mendes.

Arnold Aletrino (1858-1916) was a contemporary of Israel and Emanuel Querido. He who wrote naturalistic, pessimistic novels based on his experiences as a medical doctor in: Zuster Bertha and Martha. Later on he specialised in criminal anthropology.

Michel Herman van Campen (1874-1942 Auschwitz) and Andries de Rosa (1869-1943 Sobibor) were writers who had no great literary output. Van Campen was a Zionist. He published three collections of short stories: Bikoerim, Opstellen and Schetsen. Andries de Rosa trained as a diamond worker in Amsterdam, but moved to Paris to further his music career. Back in Amsterdam he joined the socialist movement. He published compositions for piano and violin under the pseudonym Armand du Roche. He translated novels of French authors such as Flaubert and Barbusse into Dutch for the Querido publishing company. In 1929 his novel Sara Cremieux: Parijsche roman was published by Querido.

Abraham van Collum (1858-1933) was born in Rotterdam. He was initially a Zionist and the first chairman of the Dutch Zionist League (N.Z.B.). A year later he switched to socialism. His early collection of poems, Van Stad en Land (1906), shows his Jewish involvement. Later volumes of poetry are: Liederen van huisvlijt, Opstandige liederen, Liederen der gemeenschap, Van de nieuwe gemeenschap and God.

Other writers from this period were S. Bonn (1881-1930), Sani van Bussum (1876-1933), the pseudonym of Sientje Prijes, and of course Rabbi Meijer de Hond (1882- 1943 Sobibor).

Although Meijer de Hond was aware of the difficult circumstances of the Jews in Amsterdam, he was definitely not a socialist and even opposed to the rise of socialism among the Jews. He was the very gifted son of impecunious parents and attended the Dutch Rabbinical Seminary (NIS), but did not receive the certificate of ordination, as he was not considered suitable to be a rabbi. Through the help of supporters he completed his rabbinical training in Berlin and obtained his doctorate in Wurzburg. Back in Amsterdam he dedicated himself to the education of young Jewish adults. He wrote several plays from an orthodox point of view. His collection Kiekjes, affectionately written stories about the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, became well-known. He was also editor of the Joodsche Jeugdkrant (newspaper for Jewish youths). He was not a Zionist.

Carolina de Haan (Carry van Bruggen 1881-1932) and her brother Jacob Israel de Haan (1881-1924) were born in Smilde in the northern province of Drenthe, where their father was cantor. In 1885 the family moved to Zaandam, where Carry and Jacob grew up. Carry became a teacher and married the non-Jewish journalist Kees van Bruggen. She started writing novels under the pseudonym Justine Abbing, but later became well-known under the name Carry van Bruggen. Her most important works were Heleen and Eva. Those with Jewish subjects were In de schaduw, De Verlatene, Het Joodje and Het huisje aan de sloot. Prometheus and Hedendaags Fetischisme were more philosophical works.

The teacher Jacob Israel de Haan was a socialist. Already from a young age he published fierce socialist sketches like Kanalje. He abandoned Judaism at first, but returned to it later and became a Zionist, which is when he published Het Joodse Lied. In 1919 he went to Jerusalem. He had studied law, but did not get the post he had applied for. In Jerusalem he was a journalist and correspondent to begin with. Later on he left Zionism and became fervently religious. He was homosexual and had affairs with Arab boys. In 1924 he was shot dead by two Zionists, as he was considered to be a danger to Zionism.

1930-1945 and the post-war years

Well-known writers in this period were Sam Goudsmit, Jacob Hiegentlich, Marianne Philips, Herman de Man and Siegfried E. van Praag. Van Praag wrote mostly before the war but also afterwards. He was always consciously Jewish and Zionist. Other pre-war Jewish writers were Joseph Gompers and Sally Pinkhof.

After the war books were published by Jewish writers about their bitter experiences in hiding and in the camps. Prof. S. Dresden, who had spent two years in the Westerbork transit camp, provided in Vervolging Vernietiging Literatuur (1991) valuable analyses of this war literature.

Abel J. Herzberg (1893-1989) was a lawyer, writer and poet. He was the son of Russian emigrants, and in Brieven aan mijn kleinzoon (Letters to my grandson) he describes the life his parents had to leave behind and their new life in Amsterdam. Amor Fati (1946) contains seven essays about his experiences in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Kroniek der Jodenvervolging 1940-1945 (1950) is a historical description of the Persecution of the Jews.

Other Jewish writers from this period were Josef Cohen, Maurits J. Vles (Eugene van Herpen), Helma Wolf-Catz, M.Coutinho, Maurits Dekker, Professor D. Dresden, S. van den Bergh, J. Presser (Ondergang), Clara Asscher-Pinkhof, her brother Sally Pinkhof and Maurits Mok.

Anne Frank’s diary attracted little interest at first. Not until it was translated into German and English did it become famous. Authors who published their work during the second half of the Twentieth Century were Marga Minco, Meijer Sluijser and Sal Santen.

Etty Hillesum (1914-1943 Auschwitz) kept diaries during the war from 9 March 1941 in Amsterdam.

Before she left for Westerbork, Etty Hillesum gave her diaries to her friend Maria Tuinzing, with the instruction that they should be published, should she not survive.

An abridged edition of her diaries appeared in 1981 under the title Het verstoorde leven [An Interrupted Life], followed by a collection of her letters from Westerbork.

A complete edition of her letters and diaries was published in Dutch in 1986 and translated into English in 2002.

Her diaries were translated into 67 languages. Her letters were sent to friends and Hillesum’s final postcard was thrown from the train in Westerbork,

where it was discovered by Dutch farmers after her death.

Jaap Meijer (1912-1993) was born in the northern province of Groningen. His family was very poor, so when his father died, the thirteen-year-old Jaap Meijer was sent to the Jewish seminary in Amsterdam for further schooling. He was a historian and managed to obtain his PhD in 1941 just before it would no longer be allowed. He published poetry, in Dutch and in the Groninger dialect, under the pseudonym Saul Messel. With his wife and young son he survived Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Het Verdwenen Ghetto. Wandelingen door de Amsterdamse Jodenbuurt (1948) about the former Jewish quarter in Amsterdam was written after their return.

Other Jewish writers were: Henri Hartog, Bernard Canter, Eduard Veterman, J.K. Rensburg, A.B.Kleerekoper, Herman van der Bergh, Ida Simons, Elisabeth de Jong-Keesing, Josepha Mendels, Manuel van Loggem, Hanny Michaelis and the journalist Eduard Elias.

Younger writers who wrote about their war-time memories were Gerard Durlacher, Mau Kopuit, Ida Vos, Sera Anstadt, Andreas Burnier and Judith Herzberg. Leon de Winter, Marcel Mohring, Frans Pointl and Carl Friedman belong to the group of writers born after the war who are in search of their own identities or write about the problems of the so-called "second generation".

Jewish musical life in the Netherlands, Willem Noske

Willem Noske (1918-1995 The Hague), one of the most important Dutch violinists of the 20th century, was also a specialist of Dutch music from the 16th to the 19th century. He considered the quality of Dutch composers in that period to have been much underrated. As the same seemed true for Jewish music of that period, a work group was formed to research the Jewish contribution to music in the Netherlands. The result was an incomplete picture which can be classified as follows:

  • Synagogue music, including compositions inspired by synagogue songs.
  • Work from members of the Portuguese Jewish community during the 17th and 18th century (Spinoza).
  • The period 1796-1914. From that period the violin virtuoso Isaac Schmidt and the conductor and composer Aron Wolf Berlijn were well-known, as were members from the musical Samehtini, Heymann, Franco Mendes and Culp families. Isaac Heymann had a very special voice, his daughters Louise and Sophie were well-known opera and concert singers, and daughter Johanna was a celebrated pianist. Their brother Carl was a piano prodigy, who counted Liszt among his admirers.
  • The period 1914-1940. This was probably the time when the Jewish contribution to music in the Netherlands reached its height, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Some famous names are Henriette Bosmans, Ary Schuijer, Ignace Lilien, Leo Smit, Willem Rettich, Simon Abas, W. Abraham and Ary Belinfante.

Sim Gokkes, Maurits Samehtini en Herman Sitters composed music inspired by synagogue songs.

The Jewish contribution in the sphere of popular and cabaret music was also considerable. Jewish composers wrote scores for films, and pieces for jazz ensembles, dance orchestras and brass bands.

  • A fair number of Jewish composers and musicians survived the war. Among the musicians were many violinists, conductors, wind players, percussionists, and the famous harpist Rosa Spier. There were also many Jewish music educationalists, directors of conservatoires and music schools, theoreticians, musicologists and librarians. Fanny Simons contributed to the development of the public music library in The Hague, the largest in the country. There were also many Jewish instrument makers, printers and publishers of music and music shop owners. Norbet Loeser was a well-known music critic and Oscar Back was one of the most important violin teachers of the twentieth century. Julia Culp, known abroad as the "Dutch nightingale", and the bass-baritone Herman Schey, who sang with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, were singers of world fame. Then as now many Jews came to listen to music in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

See Cabtors and Composers for a separate article on Cantors, Composers of Liturgical music and Jewish Choir leaders in Holland.

When we think back to those years, we remember the Jewish humour in the orchestras, a humour mixed with self-mockery. That humour, sometimes sad and sometimes razor-sharp, was always human.

Jewish contributions to Dutch architecture, I.B. van Crefeld

Before the war simple buildings were frequently converted to synagogues. During the war synagogues were often used for other purposes. Many of them were in bad condition. After the war these buildings, mostly designed by non-Jewish architects but built with Jewish funds, were renovated by the local population and used as cultural centres. In 1992 and 1993 the world-famous Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam underwent a major restoration, funded with the help of the Dutch government. Most buildings which were once used as shuls, whether large or small, now belong to the cultural heritage of the Netherlands.

There are however also a number of synagogues and other buildings which have been designed by Jewish architects and engineers.

Shuls and synagogues

A "shul" generally serves not only as a house of prayer, but also as a place for meeting and learning. Its purpose is therefore rather different from that of the church (kerk) in the Netherlands.

When King Willem I founded the Israelitische Kerkgenootschap (Organisation of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands) in 1816, the word synagogue was the official term for a grand Jewish prayer house. In those days rabbis and cantors had to wear gowns and bands.

The synagogue in Delft, built in 1862 to the design of the architect Leon Winkel, was probably the first synagogue designed by a Jewish architect. Another Jewish architect, E. M. Rood, designed the synagogue in the Gerard Doustraat in Amsterdam which was built thirty years later.

Other projects

Architect Izaak Godschalk designed the Israelitisch Ziekenhuis (Jewish Hospital) in Amsterdam in 1881 and its extension, the Krankzinnigengesticht (Mental Hospital), not long afterwards. He also designed the religious school Talmoed Thora, the gasworks, Heineken’s beer brewery and housing projects in Amsterdam. The railway station in Groningen was his last work.

Lodewijk Simons designed social housing districts for Jews in The Hague. The first of these, built in 1921, consisted of 278 homes. He was the architect for Jewish The Hague and designed many shops, residences and buildings for Jewish owners and Jewish institutions.

Sally Frits Loeb studied architectural engineering in Delft and was appointed city architect of Utrecht in 1916. He died a few years later of the Spanish Flu.

Michel de Klerk worked originally for the Eduard Cuypers’ firm of architects, but became later famous for his own architectural style. He was a member of the Amsterdam School movement.

The "Nieuwe Zakelijkheid" (New Objectivity) is a movement in Dutch architecture which started in the 1920’s and lasted until 1940. It was felt that architecture had to be closely related to the social situation, which meant that modern techniques and materials such as concrete, steel and glass were preferred.

Other architects were: Meier Speyer, A.M. Beffie, Jacob Baars, Jonas Hegt, Abraham Elzas and S.J. van Embden.

Another architect connected to the Nieuwe Zakelijkheid was Leon Hijman Paul Waterman, who started his own firm of architects in 1946. He designed the psychiatric institute Sinai Centrum in Amersfoort and the Holocaust monument in the Hollandsche Schouwburg in Amsterdam.

After the war

During this period new buildings for the elderly were erected in various places. Sal Sprecher specialised in the construction of swimming pools.

Other architectural engineers were: Herman Hertzberger, Abel Cahen, Edo Spier, Hans Elias, Moshe Zwarts and Max van Son.

Jewish contributions to theatre and cabaret in the Netherlands, Wim Ibo

Esther de Boer-van Rijk was one of the most popular actresses in the Netherlands. She was born in Rotterdam on 29 July 1853 and moved to Amsterdam in 1881. She had starring roles in nearly all of Herman Heijermans’ plays, but her most famous role was as Kniertje, the widowed fisherwoman in his Op hoop van zegen (The Good Hope). It was a role she performed 1200 times on stage, and would repeat in two film versions, silent in 1918 and sound in 1934. Her moving portrayal helped draw the attention to the mercenary behaviour of ship owners who knowingly sent fishermen to their deaths in unseaworthy vessels, so they could pocket the insurance money.

She performed the role abroad as well. In London she spoke in Dutch, while the rest of the cast spoke English. Her London debut was a big success, even though she was the only member of the cast to speak in Dutch.

She appeared with the De Nederlandse Toneelvereniging (The Dutch Theatre Association) and later with De Toneelvereniging (The Theatre Association).

After its dissolution in 1924 she founded the Esther de Boer van Rijk company.

In 1923 she was honoured in Amsterdam with the silver medal for civil service, in 1928 she was knighted and became a Ridder van Oranje Nassau (Knight of the Order of Oranje Nassau) and in 1929 she was made Ridder in de Kroonorde van Belgie (Knight of the Order of the Crown in Belgium).

Her autobiography titled Ik kijk terug. Episodes uit mijn leven (I look back. Episodes from my life) was published in 1934.

She died in Amsterdam in 1937 after an illustrious career which spanned sixty-five years.

Cabaret can be said to have started in the Netherlands around 1895 in Amsterdam, with a performance of a French cabaret ensemble. Despite its French roots, Dutch cabaret focussed more on political satire, although songs still remained an important part.

Wim Kan (1911-1983) was a political cabaret artist entertainer known to be of Jewish descent. His New Year’s Eve acts, first on the radio in 1954 and later on TV, became a national institution.

The celebrated Louis Davids (1883 -1939) worked in Scheveningen, reaping major success with the minimum of resources. He was undoubtedly the best chansonnier in the Netherlands at the time.

Other cabaret artists were Henriette Davids, Sylvain Poons, Paul Collin and Bob Scholte who in Theater Tingeltangel managed to revive the classic "cabaret-artistique".

Other well-known names were: Henri Wallig, Marcel Barger, Dick Cohen, Fie Carelsen, Lies de Wind, Paul Deen, Rob de Vries, Rene Frank, Alexander Pola, and Leo Fuld with his Yiddish songs. The names of Max Tailleur (The Doofpot) and the duo Joss and Jacques Halland should not be omitted. However there has never been a recognised company of cabaret artists.

Last but not least we should mention Eduard Jacobs who at the end of the 19th century imported this unique form of cabaret art from Paris to Amsterdam.

Extracted from source:Yael (Lotje) Ben Lev-de Jong

Translation from Dutch: Sara Kirby-Nieweg

Review:Ben Noach   

Carry van Bruggen
Jozef Israels