The Historical Portugues - Jewish
Cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, The Netherlands
Beth Haim Ouderker A/D Amstel
Summer: Sunday-Friday till 17 hrs.
Winter: Sunday-Thursday till sunset
(max 17:00 hrs) Friday till 15:00 hrs.
Metro 51 (direction Amstelveen). Change at Oranjebaan' to bus 125, 174 or 175
Jews, who were driven out of the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the Fifteenth
Century, arrived around 1600 in the tolerant northern Low Countries. A large
group of refugees came to Amsterdam. Apart from the initial founding of a
Synagogue, a site had to be found for the burial of the dead.
repeatedly refused to give permission for the establishment of a Jewish
cemetery. The Jews were forced to bury their dead at Groet, by Alkmaar,
some 50 km. away from Amsterdam.
1614 the first segment of the present cemetery at Ouderkerk aan de
Amstel, named "Beth Haim" - the House of Life, was purchased,
followed by further purchases up to 1690 - 1691.
during the Seventeenth Century many splendid marble memorial stones were
placed with elaborate carvings and inscriptions. During the almost four
centuries since, the vast majority of the memorials have sunk into the
the 27,500 plus graves on the site, which is just over four hectares in
size, are many famous people who achieved their greatness in the fields
of commerce, science and politics. To mention only a few as examples we
Rabbi Menashe ben Israel,
friend of the famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn, who apart from
making an etching of the Rabbi also illustrated his books. It was
Rabbi Menashe, whom together with Rabbi Jacob Sasportas,
pleaded with Oliver Cromwell to allow the Jews to settle in England on
philosophical and theological grounds.
cemetery is not just famous for its historical connections, but the
artistic nature of the memorial stones draws visitors both local and
from the far reaches of the world. This is certainly thanks to David
Henriques de Castro, who a hundred years ago made a catalogue of the
oldest burial field, together with the texts on the stones, restored a
number of memorials, and published a book "Keur
van Grafstenen", with photographs, that is quoted in every
Dr. Eliahu Montalto,
personal physician to Maria de Medici. His grave was painted by Jacob
van Ruysaedael amongst others.
The parents of the famous philosopher Baruch
Spinoza also found their last resting place here at Ouderkerk.
Many questions still arise over people who were buried at Beth Haim,
which still have to be resolved; regularly publications are brought
out e.g. over Mozes Jehuda Bebri, Ambassador of the Sultan of
Turkey to the Court of Sweden.
due to the nature of the ground, the vast majority of this rich cultural
heritage has sunk away. The tiny Portuguese-Jewish community did not
have the resources to enable it to carry on with the work that de Castro
started. Other priorities arose; in 1923 the cemetery was almost full.
As Jewish law forbids the exhumation of the dead, a solution had to be
found, and that was that an old section of the cemetery was covered with
earth to create more spaces. At the time it was estimated that the newly
created area would provide enough space to last until 1963.
barbaric happenings between 1940 and 1945 mean that the ground created
in 1924 has still space available today, and will be adequate for the
next 80 years for the remaining members of the community!
Second World War had other consequences for the cemetery and for its
visitors. Many of the reserved graves lie empty. Relatives, who are
unable to visit the grave of their parents or kin due to them being
transported and not returning, wish to place memorials so that they may
mourn for their missed ones.
trying to trace their great- and great-great grandparents are saddened
by the pitiful condition of the parts of the cemetery where they were
buried. The fields of 1857 and 1892 have suffered greatly through the
passage of time, compounded by the problems of acid rain, the marshy
nature of the land and the rising groundwater. A complete restoration of
these thousands of memorial stones now takes the highest priority.
decimated Portuguese-Jewish community, guardian for nearly four
centuries of this cultural inheritance, despite small subsidies from the
local authority of Ouder-Amstel and from national and provincial
government, was no longer able to prevent the deterioration of the
1994 a fund was established bearing the name of David
Henriques de Castro, to make possible the future preservation and
maintenance of the cemetery by raising the sum of Five Million guilders.
that you care about Beth Haim