Highlighted research

A study of the history of the Portuguese Jews in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The d'Oliveira family with Eli, his second wife Louisa Lopes Cardozo, son Jacob and daughter Elsa

Researcher: drs. Jaap Cohen
Promoters: Prof. dr. J.C.H. Blom and Prof. dr. Evelien Gans
Duration: 2009-2014
Publication: dissertation
Cooperation: University of Amsterdam, Stichting Conto

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This investigation comprises a late 19th and 20th century history of Portuguese Jews (Sephardim) in the Netherlands, focusing on the histories of the families Jessurun d’Oliveira and Rodrigues Pereira. In particular, this study will address:

  • The self-image of Portuguese Jews. At the time of their establishment in the 16th and 17th century Republic, they were, initially, a group that stayed aloof. This changed with the arrival of large numbers of Ashkenazi Jews. Portuguese Jews were a specific sub-group of the large Jewish population in the Netherlands. The Emancipation of 1796 brought a third identity to the group: in addition to “Sephardic” and “Jewish”, they were now also “Dutch”. Each of these three identities carries long-established stereotypes with it which strongly influenced the self-image of Portuguese Jews- a self-image which certainly does not match with historical reality.
  • The relationship with the Ashkenazi Jews. This relationship has always been tense: at the time of the Republic, the Ashnenazim were generally regarded as paupers with less cultural value than their Sephardic counterparts. In the 19th century both groups worked on many levels together, but the Sephardim clung to their own rituals and to the remembrance of their own illustrious history. The relation between the two groups came under further pressure in the 20th century through an initiative of certain prominent Portuguese Jews during the occupation. They used quasi-scientific race theories to try and prove that their people belonged not to the “Jewish race” but to the “Mediterranean race”. Therefore, they argued, they should be exempt from the deportations. This (futile) attempt at self preservation led to indignation on the part of the Ashkenazi Jews. The question is how much of this indignation lingered among the Ashkenazi Jews after the war, and to what degree this has influenced their relationship with the Sephardic Jews since 1945.
  • The position of the Portuguese Jews within Dutch society. Research will be done into the socio-economic position of this group, the level of integration/acculturation/assimilation, the influence of religion, Zionism, antisemitism and the State of Israel, and the collective memories of the exterminations during the War and the influence these have as an important element of Jewish identity.