Life is not a revueColumn during 'Z-files, Art and the City #14' after the unveiling of the Louis Davids monument, 24.03.2016
Louis Davids was a Jewish Rotterdammer who understood Amsterdam and the Dutch folk humor so well. This is how the Netherlands commemorated him at his death in 1939. Rotterdammers could watch a film about his funeral in Amsterdam in Cineac in Rotterdam. Davids, loved for its typically Dutch choruses, belonged to the Jewish proletariat that was mainly to be found in the Zandstraat neighborhood around the turn of the century. In 1900, there were approximately 9.000 Rotterdam Jews in Rotterdam; 15% of them lived in the Zandstraat neighborhood. There are then such an 1.500.
The book fills an important gap. And during the lecture you wonder, why is so little known about Jewish, pre-war Rotterdam? Undoubtedly, it has to do with the fact that the most visible part, the Zandstraatbuurt, had already been amovated before the First World War. That sounds very official, but it was also a bureaucratic operation. Poor Rotterdam was expelled from the center because of the City formation. In 1936 the name Zandstraat even disappeared from the register, one lieu de mémoire had to be erased so that Rotterdam could be cleaned up.
Jewish life in the Zandstraatbuurt was not unknown, but it received relatively less attention than red light life, the nightlife, which on closer inspection was much less Jewish. Everyone in this neighborhood had to eat - a word of Jewish origin that means to dabble. Anyone who was born for a dime in Rotterdam and wanted to become a quarter - like Davids sang - had to work hard. Those of the non-privileged classes fought for his daily bread. The little Jewish man had to catch up even more; for a long time he had to compete not only against social but also religious inequality. The historians who described the emancipation of the Rotterdam Jews more than a century ago recalled, in keeping with nationalist historiography, that the royal family had offered a helping hand to promote this integration.
Rotterdam benefited fully from the talented Jewish citizens. The best known is undoubtedly Lodewijk Pincoffs who practically single-handedly showed Rotterdam the way to a new era. He took the leap to the South and laid the foundation for numerous new economic activities. But after his flight in 1879, not only had he been knocked off his pedestal. With the collapse of the RHV, Rotterdam lost its tolerant face and anti-Semitism reigned supreme. Pincoffs' fraud cast a shadow over the integration process of Jews who wanted nothing more than to become respectful citizens.
The Jewish community wanted to stand out as little as possible and by the end of the nineteenth century it was now relatively far removed from the Eastern European Jews who temporarily visited Rotterdam to make the crossing to the New World. The integrated Jews had renounced Yiddish, which was seen as an obstacle to becoming a fully-fledged citizen of Rotterdam. They did not want to be associated with their orthodox fellow believers, possibly for fear that tolerance could easily turn into anti-Semitism.
The Jewish congregations complained in the early 1930s that so few of the 13.000 Jews in Rotterdam had joined the synagogue. The Jews of Rotterdam were so well integrated that they did not feel called to spread the Jewish thought. Some even oppose the initiative to start a special school for Jewish education in Rotterdam. Merchants and intellectuals who had fled the Nazis hoped for a new home in Palestine. But the new promised land did not need intellectuals or musicians; farm workers and farmers, on the other hand, were welcome. It is poignant to read that those who were best integrated and were looking for a safe haven in the Netherlands fell prey to the Nazis who first destroyed the city and then the Jewish life. In his 14 May essay, Marcel Möring asked extra attention for the fate of the Jews of Rotterdam. He was astonished - and I rightly think - that we are giving the victims of the bombing of 14 much more attention than the destruction of the Jewish people of Rotterdam. He even calls it a footnote in history. And footnotes give cause for reflection.