The Amsterdam shelter synagogue

Duchan during shacharit on Shabbat in Snoge was introduced in Amsterdam around 1666 when Sabbatai Zevi was regarded to be the mashiach. The idea was to prepare the kohanim for the service after the upcoming rebuilding of the temple. When however it became clear that Sabbatai Zevi was a fake, the question arose: stop the Duchan or continue. Should we stop, because there was no reason for it, or continue as it was started, and after all it is a mitsva. It was decided to continue with the Duchan on the condition that it would stop in case the continuation of the services would stop for whatever reason.

Comparable, Duchan on Shabbat during Musaph was introduced by the Ashkenazim in The Hague, but for a different reason (cholera epidemic, see Liber Amicorum voor Opperabijn A. Schuster, ISBN 90 323 0738 6, Assen 1971, pages 61-62). They applied a similar condition: continue until the Duchan would be missed once. 

As a result of this condition, the Duchan in The Hague stopped after the war, but in Amsterdam the Duchan continued after the war. Why?

This is thanks to the amazing courage of a small group of Amsterdam Jews living in hiding. On the second floor of his house in the Nieuwe Keizersgracht 33, Sal (Salomon) Mendes Coutinho held a minyan every Shabbat and Yom Tov. The services in this “shelter synagogue” started in the fall of 1943. The last service was on liberation day, the Shabbat of 5 May 1945. As the minyan continued the whole war, first in the Snoge, and when that became impossible, in hiding, we have the Duchan till this very day.

The non Jewish artist Anton Witsel (1911-1977) who lived on the street level, made two drawings to document these services. These drawings are exhibited in the ma’amad (boardroom) of the community. They are dated 27 September 1944 (Yom Kippur) and 8 October 1944 (hosha’ana rabba). We blow the shofar during the hosha’anot. This explains why there is a shofar on this drawing.

The Snoge shows we survived the inquisition. These drawings show we survived the holocaust.


Not related to this, but important to note is that Sal and his wife Liesje (Elisabeth), next to the shelter synagogue on the second floor, had a mikva in the basement, organized taharot (washing of the dead) and buried Jews which died in hiding during the war.


More on this can be read in two attached articles, one from the Internet (with translation to English) and one from Habinjan, issue 38-1984 (Dutch only) by dr. H Boas.

witsel-Kipur.jpg (243524 bytes)  witsel-HR.jpg (93948 bytes)
Left: Yom Kipur, 10 tishri 5705, 27 September 1944. As most attendees were Ashekanzim, they wear a "kittel". The man with the top hat is probably Coutinho.
Right: Hosha'ana Raba, 21 tishri 5705, 8 October 1944. The names of the attendees can be found in the web article. The man holding the Sepher Tora is Identified as Mr. Salomon (Sal) Waas. The boy is probably his son, Isaac (Ikey) Waas.

Liber Amicorum

בקהלת האשכנזים בהאג בהולנד הכהנים היו נ"כ ג"כ מדי שבת בשבתו ודוקא בתפלת מוסף
המהג הזה מאורע בעת שהיה חולירע בעיר. ויהי אחרי המגפה נמשך המנהג עד המלחמה העולמית השניה אמנם בהגבלה אחת והיא: אם יארע אעי' פ"א שאין כהן או לוי בבה"כ יבטל המנהג
 וזוכרני כי אירע בשבת אחת שראו אחר הש"ע של שחרית שאין שם כהן אז מהרו ורצו לקרא כהן א' שגר קרוב בשכונת בה"כ כדי שלא יבטל המנהג


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