Hîstôry¯a yêhûdît = Jewish history

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 75–100 | Cite as

Crime in context: Jewish involvement in organized crime in the dutch republic

  • Florike Egmond


Organize Crime Jewish Involvement Dutch Republic 
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  1. 1.
    For all information concerning Herry Moses, see State Archive (SA) of Noord-Holland (at Haarlem), court records (CR) of Weesperkarspel 2858 (1734), and Municipal Archive (MA) Vlaardingen, CR of Vlaardingen 10 (1736).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I am aware of the predominantly modern connotation (mafia-like organization, drug dealing, etc.) of the term “organized crime.” Nonetheless, I am using it — first, because crime was organized before the twentieth century, and it would be confusing rather than helpful not to call it thus; second, because no other concept covers various types of organization (such as bands, networks, groups, and “action-sets”); and, finally, because this essay attempts to develop a point made by Mary McIntosh inThe Organisation of Crime (London, 1975), by focusing on links between criminal organization and the wider patterns of social organization.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Research has been conducted on the criminal records of all relevant courts in the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, and Brabant (i.e. the western, southwestern, and southern parts of the Dutch Republic) during 1650–1805. This comprises the records of the two “high” courts — the Court of Holland and Zeeland, and the Council of Brabant — but especially the criminal records of all (ca. 320) local courts, both urban and rural, with full first-instance competence in criminal matters.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    H. Diederiks reaches the same conclusion, and demonstrates convincingly that Jansen's opinion is based on a misinterpretation of current criminal procedure. See H. Diederiks, “Strafrecht en stigmatisering. De Joden in de achttiende-eeuwse Republiek,” in H. Diederiks and C. Quispel, eds.,Onderscheid en minderheid. Sociaal-historische opstellen over discriminatie en vooroordeel (Hilversum, 1987), 77–98, and J.C.G.M. Jansen, “Strafrechtspraak en joden im Limburg in de 18e en vroege 19e eeuw,” inStudies over de sociaal-economische geschiedenis van Limburg 31 (1986): 78–101. With respect to criminal procedure, this also applies to German territory. See R. Glanz,Geschichte des niederen jüdischen Volkes in Deutschland. Ein Studie über historisches Gaunertum, Bettelwesen und Vagantentum (New York, 1968), 28–30. Prosecution policies in Germany were different. There were regular arrests of large numbers of Jews, of whom a high percentage subsequently were released because of lack of evidence. See Stefan Rohrbacher, “Räuberbanden, Gaunertum und Bettelwesen,” inKöln und das rheinische Judentum. Festschrift Germania Judaica 1959–84 (Köln, 1984), 117–24.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For this network, see MA, The Hague, CR of The Hague 108 and 89 (1739, 1741); Algemeen Rijksarchief (ARA) at The Hague, Court of Holland, “Criminele papieren,” 5461–64 (1750); and MA Rotterdam, CR of Rotterdam 255 (1742 and 1751). Similar networks operated, for instance, during 1764–70 and in the 1780s.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See MA, The Hague, CR of The Hague 106 (1695).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    About this band, see SA Noord-Brabant (at 's Hertogenbosch), CR of Grave 4 (1730).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Extensive information about the various activities of the Feijtsburger band can be found in SA Noord-Holland, CR of Nieuweramstel 2343 (1765); MA Amsterdam, CR of Amsterdam 615, 616 (1765, 1773); SA Noord-Holland, CR of Naarden and Gooiland 3046 (1763).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See Regional Archive (RA) at Hoorn, CR of Hem and Venhuizen 4817 (1743), and the records of the Feijtsburger band, mentioned in n. 8, above. There may also have been links with a group of Jewish robbers operating out of Amsterdam in the early 1750s who were involved in the murder and robbery of a clergyman at Groningen; see SA Noord-Holland, CR of Weesperkarspel 2956 (1760).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    For the whole of this period I have found only about a dozen such offenses that were not committed by Jews. See n. 12, below.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Very little is known yet about judicial policy in this respect. Dutch authorities encouraged the “protestantization” of the largely Roman Catholic southern provinces of Brabant and Limburg. Contrary to formal regulations, however, Roman Catholics continued to act as judges and bailiffs in these regions. This may explain why southern courts imposed extremely harsh punishments (involving burning or scorching) on Jewish and non-Jewish church robbers in the first half of the eighteenth century. See Anton Blok, “The Symbolic Vocabulary of Public Executions,” in J. Starr and J. F. Collier,History and Power in the Study of Law. New Directions in Legal Anthropology (Ithaca, 1989), 31–55. In the largely Protestant north no such special punishments were imposed.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    On social protest, the role of skinners, and the church robberies committed by the Bokkerijder bands in Limburg, see Blok, “The Symbolic Vocabulary,” esp. 42–46. In the early 1790s, a large (Christian) band committed numerous armed robberies, burglaries, and church robberies and burglaries in the houses of priests and parsons throughout the province of Brabant. Its church robberies were concentrated in 1793, when French armies were invading the southern part of the Dutch Republic. See especially SA Noord-Brabant, Council of Brabant 448 (10.665–10.674) and 447 (325–326); and MA's Hertogenbosch, CR 's Hertogenbosch 44A (1794). In the 1740s members of a Gypsy band committed at least two burglaries in Roman Catholic churches in the northern and eastern provinces of the Netherlands. In one instance, the parson was maltreated. On both occasions, the image of the Virgin Mary was robbed of its adornments, and in one case was smashed, whereupon the robbers urinated in the font and rubbed holy oil on their shoes. See RA Land van Heusden en Altena, CR of Woudrichem 3 (1767).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    The criminal records contain only a few sentences against Jews convicted of this type of violent behavior. The available literature on crime in the Dutch Republic does not deal explicitly with this aspect, but the near absence of references to Jewish involvement in everyday violence is telling. See Diederiks, “Strafrecht en Stigmatisering,” and S. Faber,Strafrechtspleging en criminaliteit te Amsterdam, 1680–1811. De nieuwe menslievendheid (Arnhem, 1983), esp. 246–53.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See T. M. Endelman,The Jews of Georgian England, 1714–1830. Tradition and Change in a Liberal Society (Philadelphia, 1979), 178–90. Cf. H. I. Bloom,The Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th Centuries (Williamsport, 1937), 66–67.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jewish fences deserve a separate study, in particular because of their crucial role as middlemen between Jews and between Jews and Christians. See Endelman,The Jews of Georgian England, 206–7.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See SA Utrecht, CR of Vianen 75 (1712).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    On “criminal infrastructure,” see C. Küther,Räuber und Gauner in Deutschland. Das organisierte Bandenwesen im 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 1976), 56ff. Cf. Mclntosh,The Organisation of Crime, 18–28.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Joseph Levy is a good example. He was born near Mannheim in 1755. In the 1790s he lived in the village of Sprang in Brabant, working as a cattle buyer and butcher. He provided information to members of the Great Dutch Band, who broke into several farmhouses in the area of Sprang. See F. Egmond,Banditisme in de Franse Tijd. Profiel van de Grote Nederlandse Bende 1790–1799 (Amsterdam, 1986), 164–73.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    This pattern can be seen, for instance, in the operations of a Jewish band that was active in 1711–12. Moses Jacobs, Joseph Cohen, Heiman Moses (alias Chaim Cleeff), Andries Moses (alias Ansel Preeger), and Elias Leenderts committed thefts, burglaries, and robberies throughout the countryside of South-Holland and the border regions of Holland and Utrecht. Their preferred method of entering a house was by climbing in through one of the windows. They did not use violence, nor did they carry weapons. In the countryside they robbed farmhouses, countryhouses, and Roman Catholic churches. They were also active in towns, stealing from warehouses, shops, and the houses of wealthy burgers. These men lived in the larger towns of Holland. None had a fixed residence. See MA Rotterdam, CR of Rotterdam 253 (1712).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    On such restrictive measures, see, e.g., H. Beem, “Historical Aspects of the Small Jewish Communities in the Netherlands,” inStudia Rosenthaliana 15 (1981): 101–5; J. Zwarts, “De Joodse Gemeenten buiten Amsterdam,” in H. Brugmans and A. Frank, eds.,Geschiedenis der Joden in Nederland (Amsterdam, 1940), 382–453; and C. Reijnders,Van “Joodsche Natiën” tot Joodse Nederlanders. Een onderzoek naar getto- en assimilatieverschijnselen tussen 1600 en 1942 (Amsterdam, 1969), esp. 42–59.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    As Wischnitzer notes, “these Jews represented a constant danger of felony and even criminality and were a permanent source of embarrassment to the well-settled communities.” M. Wischnitzer,A History of Jewish Crafts and Guilds (New York, 1965), 26. See especially R. Glanz, “Die unterste Schicht von deutschen Judentum im 18. Jahrhundert,”Yivo-bleter 11 (1937): 356–86; idem,Geschichte des niederen jüdischen Volkes; Endelman,The Jews of Georgian England, 176–79; and M. Shulvass,From East to West: The Westward Migration of Jews from Eastern Europe During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Detroit, 1971), 67–111. And cf. U. Danker,Räuberbanden im alten Reich um 1700. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte von Herrschaft und Kriminalität in der frühen Neuzeit (Frankfurt am Main, 1988), 352–53.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    See Bloom,Economic Activities; J. I. Israel,European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550–1750 (Oxford, 1985), 106–9, 154–56; J. G. van Dillen, “De economische positie en betekenis der Joden in de Republiek en in de Nederlandse koloniale wereld,” in Brugmans and Frank,Geschiedenis der Joden, 561–616.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    On increasing poverty and deplorable housing conditions in the late eighteenth century, see E. Boekman, “Demografische en sociale verhoudingen bij de Joden te Amsterdam omstreeks 1800,”De Vrijdagavond (May 3, 10, and 17, 1929): 72–74, 89–91, 103–6; and idem, “De bevolking van Amsterdam in 1795,”Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 45 (1930): 278–92. Cf. Bloom,Economic Activities, 217ff.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    A good example is provided by a list of forty-eight names and personal descriptions, covering a large part of a network of Jewish pickpockets and urban thieves operating all over Holland between about 1764 and 1770. About thirty of these men came from Eastern and Central Europe, while about ten were born in Amsterdam. Some of them had been active in various German towns. In the rather smaller Jewish networks of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, German and Eastern European Jews also were the majority. The same situation obtained in the extensive networks of the Great Dutch Band of the 1790s. See Egmond,Banditisme, 52–56.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    Reconstructing such patterns is problematic. See, e.g., D. Hay, “War Dearth and Theft in the Eighteenth Century: The Record of the English Courts,”Past and Present 95 (1982): 139–60; and J. M. Beattie, “The Pattern of Crime in England, 1660–1800,”Past and Present 62 (1974): 47–95.Google Scholar
  26. 27.
    On patterns of migration and the number of immigrants in the Netherlands, see Shulvass,From East to West, esp. 73; Israel,European Jewry, 104–5 and 145–55; and Bloom,Economic Activities, 24–29 and 31–32, in which the following numbers for Ashkenazim living in Amsterdam are presented: 1674: 5,000; 1720: 9,000; 1748: 10,000; 1780: 19,000; 1795: 21,000; 1805: 24,000. These numbers should be seen in the context of a more or less stable total population of about 200,000. On poverty and housing conditions, see notes 21 and 22. Both Boekman (p. 104) and Van Dillen (p. 595) report that about 19,000 of the 24,000 Ashkenazim living in Amsterdam in 1805 were poor.Google Scholar
  27. 28.
    Shulvass,From East to West, 73.Google Scholar
  28. 29.
    About Leiden, see Zwarts,De Joodse Gemeenten, 441–43. Cf. Reijnders,Van “Joodsche Natiën,” 59, for varying patterns of migration within the republic.Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    See, e.g., Bloom,Economic Activities, 67.Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    For the geographical origins of Jewish immigrants who were not involved in crime, see Shulvass,From East to West; Israel,European Jewry, 104–5 and 145–55; J. M. Sluijs, “Hoogduits-Joods Amsterdam, van 1675 tot 1795,” in Brugmans and Frank,Geschiedenis der Joden, 306–81, esp. 340–44; and H. Beem, “Joodse namen en namen van Joden,”Studia Rosenthaliana 3 (1969): 82–94, esp. 92ff.Google Scholar
  31. 32.
    On patterns of migration, see Shulvass,From East to West, and Reijnders,Van “Joodsche Natiën.” Google Scholar
  32. 33.
    RA Hoorn, CR of Hoorn 4519.Google Scholar
  33. 34.
    All information about Heijman can be found in SA Noord-Holland, CR of Weesperkarspel 2956 (1760).Google Scholar
  34. 35.
  35. 36.
    On occupational activities, see Bloom,Economic Activities; Van Dillen, “De economische positie”; Endelman,The Jews of Georgian England; Reijnders,Van “Joodsche Natiën,” 44–52.Google Scholar
  36. 37.
    My findings regarding bands operating in the Netherlands in this respect confirm Glanz's information on both Christian and Jewish bands active in Germany. See, in particular, his excellent chapter on gender relations, kinship ties, and the role of women in hisGeschichte des niederen jüdischen Volkes, 183–97.Google Scholar
  37. 38.
    Detailed information on the Gossels band can be found in MA Amsterdam, CR of Amsterdam 616 and 438 (1773–74); and ARA, CR of Wassenaar 53 (1766).Google Scholar
  38. 39.
    See Moses' lengthy interrogations and sentence in MA Alkmaar, CR of Alkmaar 48 II (1768).Google Scholar
  39. 41.
    In Germany hierarchical differentiation also was absent in the early eighteenth century. See Danker,Räuberbanden, 284. On professionalization and the Great Dutch Band, see Egmond,Banditisme. Recent research shows that this network of bands profited in various ways from the “criminal” experience acquired by many individuals during the preceding two or three decades, and that it maintained and extended pre-existing connections, growing into an international conglomerate.Google Scholar
  40. 42.
    For a stimulating discussion of comparative approaches to Jewish history, see S. M. Löwenstein, “Suggestions for Study of the Mediene Based on German, French and English Models,”Studia Rosenthaliana 19 (1985): 342–54. On the variety of occupational restrictions and rules, see the literature mentioned in notes 21–23.Google Scholar
  41. 43.
    Endelman,The Jews of Georgian England, and Glanz,Geschichte des niederen jüdischen Volkes. Google Scholar
  42. 44.
    See Richard Cobb, “La Route du Nord: Banditry on the Border and in the Belgian Departments, 1795–98,” in idem,Paris and its Provinces, 1792–1802 (London, 1975), 141–93. Cobb discusses the so-called Bande Juive — the band designated in this article as the first branch of the Great Dutch Band. It was organized by Mozes Jacob. Cobb did not examine the Dutch criminal records, and thus tends to underestimate both the size and territorial range of this predominantly Jewish network. Cf. Egmond,Banditisme. Google Scholar
  43. 45.
    See Endelman,The Jews of Georgian England, 192–93 and 197–202.Google Scholar
  44. 46.
    The conspicuously small number of such cases in the German criminal records is noted by Glanz, who emphasizes that it cannot be explained by faulty registration. Jews were treated no differently by German criminal courts. See Glanz,Geschichte des niederen jüdischen Volkes, 34–37. Cf. the small number of cases in Faber,Strafrechtspleging, 246–53.Google Scholar
  45. 47.
    See Glanz,Geschichte des niederen jüdischen Volkes, 97–110, where he mentions church robbery and comments on the operations of one band that was active in the early 1770s: “Das Vorgehen dieser Bande zeigte rücksichtslose Gewaltanwendung” (p. 110). In this respect, Danker,Räuberbanden, 209–20, does not distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish bands.Google Scholar
  46. 48.
    Endelman,The Jews of Georgian England, 216.Google Scholar
  47. 49.
  48. 50.
    See, e.g., Israel,European Jewry, esp. 196–206, and J. Katz,Out of the Ghetto. The Social Background of Jewish Emancipation, 1770–1870 (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), 10–22.Google Scholar
  49. 51.
    Endelman,The Jews of Georgian England, 197.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Haifa University Press 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Florike Egmond
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AmsterdamHoland

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