Amsterdam, Girls Orphanage Rapenburgerstraat

Picture: Miriam Keesing, February 2011

Address: Rapenburgerstraat 171, Amsterdam
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The building was in use as an orphanage for Jewish girls since 1861. In 1889 the house next door (number 169) was bought as well, so the orphanage could house 80 girls.

In November 1938 the first two refugee children were taken in, which was based upon an agreement made about a year earlier, and not a result of the pogrom on November 9: these children came from the orphanage in Frankfurt am Main. In late March 1939 the orphanage declared itself willing to take on 10 girls between 7 and 10 years old, for a period of 3-4 months, for free. They wanted only orthodox girls, as this was an orthodox institution.

In May 1940, just a few weeks after the occupation, the Nazis closed the three still existing homes for refugee children. The girls’ orphanage then took in more refugee girls who were living in these facilities.

On February 10, 1943, the Nazis evacuated everyone: most of the girls were taken to Westerbork. Some managed to escape, and the girls older then 16 had a “Sperre”.  (5) (6)

After the war it was not reopened as an orphanage: now they are apartments.

Hella Pakter remembers:

“In April 1940 I went to live in the meisjesweeshuis in the Rapenburgerstraat. That was terrible, just awful. The food was very bad, but it’s not that they wanted it to be bad, they just didn’t have anything. And I just wanted to leave there so badly. Not until two years later, exactly two years later, I was able to leave.” (7)


5. Sperre: document granting temporary exemption from deportation. People were issued a Sperre for many reasons: being indispensible to the war industry, being a member of the Jewish Council, holding a passport from a ‘friendly’ state, etc. In October 1942, 17,000 Jews thought they had the right papers. However, the issued exemptions were always marked with ‘bis auf weiters’ (until further notice), which meant that they were only temporary. In fact, the exemptions served to spread the deportations and to keep those remaining under control.

6. Daniël Metz: een historisch overzicht van acht joodse weeshuizen in Nederland, Misjpoge 2005-2, 56

7. Interview Hella Pakter, April 30, 2011