2012 World Monuments Watch
Portuguese Jews settled in Amsterdam after fleeing persecution in Spain in the sixteenth century. Although northern Europe was tolerant during this violent period, the Portuguese Jews were refused a Jewish cemetery in the city. Instead, in 1614, the community purchased land 31 miles from Amsterdam at the confluence of the Bullewijk and Amstel rivers. Beth Haim covers 10 acres and has more than 27,500 graves from over four centuries. The Portuguese Jewish community thrived in Amsterdam until the early twentieth century, and Beth Haim, which means “house of life,” is replete with refined carvings and inscriptions devoted to the dead. The location of the cemetery at the confluence of two rivers has led to significant water issues, compounded by a lack of regular maintenance. The local community today is committed to the preservation of the cemetery, but resources are limited. Open for public tours and in close proximity to Amsterdam, the local stewards of the site strive to raise public awareness and preserve the site for future generations.