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History of Zaandam

The Zaan in Zaandam

Zaandam is a small town located in the North Holland province of the Netherlands. Unlike many Dutch cities who received city rights hundreds of years ago, Zaandam is a rank newcomer compared to them, being conferred cityhood in 1811. Even then, it became as of 1974 a part of the municipality of Zaanstad.

Zaandam’s has a rather strong history rooted in industry. During the time of the Golden Age, the city had a huge milling center. Thousands upon thousands of windmills were instrumental in the processing of Scandinavian wood used by those in the paper and shipbuilding industries. Zaandam was at the forefront of the initial Industrial Revolution and also has a rich history involving the whaling industry.

The city even served as home to Czar Peter I of Russia, who for a time lived there while studying shipbuilding. In fact, the very house he resided in is not a museum, aptly named Czar Peter House.

Zaandam also has a rich Jewish history. The first Jewish community formed in the city came about around the beginning of the 19th century. They built a synagogue where – in addition to services – it also housed a Jewish school. Most of them found careers as shopkeepers, merchants and craftsmen.

Unfortunately, as in most of Europe, most of the town’s Jewish population was persecuted by the Germans during World War II. Zaandam’s Jews were the first from North Holland to be sent to Amsterdam. From there they were then sent to German concentration camps in occupied Poland. The result being that very few of them came back alive.

While Zaandam may not be as well known or as sought out as a tourist destination as other Dutch cities, it does still nonetheless attract its share of tourists. These are usually the type who are looking to have a good time but avoid the more outrageous scenes that sometimes occur in some of the Netherlands’ larger cities.