Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Simon Maroko - February 19 & 26, 1986


What do you remember about life in uh, in Amsterdam as a child?

Um, I have my memories of home life uh, we were Orthodox. My father was a big chief cantor. He had a life contract. Uh, he uh, was deeply religious. He believed in his religion. And he lived it as much as anyone can expect of him. And um, so I went through uh, all the uh, customs of a uh, religious family starting with a Modeh Ani prayer in the morning, washing the tips of your fingers and all the way throughout the prayers. Going everyday to uh, a synagogue in the morning before going to school, for example, and then in the evening after school going to the Mincha in the Ma'Ariv uh, service.

What was the name of the Shul?

Uh, in Dutch it was called the ???, means the Great Synagogue. This was the synagogue that probably was older than the Portuguese Synagogue. And it was the first synagogue of the Ashkenazi uh, congregation. In Amsterdam there was only one congregation, in contrast to United States. Uh, I don't know how many members they had. My guess would be perhaps twenty or forty thousand out of a total of about eighty thousand Jews in Amsterdam. So it uh, and uh, there were many different synagogues next to the Great Synagogue, which is across from the Portuguese Synagogue. Uh, next to it was the mikvah, and if you went a little bit further you got the New Synagogue, which was built later and therefore had the name of New Synagogue. And uh, there were, later on over the uh, centuries when the Jews moved in different parts of the city there are synagogues in east and in south and uh, there are many small synagogues. It was--I would say there were perhaps a dozen or so synagogues--all belonging to the same uh, congregation. Each one with their own rabbi, with their own cantor, sometimes it was a second cantor. Even for the uh, weekly prayers.

You mean they were all Orthodox then.

They were all Orthodox, yes.

Did you have any um, interaction with the Sephardim?

Uh, I had interaction with the Sephardim in uh, school. I have a memory of maybe the fifth or sixth grade where I went to a school which was uh, Orthodox. It was not a uh, a public school. And uh, the name of the school was uh, Palache, P-a-l-a-c-h-e. Which uh, was supposed to be pronounced Palatia, but it was the name, it was named after a Sephardi rabbi, so it was, here was a school where a huge majority of the children were Ashkenazi it was named after a Sephardi rabbi. In our class we had uh, quite a minority of uh, children who had Portuguese names, such as Rodriguez Perrera, Texera D'Amatos, Vaz Diaz, and so on. There was one girl in our class, she was the best of all the students. All the boys were in love, including myself, but we knew which was very important that uh, any intermarriage in the future was completely out of the question. There was no intermarriage between the Sephardi, who considered themselves superior and uh, uh, Ashkenazi who were considered inferior by them. As the result of that uh, there was a lot of intermarriage among the uh, Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam. The result of that was that there were sometimes, as can be expected in any inbreeding uh, either people who were geniuses or mentally retarded or, or otherwise. They had the nickname of the meshuge Portuguese. Therefore, because among them there were a certain number which were either mentally ill or retarded, whatever.

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