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We Have Lived as Human Beings

This publication by Meulenhoff concerns the text of a dissertation for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Letters at the University of Amsterdam, on 8 May 1987.


Number of interviews: 42 (+ unknown number of anonymous interviewees) 

The source material is a large number of cassette tapes.

In 2022 / 2023, the tapes will be digitised by Pieter Bas van Wiechen

Transcriptions: yes

Accessibility: unknown


Geheugen, getuigen en herinneren

voorbeelden uit een onderzoek naar het amsterdamse joodse proletariaat tussen 1918 en 1940
Selma Leydesdorff

Part of: Mondelinge geschiedenis : over theorie en praktijk van het gebruik van mondelinge bronnen
Red.: Manuela du Bois-Reymond en Ton Wagemakers

pages 80-100



The book concerns the text with accompanying 16 pages of illustrations of a dissertation for the University of Amsterdam. The work also includes a summary in English. For this thesis, the historian Selma Leydesdorff derived data from archives, but especially from interviews with many who in their youth were part of the Jewish proletariat she researched. The author’s intention is to arrive at a better view of ‘that which is no more’. However, some of the ninety interviewees only wanted to speak if their words would not be recorded on the spot with recording equipment or put in writing; their words were thus of necessity elaborated afterwards. In her research, the author includes Jewish culture, the Jewish economy, the attachment of those involved to their Jewish roots, their organisations and the history of the Jewish streets and neighbourhoods in Amsterdam.


In 1987, We lived as human beings: Amsterdam’s Jewish proletariat 1900-1940 in words and images. In it, professor Selma Leydesdorff uses interviews to paint a picture of pre-war Jewish life in Amsterdam. We lived as human beings also appeared in English and German and received a lot of international attention.


The Jewish Proletariat of Amsterdam 1900-1940 is the revised edition of this work. It is graced with paintings by G.J. Staller (collected and selected by Harry Mock) showing Jewish street life between 1900 and 1930 and giving a face to the people – beggars, market vendors and peddlers. The stuffiness of the Jodenhoek with its dark streets is palpable; you can almost hear the raucous cries of hawkers with their wares, all-important is the smell of poverty.


With The Jewish Proletariat of Amsterdam 1900-1940, the names of the war memorial on Amsterdam’s Weesperstraat, unveiled in 2021, also get a face.