On June 18, 1815, Napoleon and his armies were defeated by the Seventh Coalition, an alliance of British and European forces. It was the end of Napoleon’s march across Europe. It was also the end of an era that had been world-changing for the Jewish people. Napoleon’s legacy left a more egalitarian culture in societies that had been rigidly hierarchical, in which Jews had generally been second class citizens.
While change may be good, producing liberal societies by force is not. When Napoleon was defeated, most of Europe celebrated, and many of the laws that had allowed Jews to be active citizens of the cities in which they lived were quickly rescinded. From the perspective of Jewish civil liberties, it was two steps forward and one step back.
Waterloo and the Jews have one strange historic connection: Waterlooplein.
In 1882, the city of Amsterdam filled in several of its canals, leaving an empty stretch of land that they named Waterlooplein (Waterloo Square) in commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo. Waterlooplein was located on the edge of the Jewish quarter, and the city instructed many of the Jewish street merchants to move their stalls to the square. By 1893, Waterlooplein was a well-known and popular daily market that was open every day except Saturday, in honor of Shabbat.
Waterlooplein remains an open air market to this day, but its Jewish character is gone. Although Waterlooplein was included within the Jewish ghetto created by the Nazis, the merchants who once sold their wares there were scattered about or sent to concentration camps.
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