This exhibition tells the little-known story of Jews in the Dutch East Indies from the late nineteenth century onwards.
Before the Indonesian archipelago came under European rule, there had probably been Jews living there, mostly from India and Arab countries. From the early seventeenth to the late eighteenth century, the Dutch regime did not allow Jews into the area. It was not until the late nineteenth century that Jews began to settle in the Dutch East Indies in significant numbers.
At that time, colonial society was made up of many different cultures. Jews formed one small group amid this diversity. Most of them settled on the islands of Java and Sumatra, although a few went to outlying areas. Organized Jewish life existed only on a limited scale. Despite the relatively small number of Jews, this was one of the largest Jewish communities in Southeast Asia in the first half of the twentieth century.
During the Second World War, the Dutch East Indies were occupied by Japan, which was allied with Germany. The Japanese held Europeans in internment camps. This included Jews, who were separated from other internees in some camps. After the Japanese capitulation in August 1945, the Indonesian Revolution broke out. In 1949, the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to Indonesia. Many Jews left the archipelago, along with most other Dutch nationals, while others remained in the newly independent country until the 1950s. Today, there are a few Jews living in Indonesia, where their religion is not officially recognized.
After the war, there was little interest in stories about the Dutch East Indies. The events there were overshadowed by the war in Europe and the Shoah.
Many Jews who lived in the Dutch East Indies have contributed to this exhibition. Their memories of the former colony run through the story as a unifying thread.
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