At home in the Indies

Newcomers to the Dutch East Indies found themselves in an unfamiliar world. Almost everything was strange to them: the tropical climate and way of life, the lush vegetation, the mix of cultures, the new smells and flavours, and the foreign language. Dutch Jews also had to adjust to their new status – in the colony’s social system, they were part of the (white) elite.

The Jews living in the Dutch East Indies came from a number of different countries. Dutch Jews formed the largest group and were scattered throughout the archipelago, with the largest numbers in Java and Sumatra. ‘Baghdad Jews’, as

Jews from the Middle East were called, were concentrated in the Javanese port of Surabaya, where many of their families had lived for several generations.  Jewish refugees came from Europe in the 1930s and also from Palestine in the early 1940s. Around 1940, the population of the Indonesian archipelago was almost seventy million. The estimated number of Jews was about three to five thousand, out of 290,000 Europeans and mixed-descent Indo-Europeans.

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