The Japanese internment of jews in wartime Indonesia and its causes

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It was only in the early 20th century that the Jews living in the Dutch East Indies began to form a substantial community. On the eve of the Pacific War it comprised a few thousand members, mostly of Dutch origin, and several hundred 'Baghdadis' as well as refugees escaping Nazi persecution in Europe. The Japanese occupation of the archipelago in early 1942 triggered the disintegration of the community. Within a few months the greater part of the Jewish community was interned, together with their fellow gentiles, for being Dutch civilians. In the latter half of 1943, however, most of the Jews who remained outside the camps were also detained, now for being Jews. This study offers the first detailed account of the fate of the community during the war together with an analysis of the abrupt Japanese change in attitude in 1943. All in all, unique circumstances led to this Japanese persecution: German pressure for harsher measures; determination to mobilise local support using, inter alia, an anti-Semitic campaign; and the earlier experience of the Java Kempeitai with a Jewish minority. As a result, the Jews of Indonesia experienced harsher treatment than that of any other Jewish community in the Asian territories under Japanese occupation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-371
Number of pages23
JournalIndonesia and the Malay World
Issue number112
StatePublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
∗The author is grateful to Bernd Martin, Gerhard Krebs, Maruyama Naoki, Edith Mitsuko Kane-shiro, Didi Kwartanada, Ronit Ricci and two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this manuscript. The insights into the Jewish internment in Indonesia provided by Ayala Klemperer-Markman, Eli Dwek, Suzy Lehrer and members of the Tempo Dulu Association in Israel are also highly appreciated. The research on Japanese racial perspectives for this article was supported by grants to the author from the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and the German-Israeli-Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF), whereas the research on Indonesian Jews was supported by the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Stichting Collectieve Maror-gelden Israel. Note: throughout the text Japanese family names precede personal names.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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