Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country with a population of 261 million inhabitants of which 227 million are Muslims.

While religious freedom is stipulated in the constitution it officially recognizes only 6 religions and Judaism is not one of them although Jews were present here constantly during the last four hundred years.

Indonesia was previously a a Dutch colony called the Dutch East Indies . The Dutch East Indies was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Dutch government in 1800.

Jews first arrived in the islands of Southeast Asia from the Netherlands when they were being colonized by the Dutch East India Company in the 19th century. These Jewish merchants and plantation owners were later joined by Jewish Iraqi businessmen, who had created a network of trading posts covering most of Asia from Mumbai to Shanghai. Finally, the community was bolstered by hundreds of Jewish refugees from the Netherlands, Germany and Eastern Europe fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe.

The Indonesian Jewish community was never big. At its peak shortly before outbreak of World War II, it numbered 2,000 people, based mostly in Surabaya, the island of Java’s second largest city; Batavia, later renamed Jakarta; and a few other smaller cities and towns.

The Jews of Indonesia did not, however, escape the horrors of WWII. When Japan invaded the Dutch colony in 1942, most Jews were put together with other non-Asians in internment camps where conditions were extremely harsh. Many died of malnutrition, disease and violence inflicted by the Japanese and their allies.

The Japanese invasion of Indonesia during the Second World War destroyed the Jewish community. In Indonesia it is said that the Japanese were worse than the Nazis. Jews were sought, captured and killed. By the end of the war Judaism had disappeared. All that remained were Jewish graves.

Today there is no Jewish Community and there only about 20 Jews left in the whole country. Kosher food is not available in Indonesia however there are many companies in Indonesia that produce food as well as food ingredients and additives that have Kosher certification specifically for the export market.

There was a shul called Beth Shalom in Surabaya which was Java’s one and only synagogue. Unfortunately, it was demolished in May 2013. It is claimed that the owner of the shul had sold the building and it’s not clear whether the buyer allegedly a real estate company destroyed the building, or if the original owner knocked it down themselves.

The Netherlands War Graves Foundation looks after several cemeteries in Indonesia and after our investigations we report that there are Jewish people buried in the following cemeteries:

  1. Menteng Pulo in Jakarta
  2. Candi in Semarang
  3. Kalibanteng in Semarang
  4. Kembang Kuning in Surabaya
  5. Leuwigajah in Cimahi (near Bandung)
  6. Pandu is in Bandung

We have found the cemetery grounds to be very clean, well maintained and the environment is very respectful to the people who are buried there although this is many thousands of kilometres away from the Netherlands. It is a real credit to the Netherland War Graves Foundation.

There are also Jewish people buried in Petamburan cemetery, Jakarta. The cemetery is opposite to the Santika Hotel. The Jewish section of the big cemetery is in bad state of repair and is slowly being encroached by the caretakers and Jewish graves are being replaced by Muslim graves.

Behind the Menteng Pulo cemetery in Jakarta is the British cemetery where 7 Jews are buried.

There is a cemetery by Taman Prasasti Museum in Jakarta (near to Monas – National Monument) where one Jewish person is buried. After the gate go right and then it is in the corner.