Southeast Asia's first Holocaust museum opens amid opposition in Indonesia

Southeast Asia's first Holocaust museum opens amid opposition in Indonesia
The Holocaust museum's opening in the Minahasa peninsula has been met with opposition from some of Indonesia's Muslim scholars and politicians.
3 min read
04 February, 2022
Indonesia is home to a tiny Jewish community [Getty]

Regional dignitaries, foreign diplomats and members of the local Jewish community gathered in Indonesia's Minahasa Peninsula in North Sulawesi last week to open southeast Asia’s first Holocaust memorial museum - but the site's opening has since faced backlash from high-level religious figures.

The museum, located within the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue, was inaugurated by Jewish-Indonesian businessman Rabbi Yaakov Baruch, alongside German Ambassador to Indonesia Ina Lapel. 

“I attended the opening of the Holocaust Museum on International Holocaust Remembrance Day (27 January) in Indonesia, where a museum of this kind is, for the first time in Southeast Asia, from the initiative of the Jewish community here,” Lepel said on Twitter. 

The museum features photographs honouring victims of the Holocaust alongside artefacts from other museums that have been lent to the current exhibition. The museum and synagogue also features a 20-metre high menorah, one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith. 

Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue, the only place of worship for Indonesia’s small Jewish community, has been functioning since 2004.

The local regency government of Minahasa has supported the continued existence of the synagogue since its establishment, especially after Indonesia’s only other synagogue in the city of Surabaya was demolished in 2009.

Sha’ar Hashamayim synagogue underwent extensive renovations in 2020, and has since been granted permission to perform Jewish weddings and other ceremonial functions. 


However, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) reacted with anger to the opening of the Holocaust museum and called on the federal government to intervene.  

"The Indonesian government should act decisively and immediately demolish the museum because it is provocative and its presence is not welcomed among many in this country," Muhyiddin Junaidi, deputy chairman of the MUI’s advisory board, said in a statement.

Parliamentarians have added to the clamour. Guspardi Gaus, National Mandate Party (PAN) representative, said that “the existence of the museum is actually suspected as a form of provocative, tendentious, and has the potential to cause chaos in the community.”

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Local and national rights groups however came out in support of the museum after the backlash. 

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, accused the MUI of failing to understand history and what the museum symbolizes. 

“The museum sends a message that a tragedy against humanity occurred and millions of people fell victim,” he told east-Asian news site UCA News on Tuesday.

He said the MUI call was more about religious intolerance when it should be “taking lessons from the tragedy so that it doesn’t happen again.”