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My family in the Dutch Indies before the war

My family in the Dutch Indies before the war

My great-grandparents moved to the Dutch colony of Indonesia at the end of World War I, where they ran one of the few, probably the only, car garage on the emerald isles.

They had a fantastic time there, the locals were happy to work for them or succeeded well in hiding their discontempt [contempt? discontent? - dave].

This is rather common, many Indonesians were very friendly and acted happy and many Dutch had no idea many of these people hated being colonised and dominated and exploited by the Dutch.

So my grandmother and her brother Dirk grew up in a paradise, they had servants, money, space, a nice house and just lots of freedom. Not realizing anything about politics, Indonesian rebels, what was happening in the world. They were just very happy, innocent children.

When World War II began they were in their late teens, about to become adults. My grandmother married a Dutch soldier but then the Japanese came. Everybody was locked up in prison camps but, and I'm not quite sure what happened, my grandmother managed to hide with two girls who looked dark and local.

They stayed hidden in a house, Gran remaining hidden because she looked so European, the dark girls managing to get food now and then. Things were becoming very difficult as my gran was pregnant by her husband and they had to take even bigger risks.

Of course this couldn't last, they were discovered. Some or all the girls were raped by Japanese soldiers. We are not sure if my gran was raped as at that time as she was already heavily pregnant and it was a subject never talked about in the family, something we only found out when meeting one of the other girls many years later.

Perhaps Gran became pregnant because of that rape. We don't know.

After this ordeal they were taken to a prison camp or went there themselves because of what happened. In the camp Gran had her baby, my aunt Annemarie. Life in the camp was terrible, my aunt as a toddler had a nightmare all her life of a woman beaten to death by the guards, also my gran was beaten a few times. Gran later confirmed that my aunt had seen such things as a toddler.

Once when a Japanese soldier or officer started beating Gran, Annemarie escaped the grasp of one of the other women, ran up to the Jap and started fighting him. Everybody held their breath, fearing the worst. The Jap looked at the little girl and then simply walked off. Other family members didnt survive the camps.

My Uncle Dirk, a prisoner of war, was forced to work on the Burma railroad, a experience that broke him forever. He was and still is a strong and proud man but he never got over it. He still hates everything Japanese, caused a big row when his son went on a trip to Japan. He never talked about what he went through.

When the war finally came to an end my grandmother, aunt and uncle were close to dying. Although we all hate the atom bombs that fell on Japan we also realise that nobody in our entire family would be alive today without them.

My grandfather though was somewhere on the other side of the country when he was released because the war was as good as finished. He heard where his family was being kept prisoner and decided he couldn't wait any longer.
First I didnt believe this story but its now been confirmed.

My grandfather escaped from the POW camp (not difficult, few guards left, war pretty much over), he went to a japanese airfield and hijacked a plane!!! He got on board of a plane and forced the pilot to fly him to the other side of the country. Knowing my granddad he would have snapped the japs neck in a second if he wouldnt have listened.

At this time the survivors of my family were hiding inside the camps, now the indonesians (fuelled with hate by the japs) stood up against the Dutch. In a strange reverse situation the japanese guards now had to defend their former prisoners from the indonesians.
My family witnessed fellow ex-prisoners disapearing at night, being found the next day brutally murdered.

Then in a convoy they went to the harbour, being shot at by indonesian rebels, knowing very well that they were shooting at women and children who had just survived years in a camp. When they arrived on a british ship my aunt remembers a very young british sailor looking after her while the rest of my family sort of collapsed. He was very sweet to her, treating her as his little sister.

Singing to her, giving her sweets, etc.
My aunt still gets emotional when she thinks about how nice he was, the first nice man she had seen in her life as there had been no men in the camp besides the japs.
Many years later she would marry a sailor, she told him that she wouldnt even had talked to him if he hadnt been wearing the uniform... heheh some things run in the family.

My family left indonesia in a plane with no door, probably a dakota used for airdrops.
They never went back.

In the Netherlands they simply couldnt get used to normal life, nobody talked about what happened and the dutch had their own war traumas to handle.

My grandmother died very young, probably because the shock her system got in the camp, she nearly died several times and her body sort of gave up.

My greatuncle Dirk left the Netherlands and went to australia, he only came back once.

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De goude oud tijd (the good old times)

My name Nuzwardy, pure indonesians. On the contrary most of Indonesians hate the colonial time, I am obsessed to go back to that times.

I do not agree that the colonial times was the worst one of this nations. I think it was the Soeharto era 1966 - 1998 as the worst times.

I heard from my Oma (grandma in Ducth)who ever life in the colonial time, she frequently said that the colonial era as "Jaman Normaal" (normal times). I'm partly agree with her. Everything run in order according to the rules. On the contrary of many Indonesian who are not punctual, she was very strict in times.

After I learn many source about life during colonial era, the era after etisch politics endorsed by Van Deventer, the colonial era during 1900 - 1942 was the best times Indonesians ever have. Sadly we have to separate with Dutch, I dont blame my nation's founding father for this. Dutch did not accommodate to have our own parliaments (known as petisi Soetardjo)when the threat of Japs was prevalent at that time. If dutch wise enought that time we could still have closed relationship with Dutch like "British commonwealth"

Great story

Hi. My name is Andre. As an Indonesian, I like your story. It's about big struggle for surviving. Your great grandparents had a wonderful life in Dutch Indies, you can say that again. Wonderful country, nice weather, big houses, lots of servants, etc. Heaven is just a little bit closer.

When you said "many Indonesians were very friendly and acted happy and many Dutch had no idea many of these people hated being colonised and dominated and exploited by the Dutch," I could understand 100%.

Why ? Well, who can be happy to be colonised for more than 300 years? When you have no songs, you have no rights (unless to remain silent), you have no hope, you live as a slave for foreigners.

Indonesians, Dutch, Japanese, they were people at the wrong time, at the wrong place. At that time, everybody in the world hated each other. So, everything had to be done in order to survive. Just like your grandfather did.

Well, let it be a great story of history. Let's leave the history behind without forgetting it. Let it behind when we learn the mistakes happened and let's face the future for the better life for all of us.

Acted happy ....

"This is rather common, many Indonesians were very friendly and acted happy and many Dutch had no idea many of these people hated being colonised and dominated and exploited by the Dutch"

thats an interesting and precise observation.seems nobody learn from it.

similar to your family story. many indonesian learned to survive, sadly.."acted happy" was the only way to live. and yes indonesian didnt fight hard enough
the atomic bomb somehow agreed ,needed to stop the war and indonesian now agreed.somoehow japanese needed to come,otherwise we might be still hate Dutch and act happy.

thats the past. so yes pass on the story, but dont forget those who "acted happy" and loyal to your family during the struggle.we re now still struggling to find our lost identity ..

Books about the camps

My husband, born in 1936, was a child in the camps. His whole family on both sides had roots in Indonesia for several generations. As far as colonials go, I believe they were pretty good ones. One cannot judge people by the standards of a later time. We are all products of our society.

If you want to read about the camp experience, I recommend
"The Way of a Boy" by Ernest Hillen, and "The Flamboya Tree" by Clara Olink Kelly. Clara is my husband's cousin.

The great tragedy is what happened to these people after they returned to Holland after the war. Apart from the fact that many would have preferred to stay in Indië, as they thought of it.

Holland was recovering from its own experience. It had just discovered the truth about the concentration camps, colonialism was suddenly out of fashion, and the returnees found few people interested in their horror stories. No one offered therapy in those days! My mother-in-law tried for years to be heard. Half her conversations ended up in the camp, no matter where they started.

Now they are going overboard and encouraging all sorts of second generation victimhood.

Never mind, the psychology industry is another topic!

Compassionate Story

Great story, I'd like to read about anything related to history of my country. From this story we see that even Dutch people had suffered in Indonesia during the 1940s. I am an Indonesian, my grandpa's young brother was also shot death by a Dutch soldier when he was just 16. However in the name of struggle for the independence, there's nothing wrong about that. Many people from both sides suffered because they lived in the "wrong" place and "wrong" situation. If Japanese, Dutch, and Indonesian meet now, the right place & time, no more war and hate they make but peace and love.

Forgiven but not forgotten

It was awesome to see your pictures, like my family, in Indonesia they was go to Japanese Camp, and their family in Nederland was killed in NAZI camp Auschwitz and Sobibor, really a nightmare...may their soul rest in peace

It truly was a WORLD war.

Thank you for sharing this story from your family history. The second World War left scars across the globe.

(My grandfather never spoke a single word to his grandchildren about what he saw in the Philippines. We were told never to bring it up...and we loved him so much that we never did.)

Dutch Indies Concentration Camp

My grandparents were in a Japanese concentration camp when they were young. All of the girls in their family were raped and tortured (same thing in my book). I plan to write a book about the story of their Dutch/Indonesian family, how they were brought together and ultimately torn apart by war... my mother's immigration to the US from Holland, and before from Indonesia. The way the Dutch government used to treat these families and how much money they owe their citizens (most of whom are in their 80's now; of course they pay very little each month if anything and don't continue once the vets have passed). If you or anyone else has any information to add, please write me at Maybe we could all put a book of tales together. This part of my heritage amazes me.


Hello, I am Indonesian and love to learn story about colonial life and history of my country. Can i know what city your great-grandparents live?


Fantastic story and glad you could tell the world about it. I feel sorry for what your family had endured, and telling your story helps everyone to understand to always fight and stand up against oppression, as best as they can. There are a lot of other families that were hurt badly around the world during WW II my mother and her family suffered too in Italy during the war, she told me some stories about it. They lived in the port city of Genoa Italy, so it was a strategic military area that went through a lot of bombardments from the allies against the Germans. Luckily they survived and I got to meet them all back in the 50's when I was very little.

I totally agree.

This story must be passed on.

It's something I'd be proud to tell people.

We are not quite sure what

We are not quite sure what happened with gran, she always said grandfather was the father of her first child but even before we heard about the possible rape people were always wondering about the first child, she was different from all the others. I wonder if perhaps we could find out through DNA research or something, Auntie may not want to know though.

Thank you

I agree with anonymous you must pass this on so these people are remembered.


>> Perhaps Gran became pregnant because of that rape. We don't know.

?? You said she was already pregnant.

bless your family

God bless your grandma and family. If treasures in heaven do exist, your family deserves every one of them. You should be proud to come from such a strong family. Do not let this story die. Make sure it is passed on.

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