Guests who visited Indonesia in search of places of the past.
The colonial times ended many years ago. However many people have memories of this period as it was part of their lives. Some returned to Indonesia to search with memories tours for the places where they, or their parents or grandparents, had lived. They were looking for old houses, hospitals, plantations and former prison camps where they or their family had stayed during the Japanese occupation.
Since 1992 Tri Jaya Tour and Travel has received guests who were in search of former Japanese civil internment camps. Most of them stayed in camps on Sumatra, some on Java. Below is a list of guests who travelled with Tri Jaya Tour & Travel over Sumatra and Java in search of these places.
Japanese camps in Indonesia
The first part of the stories below is a shortened version of my presentation Twenty Years of Return Tourism on Sumatra and Java. This text has been presented at the conference “Travelling Heritages. Return-tourism of WW II-veterans, survivors and relatives to and from Indonesia and Japan”, October 20 and 21, 2011 at Dutch Institute of War Documentation in Amsterdam.
In the text I use initials, if people would like to get in touch with one of the persons listed below you can send me an email. The information about Rudy Kousbroek and Hans Vervoort are quotations of publicized work, therefore I present them with their full name.
Memories tours Indonesia
The second part consists of people who travelled with Tri Jaya from 2012 on and who were looking for places of their past or their family. Part of this group of people had lived in Indonesia before, during or after the war. Some of them were looking for Japanese camps, many others were just in search of the ‘memory lane’ of them or their family.
Rudy Kousbroek. (1929-2010)
In 1993 Tri Jaya assisted with research for the documentary Het meer der herinnering (The Lake of Reminiscence), about the youth of the Dutch author Rudy Kousbroek. The following year the filming took place in Sumatra. Rudy Kousbroek was born in 1929 in Pematang Siantar on the island of Sumatra. During the Japanese occupation of Sumatra, Kousbroek was interned in the Sungai Senkol camp near Medan and the Sirengorengo camp near Rantau Prapat.
Kousbroek was the best known of the Dutch who later wrote about Indonesia’s colonial period as well as about the experience of the Dutch in Indonesia during the Japanese occupation.
Rudy Kousbroek: “In March 1942 when the Japanese arrived, something happened which must eventually happen: the world I had grown up in collapsed. The former rulers were interned by the new ones and the war was fought out somewhere beyond the horizon… So it was. The toetoep (closed-collar) jackets were worn for the last time. No more four-handed clavier extracts of concert music would be played at the piano on the front gallery. That safe world, with its faithful servants who so lovingly cared for our children, while we never looked after theirs, it was all over…. It must have happened directly; in a few chaotic weeks everything was blown away.” (Kousbroek, R. in: NRC Handelsblad, 29-2-1980)
(The Sirengorengo camp was located on a swamp around 8 km. from Rantau Prapat at the Bila River. It was built on the then-uncultivated plantation in Si Ringo Ringo, consisting of primitive bamboo barracks covered with palm leaves. In October 1944 all men and boys from the camps at Soengeisenkol, Belawan Estate, Lawe Sigalagala and Medan’s Saint Joseph’s school were transported to Si Rengo Rengo. Beginning in December 1944, boys ten years and older (some although were only eight and nine years of age) who were still in the women’s camps were transferred. The Japanese surrender was announced in Sirengorengo on August 24, 1945. (Dulm 2000: 50))
“My father was district officer in Pajakoemboe on Sumatra. In April 1942 my father ceded civil authority over Pajakoemboe to the Japanese Army. Shortly after we were interned. We were taken to a school in Bukit Tinggi (Fort de Kock) and later we were moved to Padang. In December 1943 we were moved to Bangkinang. There we stayed until September 1945. We had lost all our material possessions and after the war had nothing. But my parents were able to give us all a good education, including university studies.” Mr. F. visited Sumatra in 1993 to look for the places of his youth.
(Bangkinang. In October 1943 European men and boys, who earlier had been interned in the prison in Padang, were brought to a new prison camp near Bangkinang, around 70 km. west of Pakan Baroe on the way to Bukittinggi. On the site there was a rubber factory. The women and children followed in December 1943 to Bangkinang, where they were housed in newly build sheds around 3 km. west of the rubber factory. By the end of 1944 there were nearly 3.200 civilians interned in these camps. In 1945 alone approximately 140 persons died from disease and exhaustion. The Japanese surrender was announced on August 22, 1945. (Dulm 2000: 58,59)
Ineke van L. (1941)
“I spent the first three years of my life in Japanese civilian internee camps in Indonesia. I was born in Kotaradja (Banda Aceh) in August 1941. When I was six months old my family moved to Medan. After the Japanese invasion of Medan in March 1942, my father was taken prisoner and transported to Burma. We who remained were put in the camps in Poeloe Brayan.
At the end of the war, in March or April 1945, transported to the rubber plantation Aek Pamienke. When I saw in 2005 news about the tsunami on Sumatra, I suddenly wanted to return to the country of my birth and I contacted Tri Jaya Tour & Travel. On Sumatra I visited in 2007 all the places of my youth during what was for me such an important psychological journey of three weeks. Although I cannot remember anything from my earliest youth, I still felt a tie to this country.”
(The Poeloe Berayan (Pulo Brayan) complex of the Deli Spoorweg Maatschappij (DSM) (Deli Railroad Company) was build in 1918 as workshop and housing compound for indigenous Indonesian and European personnel; Aek Pamienke. All interned European women and children (with the exception of boys from 8 or 10 years of age) from Aceh, Tapanoeli and East Sumatra were held in the camps of Aek Pamienke for the last month of the Japanese occupation. The camps were located on a rubber plantation of 3.316 hectares in Aek Pamienke. (Dulm 2000: 49)
Han de B. (1923-2014)
“Since the generation of great-great grandparents, my family has had historical ties with Indonesia for about two hundred and fifty years. My late wife was also born in Indonesia. My father and I were prisoners of war; my family was in the civilian camps of Gedangan and Tjideng. I myself had to work on the Pakan Baroe railroad. Family and friends died during the sinking of the Yunyo Maru. My parents never went back but my wife and I, as well both my brothers, children and grandchildren, all made the journey to Indonesia several times. During these travels we visited former classmates and friends. I also visited former Indonesian Romushas (forced labourers for the Japanese) in the villages. On my travels through Indonesia I never encountered any complaints against me as a descendant of colonial suppressors of the indigenous population, Not even from Tentara Nasional Indonesia (Indonesian National Army) officers. I have visited many old Indonesian school friends and made new friends during my ten journeys through Indonesia. I have had dinner with them, stayed with them in their villages, and attended their marriages, funerals and cremations. I visited fields of honor of the Indonesian army. I will not be able to come to my motherland again. But I will stay in touch with my Indonesian friends.”
(The European quarter Tjideng in Batavia (Jakarta) in August 1942 became the first camp for women and children prisoners; Pakanbaroe Railroad. The 220 km. long railroad was constructed from Pakan Baroe to Moeara, the end of the railroad of West Sumatra. The railroad was planned to connect Pakan Baroe with the west coast and to facilitate exploitation of the coal mines near Tapoei in the central mountain area. The start of the construction was in March 1943 by Romushas from the Pakan Baroe camp. Construction of the final track started in March 1945, around 70,000 Romushas died for the construction of this railroad. At 18 September 1944 the Japanese cargo ship Junyo Maru was torpedoed off the coast of West Sumatra, in Bencoolen district near Mukomuko. Approximately 1796 POWs and around 4000 Romushas drowned during this disaster. (Dulm 2000: 65; Hovinga 2010: 42, 50-60).
Marietje P. (1940)
“I was born in Jakarta in the quarter known as Matraman, and interned in the Cideng (Tjideng) camp from March 1942 until August 1945. My family (father, mother and my brother) were reunited in the autumn of 1945 in Batavia (Jakarta) and went back to the Netherlands in March 1946. In the family we never talked about the camp years. My parents never said anything, my brother and I never asked. I have been back three times to the Cideng quarter in Jakarta: in 1994, 2003 and in 2009. I have walked through this quarter and felt no memories at all. I am an optimistic person; I finished schools and university without problems, married and had a normal family life.”
Marietje P. wrote two books about her ancestors. One about her greatgrandfather Anske Hielke Kuipers, captain at the Gouvernements Marine who sailed in the 19th century
through the Indonesian archipelago. The other book deals about her greatgrandfather the missionary who worked in the 19th century in Pakantan in Sumatra’s interior and built a Mennonite church in this place.When the area of Pakantan was hit by an earthquake she arranged via her contacts that financing from the European Union was send to Pakantan so that the demolished village could be rebuild. Hereafter Pakantan made her honorary citizen.
Dirk G. P. (1929-2012)
“My father M.B. P. was planter on Sumatra. I was born in 1929. In March 1942 the Japanese entered Brastagi and all the women and children were put in the boarding school in Brastagi. The boys had to give their mattresses to the women and sleep on mats. After a year the boys of fifteen years and older, including myself, were moved to Sungei Senkol and Belawan Estate where I found my father again. In December 1944 we were moved to Sirengo-rengo and the women in early 1945 to the Aek Pamienke camp. In the 1950s we went back to Indonesia and I worked till 1958 on Sumatra on rubber plantations. In 1983 I went back to Medan on invitation of the Indonesian rubber plantation association, as an advisor. In subsequent years I revisted Indonesia in 1988, 1995, 2003 and 2006.”
Rien de V. on his Father Joan de V.
In 2007 Rien de V. and his family came to Sumatra in search of the places where his father Joan de V. (1928-1991) had lived and stayed in Japanese camps. They also went to the location of the Sirengorengo camp where his father had stayed. Together with his mother, elder sister and her baby, Joan, then a youth, was taken to camp Aek Pamienke. Hereafter Joan was taken out of Aek Pamienke because of his age and put in the Si Rengo Rengo camp where his father also was interned. In the 1950s Joan de V. got a scholarship from Shell and made a good career in the Netherlands.
Brian Ernest M. about his uncle Desmond Charles K.
“In researching my family genealogy my son Terry and I have been very interested in the history relating to my maternal uncle Desmond Charles Keats (1916-1944). Desmond was born in London on the 5th May 1916 and joined the British Army in 1937. In March 1942 he was captured and transported back to Malaysia. On the 26th June 1944 he was one of 177 prisoners out of 730 that died in the sinking of the ship Harugiku Maru (Van Waerwijck) off the east coast of Sumatra. They were being taken from Belawan to Pakanbaroe to work on the railway there. My son and I decided to visit the wreck site and visited Sumatra in September 2008. With the help of Tri Jaya Tour & Travel we were able to hire a fishing vessel in the port of Tanjung Belai to take us to the site which is about twelve miles to the NNW and five miles off the nearest coastline in fifteen metres of water. We strongly believe that this wreck should be declared a war grave site duly respected, marked and preserved.”
(The Harukiku Maru (Van Waerwijck). The former KPM (Royal Dutch Shipping Company) vessel Van Waerwijck renamed the Harukiku Maru, was torpedoed at 26 June 1944 off the coast East Sumatra near Tanjung Balai. The Van Waerwijck transported 1.190 allied POWs as forced labour for the Pakan Baroe Railway. One hundred ninety-eight perished.)
Sandra N. about her mother
“My mother, Marion L. (1939-2009) was born in Medan. She was not yet three years of age when she, together with her brother of one and a half years, and her pregnant mother were interned in camp Glugur. These camp years have determined a large part of her life. When my mother left the camp, one little brother was dead, her grandfather had drowned (torpedoed, but no further information which ship) and her father had died in the Pakan Baroe camp in June 1945 while working on the railroad, shortly before the liberation. Around twelve years ago my mother went to Indonesia to visit her father’s grave in Leuwigaja near Bandung. She also wanted to return to her place of birth on Sumatra but this never happened. My mother passed away in 2009. I decided to come to Indonesia to bring her ‘home’ and strew her ashes over Lake Toba. I contacted Tri Jaya Tour & Travel, who were able to tell us about the places where my mother had lived in Medan. We prepared a tailor-made tour to the places of my mothers’ childhood. We visited the places she lived. Then we went to Lake Toba, where I strewed her ashes over the lake. We kept the empty urn to place in Leuwigaja in Bandung with her father’s grave. In this way we held a family reunion.”
(Gloegoer (Glugur) was an industrial area half way between Medan and Pulo Berayan. Between April 1942 and June 1944. there was an internment camp for women and children as well as a POW camp.)
Hans van D. (1939)
“My father was a planter in Deli on the island of Sumatra and my mother was a teacher at a girls’ school in Medan. They married a few years before the Netherlands Indies were invaded by Japan. My father was imprisoned in the Unie Kampong in Belawan. Soon he got dysentery but as a POW he was denied medication. He died at the age of forty-one. My mother learned about his death a few weeks later in the civilian camp for women and children in Brastagi. There she, my sister (two years of age), and I who was then a boy of three years, were all held in the camp. At the time my mother was expecting our brother, who was born four months later. In 1944 we were moved to another camp, Aek Pamienke III. As a result of this war we all suffered a severe loss, the loss of a husband or a father. We all returned to Indonesia at one time or another.”
Tineke H. (1926)
“It is 1941, and I am together with my two brothers and two sisters at the boarding school of the Planters Association in Brastagi. Then the war starts: World War II. We may not join our parents, who live far away on a rubber plantation. The Japanese imprisoned us in our Brastagi boarding school. Fortunately, my mother was able to join us. Father, taken by the Japanese, like other prisoners of war (POW) was transported to Belawan harbour and then to Singapore on the ship Van Waerwijck, which was torpedoed in the Malacca Straits. He survived! Until the end of the war my father remained in Singapore as a POW. In 1945 the women’s camps were concentrated in one location, Aek Pamienke. My parents would have liked to remain in Indonesia until their old age. Indonesia is always tugging at me and I have returned many times to those dearest spots of my youth.”
(The boarding school of the Planters Vereeniging (Planters Association) in Brastagi, around 65 kilometers from Medan, was used as a prison camp from mid-April 1942 for more than three years.)
The story of Tjerk O., by his second wife Nynke O.
“In 1936 Tjerk Oreel (1914 – 1999) sailed to Sumatra, where he was employed on oil palm plantations. In 1938 his wife Pietje O. H. joined him. By the outbreak of the war in 1942 they had two children. In March 1942 Tjerk was taken prisoner by the Japanese. He was held for three months in Padang, then in camp Gloegoer in Medan. From Gloeger he was sent to Aceh. For seven months he spent in the area of Blangkedjeren in Aceh, where he was member of the so called ‘Atjeh-Party’ from March 1944 until October 1944. Then he was transported to central Sumatra, where he was forced to labor on the Pakan Baroe railroad from November 1944 till August 1945. After Tjerk passed away in 1999 I did further research into his past in the Indies. I looked into the letters he wrote in 1962-1963 as contribution for the book about the ‘The Atjeh-Party’, later published as Het pannetje van Oliemans (Oliemans’s mess tin) by C. van Heekeren and 100 others. Before his death Tjerk and I wanted to make the trip to Sumatra but his poor health prevented this. My daughter and I decided to make this trip later, and contacted Tri Jaya Tour & Travel. We came to Sumatra in 2008. We visited the oil palm plantations where Tjerk had lived and worked before the war. We went to the places Tjerk had visited and we were especially impressed by the trip to South Aceh on the route from Medan through Blangkedjeren. We made this journey to try to understand how life had been for Tjerk before the war and during the difficult years of the Japanese occupation.”
(Blangkedjeren. In March 1944 the POWs began construction of a road 58 km. long, through the jungle from Blangkedjeren to Takengon. The work was done by the so called ‘Atjeh party’ consisting of 306 Dutch and 194 British and Australian POWs who were from the Gloegoer camp in Medan.)
Brigit K. speaks about her family
“My grandfather left the Netherlands for Indonesia in 1930. He first worked in agriculture and from 1934 was employed at the tea plantation Balimbingan near Pematang Siantar, on Sumatra. Here he met my grandmother, who grew up in Indonesia. My mother was born in 1937 in Pematang Siantar. When the war broke out my grandfather was mobilised. In March 1942 he was taken prisoner in the Alas Valley in Aceh, then transported with the other Dutch soldiers to Belawan. In May 1942, he and about 1500 other prisoners were transported to Tavoy (Dawei) in Burma (Myanmar) from where he was sent to work on the Burma Railroad. My grandmother was left with five young children between the ages of two and five years, and lived in a series of different Japanese camps: Tebingtinggi; Poeloe Brayan; Aek Pamienke. In March 1946 the family was reunited in Bangkok. In July 1946 the entire family arrived in Holland, where they lived in boarding schools. As there was no job for grandfather, in 1947 he returned to Indonesia and worked again at the tea plantation Balimbingan. The children stayed in the Netherlands. My grandfather passed away in 1995 and my grandmother in 1971. I never had talked with them about the Japanese time.”
(Tebing Tinggi. In late March 1942 the European women and children from Tebing Tinggi and surrounding areas were interned in the local prison. This women’s camp remained until November 1943, then all internees were moved to Pulo Berayan.)
Joost van B. (1936)
“At the time of the Japanese invasion our family lived on Java, and consisted of my parents, me and my brother Wim and sister Mieke. After the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands Indies my father was sent to work on the Burma-Siam railroad line. My mother entered the camps with three children. We were kept in a camp in Galoehan near Kediri in East Java for more than a year. From there we were moved to the camps Banjoebiroe and Ambarawa. When in early 1945 my brother Wim turned 10 years of age, he was taken from the camp he had shared with his mother and younger brothers, and moved to the nearby camp, Ambarawa 7. On August 24th 1945, we learned of our liberation by the British Army. My mother and the children travelled in January 1946 via Ambarawa and Semarang to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), where my father joined the family from Singapore. In April 1946 the family left for the Netherlands. In 1986 and 2008 I went back to Indonesia again. The visits to Indonesia were unforgettable experiences, which helped to see our lost youth in a less somber retrospective.”
(In August 1945 around 15,800 people were being held in the Ambarawa and Banjoebiru camps.)
Hans K. (1942)
“My father was principal of a primary school first in Padang Sidempuan and later in Medan, at the Oranjeschool, which now is known as Harapan School. My mother was a teacher too. My parents enjoyed their life in Medan, until the outbreak of the Pacific War. Shortly after the Japanese invasion in March 1942 my father was transported to Belawan. He was forced into labor at Belawan Harbor from March unti April 1942. He stayed in the Uniekampong in Belawan. In 1942 he was transported to Burma where he was assigned to the bakery. As the son of a baker, he was skilled himself in this profession. In August 1942 my father was put to work on the Burma Railroad. Shortly afterward my mother was moved to the Poeloe Berayan camp. In June 1944 we moved to camp Gloegoer and in July 1945 we left for camp Aek Pamienke. On 24 August 1945 the Japanese announced their surrender in Aek Pamienke. Then Lieutenant Sisselaar visited the Aek Pamienke camp. In October 1945 we left Aek Pamienke for Medan. In January 1946 my family was reunited in the Wilhelmina camp in Singapore. I always felt a special bond to Indonesia. In March 2011 I went with my two sons to Indonesia to search for the places of my past.”
Tineke O. (1937)
“In the 1930’s my family lived in Jogyakarta, where my father Hotze Oldhoff was head of a primary school. My father was captured in 1942 and in 1944 was sent to Sumatra on the Junyo Maru. On September 18, 1944, that ship was torpedoed by an English submarine, and my father drowned off the coast of Bencoolen. My mother, my sister Frauwien and my younger brothers Jan, Ab, Wim and I, on 26 December 1942, were transported by train to Ambarawa, “a holiday resort”, as it was described to us. In 1945 we heard that our Father had died. Slowly my brothers returned from their camps. Finally in April 1946 we managed to get passage on the Tjisedane to the Netherlands. And now we love to come back to Indonesia, our country of birth. In 2012 I went with my youngest son Hotze and his wife to the site off the coast of Sumatra where the Junyo Maru sank. There we did put a sort of wreath in the water, in memory of my Father.”
Hans Vervoort (1939)
During the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands Indies, Dutch author Hans Vervoort was interned in the Ambarawa camp, on Java. In 2005 Vervoort and his wife returned to Indonesia and travelled through Sumatra and Java. Hans Vervoort: “My brother Rob died at age six, in 1944 in the Ambarawa camp. I have just a single memory of him. He was in a hospital bed, and sat straight up in his bed in the small room, a cheerful and lively child, and said excitedly that he had experienced something odd. He had to laugh and sneeze at the same time! ‘And, what did you do?’ I asked tensely. I was his younger brother, I still had to learn a lot. What he answered has faded from my memory. And now I live with only this one image of him. After the war my father fortunately returned. He had labored first on the Birma railroad and later in the Japanese mines. We travelled to Makassar, where my father had been stationed as KNIL-military. I still see him crying when we were finally united, in late 1945. Until that moment he had not realized that my brother Rob was no more. The only remembrance my mother had of Rob was one of his baby teeth. My father melded it to his wedding ring and wore it for the rest of his life. About my brother Rob, was no more spoken. Yet I still hear him say: ‘Do you know what happened today? I had to sneeze and laugh at the same time.’”