The Never Before Told Story Of A Forgotten Period After WWII And A Gruesome Discovery In The Mountains Of Java.
By Hans Vervoort.
The War Cemetery, Kembang Kuning, in Surabaya is impressive. Thousands of white crosses for World War II victims stand in neat long rows and if you walk past them they regroup in different patterns of diagonal and vertical lines. “Mass Grave” is an often seen engraving. In the middle of all this, stands the WWII Memorial with the inscription: “I attack, follow me”. These remembered words of Admiral Karel Doorman, led many sailors to their death during an ill prepared battle on the Java Sea.
Right at the front, lie the children. Their crosses are smaller. The girl’s crosses end in a flower pattern. It’s nice that the boys and girls are grouped together. My brother lies in row BBB, number 22. He died at the age of six, in 1944 in Camp Ambawara #6 and I have only one memory of him. He sat up in the infirmary, always a cheerful and busy child, and excitedly told me that something strange had happened: he had to sneeze and laugh at the same time! “And what did you do?” I asked in anticipation. I was his younger brother; I had a lot to learn.
What he actually said has been erased from my memory. I have to live with this one image of him. He lies in his grave at Kembang Kuning, for 70 years now, but he is not a day older than when he died. I visited him in 1974 and recently again in 2004. Both times I was struck by how many children were around him. There were eight in total: five girls and three boys, ranging from 3 to 11 years old. What kind of disaster had befallen them? All of them labeled deceased on October 29, 1945. It appeared that they all had died during the Bersiap—a violent period of six months that followed the surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945 and the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia by the nationalist leaders, Soekarno and Hatta.
The British “liberators” of the Dutch East Indies, were only able to handle and control a small part of Java and the other islands. The brand new government of the new republic did not have enough resources to maintain order in its newly claimed territory. (Translator note: The British had made an agreement with the USA to let the British handle the Dutch colony instead of the American forces). In this sudden power vacuum, fanatical young Indonesians formed groups and called themselves Pemoeda’s. In an uncontrolled reign of terror, these Pemoeda’s targeted many of the Dutch and Indo populations—liberated from the Japanese camps. The violence resulted in an estimated 20,000 deaths. This unrest eventually led to the exodus of the Dutch and Indo communities to an unknown fatherland. Once in Holland, they soon realized the Dutch had little interest in the war that had taken place in their colony overseas.
Today, people are becoming more interested in what actually happened. Commemorations are now held annually, on August 15, to memorialize the one hundred thousand Dutch citizens who spent the war in Japanese internment camps. Details from the Bersiap period are still unknown in the Netherlands, although this period was one of the worst for the Dutch and Indo populations. I wondered why one never wrote about this horrible period. The reason might be that the portrayal of violent Indonesians doesn’t fit the guilt of a three-century colonial period. When the native Indonesians claimed their freedom, the Dutch sent an army of 100,000 men and called the movement a “police action.” In contrast with the many regrets about what happened, is the image of the young Pemoeda’s who attacked—always in groups—and murdered thousands of Indo, Dutch, and European women and children. For six months unregulated violent groups took advantage of the power vacuum, which led to abuses that do not fit the picture of colonial guilt. I imagine the Engelenburg’s and all the other Bersiap victims waiting for their story to be written.
At the cemetery, I promised my brother that I would find out the drama of his cemetery neighbors. It became a long journey. None of the hundreds of “Engelenburg” searches on Google had any result. The victim’s registry of the War Graves Foundation gave a little clue: the Engelenburgs were deceased in Ngadireso, a tiny village in the mountains of East Java. “Ngadireso” didn’t show up on the Internet either. I wrote to the War Graves Foundation, the Oorlogsgravenstichting, and asked if they knew a bit more about their deceased. They told me that the Engelenburg’s lived in Toempang, another village in Malang, and were transported to Ngadireso—where they were eventually killed. Although this information eventually turned out incorrect, it triggered a breakthrough.
I hit an article by the historian H. Bussemaker in which Toempang was mentioned as the place where 39 Bersiap murders had taken place. He did not know the names, but it was a start. Searching the name Toempang in combination with “October 1945” gave me the genealogical website of the Moormann family. There, I found a fifty-year-old woman who had died on October 1945 in Toempang. Died so young and exactly in that same month? I emailed the Webmaster and asked if Mrs. Moormann was perhaps one of the Toempang victims. He answered that this was Geertruida (Riep) Moormann Vlaanders, who was indeed murdered together with her son Clemens (11 years) by the Pemoeda’s. Through him, I got in touch with Ineke Moormann the youngest daughter, who was 15 years old at the time. She escaped the massacre by sheer circumstance.
Suddenly all the pieces fell into place. Ineke told me that she was in Malang, at that time, with a certain Roos Engelenburg. Roos was thirteen and lost her entire family in the riots. Roos Engelenburg! She was the ninth child, the eldest. And she was still alive! With the help of Ineke Moormann and Roos Engelenburg, now 86 and 84 years old, I was able to reconstruct the last years and days of their murdered relatives. It was not easy and Roos had to drop out after some time because the memories were too much for her to handle. Here is their story.
A Bit Of War
Malang is one of the most beautiful places in Indonesia and was traditionally the center of fertile farmland. Higher up from Malang, in the foothills of the highest mountain of Java, the Semeru (3,600 meters), are several mountain villages surrounded by rice paddies and plantations. Tumpang is the lowest, at about 600 meters above sea level. Before WWII, a steam trolley went from Malang several times a day to this village, a journey of 20 kilometers. To get from Tumpang to the higher villages (900 meters elevation), you had to take a dokar, a horse-drawn carriage. The villages were about five kilometers apart. In 1942, the Moormann family lived in Watesbelung—in a large stone house.
“It was lovely there, very beautiful and peaceful.” Ineke recalls, “We lived on a small river and behind our house up to the mountains were all rice paddies or sawah’s. My father and my oldest brother, Sam, had some land that they tended. The plantations nearby did grow mostly coffee, tea, sugar, kapok, oranges, pineapples, and bananas. All this certainly did not belong to us! The Indonesians owned land here for growing produce and of course they had their own rice paddies and cornfields. We, the Moormann’s, were mostly in sugar. The Vlaanderens’ (my mother’s side) had more coffee and tea”. Moormann and Marie (Riep) Vlaanderen married in 1914 and had 12 children. 11 were alive in 1942, four daughters and seven sons, including Ineke. The eldest sons helped with the plantation. It was always busy at home.
The war put a sudden end to the pace of a planters’ life. The two oldest sons, Sam and Alex, were drafted into military service at the beginning of 1942. Alex, previously a seminary student, became a medic and got on one of the ships of Admiral Karel Doorman. After the war, the family was sent a medal and a certificate. Alex had “distinguished himself at the time when the ship was sinking and he continued to take care of the injured and help them into the lifeboats and refused to abandon ship. He gave up his life jacket, while the ship went under.” After the capitulation of the Netherlands Indies, Sam was transported as a prisoner to the mines in Japan and subsequently to Burma to work on The Death Railway. He survived.
Father Moormann and the younger sons entered the Japanese civilian internment camps—like all men from 17 to 60 years of Indo, Dutch, or European origin that didn’t serve in the armed forces. All the women and children of “Totok”, that is of 100% Dutch or European origin, were locked up immediately in about 250 Japanese prison camps across the islands. Only some of the women and children of Indo descent were allowed to live outside the camps and in their own homes. They kept themselves alive by selling their belongings, because the male earners were gone. It was a struggle to stay alive. As a 100% Dutch woman, Riep Moormann-Vlaanderen should have been interned as well—but the Japanese left her alone. She probably had an important function in the village. Ineke: “My mother was loved all around. She acted like a nurse and administered the medication depot. She always took care of the people, day and night. If someone died, she helped prepare for burial. She gave away her last white sheet for the burial rituals of the native people.”
In Ineke’s family picture album you see Riep as a sturdy, steadfast mother and housewife. As the war progressed, the daughters noticed that her forces began to dwindle. Ineke: “In her youth, my mother had severe pneumonia and had to live with only one lung. Now with my father and brothers gone, my mother was alone and it was not easy. The plantations stopped production. There was lack of food and you could tell that mother was at wits end and felt miserable. Finally she did send my older sisters away because there was not enough food in Watesbelung. Jo worked as a nurse in Toempang and Trees was with grandma Deuning. There she learned to cook very well!” Grandma Deuning lived at a higher altitude in Ngadireso. She was sixty years and could use help. Before the war, the Moormann boys were friends with grandma’s Indonesian foster son Appi. But Appi started to behave anti-Dutch. The Japanese invaders encouraged nationalism in order to make the leaders rally behind Japan. Many younger men joined paramilitary groups.
In the big house in Watesbelung, Riep was alone with the youngest daughter Ineke and the youngest child, Clemens, also known as Clem. He was almost eleven. Ineke would haul buckets water from the river, keep the garden clean and cook if mother was too weak. A little further down the road is the only other stone built house in the village, where a gentleman of Javanese nobility lives. His full name is much longer, but he lets himself go by Atema. He liked the Moormann family and helped as much as he could. Riep sometimes sells him a piece of furniture so that they have money for food. The deal is that when all the misery is over, she will buy back the furniture. Riep does not have a lot of contacts with other Indo people in the neighborhood. Her only contacts were Grandma Deuning and the Engelenburgs who also lived in Ngadireso.
Grandpa Engelenburg had some paddy fields and an orange grove on a hill. He lived in the house at the top of the hill, with his second young wife Annie and their daughter Felicienne (3) and son Robbie (6). Lothar, the eldest son from his first marriage, lives with his wife Miene down the hill. They have seven children. Roos is thirteen years and the oldest. She has four sisters and two brothers: John (11), the twins Benita and Evelien (10), sister Willy (8), Richard (6) and Irene (4). “We lived next to the forest and played with each other,” Roos recollects later. “There were no other kids around to play with. We had fun with the dogs, goats, and chickens. We had a very happy childhood.” Father Lothar Engelenburg who was drafted at the beginning of the war, ends up as a POW sergeant of the KNIL army (Dutch Indies Army) in Sumatra, where he was killed in a Japanese camp in 1944. The Engelenburgs hear this—of course—only after the liberation. Just as the Moormanns, they too had to struggle to get through the war. Thanks to Grandpa’s efforts on the land, there was still some income.
Finally, in 1945, the war ends. The Japanese army capitulates. Just for a short moment it looks like that on 15 August, normal times have returned. The Engelenburg family hopes that their father Lothar will soon come home. The Moormann family reunites quickly: father and the younger son’s return on their own from the Japanese interment camps and the daughters come home as well. The men make plans to restart the plantations again. Of course they heard about the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the new Republic of Indonesia. Because of their isolated locations in internment camps, they have heard little of the surge of nationalism among the Indonesian youth. Ah, it will probably not go too fast they think but soon the situation changes. After the declaration of independence, Sukarno gives a couple of radio speeches in which he calls for freeing the country from the Dutch. Bersiap or “be ready” is his slogan. Soekarno the 44-year-old leader, with older nationalists who were willing to compromise with his government, established that he could maintain law and order in the republic. The committee’s consisted mainly of older, moderate nationalists but the impatient young people did not like these policies.
Pemoeda groups, the machete and bamboo spears wielding young men, started roaming the country and warning their countrymen that nothing may be distributed to the non-indigenous people. Armed with bamboo spears and Klewangs (Machete’s) they gathered in front of the homes of the Indo, Dutch and European citizens. Merdeka (freedom) was yelled all over the place. The revolution also catches on in Watesbelung and other mountain villages. The “Soto” food seller Bienki, who used to be thought of as mentally unstable in the village, suddenly emerged as a true hater of the Dutch authorities. Also Appi, the Indonesian foster son of Grandma Deuning, joins the Pemoeda’s who terrorize the mountain villages. The situation in the country becomes more threatening by the day.
The English victors realize that they have stepped into a hornet’s nest. Many interned Europeans, especially women and children, are still kept in the civilian camps scattered over the archipelago—and are still waiting to be evacuated because it’s too risky in the current situation. The English army commander finds a solution: he orders the capitulated Japanese guards to protect the just liberated prisoners against the charging Pemoeda’s. That solves the safety situation for the camp inhabitants, but the Indo and Dutch still living outside the camps are fare game. They soon become the main target. “The Pemoeda’s stood in the evening in front of our home yelling ‘Bunuh Orang Belanda’ or ‘kill all Dutch people’”, Ineke recalls. “They were making noise with everything they could lay their hands on to keep us awake all night. Fear and more fear dominated all of us.”
In Ngadireso, grandfather Engelenburg goes along with the suggestion of mother Miene to send Roos, who is 13, to Malang for safety. The Pemoeda’s would probably leave younger children alone, but Roos could run a risk with the agitated Pemoeda’s. Father Sam Moormann is also worried and sends his daughters to Malang, where he hopes that the situation will be more stable. The youngest daughter Ineke also leaves. She had just turned fifteen and gets a job in the kitchen of the Sawahan hospital in Malang. There she meets Roos Engelenburg. They know each other from the nun’s school in Malang. Together they go through perilous times because the situation in Malang is far from safe and stable. Japanese military, by orders from the English military command, guard the hospital that’s surrounded by a barbed wire fence. On October 1st the Japanese have to defend against the charging Pemoeda’s who attack the hospital with weaponry previously owned by the Japanese army. The nursing staff lives in the staff residence, which is located outside the fence of the hospital and is directly in line with the gunfire. The battle goes on for three days and nights. Ineke and Roos were in constant agony as they listened to bullets hitting the walls of the house and the threatening battle cries of the Pemoeda’s. The Japanese minority fights back, but when the number of casualties and injured keeps rising, the Japanese give up.
The regulated Indonesian army (TNI) takes possession of the hospital. The situation is tense and unfriendly, but they allow the wounded to be cared for. Ineke and Roos, basically just kitchen helpers, take care of the wounded and prepare the deceased for burial. Even the hospital corridors are full of bloody victims. It is a horrible experience for the girls. When they walk past a ward with wounded Japanese, Roos began whistling a pensive melody. Apparently one of the TNI soldiers who stood guard didn’t like it. He thinks they are whistling to the Japanese. The girls are marched off to the Marines camp with a bayonet pushed in their backs and to an internment camp further down the road.
After a nasty interrogation they are locked up for a week in a concrete cell with a concrete bench and a little bamboo mat. They only get some rice and soup. Fortunately, after a week they are released. The stress endured from captivity and the horror of all the injured and dead people they had to take care of, left the girls with a traumatic mental breakdown. Meanwhile the situation in Watesbelung also got worse.
On October 10 the chief government of Malang announced an official boycott of the (Indo) European community. Nobody was allowed sell them anything. Water and electric power was cut off, taxis and betjak (bike driven rickshaw) drivers were forbidden to take Indo and Dutch passengers. Their deceased were to be carried manually to the cemetery and buried by themselves. In Watesbelung, Bienki and his cronies ensured that these regulations were followed. This was just the beginning. On October 17, a general arrest warrant is issued for all Indo, Dutch and European men and boys over fourteen. Father Moormann and his sons, just returned from the Japanese prisons, were taken to the prison in Malang. Grandpa Engelenburg was also interned. His young wife and his daughter-in-law were left alone and unprotected with the eight children. With the men gone, Riep Moormann in Watesbelung felt unsafe in the big house. Ineke heard this later from the Indonesian neighbors who sympathized with them, but could be of little help. Any aid given to the Belanda’s, the non-Indonesians, was a betrayal of the republic.
Fortunately for Riep, Tineke Boogaard, Ineke’s best friend from the convent school, was staying at her house. “She was an orphan,” says Ineke. “When the war broke out she was put in a foster family. The 18-year-old son of this foster family got her pregnant. For us Roman Catholics that was considered a big scandal. I was not allowed to talk to her after Sunday mass. Big nonsense of course. Tineke was only 13 or 14 years old, it was a huge burden for her. The baby was stillborn and my mother took care of Tineke.”
In the large city of Surabaya, a half hour drive from Malang, the tension between the population and the English troops increases and fighting erupts. The rage in Surabaya is broadcasted over the radio and spreads among the Pemoeda’s in Malang and the neighboring mountain villages. The terror gets fiercer. Riep and the two children are ordered by the Pemoeda’s to permanently stay indoors. There were no exceptions for getting water from the river. Fortunately the rainy season just started, which helps, but after a while the hunger is unbearable. Riep and the children wait in fear of their fate. Ineke: “Mr. Atema did put his life on the line in those days to provide mother, Clem, and Tineke with food and drink, during all those nights. He deserves Eternity in Heaven.”
And then, suddenly all hell broke lose! Ineke: “What I know I have heard from Mr. Eliasar, our Indonesian neighbor (he is not alive anymore). Seven Pemoeda’s went through the villages. Against all orders, brother Clem was outside in the street when they arrived. Clem was dragged into our house and there they began working their machetes on him. Mom tried to get help from Mr. Eliasar. She went to his house with big head and neck wounds from the machetes. His house was five minutes from ours. As good as he could, he helped her with the wounds and sent her back home. Yes, it’s understandable, he was terrified that they would do harm to his family. Indonesians who helped Caucasians were not safe. In great anguish mother, as good as she was able, stumbled back home. Other residents in the neighborhood later told me that my brother Clem and Tineke Boogaard were then still alive—although both were mortally injured. They had thrown them in the bomb shelter, the one we built behind the house, and were left to their fate. That’s where they all died. Out of fear, nobody in the neighborhood dared to do anything. The Pemoeda’s, in rage, destroyed everything in the house and then set it on fire. And then they went to Ngadireso, where the Engelenburgs lived”.
It took a long time for Roos Engelenburg to gather her strength and continue to describe what had happened. The text she sent me is touching in its sparseness and precision. “What happened on the 29th October 1945: I heard from our nanny who I’d met in Ngadireso in 1991. My mother was not present at the time the children were murdered. She was washing our pots and pans at the well (about fifteen minutes walk from our house). She saw what had happened when she came back. Our nanny had run away as fast as she could and was in hiding for a week before she returned. Then they killed my mother. People in our village told me that one of the murderers committed suicide later in his life. A few kilometers from us lived a woman, who we called Grandma Deuning. She was murdered by her foster son.” Grandma Deuning (63) was not cincang-ed (hacked in pieces), but they hanged her. Perhaps this was meant to be a less gruesome death than being hacked to death with machetes?
There were more victims than the fourteen in this ‘Macabre Orgy in the Mountains’ story. At the end of October 1945, the Pemoeda’s murdered a total of 39 people in the four mountain villages: Tumpang, Watesbelung, Ngadireso and Poncokusumo. The victims were mostly women and children. After my query about the list of names of those murdered people in the four mountain villages in October 1945, the Oorlogsgravenstichting or the War Graves Foundation, sent me a complete list of the casualties. In 1948, the ODO (Investigation Service for Deceased War Victims) with directions from Eliasar, who himself had buried 28 victims with his two sons at the time, exhumed the bodies. Eliasar felt that it was his Christian duty. He paid dearly for that act of charity. Suspected of “anti-republic feelings” he was arrested and imprisoned for more than three months in one of the cells of the Field Police barracks in Tumpang. When he returned to his house in Watesbelung, it was completely looted. This was all accurately noted in a police report in 1948, when Malang was again under Dutch rule. At that time, several Indonesian witnesses were interrogated. In those police files are several reported names of possible perpetrators. One of those was a certain “Bini—a 40 year old Soto-food seller.” Nobody was arrested. Too much time had past.
Alex drowned in the battle of the Java Sea and Clem was murdered before the Pemoeda’s started on their rampage for the Moormann and the Engelenburg families. Although violence had already taken place in the lower lying town of Toempang, Ineke and Roos could not inform the others about anything. In a 1948 police report, a witness, Doelsaid Gondongan, described what he had seen in Toempang. He recounts “a murderous orgy that I have personally observed. It was the murder of Mrs. W., Ms S., and their relatives.” Before the massacre started, the Dutch were not allowed to buy food and water (because of the boycott). Two or three days after the extremists arrived at Mrs. S’s home they asked the sister-in-law of Mrs. S., a Menadonese woman from one of the Indonesian islands, the following: “Madam, what is your ethnicity? If you want to be saved, you must leave from here and not mingle with the Belanda’s, Dutch, or Indo’s. If you don’t leave, you’ll find out what the consequences shall be.” The sister-in-law of Mrs. S. replied: “I’m married to ‘Tuan’ (the brother of Mrs. S.). How can I leave him in these difficult circumstances? I lived happily with him and should I now leave him in these tragic circumstances and divorce him? Is that not humane?” After hearing these words, the extremists left.
After a few days they reappeared and the massacre took place. The extremist’s armed with machetes massacred the women. One of the victims was the twelve-year-old Bobby (grandson of Mrs. S.). Bobby’s body was gebatjokt (pierced with a machetes) but he was not killed immediately. While he was still standing on his feet, the extremists buried him alive. “Oh, it was so barbarous”.
The bodies of all 39 victims were reburied in 1948 at Kembang Kuning, Surabaya, where they now lie together. Because regulations have to be followed, I saw the eight Engelenburg children at Kembang Kuning all together and not the two mothers. They are buried separately from them in the adult section. “I felt so sad”, said a relative of the Moormanns family who attended the reburial. Riep Moormann, her son Clem, and Tineke Boogaard all lie together. They escaped the regulations. The Bersiap time lasted from October 1945 to March 1946. In that short amount of time, 20,000 Dutch and Indo’s disappeared on Java and the other islands—mostly women and children. Only 4,000 slain bodies were found.
Translated from “Dodentocht In De Bergen” by: Willem ten Wolde
Black & White Pictures: Collectie Ineke van Oers-Moormann
Color Photo’s: Theo Bakkenes
Other pictures of this story can be found at: http://www.hansvervoort.nl/index.php?page=_&floatingpageId=3&photoalbumId=15851
If you like to get more documentation (for ezample the complete list of casualties), you can mail email@example.com
Literatuur: Bersiap, door H. Bussemaker (Walburg Pers 2005)