Family StoryHistoryStories

By Ronny Geenen (IndoWorld)

Roots in the Dutch East Indies

My youngest sister Peggy Geenen was born in Padang, in the former Dutch East Indies, during World War ll in 1943. Over 50 years later, in 1996, she, her friend Jaap, and six others decided to take a trip through the islands Sumatra and Java, to trace their Indonesian roots.

The War in Asia

For the Geenen family, our freedom story started after the war in Asia had ended. Women, little children, and men of our family were set free after three and a half years from the Japanese concentration camp Bangkinang, in west Sumatra. During the years 1944 and 1945 our father, Eddie Geenen, and about thirty others, were all employees of the Ombilin Coal Mines in Sawahlunto and had been tortured for many months by the Japanese Kempeitai. They were accused of sabotaging the train track from Padang to Fort De Kock. That particular track had not been maintained during the war and the train could not make the trip up the hill to Fort de Kock.

After WWII

Of the more than thirty men, only twelve survived the war. Our father needed medical attention badly. The Geenen family, our father, mother, grandmother, a young niece, and myself and my three siblings were shipped on the Sibajak from Padang to Batavia. Our father Eddie ended up in CBZ (Centrale Burgerlijke Ziekeninrichting) hospital. Our mother and the family moved into one of the homes located in a former concentration camp in Cideng. Our father could not survive the Japanese treatment and died on August 15, 1948. He was taken to his last resting place at Tanah Abang cemetery.

Reflections from Indonesia, A Story of My Sister Peggy

In 1996, Jaap and I went to Tanah Abang Cemetery in Jakarta. The cemetery has been reduced in size and replaced by several buildings, including a museum. At the gate there was a friendly guard, who immediately came to help us. I explained to him that I wanted to find my father’s graveyard and Eddie Geenen’s white stone inscribed with blue text.

He immediately walked to the longest wall and we followed and looked at all the tiles that were bricked in. Jaap decided to walk ahead and went faster along the tiles. Suddenly he turned, grabbed me by the shoulders and said: “Here’s your father’s tile.” 

An indescribable emotion overtook me, because after a long search we had found it! Jaap left me alone with our father for a while. After a while, we had to say goodbye for the time being and went back to the hotel.

Deer at our Father’s Grave

Walking to the gate, Jaap suddenly said:  “Look Peg, a deer.” Together we walked carefully towards the deer. The little animal let us approach her. I gave my camera to Jaap and asked him to keep taking pictures. I knelt down by the deer and started stroking her over her flank and head.

She allowed it all, looked at me tightly and lovingly almost humanly, with her beautiful warm brown eyes. She did not blink her eyes. One moment I looked to the left and to my surprise we were exactly in line with my father’s tile. I looked at the deer again and asked: “Is Daddy Ed maybe in you? Daddy Ed, give me a sign that you are in this deer.”

To my surprise, a yellow light appeared in both eyes as if a light had been turned on. I could not describe my feelings. I continued to caress her until I thought she had had enough. But no, because she even put her head in my lap. Unspeakable!

Then the time had come to say goodbye. We walked to the open gate. The deer walked with me. I said goodbye and gave her a hug. To my surprise, she stayed inside the gated area and just looked at us.

The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information and content of this article.

Have you or your family traveled to Indonesia to find traces of your family history? Would you like to inspire others? Please submit your story on The Indo Project website.


  1. Amazing story! It is not uncommon for wild animals, including deer, to visit gravesites or cemeteries, as these areas can provide food, water, and shelter. In urban areas, cemeteries and other green spaces may be some of the only areas where wildlife can find these resources. If deer are visiting a gravesite in Tanah Abang, Jakarta, it is possible that they are attracted to the vegetation or other resources that are available there. It is generally not harmful for deer to visit gravesites, and they can be interesting and enjoyable for people to observe.

  2. Amazing that the deer let you do that!! Even more amazing about the yellow light in its eyes! Thank you for telling us about your family history and respect to the memory of your dear Father.

  3. Very much appreciated, Indo Project folks. Later I found out thru the Nederlands Gravenstichting, taht museum Taman Prasasti owns all the remaining graveyards. Many of the remains has been removed and dump outside Jakarta in an empty place. According to the information from the Dutch Gravenstichting, nobody knows where.

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