by Ingrid Dümpel

Emmy Verhoeff was born on December 6, 1939 in the beautiful mountain town of Malang, East Java. She experienced the entire war period in the Dutch East Indies. Shortly after the end of the war, in 1946, she lost her father. He worked for the police and was on patrol. The circumstances of his death must have been terrible. Her mother remarried and Emmy soon had four brothers and a sister.

Identity card Emmy in 1954

In 1955 the family left for the Netherlands, where they first lived in a contract pension. It was a type of boarding house that could be anything from a house with a spare room or attic to a complete hotel rented by the government to serve as temporary accommodation for the repatriates from the former Dutch East Indies – called Indonesia since the Declaration of Independence by Sukarno on August 17, 1945.

In a 'contract pension' in Holland

Art in Image and Form

Emmy was very artistic and pursued a formal education to develop in this direction, which included attending the Academy of Visual Arts in Rotterdam from 1956-1958 and the Institute for Applied Arts Education (now Rietveld Academy) in Amsterdam from 1958 to 1962. In order to pass on these skills, she obtained a teaching certificate in Creativity Development in 1987.

She was increasingly asked to participate in exhibitions. With gratitude, she looked back on her participation in the symposium with the theme “The Child in Hiding” in the RAI (Rijwiel- en Automobiel-Industrie) in Amsterdam. It was the first symposium to deal with Jewish children in hiding during the Second World War. 

Emmy wrote: 

“Following a series of paintings ‘(Playing a) Game is Serious’, in which I depicted the emotions of my ‘child in the war’ in the form of children’s games, plus comparable points of contact and also partly solidarity, I was invited as the only Indies person to participate in this public exhibition. It was also my task to take care of any Indies war victim who would visit this symposium.”

Because there was a great need among the second generation of Indo people to talk about a war they often had not even experienced (or as a very small child), but of which they nevertheless bore the consequences through their silent parents. The Association KJBB, Kinderen van de Japanse Bezetting en de Bersiap 1941-1949 (Children of the Japanese Occupation and the Bersiap 1941-1949), was founded in 1988 as a self-help association from and for the second generation Indo and Moluccan war victims. KJBB provided space for individuals to talk with fellow-sufferers about the personal impacts of the war and how to deal with it. It also became clear that children who had not been in a camp during the war, the Buitenkampers, also bore the marks of this war. Because they lived with their mothers outside of the camps, there was nothing to protect them against the Japanese or Indonesians.

Emmy regularly contributed to exhibitions, alone or in collaboration with other Indo artists. She also gave lectures and workshops at koempoelans, cozy Indo gatherings that included music, snacks, and drinks.

Blindman’s Buff

Work and Illustrations

She developed a special style of drawing and painting and was increasingly asked to make illustrations. The list is long; here are a few highlights: 

When the KJBB asked its members to write their life stories, Emmy made the illustrations, including the collection “Tussen twee werelden” (Between two worlds), a jewel in content and illustrations, was published by the KJBB in 1994.

Emmy illustrated the song book “Uit de zak van de TJELANA MONJET” (Out of the pocket of the PLAYSUIT), including Indies and Indonesian songs, with lyrics and music by Huib Deetman, published by Blimbing Publishers.

'Uit de zak van de TJELANA MONJET'
The Trio Blimbing with Huib Deetman (piano), Jill Stolk (violin) and Emmy Verhoeff (vocals) performed all over the country on the occasion of this release.

Emmy drew the invitation card for the television documentary “De getekende huid” (The marked skin) by Ine Schenkkan. This documentary by Joke Menssink is about a dance project with physically handicapped people led by Rudi van Dantzig († 2012), a Dutch choreographer, dancer and writer. Every rehearsal day Emmy was allowed to make sketches of the disabled dancers. The program was broadcast on January 20, 1997 on Ned. 3.

She also made the delicate illustrations for the children’s book ‘Katek’ by Inge Dümpel, based on instructions and photographs from the author and on Emmy’s own memories of gardens in the Dutch East Indies.

What did Emmy herself say about her passion for drawing and painting? She wrote:

“I try to create a certain atmosphere. I make my own image of reality, the ‘here and now’ linked to the emotion of that moment, the ‘there and then’. I want to express that being Indies in me in my own form and use of color. In order to work with black and white and gray tones, I signed up for courses to gain more in-depth knowledge of the Chinese black and white brush drawing and Balinese painting. Without clearly stating what is from there and what is from here, I look for that which is ‘my part’. I am Indies, a mix of East and West. That’s what I want to work with. Like the Indies writer and poet Madeleine Gabeler says in one of her poems The Best of Both Worlds. And I am addicted to figure drawing and portrait drawing.”

Writing and Journalistic Work

Emmy wrote stories and poems and converted fairy tales into Indies parlance, the petjok. Some of her poems are included in the poetry collection “LAYANGAN” (FLYING KITES), with works by Indies poets only. 

Until April 1997, Emmy was editor-in-chief of Kawatberichten,  the association magazine of the KJBB. And she contributed to the E-zine Blimbing, the first Indies internet newspaper with current affairs, history, etc., of which Huib Deetman was the initiator. She worked intensively with Huib for years. He founded ‘Vrienden van het Indische boek’. Emmy participated in the organization that eventually became a foundation in 1995, with the main objective of propagating Indies literature by giving lectures, symposia, and publications. During that time, Emmy worked as the secretary. Huib Deetman was the Indies ‘pain in the ass’. When he died unexpectedly in 2003, Blimbing ceased to exist.


A reflection from Emmy: 

“My writing has a logical connection with my painting. That Indies in me, the dualism, the contradictions. The confusion that can arise, not only emotionally, but also  communicatively, due to the differences between Indies-Dutch and the disappearance or forgetting of the original idea behind things. To record a past that is slowly disappearing, for the generations after me, so that they don’t have to grope in the dark about what they inherited from my generation. I believe that clarity in this can save a lot of problems and therapies.”

Creative Workshops and Group Discussions

Emmy was also a fashion designer and designed ready-to-wear, but missed the social aspect here. She started teaching drawing, painting and watercolor painting and gave all kinds of workshops, such as awareness through creativity and working with form and color.

Emmy in one of her own designs for the national Book Gala in 1960

After 1982, Emmy mainly focused on working within the Indies community. For example, she worked with Indies war victims over three generations. She gave creative workshops in which she used image and language and led group discussions and reminiscence projects. 

A reflection from Emmy: 

“What concerns me is the boundary between cultural adaptation and loss of individuality. And as for the Indies group I work with… when are problems the result of war traumas and when are they the result of unrecognized cultural differences? My motivation to work as a volunteer within the Indies community originated from the first time I was able to go back to Indonesia and my whole family could get to know my native country. Then I realized how far I had grown away from who and what I was: a nona Indo, an Indies girl. 

With many questions in my head and heart I knocked on the door of the KJBB office. When the door was opened by a man who kindly welcomed me with: ‘It’s good to have you here…come in.’ I knew I was at home. There, with those people (who were a baby, toddler or a small child during the war) who had little or no visual memory of that time, but did have the trauma, I realized how lucky I was with the things I could do and had done. Since creative therapy in the Netherlands was still in its infancy then and I was halfway through my training as a creative therapist, I decided to work for my own people. I understood the language, literally and figuratively, I have/had the ability and the group is/was familiar. In addition, creative therapy was unaffordable and was not reimbursed at the time.”

Emmy and husband Jan in her native country

Emmy Verhoeff passed away in 2018, after a life largely devoted to the Indies world. But she left behind a wealth of knowledge and how you can bring back your Indies roots and use them in the present.


Special thanks to Jan Kesting, Emmy’s husband, who provided photos and information.


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