by David Bebelaar
Finding a Box of Letters
Searching for information about my grandparents led me to a box of letters they had written to each other. The correspondence documented their lives as a young couple and all of the experiences they had to navigate together. Their relocation from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies (DEI) to start a new and great life was forever changed by the start of World War II. The box also included letters my Oma received post-war from Prisoners of War (POWs) who were interned with my Opa in Burma.
The letters give great insight into the man my father never knew. The end of the war brought other struggles to my Oma—a widow and young mother. Doing the best for her family was hard during this period, so she sought the best options she could for the both of them. The final recognition of the war efforts—that acknowledged the life and death of my Opa in 2015—helped my family heal wounds that have been passed down for generations.
Time for Love, Time for War, Time to Heal
I wrote the book “TIME: Time for Love, Time for War, Time to Heal” to document my grandparents’ story. This book was the way I was able to know who my Opa and Oma were as people—it is my heart on paper. All I knew during my life was their names and important dates, but nothing about what made them individuals. I started the process of getting all these original letters translated so that I could prepare something to share with my three daughters. I wanted them to know their family history and the character of my grandparents. Members from the August 15 1945 Society in Brampton, Ontario, helped to translate documents and then felt very strongly that this compilation of letters needed to be published. I followed their advice and sought out a self-publishing avenue.
The writing and publication of the book has been an amazing way to build community and connect with others. During the process, the woman who edited the writing contacted me to say thank you. Since the letters from my Oma were from post-war Netherlands, they gave her insight into what her in-laws would have experienced.
Within fifteen minutes of posting the publication of the book across Dutch Facebook groups, a gentleman in The Netherlands contacted me to inform me that he was the best friend of my father in the Japanese camps on Sumatra. He was four and my father was two when they had went into the camp, and his parents had socialized with my Opa and Oma before war. I had never heard of him before as my dad did not speak of that time—due to his post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Indo Project Interview
Batavia, 20 November
My darling Bebetje, Tonight I am going to write early to you. Your last letters were so very cheerful, my wifey. That is, of course, because you see that time is really marching on. Don’t you think that after all it goes fast? When I think about it, it seems a long time ago since you brought me to the train and we were making love to each other in the train to Utrecht. Oh, my angel, I will never forget that!! To be true, initially I had never been burdened by the thought of leaving Holland, but when it came to the point I felt so miserable about it and I did feel how we had absolutely grown together in that time: We truly belong to each other, my Bebetje. I believe we couldn’t be without each other. I feel quite distinctly in the time that I am here now, even though we write each other so often, that I miss you, my dearest. That feeling will never go away. We must make our marriage so that it will be an example here in Indie.
Batavia, 1 December 1936
My precious girl, This will be the last letter I address to Miss Oltmans. The next one I will write to my own little wife. I find it almost like a dream. I get just so, without any ado, a little wife without noticing anything. It is really as if I fell asleep at night, dreamed that I was marrying, then woke up, and when I woke up and boom, it was true. My dearest Bebetje, I know for sure that we will be very happy together and stay that way.
Eindhoven, 11 December 1945
Darling Bé and darling Woutertje, When we heard about a year and a half ago that Jaap had died and heard that he died a year earlier we were totally shocked and upset. We always loved Jaap very much. He was still so young. We couldn’t believe it. And for you, it must be terrible and dreadful. We can imagine it because here in Holland terrible things have also happened. Many died in concentration camps or were executed. Bé, we wish you strength. We always thought of you and Woutertje. And Jaap, we remember as a fine and warm man. We hope that Woutertje has that same sunny and friendly character from his father.
Friday 14 August 2015
Dear Bebelaar family and guests, I would like to start this decoration ceremony with the playing of the National Anthem of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (playing of “Het Wilhelmus”). Tomorrow, 15 August, seventy years ago, the Japanese armed forces capitulated, and with that the second World War officially came to an end. Today, we are here together to award a decoration of honour, posthumously, to Sergeant Jacob Bebelaar and Private Maurits Cornelis Cramer
DAVID BEBELAAR is the eldest son of Walter (Wouter) Bebelaar. Walter and his mother were interned in Japanese Concentration camps in Sumatra during WWII. Walter’s father Jacob (Jaap) was a POW of the Japanese and died working on the Burma Railway. David has sought to honor the memory of his father and grandparents by telling their stories, through their letters, and has received a posthumous war medal for his grandfather. He has also assisted other families in acquiring posthumous war medals for their loved ones.
More information about the full book of letters can be found here.
The book can be purchased at these online stores:
The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information and content of this article.
Were you inspired by the author’s journey of chronicling his family’s history? Did you too have some personal letters chronicling your parents’ or grandparents’ journey? Please share with The Indo Project with comments below.
Thank you for your story and family history. I am also of Dutch-Indonesian ancestry. My father and his mother lived in Java during World War II, and my grandfather died as a POW after the ship arrived in Japan. I do not know much history, as my parents only told us a little bit about the war days. They didn’t want to talk about it either. I am looking forward to reading your book and filling in some blanks to my own story. Sincerely, Joyce
Joyce: As we are both from the same generation, I understand your need to know more of what our family members went through. Letters written to grandmother (Oma) by POW’s who were with my grandfather (Opa) in Burma where he passed away, were eye opening. Feel free to contact me as I’m sure we share life experiences based on our family history. If you want to explore receiving a posthumous war medal for your grandfather, I have contacts who look to honour that generation. My webpage has my contact information , http://www.davidbebelaarauthor.com
Because my family was also on Sumatra when the war broke out, I purchased this book. I can attest the book has been meticulously researched and there is quite a bit of documentation and photos of important documents. I can’t wait to read it and compare notes with my own family stories. I am thankful this factual book is part of my own Indo library! Cheers!
Monica: Thanks for noting that you have purchased my book. All the documents displayed in the book are original documents that I found in amoungst the letters. To find the condelense letter written to my Oma from Queen Wilhelmina was amazing. The discovery has continued as I have been provided copies of the Birth registrations for both my Opa and my Oma, as well as the paperwork for their proxy wedding December 10, 1936. In March of 2020 I received some items from my dads wife, and one of the items, which I have confirmed with a contact who’s mother was in the same camps as my father, to be the dogtag that my dad wore during the war. I look forward to connecting with you to hear your family story. My webpage has my email address and my cell number. http://www.davidbebelaarauthor.com
I’m an Indo and live in SE Asia. Both my grandfathers were POWs. When traveling in Myanmar, I passed the WW2 cemetery, I took pictures of the many tomb stones with Dutch names. I will check my pics again .