FeaturedStories2020 Indo Scientist EDWARD E. E. FRIETMAN

Edward E. E. Frietman is a luminary in the Indo community known both in the Netherlands and the United States for his extensive work in academia, sciences and outstanding career accomplishments.

Who is Edward E. E. Frietman?

The recent death of Eddie van Halen and the passing of a number of the musicians and singers starring in Hetty Naaijkens 2019 film “Sounds of Origin” brings up the sad reality of the Indo Community losing some of the luminaries whom we have gotten to know over the years and who have instilled that Indo Pride within our Dutch Indo community. What we Indos often overlook is that there are many other luminaries in the Indo community besides the ones who write, play music, or who act in films.  There are Dutch Indos who work in academia and the sciences who are not well known.  One of those individuals is this accomplished physicist, an unassuming individual whose life story and career accomplishments are not well known. This is his story!

Introduction by Priscilla McMullen

1940 – 2020: My Life in a Blink of an Eye

Part 1: Indonesia (1940 – 1952)

By Edward E. E. Frietman

Being and remaining an Indo means being true to your origins and your principles, bearing in mind that success is not a coincidence, but besides persistence, it involves hard work and constant study.

I was born in Batavia on July 27, 1940, the oldest of three children. My parents lost their middle child (a boy) in 1947 and in 1949 my sister was born in Semarang in 1949.

WWII in the Former Dutch East Indies

My father (forcibly enlisted as a soldier in the KNIL), was captured by the Japanese army in 1942 and immediately transferred abroad to Burma to work on the death railway. His imprisonment in Burma lasted so long that he stayed in almost every prison camp along the railway. He was a sportsman with a strong urge to survive and that probably saved his life.

The Japanese decided that all full-blooded Dutch (Totoks) were to be imprisoned in a Japanese prison camp. If one of your grandparents or parents was of mixed descent, you were not allowed in the camp and rated as a “Buitenkamper“. So, my mother and grandparents lived from 1942 through 1945 in a guarded fenced area (around the Leonielaan) behind the notorious kampung Rawabankè in the Meester Cornelis (Jatinegara) district of Batavia, now known as Jakarta. We had no food, no supplies; the only way we survived was by eating “bajem (spinach)”, “ketella & ubie (tubers)” and the “putjuk (young shoots)” from our papaya tree.

Around 1943, all mothers with a son under two years old, had to report to the Parkhotel in Noordwijk in the center of Batavia. Because Japanese ships still sailed from the Dutch East Indies to Japan, those children were picked up in 1944 and sent to Japan to be trained there as Japanese soldiers. In response, my mother said, “I’d rather jump into a well with my child.” She was beaten badly after making this comment.

After the Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, Indonesian freedom fighters called “pemoedas”, went on a frenzied rampage going after anyone related to the Dutch. During this time, a befriended Indonesian alerted us in the heart of the night that “pemoedas”, armed with spiked bamboo sticks (bamboo roentjing), from kampung Rawabankè had lunged into our guarded fenced area where they started massacring all the families at the entrance of the street. My mother, my grandparents, and I fled for our lives leaving all our belongings behind, through the forest on the way to a “Safe house” (de Goede Herder” also known as Mater Dolorosa) where other families were already waiting for protection. My grandmother, taking care of me all the time, carried me on her back during our flight. All refugees finally ended up at a former Japanese camp called the 10th Bat.

The next morning my mother and grandmother drove in a jeep with four heavily armed Ambonese soldiers to Leonielaan to see if there were still some household goods, photographs, or food to be found. Everything had been destroyed, looted, and burned. There was nothing left: no pictures, no clothes, nothing. My mother sent a telegram for a fee to my father in Burma via the Red Cross. It read “we lost all”.

Our stay at the 10th Bat. was awful. At unexpected moments there were shootings from the barracks behind the camp where the Indonesian revolutionary “Banteng item” brigade was housed. All the children ran to the “gudang” (barn) where they found shelter against flying bullets. “Pemoedas”, carrying grenades on their bodies under their “sarong”, often tried to enter the camp, under the pretext of visiting their families. Fortunately, the camp was now protected by Ambonese soldiers who made short work of these intruders. I witnessed such an execution myself in which an Ambonese soldier decapitated the “pemoeda” on the grounds of the camp.

At one point, amoebic dysentery broke out in 10th Bat. I developed high fevers, became increasingly thin, and hardly ate any more. The military doctor concluded that I already had several intestinal hemorrhages and advised my mother to go to the Children’s Hospital, the former Catholic Primary School, in Meester Cornelis. At the risk of her own life, she took me there where I was admitted with other (later turned out to be dying) people. Fortunately, I recovered from the dysentery, but the amoeba remained dormant in my body for the remainder of my life. Eventually, all the families from the 10th Bat. dispersed. We had to seek refuge on our own and found safety with Chinese friends of my grandparents who owned a pharmacy at Meester Cornelis.

1964 Indo Scientist EDWARD E. E. FRIETMAN
1946 Batavia - Ed & Mom

Life After WWII – The Bersiap

My father did not return until the end of 1946. When the war ended, they gave him 3 months to recover and then sent him to a Gurkha battalion of paratroopers in Burma to be trained and re-deployed in military offensives (“Politionele Acties”) against Indonesian independence fighters in former DEI to restore law and order. The Dutch government was staunchly of the opinion that they could regain their former rule in the former colony by sending Dutch troops. I am still very angry about the decision of the Dutch government that KNIL soldiers, severely weakened by the war and most of them as good as dead, were used for political purposes. I did not recognize my father when he came back to his family. According to my grandmother, I turned away completely from both my parents and took refuge with her.

The “Bersiap” continued to be an integral part of our daily life as every day we were confronted with reports from families who had been massacred in the neighborhood where we lived. We constantly faced danger. When we went to school, all parents on the street ensured that the children stayed together and were accompanied by an adult.

Every night, before we went to bed, all doors facing the walled garden of our house had to be secured. My grandfather was an avid hunter (he owned a double-barreled shotgun and a Winchester) my father had weaponry (pistol, grenade, rifle) from WWII. Myself, only 11 years old at the time, had my own Winchester for hunting purposes. Each door, secured with a wooden beam resting upon two wooden elbows, was equipped with weapons right next to it.  Many times, my father awoke me at night with his hand on my mouth so not to make any sound and positioned me at the door of my bedroom with my own Winchester. All the bedrooms were happily interconnected indoors with a connecting door.

1951 Indo Scientist EDWARD E. E. FRIETMAN
1951 Semarang Broederschool - Edward E. E. Frietman on far right

After the Bersiap, in 1949, my father was appointed as a teacher in mathematics and physics at the Polytechnic School in Semarang. The mental state of my mother worsened; she was suffering from a war syndrome. One of the indications that she could not assess a situation on its merits anymore was the merciless beating she gave me if she suspected that I had done something wrong. My grandmother was always the one who protected me in such cases. The advice of a consulting physician was to leave Indonesia as soon as possible.

When my father decided in 1952 to quit his job as a teacher at the Polytechnic School and leave for the Netherlands, the Indonesian government decided not to allow his departure, because he had to stay for the reconstruction of Indonesia. The only option left for him and his family was to opt for a so-called long leave (a 2-month holiday in the Netherlands) and for the second time in our lives we had to leave everything behind us. My parents, my little sister, and I could only bring one trunk of clothes.

~ Edward E.E. Frietman

Are you an Indo who would like to share your story with The Indo Project? We welcome you to describe your journey. Submit your story!


  1. RIP Edward E E Frietman. Thank you for your contributions to our collective knowledge of the Indo experience.

    One thing that stuck out to me about Mr. Frietman’s story was the part about the mothers who had to relinquish their sons who were under two years old to the Japanese. This was the first time I had heard of this. I wonder what ever happened to those boys who were torn from their mother and transported to Japan. Were they ever reunited? Did they just disappear?

    • Dear Ellen Gerhard,
      A small correction, these were boys under 3 and the decision was made in the name of the Japanese emperor and the mothers received an official document after registration. My mother and I had to flee our house and we lost everything. As for your question what happened to those guys who were transported to Japan. My mother remembered that there was one transport before 1944, but nothing is known about what happened to the boys in Japan.
      It is unknown whether they were ever reunited and where they ended up is also unknown, probably with childless Japanese parents.

  2. Growing up in Meester Cornelis(Jatinegara) I am familiar with the area and history surrounding the time during and after Japanese occupation.
    We were able to stay out of the camps after proving our ancestors were born in Indonesia. My father and neighbor were hiding in the kampong behind us with Chinese friends. My dad and neighbor eventually were told to report to the police. My dad came back but my neighbor did not until much later
    Our home was searched by a band of freedom fighters looking for weapons right after the war was over. They dispersed after the British Sikh Petrol drove by and returned with weapons drawn. But for us it meant we needed to find a safer place. Our neighbor managed to secure a army truck and we loaded what we could carry and were driven near military headquarter in Batavia(Jakarta). We stayed with many other families, sleeping, booking and singing till we dispersed to the surrounding areas like Raden Saleh which were better protected and for some reason had empty houses. My dad resumed his government job until in 1948 when he went on Europees Verlof. We never returned to Indonesia.
    My sympathy goes out to Mr Frietman

    • Thanks for your compassion and sympathy.
      During WWII we lived in the Leonielaan (a street behind the notorious Rawabangkè) in a fenced area under the same conditions as you mentioned in your comments. Most of out street neigbours also ended up in the 10th Bat. near the Koningsplein.
      My dad spend a very long time in Birma, fortunately survived, and when he came back end 1946 we found a room at Jl. Matraman 155 in Meester Cornelis (Jatinegara) and stayed there until 1949, from where we moved to Semarang where he taught at the Technical school.

  3. Thanks for sharing the memories.
    Those who remember their history have the promise and the obligation to do all in their power to provide a better future for the next generation.
    Richard Briët,
    California, November 2020.

    • Edward Frietman,
      November 30, 2020 at 16:21 PM

      Thank you for your valuable response to my biography published by The Indo Project; it is much appreciated.
      In a Dutch Indies generation, where fewer and fewer people from the first generations have remained, any form of information transfer about our history is welcome.
      Edward Frietman,
      The Hague, The Netherlands, November 2020

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