On the Indische Kwestie, Back Pay and Human Rights

Announcing: a special editorial series by Inez Hollander, Ph.D.

Van oude mensen en de dingen die voorbijgaan (Of Old People and the Things that Pass) is a famous novel by Dutch author Louis Couperus, which deals with an Indies family, living a seemingly harmonious life in The Hague. However, the family is haunted by a terrible secret from the past. The reality is that, as William Faulkner put it so well: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The same goes for the so-called Indische Kwestie, or the issue of (not) paying out the war damages and compensation to Dutch and Indo soldiers and civilians (and their children; about half a million people) who were living in the Dutch East Indies when the Japanese invaded at the start of WWII: losing relatives in Japanese internment camps and prisons, people didn’t only come out of the camps damaged psychologically, but 95% lost homes, bank accounts, insurance policies, cars, agricultural tools and resources, household goods, clothes, jewelry, art etc. These material goods were confiscated by the Japanese when people were interned, and shortly after WWII, when a power vacuum triggered a period of lawlessness (the Bersiap), much of the remaining or reclaimed property was plundered and taken by so-called rampokkers or Indonesian plunderers.

The loss of life was bad enough and compared to that, material damages may have seemed a trivial thing to claim. Yet, compared to Dutch victims who had been through the war in the Netherlands, and compared to the victims of other Allied nations who had been through the same war in Asia, the Dutch government managed to kick the can down the road when it came to the Indies and Indo victims and their families. Not until last year, did the Dutch government, under Prime Minister Rutte, offer a piddling gesture of a one-time amount in terms of back pay to the last 1100 surviving colonial soldiers and civil servants. Families, wives and children who had been in the camps as well and had suffered similar losses were not eligible for this particular compensation.

This was much too little, and much too late. In fact, this treatment, compared to how the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany and France have dealt with the war damages of their civilians, is unnecessarily cruel and unjust. One has to wonder if this is turning into a blatant human rights violation in view of the number of years that have passed by, the scope of the number of victims, and the seriousness of their damage (material and immaterial, back pay and otherwise).

Because many Indos worldwide (and outside of the Netherlands) may have heard about the Indische Kwestie but may not have followed this story in great detail, The Indo Project has decided to do an exclusive series. We want to make this information available in English, and with the kind of detail that will give Indies and Indos families abroad a better background and sense of this tragedy of Dutch indifference, which has been going on for more than seventy years now.

So stay tuned for the first installment!



  1. The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of INHUMANITY. See George Bernard Shaw, The Devil’s Disciple.

  2. My father was a police inspector in a large city in East Java before the Japanese invasion. He was a POW for three and a half years. Within days of being freed, he was again taken prisoner by the extremist Indonesians and very badly mistreated by them.
    After he was freed, he was transferred to the water Department of that city and subsequently appointed commandant of the fire brigade which he rebuilt with the help of the men he recruited. He was given the Ridder of Oranje Nassau for his services. However, in spite of all of this, he was denied the WUV. He spent many many years appealing that decision with no success.
    Last year, on only my second and last trip back to the country of my birth, another (very very Dutch) member of the tour group stated blatantly that the Dutch in the Indies had a better time during the war than did the Dutch in Holland. What are the history teachers in the Netherlands teaching their students about the war in Asia?

  3. They say how educated Dutch people are.Then i ask myself what happen? An official working for the Dutch government (WUV) not knowing the difference between an Indo Nederlander and an Indonesian national. WOW. Perhaps the WUV and WUBO employees should take some refreshment courses in history.

  4. I was interviewed on May 20th, 2013
    Social Reporter: Bo Smitham for the WUV, which is part of the SVB.
    This person was at that time living in Orange County. During the interview she also asked me my nationality. I am still Dutch and showed her my passport.
    Few weeks later I received a report based on the interview. First it was full of mistakes, which I corrected. The worst thing was that she referred to me as being Indonesian. Being an Indonesian had been repeated constantly.
    After this report I sent the SVB a report about her with the request to fire her.

  5. I was disappointed with the interviewer who came to my house. The things she said and expected me to remember. I was only a kid.

  6. Some lady came to my house to interview me. Told her that I was in a Japanese camp and then in a camp Banjubiro (?) I had to give her names of people who were in the same camp. I only know “tante Sof”.. the interviewer was asking for a last name. How can I give her that, I only was a little girl. My mom passed away already. She also said: “well you have a good life now”. What an interviewer she was.

  7. Please do NOT forget that the money spent on the Indo refugee, for the boat trip to The Netherlands and the stay in the “contract pensions” Had to be REPAID to the Dutch Government.

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