The Bersiap

The Bersiap

‘Be prepared! ” This cry of Indonesian independence fighters was the indication for a turbulent and violent period during

1945-1946 in the former Dutch East Indies.

Bersiap is the name given by the Dutch to a violent and chaotic phase of Indonesia’s revolutionary period following the end of World War II. The Indonesian word bersiap means ‘get ready’ or ‘get prepared’.  Targeted were Europeans, Indo-Europeans and any alleged pro-Dutch civilians that included mostly native born Indo-European, Indo-Chinese, Christian indigenous people (e.g. Menadonese and Ambonese) and indigenous aristocracy, which made the Bersiap period a chaotic mix of civil war, religious conflict and social revolution.  The Bersiap period lasted from August 1945 to December 1946. (Source: Wikipedia)

Chaos, violence, lawlessness, we know the images from Syria, Sudan or Somalia. Only two generations ago the same things overcame tens of thousands of Dutch people in the former Dutch East Indies during the period called the Bersiap when approximately 20,000 people died.  While the Netherlands was busy rebuilding after WWII, there raged in their colony a bloody battle among the Indonesians, English and Dutch. At stake was the independence of the Republic of Indonesia.

After the Japanese capitulated on August 14, 1945 and Japanese forces gradually withdrew, a vacuum of power existed in the former Dutch East Indies. There was no Dutch army present as most were either killed or captured by the Japanese during the war and made prisoners of war.  The Indonesian revolutionary fighters, emboldened with nationalistic fervor during the Japanese occupation of this Dutch colony, targeted the Dutch civilians, many women and children, who had recently emerged from the Japanese prison camps.  British Forces were dispatched to protect these Dutch civilians, most of whom were in a weakened and extremely vulnerable state, caught in the middle of this chaotic time. Nearly 20,000 individuals were indiscriminately killed between August 1945 and December 1946.  The Bersiap ended when the Dutch had rebuild their military capacity resulting in the departure of the British military in 1946.

During the Bersiap, Indonesian revolutionary fighters were well into the process of forming a formal military structure. It was the start of the Indonesian War of Independence, a period of armed conflict and diplomatic struggle between the Indonesians and the Dutch culminating in the Netherland’s recognition of Indonesia’s independence at the end of 1949.

Resources – English:

  1. Bersiap in Wikipedia (1)
  2. Battle of Surabaya 
  3. Unexpected Allies -Java 1945-1946 – With the 5th Parachute Brigade                        
  4.  East Indies Camp Archives: Bersiap                                      
  5. Who Is Responsible for the “Bersiap”,  Calvin de Wilde Sidjaja  
  6. English translation of article that appeared in De Haagsche Post published on 4 December 1954: Link 1   Link 2  Link 3
  7. Gangsters and Revolutionaries: The Jakarta People’s Militia and the Indonesian Revolution
  8. 1945-1949; Author: Robert Cribb
  9. Java in a time of revolution. Occupation and resistance 1944-1946, B.R.O’G. Anderson,  (Cornell University Press 1972)
  10. Bandung in the early revolution 1945-1946. A study in the social history of the Indonesian revolution, J.R.W. Smail (Ithaca 1964)
  11. Visions and heat. The making of the Indonesian revolution, W.H. Frederick,  (Athens, Ohio 1989)
  12. The British occupation of Indonesia 1945-1946. Britain, the Netherlands and the Indonesian revolution, R. McMillan,  (London and New York 2005)
  13. SEAC in Indonesia; voices from the past?, Dr. P.J. Drooglever at the International Association of Historians of Asia Jakarta, Indonesia, 27th August-1st September 1998
  14. Troubled days of Peace, Peter Dennis, Manchester 1987.
  15. Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia, George McTurnan Kahi.  Published January 1st 2003 by Cornell University Southeast Asia Program
  16. The Indonesian National Revolution 1945-1950. Reid, Anthony. (Publisher: Longman Pty Ltd., Melbourne, 1974)
  17. History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1300. M.C.A. Ricklefs (Second Edition. MacMillan, 1991
  18.  Extremists Run Amok Against Indische Nederlanders, Translated from an article in De Haagsche Post  published on 4 December 1954.
  19. The killing of Dutch and Eurasians in Indonesia’s national revolution (1945–49): a ‘brief genocide’ reconsidered, William H. Frederick, Journal of Genocide Research, 14:3-4, 359-380,  Link:
  20. The Forgotten Killings, Rosalind Hewett. Published Inside Indonesia Magazine 125:  Jul-Sep 2016.
  21. Death March Through The Mountains, original story by Hans Vervoort.  Translated into English by Willem ten Wolde, 2016.


  1. Bersiap in Wikipedia
  2. Bersiap Kampen
  3. Bersiap in Surabaya
  4. Archief van Tranen
  5. Historisch Nieuwsblad: Het Geweld van de Bersiap
  6. Indische School, Na de oorlog: van Bersiap tot Linggadjati, dr H.Th.Bussemaker
  7. Bersiap in Bandoeng. Een onderzoek naar geweld in de periode van 17 augustus 1945 tot 24 maart 1946, M.C. van Delden (Kockengen 1989)
  8. De republikeinse kampen in Nederlands-Indië, oktober 1945-mei 1947. Orde in de chaos? M.C. van Delden,  (Kockengen 2007) – with a summary in English
  9. De bevrijding van de Grote Oost en Borneo (april 1944-april 1946) C. Giebel, Morotai.  (Franeker 1976)
  10. Afscheid van Indië, H.W. van den Doel, (Amsterdam 2000).
  11. Revolutie in Soerabaja. 17 augustus-1 december 1945. W. Meelhuijsen  (Zutphen 2000)
  12. Geschiedkundig overzicht, C. Schouten, RAPWI. (ca. 1947)
  13. Tussen Banzai en Bersiap. De afwikkeling van de Tweede Wereldoorlog in Nederlands-Indië  E. Touwen-Bouwsma and P. Groen (eds.),  (Den Haag 1996)
  14.  ‘Een Indonesische versie van de Bersiap-periode’, Roeslan Abdulgani,  Indonesia-Holland Line, jaargang 5, nr. 37 (31 januari 1987).
  15. Nederlands-Indië 1940–1946; Deel 3, ‘Geallieerd Intermezzo, 1945–1946’  Jacob Zwaan, (Amsterdam)