The Indisch Kwestie: Developments in the 1960s and 1970s: Part IV

A Special Indo Project Editorial Series.  By Inez Hollander, Ph.D..

While the first migrants/refugees from the Dutch East Indies came over after WWII had ended, the total number of people that came to the Netherlands between 1945 and 1980 was about 320,000. The cost of repatriation for the Dutch government was 879,000,000 guilders (travel back to the Netherlands, housing, food, clothing, furniture etc). This was not relief or refugee care in the orthodox sense of the word: people were expected to pay back every penny of what they had received, and according to Herman Bussemaker, 76% of that cost was indeed paid back by the migrants themselves (Indisch Verdriet, p. 91). 

Many, and especially Indos, but totoks as well, did not feel welcome at all. There was a housing shortage in the Netherlands right after the war and even though these migrants spoke Dutch and assimilated more successfully into Dutch society than any other refugee/migrant group in Dutch history, they were discriminated against.

In addition, among the native Dutch, there was a complete lack of understanding and sense of context of what people had gone through (loss of life under the Japanese, torture by the Japanese, internment camps, lack of medical care, starvation, loss of property, missed education and feelings of uprootedness when coming to the Netherlands). Because of Dutch animosity and discrimination, not to mention the cold and rainy weather, many Indos decided to leave again and more than 10% of the total group migrated elsewhere, to the US, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The largest group ended up in the US (mostly Florida and California) and this group consists now of more than 100,000 American Indos many of whom have struggled with questions of identity (or Indodentity) due to this double diaspora. 

Also, because these people had moved away from the Netherlands, they immediately were kept out of the loop for follow-up care and compensation, which was offered in the Netherlands, albeit on a very limited basis, i.e.:

 

  • Stichting Pelita (1948-1975: 25,000 payments to war victims who had to prove through a very extensive, and therefore painful process that they had been truly traumatized by the war and its aftermath)
  • 1947 Wet Buitengewone Pensioenen (WBP): for people who had served in the resistance, and their descendants
  • 1964 RO Rijksgroepsregeling Oorlogsgetroffenen (War Victims), which was part of the Bijstandswet (or dole)

The majority of the 320,000 war victims didn’t receive anything in spite of above mentioned arrangements and it wasn’t until the 1980s that two new laws were introduced to benefit the former colonial war victims, i.e.:

  • 1980 Wet Uitkering Indische Geïnterneerden (Benefits for Internment Camp Victims)
  • 1986 Wet Indisch Verzet (Benefits for people who had resisted the Japanese)

In 2015, the Dutch government settled the last outstanding obligation, i.e. the Back Pay Arrangement for a mere 1100 survivors of whom only about 600 have received their 25,000 euro-premium thus far. Please note that the Netherlands was the last Allied country to settle the backpay affair, and therewith closed the discussion of any further payments and/or compensation claims made by the war victims of the Dutch East Indies once and for all. 

In the meantime, however, the Netherlands had been receiving money from the Thai, Indonesian and Japanese governments over the years, and the crucial question here is: where did this money go if it didn’t go to the victims?

For example, in 1965, when Sukarno was replaced by Suharto and diplomatic relations between Indonesia and the Netherlands improved, the Dutch government was not too timid about presenting Indonesia with a bill of Dutch losses incurred during the decolonization and the Sukarno years. This led to the Wassenaar Treaty (September 7th, 1966) which prescribed that Indonesia would pay a lump sum of close to 700 million guilders. With the treaty all future claims by any individuals or parties expired, so the earlier loophole argument of the Dutch government (see earlier parts in this series) that war victims in the Indies would have to address their claims with Indonesia (and setting of the war at the time), was basically closed (and signed away) by Dutch government officials without any input of the war victims themselves.

Of the nearly 700 million guilders, the Dutch government pocketed 223 million guilders itself and the rest went mostly to Dutch companies that had been lost after the war and not to the actual war victims.

One could argue that with the Wassenaar Treaty, the moral obligation to pay the war victims and backpay claimants was inherited by the Dutch government, but once again, the victims were thrown under the bus completely. 

Conveniently, in the 1960s, the Netherlands went through a cultural revolution and changed from a conservative country (and former empire) into a small and progressive country. The colonial heritage became a source of shame and guilt, which was pushed under the rug and not taught in school anymore. As a result, the former colonial class was associated with an evil past of colonial exploitation and greed. This change in perception made it even harder for war victims from the Indies to claim any sort of benefit or recognition for what they had gone through. 

Ironically, the Netherlands, which gained a reputation in those years for standing up for human rights and refugees worldwide, had a complete blind spot when it came to the human rights violations of its own war victims in the Dutch East Indies, whose suffering and rights had not been properly acknowledged, assessed or compensated for, over time. 

The invisibility of the war and suffering in the Indies under the Japanese came to the fore even more when Emperor Hirohito (a war criminal not unlike Hitler) visited the Netherlands in 1971 and was a guest of Queen Juliana at Soestdijk Palace. Comedian Wim Kan and survivor of the Burma Railway Line organized a protest which had little effect. 

The piece he wrote and performed at the time still feels raw, and maybe even more so because the Indische Kwestie hasn’t been resolved 72 years after the war came to an end. These are Wim Kan’s words:

There aren’t too many people left to tell their tale.

The enemy killed one third of them:

they sleep in a burlap sack,

the Burma sky, their roof.

The camps have been deserted, the cells are empty.

There are hardly any people left to their tale.

[…]

And yet, there is still one

Who can tell their tale

Someone who knows this history like no other:

The Emperor of Japan.

Since they didn’t hang him

Couldn’t there have been anyone, at least one, 

at Soestdijk there, at that dinner,

Who could have asked what exactly had been going on

at the time, over there in Burma,

At that railroad…

with those dead people, and the sick

and the hunger in those cells.

Surely, he could have, while he ate,

told their tale, and could have told it well… 

Wim Kan performed this more than 40 years ago, and the Indische Kwestie still hasn’t been resolved.

Pretty soon, there will be no one left who can tell the tale or its aftermath. 

What we can tell you is how little the Dutch government has reimbursed its Burma Railroad victims. In the Volkskrant of May 30th, 2015, Griselda Molemans writes that when the Burma Railroad was sold to Thailand in 1947, the Dutch government received an impressive sum of 1.6 million guilders. 17,399 of the forced laborers at Burma were Dutch. Those who were eligible for any compensation were the people who had actually survived and worked at the railway, but not those who died en route to the railway nor did the widows or their children, many of whom had been in camps as well, and could have used the money to rebuild their lives after the war. That too, is the Indische Kwestie and another disturbing allegation that the Dutch government didn’t only receive money from Thailand (in addition to Indonesia and Japan) but that the government has been far from transparent with that money, and that, in the end, a large sum of that money may not been properly paid out to its victims. That is the truly dark story here but if we don’t engage as a community now, together, pretty soon

There won’t be any people left to tell this tale…

Curious about the rest of this story? Follow The Indo Project (www.theindoproject.org), or better yet: DONATE on behalf of theIndische Kwestie so that we can use these funds to gain widespread attention for this story that ought to be shared with the international community, so that it doesn’t fall through the cracks of world history. 

Check  video – in Dutch, click on image below.

6 Comments on “The Indisch Kwestie: Developments in the 1960s and 1970s: Part IV

  1. My father and my uncle, “shared the Japanese or Hirohito Death Railway in Burma with Wim Kan. My uncle was the husband of my mother’s older sister who died a week before we entered the Japanese internment camps, and she left my mother, who had promised her to take care of her children, with her five children and my brother and me.

    The two fathers were already taken away from us in Jember and we fled from Jember to Soerabaja soon after. They ended up in Burma with Wim Kan. When I hear Wim Kan’s poem that you put down in your blog, it’s like being in the middle of their misery. It described it so well. My fater never wanted to tell about his survival of the Death Railway in Burma. Actually we never talked about ours.
    But now I better understand what they endured and feel ashamed that I complain about my own treatment by those cruel Japanese in our internment camps all those years.
    I feel lucky that I was a child and not a father or a mother with family to think off on top of your own misery. I love Wim Kan for all what he did later and fighting this number one war criminal, Hirohito coming the The Netherlands to meet the queen. Wim Kan a Great guy.
    A Great Hero.

    These Death Railway slaves both in Burma and Indonesia and all the other Dutch slaves of Hirohito’s imperial Japanese army were thrown by the wayside by the Dutch government. Insult to Injury.
    My father told me, Remember this. If you sacrifice yourself for your country, your country will not care less about you afterwards. A very wise lesson indeed.

    • Thanks Willem — it’s sad but true. When wars happen, the casualties are always the civilians, never the governments and unless we start to understand that we can maybe prevent wars for future generations. Thank you also, for all you do for the Indo Project

  2. Mijn Engels is van dien aard, dat ik het niet woordelijk kan vertalen in het Nederlands. De strekking van dit bericht begrijp ik wel.
    Ik heb een vriend wonen in Brazilië, die in het Jappenkamp heeft gezeten in Bandoeng. Hij is 92 jaar. Ik heb hem op de hoogte gebracht, dat er 25.ooo Euro uitgekeerd wordt aan hen, die in het Jappenkamp hebben gezeten. Ik wist van 2 broers, die in de Glodok-gevangenis gezeten hebben in de Jappanse bezetting, zonder dat zij iets hebben aangevraagd er zomaar op hun Bankrekening 25.ooo Euro gestort werd. Deze broers zijn 92 jaar en 89 jaar. Dus ik dacht, dat mijn vriend in Brazilië ook recht had. Hij heeft de uitkering niet gekregen. En waarom niet, omdat hij voor de 2de Wereldoorlog niet in dienst was van het Gouvernement. Maar dat waren deze broers ook niet. Ik heb de SVB (instantie van de uitkering) een e-mail gestuurd, dat ik vind, dat er met 2 maten gemeten wordt. Antwoord van de SVB was, je moet hebben gewerkt voor de 2de Wereldoorlog en nou komt het je moet in het Verzet hebben gezeten. En dat hebben deze broers, die hebben zich Verzet. ????????????
    Ook het Hoger Beroep van mijn vriend is afgewezen. Hij heeft geen zin meer om te protesteren. Hij zegt:” Ik doe het niet, ik ben moe ” Hij heeft nooit wat gekregen. De reden was, omdat hij na de oorlog rechtstreeks ge-emigreerd is uit Indonesië naar Brazilië.
    Dit is mijn verhaal.

    • Beste JvdWater-Eisinger (I will write this reply in both Dutch and English)

      Dit is nu precies de essentie van de Indische Kwestie. De BackPay-regeling was idd voor soldaten en ambtenaren (die in 2015 nog in leven waren) maar dit kwam veel te laat en vooral als je het vergelijkt met de andere geallieerde landen (zie eerdere delen van deze serie). Ook is het schrijnend hoe geïnterneerden in Indië naast het net gevist hebben en niks gekregen hebben als het gaat om erkenning of compensatie. Ook dit is een groot verschil met hoe andere geallieerde landen hiermee omgesprongen zijn. Of vergeleken met hoe Nederland wel klaarstond voor slachtoffers van WO2 binnen Nederland. Het moge ook duidelijk zijn dat Nederland niet alleen bedragen heeft gekregen van Thailand, Indonesië en Japan, maar dat er alle transparantie ontbreekt als het gaat om wie dat geld wel en niet ontvangen heeft wanneer we het hebben over de slachtoffers. Uw vriend is moegestreden. Ik begrijp het maar al te goed. Daarom moeten de tweede en derde generatie de fakkel nu oppakken en deze strijd voortzetten. Nederland heeft geprofiteerd van de koloniale periode maar ook van de oorlog ten koste van de Indische en Indo-bevolking en gemeenschap.
      ENG translation: This is the crux of the Indische Kwestie. The BackPay arrangement was indeed for soldiers and civil servants exclusively (i.e. those who were still alive in 2015) but this came much too late, and especially if you compare it to other Allied countries (see earlier parts of this series). It’s particularly jarring also to see how camp survivor received little to no recognition or compensation over the years. This too, is a big difference with how other Allied countries took care of this, or compared to how Netherlands did reimburse war victims of WWII inside the Netherlands. The Netherlands didn’t just receive lump sums from Thailand, Indonesia and Japan, there has been zero transparency as to who did and who didn’t receive any money when it comes to the victims. Your friend is tired of fighting. I understand and respect that. All the more reason, however, for the 2nd and 3rd generation to continue the fight. The Netherlands did not only profit from the colonial period, it also profited from the war at the cost of the Indies and Indo population and community. The Indo Project wants to take this to the international level but we need your support and donations to make this happen as we’re an all-volunteer organization.

  3. And that is exactly why I have so little love for what the red-white-and-blue stands for. Why celebrate a King’s day when the Koninkrijk der Nederlanden doesn’t give a f#ck about us Indischen, nor about the Molukkers. All we ever got from NL is stank voor dank plus a stab in the back.
    But hey, go ahead, be proud of everything ‘Dutch’ and bow for your king, while our patents and grandparents roll over yet another time in their graves…
    If you truly want to be respected, and done just, you… we gotta start respecting ourselves first, djangan loepa, don’t forget that, niet vergeten s.v.p.
    One love, Satu bangsa, Satu hati…
    Edwin Linders
    http://www.doSinyo.com

  4. Regarding Wassenaar treaty of 1966, officially Dutch companies like individuals were compensated for only 10-15% of their claims.

    Moreover Dutch companies could deduct the 85-90% of their claims as losses from their corporate income, so they paid less taxes.

    After all the companies got a 100% compensation.

    The individuals from Ned.Indie on the contrary paid twice 1) 10-15% compensation and they paid through taxes the claims of the companies,

    In dutch terms: dubbel genaaid

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *