Frenzy and Mortal Terror

15  Bersiap

The Bersiap Period and Going to the Movies

Javanese Revolutionaries (Pemudas)
Javanese Revolutionaries (Pemudas) fighting for independency. They are mostly armed with bamboo spears; the few guns come from Japanese. Source: : Collectie Tropenmuseum
Shortly after the Japanese capitulation, the horrors of the Bersiap period started. That’s when my mother and we three children had to rush to seek refuge in the barracks of the 10th Battalion in Jakarta. Which was where slowly but steadily, one after the other, our Dutch and Ambonese men who had been held captive by the ‘Japs’, returned ,mere skin over bone. In the smaller towns, many of the Dutch-Indonesian women and their children who’d lived outside the camps during the Japanese occupation, were rounded up mostly by Indonesian extremists and locked up in their extremist’s camps. Ironically though, the access roads to the barracks of the 10th battalion where we’d fled to were guarded by the Japanese soldiers who’d previously been all too keen to hit us. The difference being that this time, they themselves bowed deeply for anyone entering the gate, instead of hitting passers-by who didn’t bow deeply enough, as they used to.

Shortly after the Japanese capitulation, which was therefore when we were staying in the 10th battalion’s barracks, I worked a couple of weeks for some Dutch officers and Marvas, who had arrived from the Netherlands only recently. Those Dutch army officers didn’t look all that great, as they themselves too had just spent time in captivity as prisoners of war in Poland. At the mansion on the Kramatweg where we had lived previously crammed together with many other families, those who had been too late to seek refuge in safer places were murdered and thrown into the well. I found out about this when I returned to the house a few days later, in a military truck under heavy escort, to see if any of our meagre belongings could be salvaged. I didn’t glimpse any of the residents, all furniture and valuable objects had been stolen and the garden was littered with my entire library, which hadn’t been worth stealing apparently. In hindsight I regret, in my hurry to leave the place as soon as possible, neglecting to search amongst the books for my photo albums and saving them. For a very long time to come, we would hear conversations of which Dutch people had been killed by the pelopors – the Indonesian freedom fighters, who seemed rather robbers and killers – and of who was yet to come to a gruesome end in the following months. We even became used to regularly seeing bodies floating by in rivers and channels.


As already mentioned, in those desperate times I worked until mid 1946 as warehouse manager with Comtech, a makeshift electricity company in the so-called ‘protected zone’ which had been established by the military because the real electricity company was still controlled by the Indonesian freedom movement. Here too we had to improvise and make do: although we could still source lights of reasonable quality via the Chinese merchants in Batavia Benedenstad and Glodok, the insulation of the coils of electric wire and of the switches looked dubious and shady. But something was better than nothing of course. On top of that, working outside was also a dangerous affair. In the morning, when the men came in to get their work assignment, there would usually be one among them who had been shot at by a sniper while working outside the day before.

Trucks full of passengers and other cargo
Trucks full of passengers and other cargo in Diëngplateau, Central Java


On the far end of where Comtech was located in the direction of Pasar Baru, there were two cinemas opposite each other near the channel: Astoria and Capitol. The movies were free, but they were exclusively for soldiers and their partners, if any. A lot of cheating went on to go to the movies, as it was easy to obtain second hand military clothing and shoes and the MPs (Military Police) generally were only newly recruited boys themselves and sometimes they were even people I knew. So as long as you were dressed correctly as a soldier it was easy to take your partner to the movies since people turned a blind eye to it. We had to be resourceful, didn’t we, otherwise we could never have gone to the movies in those early days!

However, we did need to be careful when we were in that area at night because there were many bars which, at times, could be packed with British soldiers of various races. When they were drunk, true war would break out in the street with bullets flying through the air. As in so many large cities, we just didn’t have enough armed soldiers to occupy all neighbourhoods and districts and maintain peace, but that was to change soon. In the mean time we had a good friend who lived in a mansion on Gunung Sahari in Jakarta and we, i.e. my mother, myself and my younger brother - and other friends of theirs – could move into rooms in the main building and annexes.

Klengkeng and salaks
Klengkeng and salaks

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