The bersiap in Semarang

This is the story of a family seeking refuge in flight. About children who are the innocent victims of war and political unrest. Children who, at a young age, are confronted with death, violence, suspense, fear and the loss of loved ones. Instead of playing and learning, their lives centre on fleeing, going into hiding and trying to survive. They carry these experiences with them for the rest of their lives.

This story is based on true events. For reasons of privacy all the names are invented. It is not so much about these children specifically but rather about the many thousands of other children they represent during World War II and the bersiap in the former Dutch East Indies. And for the millions of children in conflict regions all over the world who, in past decades, have been denied a safe environment to live and play in because of acts of war and political unrest.

Read about the experiences of:

Ab aged 20
Kroes aged 19
aged 17
aged 16
Broer aged 15
Hardy aged 13
Fer aged 11
Jan aged 9
Jozef aged 7
Muis aged 6

<h1>Dutch East Indies</h1> Since the end of the 16th century the Dutch colonists were lord and master in the Indian or Malay Archipelago. The islands were fertile and the trade in coffee, tea, spices, sugar etc. brought the Netherlands great prosperity. But the native population itself barely benefited from these resources. They were not always treated decently by the Dutch rulers. The poor population occasionally rose up in revolt against the Dutch who exploited them.<br><br> At the beginning of the 20th century people wanting to put an end to the Dutch rule began organising themselves. But it was not until 9 March 1942 that the Dutch East Indies ceased to exist. On this day the Dutch-Indonesian Army capitulated to the Japanese occupying forces. The Dutch were interned (confined in camps) or driven out of the archipelago. The Japanese tried to gain the support of the native population by promising them their own state. They even gave Indonesian youngsters military trainingÖ<br><br> On 15 August 1945 the Japanese occupation came to an end. Two days later Indonesia was proclaimed an independent republic. But the Netherlands refused to recognise the new republic.<br> <h1>Java</h1> The Indian or Malay Archipelago is the largest group of islands in the world. It comprises more than 17,500 islands of which just 3,000 are inhabited by a total of over 182 million people. The most densely populated island is Java. More than 120 million people live on a surface area approximately four times as large as the Netherlands. During the Dutch rule the native population of Java often suffered from hunger. They had to hand over the crops and produce from the land to the Dutch, and the Javanese aristocracy. But through the centuries the presence of the Dutch also had positive effects for the population. Roads and railways were constructed, harbours excavated and companies established. This brought a measure of prosperity to the island. Later the Dutch government also invested in medical care and education on Java. <br><br> During the Japanese occupation the population of Java was forced to produce food and clothing for the Japanese. Many people had to leave their homes to do hard labour. <br> <h1>Semarang</h1> Semarang is a city on the north coast of the island of Java. The northern part of the city (downtown) lies on a plain next to the sea. The southern part (uptown) is situated in the hills. It is the provincial capital of Central Java. It has a surface area of 373.67 km≤ and approximately 2.4 million inhabitants. This makes it the fifth largest city in Indonesia. The population is mainly of Javanese origin. A large ethnically-Chinese population has lived here for a very long time. Bahasa Indonesia and Javanese are the most commonly spoken languages.<br><br> The history of Semarang dates back to the 9th century. At the end of the 17th century Semarang came under the rule of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and with this under Dutch colonial rule. The VOC and, later, the Dutch East Indies government established tobacco plantations in the Semarang region and built roads and railways. Because of this Semarang became an important trading centre and port. <br><br> During World War II in the Dutch East Indies (1941 - 1945) the city was occupied by the Japanese as was the rest of Java. After Indonesian independence in 1945 Semarang became the provincial capital of Central Java.<br> <h1>The bersiap in Semarang: August 1945 - January 1946</h1> In the last months of 1945 Semarang became a focus of the Indonesian nationalist struggle for independence. That struggle was mainly directed against the Japanese and later against the British.<br><br> The news that the Japanese had laid down their weapons was announced in Semarang on Wednesday 15 August 1945. Just two days later - on Friday 17 August - in Batavia (now Jakarta) Indonesia was proclaimed an independent Republic. Preparations for the independence had already started under the Japanese occupation. Japan had promised the Indonesians that they would become independent in the future. <br><br> The fighting spirit ran high in Semarang, especially among the young Indonesians. Accordingly, a small part of the Japanese army remained in Semarang to ensure the safety of the people in the camps. They had to remain there temporarily. Only the Dutch born in Indonesia were allowed home. Everyone expected that the Dutch government would once again become the master on Java. The Indonesian population, however, made it quite clear that they were against this. For example, hoisting the Dutch flag on the occasion of the Queen's Birthday was forbidden in Semarang. Anti-Dutch pamphlets were circulated in the city. During mass meetings some 10,000 young Indonesians demonstrated against the Dutch living in and outside the camps. The Japanese military police tried to calm the masses. But the militant young rebels (pemudas) gained more and more influence. They held up a Japanese truck and seized many weapons and ammunition. They wanted to use these to fight against the Japanese, the British and the Dutch. <br><br> The situation in Semarang became increasingly dangerous especially for the Dutch who lived outside the camps. The Japanese used force to try and drive the Indonesian rebel groups out of the districts where the Dutch lived and where the internment camps holding the Dutch were situated. The rebels in turn blocked the food-aid transport intended for the Dutch in the camps and those living outside them. It was rumoured that all Dutch men and boys living outside the camps were going to be arrested.<br><br> On Sunday 14 October the pemudas began an armed campaign to obtain the weapons of the Japanese. The fighting lasted until Friday 19 October. This First Battle of Semarang is also known as the Five-Day Battle. <br><br> Approximately 1,200 Europeans living outside the camps were imprisoned by the Indonesian police and pemudas. They were later released unharmed. But it emerged that some 100 Japanese prisoners were viciously murdered by the pemudas. The Japanese army took revenge by executing many Indonesians. Several days later 75 more murdered Japanese were discovered behind an office building. Petrol had been thrown over them and they were set on fire. Finally on 19 October the Japanese regained the city. The struggle had cost some 150 Japanese soldiers and about 300 Indonesians their lives. On this same day - Friday 19 October - early in the morning the first British troops landed in Semarang, approximately 800 Gurkahs (British Indian servicemen). Their task was to restore law and order in Semarang and guard the internment camps.<br> <h1>Sources</h1> Han Bing Siong: Geschiedenis van de Vijfdaagse Strijd in Semarang 14-19 oktober 1945, 1995<br> J.G.L. Palte/G.J. Tempelman: IndonesiŽ, 1978