Deeply Rooted Former Views and the History of the Republican Camps and the POPDA
On August 14th 1995, a seminar was held at the Erasmus Huis Jakarta on the international aspects of the Indonesian struggle for Independence 1945-1949. The essays of the five speakers, two Indonesian and three Dutch historians, are published in this book both in Bahasa Indonesia and in English. The essays have been translated by Mrs. Th. Slamet. A publication of the Department of Press and Cultural Affairs of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Indonesia.
Mary C. van Delden 1995:
When Peta-officer Latief Hendiningrat raised the Indonesian flag to complete the ceremony of Soekarno’s proclamation on August 17th, 1945, the Republic of Indonesia became a fact, but its future uncertain. However, six weeks later the struggle for freedom started and – in the end – the Dutch lost their colony. Since then, many historical and autobiographical books have been published on the process of decolonization. As for public opinion, it seems that this subject is still widely discussed and remains a sensitive matter in the Netherlands. Articles in the press can lead to numerous reactions, with emotions often running high. Yet, it is obvious that in the course of fifty years our perception of the decolonization has shifted from the question “What went wrong?” to “What did we do wrong?”
Regarding the first question, the attention has been focused on external factors such as the American, British and Japanese attitude, which could be held responsible for the loss of our colony. Regarding the second question, in retrospect we started to be more critical of our own politics.
In spite of this change, some of our former views are still deeply rooted. In the Netherlands the following are still widely accepted truths:
– The internees in republican camps were illegally confined and served as hostages.
– In the first year of the Indonesian revolutions, president Soekarno and vice-president Hatta had little control over their supporters.
– All pemuda were violent. (By this I mean, no differentiation has been made between different groups).
– The newly established Indonesian army, the Tentara Keamanan Rakyat, was highly disorganized.
In my opinion these views are still predominant because in Dutch historiography, little attention has been paid to Indonesian social, political and military developments below the national and international level. This became apparent during my research on the republican camps, when trying to find an answer to the – in the Netherlands controversial – question: “Were the republican camps indeed set up for the protection of Dutch nationals?” Consequently I arrived at some interesting conclusions that in some aspects contradict the previously mentioned “deeply rooted” Dutch views. Indeed, about fifty to sixty thousand Dutch nationals – mainly Eurasians and an unknown number of Menadonese, Ambonese and Chinese as well – were interned by nationalist Indonesians in camps scattered throughout the islands of Java and – Madura, but I will argue that the establishment of the internment camps was most likely a method of protection, as the Indonesian republican leaders rejected murder and bloodshed. Additionally, they wanted to gain international support for their independence by means of diplomacy, and realized that continuous looting, kidnapping and murdering wouldn’t earn them international credit.
This dangerous situation came into being shortly after the Japanese capitulation. At that time the Dutch lacked adequate administrative personnel and well-trained troops and were totally dependent on Britain. However Mountbatten, the British commander of the South East Asia Command, was initially unaware of the dangerous situation in the Indies, and it was more than a month before the first British-Indian troops were ordered to move from occupation duties in Malaya to Jakarta. During this period he ordered the Japanese to maintain law and order. But the Japanese 16th army adopted a no-shooting policy to avoid clashes with the Indonesians which – they said -would endanger the lives of their former internees, whose safety was their responsibility. Additionally, the Japanese had started to intern themselves, in camps in remote mountainous areas, awaiting their repatriation. Finally, they handed their weapons over to the Indonesian youth.
So Indonesia took the initiative. In an atmosphere of tremendous enthusiasm, many young Indonesians – more or less military-trained by the Japanese – joined a People’s Security Organization, the Badan Keamanan Rakyat, or established numerous irregular bands, grouped around older nationals, religious teachers or jago’s. Anxious to contribute to their nation’s independence, these youngsters raised red-white flags, organized mass-meetings and demonstrations, and began to look for arms to defend their freedom against the returning colonial power. By the end of September 1945 the situation had rapidly deteriorated.
Although the British were obliged to help the Dutch to re-establish their authority in the Netherlands East Indies, the last thing they wanted was to become involved in a colonial war. Mountbatten decided to drastically alter his policy. Instead of re-occupying the whole of Indonesia, he switched to a key-area strategy. For Java, this initially meant the re-occupation of two major coastal cities; the capital Jakarta, and the former marine-base Surabaya. This was later extended to Semarang, Bandung and Bogor where many ex-Japanese internees were concentrated in camps. All these circumstances led to a revolutionary period, named by the Dutch after the war-cry “Bersiap”, which the Indonesian youth frequently used at the time. During this period a boycott of the Dutch in the markets was organized and their houses were looted. Electricity and water supply were cut off and Indonesian servants were forbidden to offer their services. Nevertheless, under these circumstances it became clear to what degree the Dutch and the Indonesians had been closely knit during the past three centuries. That was the great tragedy of the new developments. Indonesia longed for freedom. The aspiration for independence was undeniable, and anti-colonial feelings were obvious. Yet, hatred wasn’t the predominant emotion, as was often showed during the food boycotts and other events. There were numerous examples of Indonesians (and Chinese) who secretly delivered food to the Dutch national. But on the other hand, people began to disappear, and rumor spread that all over Java murder was being committed, often in a gruesome way. Violence seemed to be particularly aimed at groups that in colonial time held privileged positions in the social hierarchy. These were the groups situated between the whites and the Indonesian population; Eurasians and pro-Dutch members of Ambonese, Menadonese and Chinese origin. In Indonesian eyes they hid under the protection of the colonial umbrella. The Eurasians especially – who had the Dutch nationality – belonged to a privileged class, although in general they were discriminated against by the white Dutch. In turn they discriminated against the Indonesians who loathed this attitude, as the Eurasians were the mixed-blood offspring of Europeans and Asians. As a consequence the relation between the Eurasians and the Indonesians had been especially subject to tension. This tension, in combination with anti-colonial and anti-western sentiments, came to an explosion in the Bersiap-time. Many people were murdered and the republican leaders were unable to put an end to violence and bloodshed, which were committed by groups which set their own policies according to their own ideas.
It is most likely, that this violent situation led the republican leaders to protect Dutch nationals (mainly Eurasians) behind guarded walls, barbed wire and bamboo fences; although there is little evidence that the order to start the internment came from the republican government. Yet, the fact that all over Java the internment was set in motion between the 12th and the 19th of October 1945, and the local national committees – the Komite Nasional Indonesia – had to initiate the internment, indicates a central order. In turn the local committees ordered the People’s Security Organization, the police, and even Laskar-groups to pick up the people from their homes or required them to assemble at certain places under the pretext of a registration or meeting. With some exceptions, these groups brought the Dutch nationals through more or less friendly or sometimes frightening ways to transit or permanent camps such as jails, schools, barracks or mansions.
The question now is, whether the internment was indeed a method of protection, as one contradiction to the ‘protection theory’ was the fact that in most places only able bodied men and boys were initially interned while women and children often stayed behind. Did the Republican leaders want to isolate militant men and boys to prevent them from forming forces? This idea is supported by the fact that many Indo-European men and boys didn’t adopt a wait-and-see policy. In Bandung for example, many Eurasians joined the hastily organized Infantry V – known as Anjing Nica – which indeed became a famous force. What on first sight also points towards this direction is the refusal of the Indonesian politicians and military leaders to hand over physically fit men during the later evacuations. But this turned out to be merely an act of protest, as the British had agreed that evacuated men would not be armed but the Dutch armed a number of them anyway. Yet, the Indonesian request not to arm returning men indicates that the Eurasian men were considered to be a potential militant force. On the other hand one can argue that the Eurasian men found themselves in an especially dangerous position. There was the problem of the general discrimination between the Indonesian and Eurasian groups further heightened by the competition between the men in the pre-war labor markets. After the Japanese capitulation this tension increased as a consequence of the nearly complete identification of the Eurasians with the Dutch. This attitude could easily make them the victims of anti-colonial sentiments among the Indonesians but – according to Indonesian sources – the men, and not the women, often acted in a provocative and aggressive way. If – due to these circumstances – men were indeed the main subjects of violence they were easy to attack. Many Eurasian families lived scattered throughout the republican area and formed relatively small unarmed groups.
So far, there were reasons for both isolating able bodied men as well as for protecting them. But it is curious that not only men and boys were interned. In so-called “onrustgebieden”, areas of unrest that were already notorious in colonial time and in places were resistance against the Dutch ran high, men and women were interned at the same time. In Pekalongan district, for example, hostility towards Eurasians ended in the killing of more than one hundred persons. Immediately, in Tegal, the Indonesian police concentrated and guarded the men in jail and the women and children in three boarding houses. In Cirebon the same happened after 23 men were killed in jail by intruders in Kuningan. After that the Indonesian police accelerated the pace of internment, assembling 1200 Dutch nationals from Cirebon and nearly areas in the city jail. The internees were all convinced that the internment served as protection against dangerous elements. In Sukabumi the Indonesian police declared that they could guard a camp, but not individuals scattered throughout the city. The chairman of the Dutch Red Cross was so relieved that he offered five trucks to transport the people to the barracks of the agricultural school, which was guarded by Indonesian police and members of the People’s Security Organization. The Indonesian police even evacuated Eurasians in nearly villages to the agricultural school. In Bogor, the situation was so dangerous, that after the internment of men, women and children were interned too. Some frightened women were advised by their Indonesian neighbors to take cover in the guarded nun’s convent, while some had already gone voluntarily.
It seemed that interning men and women at the same time depended on the local situation. In other areas, women were interned during November and in the beginning of December. According to some documents and interviews, they were relatively safe as they were more or less ignored. In places such as Tasikmalay a, Malang, Solo and Yogyakarta they were even allowed to bring food, clothes and other necessities to their imprisoned male relatives.
If the women and children were relatively safe, why were they interned at a later date? Probably as a measure of prevention as the situation wasn’t stable. During the month of November heavy fighting occurred in Surabaya, and in Central-Java, the ex-Japanese concentration camps were attacked. It was also clear that the arrival of Dutch militarized government personnel and some companies of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army as the representatives of the returning colonial power could easily arouse unrest and probably violence among the Indonesians.
In conclusion, the previously mentioned arguments support the viewpoint that the internment was most likely a method of protection. In addition there has been no evidence that the Indonesian leaders wanted to use the internees as hostages, although the Dutch and the Netherlands East Indies government and many internees believed that they were being used in this way. This feeling is still held by many former internees today.
Hostages could have been used as a guarantee to fulfill specific military conditions or to prevent the advance of Dutch troops. But apart from the fact that until November 1946 the British were in charge, controlling the Dutch army as well, such policy wasn’t necessary for the following reason. The British were experiencing severe difficulties. They were responsible for transporting the Japanese army from Java and to take care of the ‘genuine’ APWI (Allied Prisoners of War and Internees – ex-Japanese prisoners). However, the largest part of the Japanese army as well as about 4.400 ‘genuine’ APWI were out of reach in the republican area. At the end of November 1945 the British had already contacted the Indonesian republican leaders. On January 9th, 1946 they agreed that the newly established Indonesian Army would transport the Japanese and evacuate the internees in the hinterland to the key-areas. The genuine APWI as well as the (newly interned) Eurasians. From the moment the Republican leaders and the army agreed to cooperate, it was impossible to use the internees as hostages, assuming the Republican leaders had even wanted to do so, which I doubt. The use of hostages didn’t fit within their international policy, which was aimed at international support for the recognition of their independence. They knew what tasks had been assigned to the Allied Forces by the United Nations and consequently never tried to get anything in return for their cooperation. Prime-minister Sjahrir and the minister of defense Sjarifuddin made this point very clear during a press conference when a local pemuda paper asked the leaders what conditions they had asked for in exchange for the handing over of the Japanese and the APWI. Sjahrir then stated that: “The Allies were carrying out duties which were imposed on them by the United Nations and the Indonesians were morally bound to do their part in fulfilling these tasks.” Naturally, the political and military leaders were well aware that the British proposal offered them a unique opportunity to show the world that they were not the “unorganized extremists” as the Dutch continuously called them. By co-operating in restoring order after the Second World War, Indonesia could gain international sympathy. It also meant “de facto” recognition of the newly established Indonesian army, which the Dutch government strongly opposed. Besides, the sooner the Japanese and the internees were returned to their rightful places, the sooner British troops would leave the islands.
When one speaks of protection, it is important to know about life in republican camp. From random samplings of 79 camps, based upon authentic reports and complemented with recent interviews and questionnaires, one can get an average impression of the conditions in the republican camps. According to the statements of the internees, there were few complaints about the way they were treated by the guards. Some called them indifferent, severe, not very friendly or they mentioned a humiliating treatment, but more often the words ‘flexible, (very) reasonable, good-natured, correct and even ‘excellent’ were heard. These words reveal that the internees were not ill-treated and didn’t have to participate in forced labor. The work they performed had to do with cooking, orderly duties and keeping their camps as clean as possible.
As more than 50,000 people had to be put up in a rather short time, it meant that most camps were not yet suitable for the purpose. Whether one lived in more or less primitive conditions depended on the housing, and especially on the number of people sharing housing. But as many camps were overcrowded, facilities out of order or spare parts not available, sanitation and water often turned out to be a problem. In general – as the housing lacked furniture – people slept on barren floors, matrasses or on woven bamboo mats. Only a few were lucky enough to have bamboo beds or normal beds.
The food situation differed widely from camp to camp. Many internees had no complaints. According to reports from delegates of the Intercross who visited about fifty camps, with some exceptions, the internees were not undernourished. But on the other hand I have heard stories of people catching all kinds of animals including snakes, snails, lizards, bats, lost chickens and cats, and people eating leaves from hedges and trees and the inner bark from banana and papaya trees. On the other hand, parts of the Indonesian population lacked sufficient food as well as a consequence of a disrupted economy due to the Japanese capitulation. A Dutch delegate, Mr. Koets, who visited Yogyakarta and some camps in September 1946, noticed an unequal distribution of food between poor and more prosperous regions as means of transport turned out to be quite a problem. In many places soup-kitchens were raised for the poor and returning evacuees saw people begging along the railroad. The internees could supplement their daily diet, since in most camps it was possible to buy additional food in one way or another. People who did not have much cash could obtain money or food by secretly selling clothes at the fence. Or one could sell clothes and other belongings to guards or middlemen. In some places, family and friends outside the camps were allowed to visit their relatives. In this way they could supply them with food, money and the like. However, the so-called “have not’s” were almost immediately in trouble, but in most camps funds were raised to support them.
In spite of problems of food, overcrowded camps, and primitive circumstances, according to Intercross, the state of health of the internees in the fifty camps they paid visits to, was surprisingly good. The death rate remained at a normal level. Compared to Dutch Red Cross reports on the health situation of the Indonesian population after the first political action, the internees were not worse off. Frequently occurring diseases inside as well as outside the camps included numerous skin diseases, ulcus tropicum, conjunctivitis, malaria, stomach diseases and dysentery. Children had measles and chicken pox, and in cold, mountainous areas people suffered from lung diseases, flu and fever. Sometimes the internees had their own Dutch physician or nurses but they lacked medicine as a consequence of severe shortages all over Java. As the Indonesian Red-Cross was concerned with the maintenance of the camps, local Indonesian doctors and hospital attendants visited the camps from time to time. Some groups saw an Indonesian doctor (or attendant) once or twice a week while others never met one. In some camps, primitive policlinics were established, but almost everywhere severely ill people could be transported to nearby hospitals.
In conclusion one can say that, apart from the fact that the internees often stayed in isolated, crowded and primitive camps, they lived on the same standard of living as the average Indonesian in the country during a disrupted economy due to the Japanese occupation. But as most Eurasian families in pre-war time and even during the war had been better off, many experienced this way of life as an ordeal.
One can imagine that the internees were looking forward to be released, but unfortunately – as they were isolated – they didn’t know that their evacuation had already been set in motion. As mentioned before, towards the end of 1945 – behind the back of the Netherlands Indies authorities – the British proposed to the Indonesian Government to cooperate in transporting the Japanese to the island of Galang and the internees in the republican camps to the key-areas. On January 9th, 1946, the Indonesian government accepted the proposal, although they realized that they faced great risks which were linked to internal problems. The army which in principle stood behind the government had just been established. Many laskar groups acted in their own way, and army-units and laskar’s groups were regularly fighting each other. Additionally, the attitude of the population and some irregular groups towards the Dutch, was still unpredictable. Under these unsteady circumstances, the Indonesian army had to fulfill the agreement properly. Within the army, a special organization was established, known by the abbreviation POPDA (Panitia Oeroesan Pengangkoetan Djepang dan APWI). It meant Organization for the Evacuation of Japanese and APWI. POPDA carefully organized the evacuations. The strategically situated city of Solo in Central-Java was chosen as its headquarters (POPDA I). Different departments were responsible for finance, health and communication, and different co-ordination groups were establishing the repatriation of the Japanese army, the evacuation of the APWI, rail and air transport, and – another POPDA-task – for the guarding of British food trains to the isolated city of Bandung. Three times the young cadets of the Military Academy in Tangerang – already established on November 18th! – escorted these trains.
Commanders were appointed for West Central and East Java and for the large transit camp and Panasan airport in Solo. In Jakarta a liaison office communicated with the Allies and the liaison officers in Solo and Malang. In all about 1,000 persons of the army, navy, railways and the Indonesian Red Cross were involved. To execute the tasks, the British handed 2,000 Lee Enfield rifles and eighty trucks to the Indonesians. For the transportation of the Japanese army they received twenty wooden Japanese boats. The coastal cities of Tegal, Central-Java (POPDA Ill) and Probolinggo, East-Java (POPDA IV) were suitable for shipping out the Japanese army.
Compared to the evacuation of the internees, the repatriation of the Japanese army was less complicated. Starting from April 29, 1946, POPDA completed this part of the operations successfully on June 21. The Japanese were transported by boats under command of young Indonesian naval officers who had been trained for steersmen in nine-month courses by the Japanese. Malang, as POPDA II, became a transit camp for the evacuation of internees from East-Java, Gombong was selected for the internees of West-Java and Solo and Yogyakarta in Central-Java for evacuation by train or by air.
During the preparations it became clear that the total number of internees was unknown, as well as the places where the camps were situated. The army division commanders received orders to draw up lists of the locations and the number of men, women, children and sick people interned, before April 10th, 1946. As the British had urged the POPDA-representatives to start the evacuations as soon as possible, already at the end of January 1946, a group of 156 women, children and few old men from Malang safely arrived in Jakarta by train. It meant a lot of publicity for the Indonesians, as the train was met by officials and the press. But nobody knew how relieved the escorting army-unit felt, as during the trip, they had encountered some problems with the population at the station of Purwokerto and especially in Cikampek, a little city in the notorious plain of Krawang. The first evacuation appeared to be a test and although the commanding officer, chief of staff of the Indonesian army, Major-General Oerip Soemohardjo and his 25 soldiers, who were posted at both ends of each wagon with weapons at the present, capably handled the situations, it was clear that in future any risk had to be avoided. The public opinion had to be properly prepared, and a solution for a safe passage through the dangerous plain of Krawang had to be found. An effective preparation required more time. The republican government appealed to all nationalistic organizations not to interfere with the evacuations, in order to show the world that Indonesia was capable of executing a task in which the British had failed. The pemoeda – leaders recognized the importance of operation POPDA and offered their cooperation. Once the Krawang plain had been secured and following the official agreement of April 6th 1946, the evacuations could start with a reasonable chance of success. On April 25th, the first group of internees was transported from Cirebon to Jakarta under command of Major-General Didi Kartasasmita, the commander of the TRI in West-Java.
As the Indonesians lacked sufficient locomotives and carriage to transport both Japanese and APWI at the same time, the evacuation of the APWI soon slowed down. The British considered this system of transport too slow and they proposed the use of aircrafts at a meeting in Solo on May 10th. In this way, four Dakota’s of 31 Squadron of the Royal Air Force flew six days a week from Jakarta to the airfield of Panasan/Solo to pick up the internees, which had been transported to Solo by POPDA. On July 25th, the evacuations suddenly came to a standstill. In a speech delivered at Solo on July 27th. Soekarno announced that he had ordered to stop the evacuations as the city of Banyuwangi and a ferry in the Straits of Madura had been bombed by the Dutch. At the same time, he promised that republican leaders and the Allied HQ would do their utmost to come to a solution. The moment the Allies could guarantee that similar incidents wouldn’t occur; Soekarno would order a continuation of the evacuations. On September 12th the deadlock had been solved and after this, it took eight months to complete the evacuations. At the end of May 1947, the last groups arrived. POPDA was abolished, as its tasks had been successfully fulfilled. They had succeeded in transporting about 35,000 Japanese and 43,441 APWI in turbulent times.
Finally, to conclude my lecture I will link the previously mentioned “deeply rooted” Dutch views to the findings of my research.
Regarding the first view, I have tried to explain that the purpose of the camps was most likely a method of protection and that the internees were not used as hostages.
Regarding the second view, it is obvious that the republican leaders – especially in the early revolution – had an extremely difficult time to control the situation as in many places and areas the population, irregular groups and the army acted according to their own ideas and local circumstances. It is also clear that in this period many people lost their lives. Yet, the internment proves that there was order in the chaos. Transporting and guarding 50 to 60 thousand people in a time of revolution wasn’t an easy job, but local networks executed orders properly and brought the Dutch nationals – with a few exceptions – safely to their camps.
Consequently, the internment program also demonstrates that by no means all pemuda were violent. By transporting the people to their camps – although in some aspects frightening for the internees – the lives of many Dutch nationals and other minorities were saved as in different regions the situations were highly unstable.
Finally, as a former freedom fighter told me, despite a nucleus of Japanese and Dutch trained military, in many aspects the army was raised from scratch and consequently encountered problems like lack of discipline, training, equipment, cadre and military tactics. Yet, in spite of these fundamental problems, starting from April 1946, the Indonesian army and navy successfully executed the United Nations appointed task of transporting the Japanese army to the island of Galang and the internees to the key-areas, thanks to the determination, discipline and organization of the people involved.
Anthropologist Mary van Delden obtained her PhD at the Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
The publication of her dissertation is written in Dutch language: ‘De republikeinse kampen in Nederlands-Indië, oktober 1945 – mei 1947. Orde in de chaos?’