How long it takes, with regards to the Indische Kwestie, justice will ultimately prevail. Never forget that those who come from Asia have endless patience.
But there will come a time when patience no longer exists!

Many still, especially among the Dutch, do not know what the term Bersiap means and how decisive it has been for the further life in that distant Netherlands that was called the “fatherland” but was not ……..

No explanation needed to those who have experienced this period, but for the 3rd generation and subsequent generations. Those who do it
politely did not or hardly spoke about it for all sorts of reasons.
But if only they had.


Oh sure, this is not a pleasant article and maybe a little long. But it must be heard.
Many people that they do not really know what the Bersiap is that Indos and Moluccans keep talking about.

For many, this period was heavier and worse than the often mentioned Japanese occupation with all its atrocities.

With this article you’ll be shown what that Bersiap time really meant. Of course if you have experienced this then you know what you are writing about, but for the younger generation and many others this can be enlightening.

The great violence did not start immediately after the Japanese capitulation on August 15, 1945 and the declaration of Indonesia’s independence two days later. Almost all eyewitnesses say that the wave of intimidation and murder really started in October.

In the course of the Japanese occupation, some 100,000 Dutch civilians were locked up in internment camps. In addition, 42,000 Dutch soldiers were prisoners of war, many of whom were employed in various places in The Dutch East Indies and other parts of Asia.

When news arrived in the prison camps that Japan had capitulated, many ventured outside the enclosure. There was little sign of animosity. Indo-Dutch citizens who had not been interned also noticed that they could walk quietly on the street. For a moment it seemed as if pre-war life might return.

Appearances are deceptive
That’s what A.F.R. Ruyter de Wildt, who had been chief of a sugar factory in East Java before the war and was interned in a men’s camp in Tjimahi, near Bandung on West Java during the Japanese occupation. He noted in his diary that he did not learn of the Japanese surrender until August 22. He soon went out into the street, where everything was fairly quiet and there were even few red and white flags to be seen. Europeans were allowed to roam freely and were treated courteously in the markets.

From the end of September, things really seemed to change.
Yet it was soon reported that Europeans were being molested and even murdered. The Allied commander for Southeast Asia, Louis Mountbatten, then ordered the Europeans to remain in the camps and not to go out on the streets. That helped, although many ignored the advice. But for the vast majority of Europeans, especially the Indo-Dutch, who had not been in a camp, this was not the case. They were therefore most at risk of being attacked by Indonesian gangs.

Excited young people
At the time, the Dutch mainly blamed the Japanese propaganda, which had incited the Indonesian youth against the Dutch. The fighters themselves often called themselves pemuda, young people, but they were not all that young. Most of them came from the lower classes and from the poorer city districts or villages. Because of their hopeless situation, they called for change and were the most susceptible to radicalization.

Almost everywhere the violence only really started when the first British troops and a handful of Dutchmen came ashore on Java. From the end of September, things really seemed to change. This is also the case in Bandoeng. You saw Indonesian banners calling on the Dutch to stay away. More and more Indonesians appeared on the street armed with knives, sticks and bamboo spears. Many of these boys came from the poor city areas, where they were easy to mobilize.
Who were the perpetrators of violence?
In a diary of the uncle of the writer of this article, Mr Han Dehne, he depicts how ‘many people armed with knives, spears and daggers showed up from the dessa corridors’, and he added:’ This scum certainly thought there was going to be a fight, they wanted to join a possible pillage. ”He, like so many Dutch people with him, apparently did not think it possible that the Indonesians would be politically inspired.
Who were behind the name “extremists”?
There is a lot of fog surrounding the extreme violence of the Bersiap era. Where did that come from now? Who were the culprits? Who was behind the name “extremists” that the British and Dutch attached to the perpetrators of violence? Were they criminals, agitated youth, opportunistic sadists, religious fanatics? And what was their motive? Every war, of course, has its pathological killers, but the frequency of the killings makes it difficult to blame a small group of sadists or criminals.

The sense of crisis must have prompted many young people to join fighting groups
As a result, they were also a grateful object for local leaders who recruited their followers precisely in the city campongs. The ability to take matters into your own hands, especially after the miserable Japanese occupation, left many young people in a state of excitement. In this sense, the spirit of the revolution was also one of unprecedented freedom and possibilities, as a personal perfection.

In the first months after the declaration of independence, a jumble of battle groups with their own leaders and their own agendas arose in many places. There was not yet a regular Indonesian army and the republican government was unable to assert strong authority. The sense of crisis and political urgency must have prompted many young people to join the fighting groups, as did the prospect of looting.

Hinge point in Indonesia
Most of the violence, apart from the struggle between more regular republican and British and Dutch forces, was committed by radical nationalists, Islamic fighting groups such as the Hizbullah and Sabillilah, and groups with more criminal backgrounds. They had in common that they were difficult to bring under the control of the fledgling army of the Indonesian Republic and often made their own plans. This meant that the spectator could hardly distinguish political fighter and criminal – and in many cases there was no difference either.

The arrival of the allied armies gave the feeling that one had to hurry
While criminal and opportunistic motives played a role, much of the violence was at least politically motivated. Indonesians became very aware of the pivot point on which the country found itself. The government of the new republic began to manifest itself more and more, and revolutionary leaders also called on the people to join the revolution. The arrival of the allied armies gave the Indonesian revolutionaries the feeling that they had to make haste if the old colonizers were not to gain the upper hand again.
The increasing clashes with Japanese troops, who had to guard order after the capitulation, and with British soldiers stimulated the pemuda to radical action. In many places Indonesian groups attacked Japanese weapons depots, with varying degrees of success. Violence against civilians increased rapidly, as the threat of colonial re-occupation turned all Dutch into an enemy.

Indonesia for the Indonesians
On October 7 or 8, 1945, republicans in Java called for a boycott of European shops. Revolutionaries erected barricades and searched their homes. Europeans were stopped in the street and searched to their horror by armed Indonesian boys. Han’s uncle writes in his diary that he “had to put up with the shameful thing of being searched by a gang of bastards.”

The political struggle took on a strong ethnic dimension
In many cities, groups of pemuda lined the streets, scaring the residents with shouting and night-time noise. More and more houses were smashed (looted). Residents were chased into the woods, where they often fell victim to other gangs. Pamphlets were also published calling on the population to exterminate the Indo-Europeans.

The political struggle thus acquired a strong ethnic dimension, in which “Indonesia for the Indonesians” led to hatred for the uniqueness. In Surabaya this change became perhaps most dramatically evident when an improvised tribunal against the massively arrested Dutch degenerated into a torture and murder spree under the cry “Death to the whites”. Several dozen Dutch people were murdered in the process; several hundred were injured.

Republican approach
The Dutch outside the camps – mostly Indo-Dutch – did not stand by themselves and organized their own fighting groups to defend their homes and families and to repay the murders. Moluccans were also active in these groups, because they were often the target of the massacres. Before the war, Moluccans had often been soldiers in the Indo Dutch army (KNIL) and were good fighters.
The internment meant a period of new misery for many.

The Dutch militias mainly operated in Batavia. They too were guilty of excessive violence. They often allowed themselves to be guided by revenge, in which the murder of a European or Moluccan was retaliated in many ways. In this way the violence escalated, but the Dutch-Moluccan militias were able to offer some neighborhoods some protection.

The Indonesian leaders ordered on October 12, 1945 to intern the Dutch men in republican territory; later women and children followed. It is plausible that the arrests were intended to protect them from further harm, but no doubt also to prevent the Dutch from taking up arms themselves – as happened here and there. The internment meant a period of new misery for many, but it also saved them from further terror.
Han’s wife Mary with her mother and sister were subsequently imprisoned in the camps Sinkokan and Kletjo.

Crimes committed by the BKR (part of the Indonesian army).
Ironically, in the months that followed, it was precisely the Dutch outside republican territory who were most at risk. The violence sometimes took horrific proportions. For example, one day in December 1945, three members of the Badan Keamanan Rakjat (People’s Security Body, the republican army) took two presumably Indo-European women off the train in a station in a suburb of Batavia and took them to the local office of the BKR, which was housed in a former agricultural office.

The violence sometimes took horrific proportions
After a brief interrogation, the leader of the BKR called his men and local residents together. The women were stripped and raped by a series of men, dragged out and subjected to public torture with red-hot iron bars and long beating. Eventually their necks were cut. The bodies were thrown into a well in the yard.

The term Bersiap
But we have also come to know these rituals in recent outbreaks of ethnic violence, and we can explain them better from the political situation and nature of the fighting groups than from something elusive like culture. Although ethnic violence also occurred in pre-war India, it was very different from the explosion of the late 1940s. In that period of agitation and impunity, violence could flourish like never before.

Such ritual slaughter baffled the authorities and created great fear among the European population. That was the intention, of course, but there was another motive: the need for humiliation and dehumanization of opponents. Where it came from can only be guessed. It has been argued that Indonesia had a rampok culture, or that there were “reservoirs” of violence that were activated during the revolution, or that retaliation is inherent in Indonesian legal culture.

‘Bersiap’ was established in Dutch circles to indicate the period from the end of 1945
The term “Bersiap” has hardly become common in Dutch circles to indicate the period of chaos, murder and uncertainty at the end of 1945. This period lasted until early 1946, when the joint British and Dutch forces managed to stabilize the situation in the cities where most Europeans took refuge. In the big cities, the Bersiap was largely over, but the violence continued elsewhere.

The Dutch and Indo-Dutch were by no means the only victims of the violence of Indonesian gangs. In many places, other people became the target of extortion, assault, robbery, and murder. These were groups and persons who were associated with the Dutch or who were not regarded as right-minded Indonesians, such as the Moluccans. In many places colonial administration officials were murdered, as well as outsiders who had amassed some wealth.

Violence against Chinese
A vulnerable group was that of the Chinese, who had emerged in colonial times as shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and moneylenders. For the revolutionary fighters, or whoever wanted to pass for it, the Chinese were easy prey. In addition, they were often recognizable by their name and appearance. Several thousand Chinese were murdered during the revolutionary years and dozens of houses looted and destroyed.
Several thousand Chinese have been murdered in the course of the revolutionary years.

Most violence occurred in the twilight zone where the Indonesian Republic could not exercise its authority and the Dutch authorities could not maintain order. This became clear, for example, during the political actions in July 1947 and December 1948, when the Dutch launched large-scale offensives on Java and Sumatra.

The republican armies knew they would be defeated and withdrew from the front lines. They gave space for destruction troops and irregular troops. In many places they caused true terror. Not only factories and public buildings were destroyed, but Chinese shops and houses were also looted and the inhabitants deported. Sometimes the Chinese were dragged from village to village for days on end, and in some cases collectively killed.

Republican government disapproval
In Madjalengka, not far from Cheribon on Java’s north coast, nearly two hundred Chinese were deported during the first political action in July 1947 and executed after two weeks of lugging in the woods. The forces responsible for the arson, kidnapping and murder were a mixed entity. Eyewitnesses often saw that soldiers and officers of the Indonesian army participated. Village chiefs were also sometimes involved in the raids. In Madjalengka’s case, a special unit had come from near Batavia to carry out the execution.

The army command went to great lengths to bring local gangs into line
The republican government, based in Djocjakarta, has always disapproved of violence. The Indonesian leaders were a thorn in the side of the terror carried out by local groups – sometimes with the help of military personnel. The army leadership went to great lengths to bring local gangs into line, but many groups continued to evade central authority. On the other hand, the Republic could also make use of these gangs for guerrilla warfare against the Dutch in occupied areas and for destruction assignments.

It is impossible to say how many victims in the Bersiap during the first months after the declaration of independence and the subsequent years of the revolution. The most conservative estimate is 3,500 civilian deaths, but it may as well have been a multiple.

The end of the Bersiap
While the beginning of the Bersiap is quite easy to identify, the end is impossible to determine. The spirit of violence that escaped in the closing months of 1945 was difficult to contain. The violence that began in October 1945 proved unstoppable and continued after the transfer of sovereignty. Many Europeans, Chinese and others were murdered in the following years. Well into the 1950s, local gangs continued to target Europeans, collaborators and the wealthy.
Local gangs remained active well into the 1950s
The long and painstaking liberation of Indonesia has been much debated, but the tradition of violence established in the revolutionary years is one of the most unfortunate and disastrous legacies of decolonization.

The Dutch government has consistently never used the word war during the Indonesians’ struggle for independence, which had the character of a war. Everything went under the guise of the term “political action”. That is still the case today.
One of the consequences of this is that no one can call himself a victim of war but can only be a victim of violence as a result of the entrenched maxim that this violence was necessary to restore order and the law.
Using this terminology is a crime in itself.

Special thanks to Mr Han Dehne for educating all of us every day about our Indo History.