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Indo Of the Month – Sep – Written by Hanneke Olsen

I am a child of the 1950’s, born on the island of Java in the capital city of Jakarta.  The country of my birth was a very young Republik Indonesia, it’s independence officially recognized by it’s former colonial ruler, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on December 27, 1949.  Two of my siblings were born in Soerabaja, Netherlands East Indies, and three were born in Surabaya, Indonesia. It seems odd, but such were the politics of the times. It is often a point of debate, since the older siblings were born during the Merdeka period, the movement towards independence, when the islands were technically still under Dutch rule, despite the Declaration of Independence made on August 17, 1945.

My father is Robert Monod de Froideville, whose Dutch-French father was a colonial civil servant (Assistent Resident) in Djambi province, Sumatra.  His biological mother was Javanese, and my father lived with her until he was about 5 years old, when he was sent to the Netherlands to be schooled. He was raised as an only child by his Dutch stepmother’s parents, so long as his father and stepmother served in the colony.  I have a few pictures of his holidays spent as a boy with his parents in Sibolga and Djambi.  Photos of him in the Netherlands were as a teenager and a young man.  Only later did I realize these were taken before and either during or just after the German occupation.  Unfortunately, his father had been captured as a political hostage by the Germans, being in Holland on a furlough from his colonial duties.  He spent nearly the entire occupation years in Buchenwald and Theresienstadt concentration camps.  I have his photos and correspondence from those years.  Because of his father’s imprisonment, leaving his mother defenseless, my father went underground to also avoid capture.  At 18 with dark skin, he would certainly have been forced into labor camps.  He managed to continue his pharmaceutical studies during this time.  Immediately upon Germany’s surrender, my father enlisted in the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps, assigned to the “Mariniers Brigade,” a rag tag group of military men just liberated from the German POW camps, sent to train with the USMC to Camp LeJeune to be sent to liberate the Netherlands East Indies from the Japanese.  By the time his detail arrived in Soerabaja, Japan had just surrendered, and the Marines were to help return the colony to it’s former status. My father was dark skinned with strong European features, except for his almond shaped eyes.  Quite naturally, locals approached him speaking in Malayan dialect.  Having lost his native tongue in childhood, he had to turn to the very fair skinned, fair haired, Indisch Marine to interpret!  This interpreter, introduced his Lieutenant to his family, and one of his sisters was very much interested!

My mother is Wilhelmina, born in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and a Dutch-French-Asian heritage mother.  Conflicting stories in the family identifies the Asian faction as either Japanese or “French Indo-Chinese” (today’s Vietnamese.) I’m hoping a DNA test might settle that question one day.  When my mother was 5 years old, her father decided to seek his fortune in the Netherlands East Indies, and settled his family in Soerabaja & outlying areas near there.  He became a successful newspaper publisher of the “Kedirische Courant,” and the family lived in reasonable opulence.  Legend was my grandparents were crazy about each other, with a final count of 12 children to prove it.  My mother was inclined to play with the children of the household staff, easily picking up the Malay & Javanese dialects.  Her older sister, however, insisted on maintaining an aristocratic Dutch manner, refusing to speak any local dialects.  Thus for a time, neither sister could converse with the other, unless an interpreter was present. The pre-war years were idyllic for my mother’s family, as it was for many Dutch Indonesians holding Dutch nationality.  Less than idyllic for those of mixed ethnicity whose claim to Dutch parentage was not acknowledged and legitimized.  The Japanese occupation turned the tide on my mother’s lifestyle.  Her father and oldest two brothers were hastily pressed into service with the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL,) and two others joined the KNIL and Royal Netherlands Marine Corp, despite being underage. These two teenagers lost their lives in the first days of the Japanese invasion.  The others were captured and interred in a POW camp in Soerabaja, where my mother had to witness torture on them as punishment for passing along transcribed broadcasts from Voice of America.  My mother’s family remained “buitenkampers” outside the “protection” of the civilian camps during the Japanese occupation (after liberation as well, during the subsequent revolution.)  She and her sister ended up having to work as “dance hostesses” at a social club for Japanese officers.  My oldest sister was fathered by one of these officers.  Such were some of the war experiences.

When my parents were introduced to each other at the start of the revolution, the connection was immediate, as was the connection between my toddler aged Japanese-Indo sister and this new “Oom Bob.”  Within just a few weeks they were married, although it required validation with Dutch authorities in the Netherlands, and permission from the Dutch Queen.  Thus followed a marriage by proxy some months later, with mother in Haarlem, the Netherlands, holding hands with her father as the stand-in for  the intended groom, wearing the groom’s gloves.  My father was still fighting on Java, and whether anyone stood in for his bride on that day was never made clear.

After the Acknowledgment of Sovereignty, my parents decided to remain in the new republic, maintaining their Dutch nationality. The exterior walls of their home were painted in large letters with the words “Dutch Home.”  This clearly identified those Dutch nationals from the Indonesian warganegara, or citizens.  My father held a good position as a banker, and later as a chemist.  Beginning in late 1957 there was political pressure forcing Dutch nationals from the country.  Our family was notified in January of 1958, by vandalism to our home, and notes secured to rocks crashing through the windows.  Three days were given to liquidate assets and secure passage to the Netherlands.  Military troop ships became overcrowded immigrant ships.  Conditions onboard were far from the cruise voyages these ships had previously made.  We islanders in our tropical clothing arrived to a fogged in harbor at Rotterdam, preventing disembarking for three days, anchoring at sea outside the harbor.  Helicopters made humanitarian trips to the ship to drop bundles of cast-off winter clothing.  Once in port, passengers were quarantined and de-loused by fumigation, long tresses clipped short for expediency.  We were boarded with another family, sharing rooms in a “contract pension.”  This was a boarding house leased with government subsidies, which the Dutch citizenry mistakenly construed as free hand outs.  Ration coupons for groceries were held “in trust” by the house master, which invariably resulted in food shortages at the end of the month.

The following year, we moved to Utrecht.  Citing the cold winters and better educational opportunities for their large brood, we immigrated to the USA, having had a status change from “repatriates” to “refugees,” thanks to the US Congressional Pastore-Walter act.  We arrived in August 1962, settling in Southern California. We were fortunate in the early years to find a small Pasadena neighborhood of mostly Dutch-Indonesian immigrant families, and they greatly helped us assimilate. The following year, the Indo Community Center-de Soos was formed, which was a social club for Dutch-Indonesian immigrant families who all shared experiences similar to our own.  This club helped cement our identity in our adopted country, where we slowly defined ourselves more as Indo than Indisch, and where the moniker became more a source of pride than shame. As these families became integrated in American society and new generations took hold, it became challenging to maintain the strength and awareness of the dying culture in mainstream American lives.

I myself became an RN, and have retired from that very satisfying career.  I have married twice, first to a Chinese-Indonesian with whom I now have three wonderful, loving, generous adult children, Maurice, Donovan, and Lia.  Their father returned to Indonesia and they visit each other whenever possible.  They are fortunate that we have all maintained good relationships with their Indonesian side of the family.  My second husband is from the Midwest, descendant of German and Norwegian pioneers.  His great grandmother was the first Caucasian child born in Dakota territory.  His name is Scott Olson, and we’ve been married 28 years.   We have no children together, but he has loved my kids as his own from the very beginning. Surprisingly, we have much in common: large Catholic families, similar family values, similar taste in big band music growing up, similar dance styles. Yes! The first American man with whom I could jive!!!  We have been to the Netherlands together, a most memorable trip.  While the kids and I have made several trips back to Indonesia, he has never been.  We have been to Hawaii however, and I’ve pointed out the similarities to give him an idea of the tropical life.  Maybe some day….

In closing, I wish to applaud the tireless efforts by seasoned Indo immigrants to share the Indo Dutch culture, among them the late Tjalie Robinson, and happily still with us, Rene Creutzburg.  De Soos which they helped establish has been an anchor for the community, from which the subsequent generations of Indo Dutch Americans have drawn knowledge, strength, and lifestyle.  The current efforts of the younger generations, among them Michael Passage and the SoCal Indos, and Jeff Keasberry, with his “Indo Dutch Kitchen Secrets” in both English and Dutch, as well as their myriad activities with Dutch, Indonesian, and Indo Dutch organizations, these are also to be commended for keeping the cultural fires burning for their peers.  My kids are stoked!  Thank you so very, very much!

Sincerely yours,

Hanneke Olson

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1 thought on “Indo Of the Month – Sep – Written by Hanneke Olsen

  1. It is a great story. But it is more than just a family story . It is world history. As a distant relaitive to the Monod family – I am a descendant of Agnes Monod de Froideville – I am burning to know what happend in Buchenwald and how your grandfather got to Terezin/Theresienstadt and survived.

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