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Documentary tells of fatal 1945 transport of Dutch women and children

Over 100 killed by Indonesian mob

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

HILVERSUM, the Netherlands - A new documentary, aired on Dutch television on the 60th anniversary of Japan’s capitulation, recalls the convoy of over 300 Dutch women and children near Surabaya, in October 1945. British troops escorting survivors from Japanese concentration camps to safer ground, were unable to protect them from a frenzied mob which killed over 100 women and children.

Filmmakers Robbert ter Weijden and André Beerda cronicled the ‘Fatal Voyage to Freedom.’ In October 1945, during the start of what soon became known as the ‘bersiap’, Indonesian youths indiscriminately attacked Dutch and foreign citizens most of whom only weeks before had been freed from Japanese prison camps throughout the islands of what was then still the Netherlands East Indies (NEI).

Two days after the official capitulation of Japan on August 15, 1945, nationalist leaders Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the independence of Indonesia. The act of defiance fueled the feelings by many that this could be the time to take revenge on their ‘oppressors,’ not on the Japanese who brutally had enslaved millions during the islands’ occupation, but on ill-nourished Dutch citizens, who had been jailed, enslaved and terrorized themselves during those three years.

Freedom short-lived

Whipped up by extremists and other nationalists, many of Indonesia’s youths from October 1945 on tried to ‘reclaim’ their country through attacks on Dutch survivors of the Japanese prison camps. For the victims who had endured humiliation and starvation in the camps, the regained freedom was short-lived. Soon they were hunted, attacked and mortally jeopardized by people they had peacefully co-existed with before 1942.

During the bersiap time (‘Bersiapi!’, meaning ‘stand firm’ or ‘be on guard’, was the war cry of the crazed youths) which lasted only four months, over 20,000 Dutch citizens lost their lives, about the same number as during the entire Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies. Many more Indonesians were killed however, in gun battles with Allied troops, which by Winter 1945 were reinforced by Dutch soldiers ferried in from the Netherlands. The chaos in post-war Indonesia is best illustrated with the fact that the newly-liberated Dutch and other nationals in some cases were protected by Japanese soldiers, their former tormentors.


Amidst this chaos, British soldiers at the end of October 1945, set out to take some 300 Dutch women and children to safer grounds in the Javanese port of Surabaya. Far before reaching their destination, the convoy came to a halt when barricades closed off their route. In the ambush, thousands of frenzied youths and extremists fell upon the civilians, vastly outnumbering their British protectors, and killed over 100 Dutch women and children.

The Network documentary on the ‘Fatal Voyage to Freedom’ used eyewitness accounts from some of the survivors, among whom Henk Itzig Heine.

On the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Japanese capitulation, the Dutch government de-facto acknowledged August 17, 1945 as the official date of Indonesia’s independence. Until now, the Dutch insisted on December 27, 1949 as the date on which sovereignty was transferred officially.