Children of war

Published: Jakarta Post, Sun, November 10 2013, 9:52 AM

Not forgotten: A monument to the unknown heroes at the Heroes Monument complex honors Indonesian soldiers and militiamen who died during the Battle of Surabaya against Dutch and British forces on Nov. 10, 1945, in Surabaya, East Java. (JP/Indra Harsaputra)
In the East Java capital of Surabaya — dubbed the City of Heroes in honor of the freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives to defend the country’s independence against the Dutch-led Allies following Japan’s defeat in World War II — the history of the city’s great eponymous battle is not just being told in history books.

In 2010, Ady Setyawan, the grandson of an Indonesian soldier in the battle, and his friend Bagus Kamajaya set up Roode Brug Soerabaia – a community organization that inspires young people to appreciate the heroic legacy of Surabaya.

Together, they have introduced a fun way to learn war history.

“We wear old military uniforms, carry old weapons and reenact the battle. Then we upload pictures and videos to social media accounts to make the history popular among young people,” Ady said.

Roode Brug Soerabaia, which has around 50 members, is also involved in the peace and reconciliation campaign between Indonesian and Dutch veterans.

The community’s activities have brought Ady to meet Dutch veterans and their children and grandchildren.

Dutch photographer Marjolein van Pagee was one of them. She came a long way to Indonesia to learn about the history of the war after finding an old portrait of her grandfather.

She said she found out her grandfather had been sent to join the military in Indonesia at that time.

“He joined the marines in Surabaya. I photographed some of the Dutch veterans who were in his group and wrote their stories down. I visited Indonesian veterans too. In the Netherlands, we don’t know much about them,” van Pagee said.

But she had never heard about the Battle of Surabaya before she visited Indonesia.

“When I knew about that, I was shocked and couldn’t believe that I had never heard about such an important battle,” she said.

“I can imagine how meaningful it is for Indonesian fighters. It was a life-changing event for everybody, both Indonesian and Dutch.”

Dutch blogger Max van Der Werff, whose father was a veteran, said that in the Netherlands they mostly heard about the Dutch victims of the war.

“That thousands of Indonesians died during the British bombing raids, we never hear anything about that,” said van Der Werff, who has came to Indonesia several times to learn more about Indonesian-Dutch war history.

The man’s ride: Bung Tomo’s car, a 1956 Opel Kapitan, is placed near a statue honoring him at the Heroes Monument complex in Surabaya, East Java. (JP/Indra Harsaputra)
Now, van Pagee and van Der Werff are working together with their Indonesian counterparts from the Roode Brug Soerabaia community to help organize reconciliation events in both countries.

“It was interesting when Marjolein and I discovered that our grandfathers were enemies during the fighting in Nganjuk, East Java but we are friends,” Ady said.

As part of their activities, in January people gathered around the statue of Jan Pieter Coen — the founder of Batavia (now Jakarta) and the former governor-general of the Dutch East Indies — in Hoorn, the Netherlands, and lit a thousand candles to honor the victims of Dutch colonialism and to pray there would be no more imperialism in the future.

Then, last month, Roode Brug presented flowers in the Ereveld Kembang Kuning Dutch War Cemetery in Surabaya to honor Dutch women and children who died during the Bersiap Movement in 1945.

The Bersiap, which literally means “get ready”, is widely known as the name given by the Dutch to a violent phase during the Indonesian revolution, believed to be triggered by the so-called power vacuum following the retreat of Japanese forces and the gradual build-up of British military might before the official handover to the Dutch military.

According to Bussemaker, H.TH in his book Bersiap – Uprising in Paradise, Dutch and European civilians were rounded up and brutally killed at the Kalisosok and Bubutan prisons in Surabaya on Oct. 15, 1945.

Another author, Indonesian veteran Suhario Kecik Padmodiwirjo, who penned Pertempuran Surabaya (The Battle of Surabaya), said that some things may have gotten out of hand, but such war crimes were perpetrated by irresponsible parties.

 “At that time, we were in the middle of a turbulence that seemed like chaos. But if you look closer, you will find out that the entire youth movement only had one goal: freedom from colonialism,” he said.

Van Der Werff, whose uncle was murdered during the Bersiap Movement, said the reconciliation was about forgiveness, not about forgetting. Such a process, he added, would take time.

“It’s almost impossible to expect the first generation to forgive each other. Some already did. Some never will,” he said.

“For me as the second generation, it’s easier to discuss because we didn’t experience the horror of war personally. And I think the third generation can exchange their views of history without too much personal emotion.”

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