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Interview with Arie Biemond

the Netherlands

The Netherlands

[This interview with Mr. Arie Biemond was done in July 2000 via -mail and is posted here by his kind permission.]

Mr. Biemond, how old were you when the war started ? When did your family move to the Dutch East Indies ?

I was born in 1933 and my parents moved to the NEI in 1924.

You lived on Java Island, where your father was a secretary of the board of managers of a big company, Handelsvereniging Amsterdam (HVA), that owned a great number of plantations producing mainly tea, sugar and tobacco in Java and Sumatra. How would you describe those pre-war years on Java Island ? There had been some big revolts against Dutch rule in some parts of the Dutch East Indies and I am wondering what opinion did Dutch settlers have about these native movements fighting for independence ? I am often told that most Dutch settlers disapproved of any native movements for independence whatsoever and that even Vice-Admiral Helfrich (who was half Dutch, half Indonesian) saw the Dutch East Indies only as a part of the Netherlands and was strongly against any struggles for independence of Indonesia.

It was a rather quiet time. The last big revolts against the Dutch government (in Atjeh in the north of Sumatra and on the island Lombok) had been suppressed around 1900. Sometimes there was some (financed by Kominterna) local unrest; the leaders of these movements were interned or exiled to far away parts of the Netherlands East Indies. In the view of the majority of the Dutch (and the big group of people of mixed origin) independence would be disastrous for both the local population and the Netherlands. Some others considered a dominion-status in maybe fifty years a better thing for the future.

How would you in general rate the relations between the Dutch and native (Indonesian) population in pre-war time, especially in the town where you and your family lived ?

Relations were mostly relaxed although not without some colonial superiority-feeling. "We with our 300 years experience know what is the best for these peoples, that are in the foreseeable future unable to govern themselves". The people living in the more than 1000 islands of the Dutch East Indies had very different etnical origins and were in different stages of development. Those living in Borneo and New Guinea were very primitive still. The South Moluccans (Ambon) and North Celebes were rather pro Dutch. Soldiers from these areas formed the bulk of the rather small (40.000) army (more a police force).

What was the reaction of Dutch population in Netherlands East Indies, when they found out that Holland was ocuupied by the Germans ? Were you confident that the war won’t come to the Far East ? Do you recall if there arrived any Dutch refugees from the homeland ?

The reaction was a sharply increased fear for a Japanese invasion, certainly after the defeat in Western Europe of France and the British forced there in 1940. Everybody had family in the occupied Netherlands. There was an increased military spending and even voluntary actions to buy more Spitfires I. Not many Dutchman were able to leave the occupied Netherlands so there were not much fugitives.

Have your father, mother or any other guests ever discussed about events in Europe or what’s going to happen with Netherlands East Indies in the nearest future ? Have they perhaps mention the posibility of a Japanese invasion ?

A Japanese invasion was considered very probable.

Do you remember the day when you found out that the war has come too to the Dutch East Indies ?

Yes. On the same day that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor the government of the Netherlands in London declared that it considered itself at war with Japan. It was regarded impossible that Japan should attack the US and Great Britain and leave the Dutch East Indies at peace. On the contrary, the Dutch East Indies considered itself to be the main object of the Japanese expansion. The news was brought in an extra radio announcement, followed by the national anthems of the Netherlands, the US and Great Britain.

Have you ever seen any preparations of the local army (KNIL) for the war (like digging trenches, putting baricades and stuff like that..) ?

No, not in the city of Soerabaja. Only air alarm drills.

Your father was among those who were mobilized into Stadswacht (city guard). Has he ever talked about what was the Stadswacht preparing themselves in those few weeks before Japanese invasion for the obvious attack which was surely not far away ? Have you also saw any other foreign soldiers on the streets of your town, like US, British or Australian ? Did perhaps any of your brothers served in KNIL or Navy ?

No, only foreign navy personnel incidentally. My two brothers are younger than me.

Was your town (Soerabaja) often bombed by the Japanese planes ? Do you know by any chance which targets were most often bombed ? Did you have any air-raid shelters or any other kind of protection in case of air raids ?

Regularly, but mostly the habour area, wich was at least five km away. Only one time bombs fell in the vicinity. Our air raid shelter was our primitively reinforced garage.

The Japanese needed exactly three months before they could invade Java Island. How well were you informed in this time about the current military events which happened in other parts of the Netherlands East Indies, like falls of Sumatra, Tarakan, Ambon, etc.. ? How did work civil administration in this time ? Were there enough food and other supplies or did you lack of any ?

Yes, we were all glued to our radios. In these days the civil administration continued to function more or less normally and there were no food shortages.

Did you have any intentions to escape by ship or by plane from Netherlands East Indies in March 1942 ?

Almost no one got the opportunity or permission to leave. All transport facilities were mobilized and used to evacuate Allied military personnel and a few government officials. The highest authority in the Dutch East Indies, the Governor-General stayed and ordered everyone to remain in function.

The Japanese Army landed on Java island in March 1942 and it needed only eight days to defeat ABDA forces. Have you noticed any panic among civilian population and military personnel on the streets, knowing that the Japanese have already on »their island« ? How did you (your town) react when learning that the first Japanese soldiers have set their foot on Java Island ?

I can't remember more than sitting in or near our shelter and listening to the radio, that was transmitting military information. At last it closed off its broadcast "until better times" with our national anthem.

Do you recall when did you see the Japanese soldiers for the very first time ? What kind of impression did you and your nearest get about them ?

Yes, when a platoon of them came cycling through our street. Amazement: are these small and dirty men really our victors?

How were you informed that the Dutch East Indies and its army have capitulated ? Were there any worry among Dutch and natives about uncertain future ?

Yes, see above. Some Indonesian nationalists however considered this to be the beginning of their independence and therefore started to co-operate with the Japanese.

How would briefly describe first few weeks after the capitulation ?

The start of a new and unknown period of time and a definitive end of the present... The newspaper announcing a new period of peace and prosperity under Japanese guidance. The prominent printing of the Japanese national anthem, the Kimigayo, with a Dutch translation, ending with "the reign of the Empire will continue until pebbles will have grown into boulders, covered with moss" (translation out of my memory) wich seemed to us an awful long time. The closing of all banks, schools and other european institutions. The issuing of occupation money (all other currencies were immediately declared invalid), one side printed in Dutch (soon replaced by Malayan) and the other in Japanese. The allmost immediate internment of all Dutch males. The obligatory deep bow for every Japanese soldier and the Japanese flag.

Arie, while in Soerabaja, you lived across the house of Rear-Admiral Doorman and have occasionaly met with him and his children. How would you describe him and do you by any chance know what has happened with his family when the Japanese invaded ?

I do not have met him personally very often, because usually he was out on the sea. His son and I were friends and we visited each others birthdayparties. The Doorman family was one of the very few that were evacuated to Australia, shortly before the capitulation of Java. They left Soerabaya with one of the last water-planes, arrived safely in Darwin, in the port of Darwin their plane was attacked by Japanese fighters but they managed to swim to shore.

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