Anne Janse-Veen described her experiences as a 14-year-old girl in the Bersiap period for Getuigen & Tijdgenoten (Witnesses & Contemporaries). You can read more about them in the blog post below.
A review of my experiences during the Bersiap period
By Anne Janse-Veen.
I recently comprehensively described my experiences as a 14-year-old girl in the chaotic time of the Bersiap period for the Getuigen & Tijdgenoten (Witnesses & Contemporaries) project. I began my story in August 1945, in Tjideng camp, where I spent the last period of the Japanese occupation with my mother. We shared a living room of 4 by 5 metres with 15 people. It was restless throughout August. Rumours that peace was coming became increasingly insistent. The rumours gave us comfort, hope and courage during the period in the camp. The first noticeable change was that a milder camp commandant replaced the violent Sonei.
The meaning of the more lenient regime only became clear on 22 August, when the head of the camp reported in a business-like tone that Japan had capitulated. It was whispered that very special bombs had been dropped on Japanese cities – atomic bombs. I had no idea what they were, but did this mean peace? We were all summoned by the announcer, who also announced the food in the soup kitchen, to assemble on Tjilamaja field. “The war is over,” she said unmoved. There was silence and no joy. We were afraid that we were being fooled again and that reprisals might follow if we cheered. The sense of fear was strong.
“The natives of our Indies no longer wish to live with Dutch people as their bosses,” my mother told me, “they wish to become independent and, as Dutch people, we do not want that to happen.” That moment marked the start of a period that for me and my family – in addition to my parents, I had one older brother who was in the camps – was even more scary, dangerous and incomprehensible than the time spent in the internment camps. I can still clearly recall the chaos that prevailed, as well as the terrible stories about people who had simply disappeared or been murdered.
I worked in the pharmacy, where I rinsed bottles. On the balangkang next to the main building that was serving as the hospital, I saw that people lying on their balé-balé were dying as the water from the beriberi legs flowed outside from the bed. I felt no panic. Death was a familiar sight. I blindly trusted my spiritual mother and her belief that nothing would happen to us.
One night, we heard a tremendous noise at the gedek near our house. Half asleep, we immediately walked outside. We got word that Indonesians wanted to storm the camp with spears and klewangs. I was terrified, because no one could protect us in this transition phase. The noise and dreadful shouting suddenly stopped. I looked to one side and saw my mother next to me in prayer. Several camp women were praying. An increasing number of people nevertheless left the camp in the days that followed. The consequences were sometimes horrific. Many, including children, were later found in a mutilated state. The grief and suffering was as it had been in the Japanese period.
My story ends in April 1946, when I could return by boat to the Netherlands with my parents. I am now 86 years old and I was able to describe my experiences in writing as if they had happened yesterday. It was remarkable how much I was able to recall. In spite of that, however, I noticed to my surprise that there is a clear blind spot in the period from September 1945 to December 1945. I only became truly aware of that when I wrote my story for Witnesses & Contemporaries. For safety reasons, we had to stay in Tjideng camp as much as possible. While the camp was emptying because of family reunions, the atmosphere became sinister. It was a very unpleasant and unstable period, pregnant with threat. The adults faced major dilemmas – stay or leave? – whereas I just continued performing my old camp duties as if there was no peace. Apparently, it was precisely that period that was erased from my memory by my survival mechanism.