Survivors of massacre demand compensation

Wax statues in Balongsari portray the atrocities of Dutch militaries on December 9, 1947.
By our Indonesia correspondent Elske Schouten

Relatives and survivors of a massacre in the Indonesian village of Rawagede in 1947 are demanding an apology and compensation from the Dutch government. Indonesia was a Dutch colony in the 1800s and was finally granted sovereignty in 1949 after an armed struggle.

"I never thought they would kill us because we were just ordinary people," says Saih. "I only realised [what they were going to do] when they began the countdown... Een, twee, drie." Three soldiers started shooting the men in the back.

According to the village, the soldiers shot dead all the men – 431 people. It was summary justice, meted out as the men were running away or hiding in the river. In 1969, an investigation by the Dutch government into war crimes in Indonesia says 150 were killed in Rawagede.

Saih, now in his late 80s, is one of the 10 survivors and relatives who, 61 years later, are asking for an apology and compensation for the massacre in the Indonesian village of Rawagede carried out by Dutch soldiers on December 9, 1947.

Last week lawyer Gerrit Jan Pulles and Comité Nederlandse Ereschulden, a foundation which represents civilian victims of Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia, said the Dutch government must accept responsibility for the massacre at Rawagede.

Independence

Just like many other men, Saih, who sold vegetables, hid in the river when the Dutch arrived. His body under the water, his head in a hole he dug in the river bed. But the soldiers' four tracker dogs found him. His companion shouted “merdeka” (independence) and was shot. Saih gave himself up and went with the soldiers.

It was raining hard on that day in December 1947. The village of Rawagede was flooded. The Dutch soldiers were looking for Lukas Kustario, an Indonesian freedom fighter, but he had left the day before.

The men who were actually doing the shooting did not look Dutch, says Saih. They had dark skins. Two white Dutchmen watched. Saih was hit in the back, but the bullet had first passed through the son of the village chief so has lost some of its velocity.

Pretended to be dead

When the boy's body fell on him, Saih pretended to be dead too. During the final salvo, Saih was hit in the arm. But he was still alive and when the soldiers left, he fled.

Batara Hutagalung, chairman of the Comité Nederlandse Ereschulden, became interested in the war crimes committed in Indonesia at the end of the 1990s when he read his father's unpublished memoires, he says.

He read about the bombing of Surabaya in 1945 by the English who were helping the Dutch get back their colony. An estimated 20,000 people died. "It was the first time I was confronted with what happened back then," says Hutagalung, who lived in Germany until 1992. "In Germany the Nazis were tried and tracked down as far as South America. I wondered why that didn't happen here."

The foundation has successfully asked for an apology and compensation from the British government for the Surabaya bombing.

Dutch government obstinate

Hutagalung then began working on the Rawagede case. But until now the Dutch government has been "obstinate", he says. The fact that former foreign affairs minister Ben Bot expressed his “regret” for the violence in 2005 is not enough, he says. "Regret is not an apology. I don't understand why it's so difficult to say sorry."

Today Rawagede is called Balongsari. It has a large memorial to the victims of the massacre. The river where Saih hid is now a thin stream full of rubbish. Balongsari is a colourful village thanks to its pretty coloured houses built by the villagers with money earned by many of the women who work temporarily in the Middle East. But according to its chief, the village is still poor. Most of its 3,000 inhabitants work on the land or make prawn crackers.

Piles of corpses

In one of the houses, lives the 86-year-old Tijeng. Mattresses are everywhere, 15 people from five generations live here. Tijeng was breastfeeding her daughter when her husband Nimong tried to flee from the Dutch.

He did not get far, he was captured and shot dead. Three days later Tijeng searched piles of corpses, looking for his body.

When Tijeng sees a baby, she remembers how helpless she felt then. "I didn't know what to do. I had a baby. I couldn't work."

Saih and Tijeng do not know the details of their claim. They have merely given a fingerprint and had their photos taken. They are no longer angry with the Dutch. But compensation would be welcome.

Tijeng has no money for treatment on the swelling in her ear which is beginning to affect her sight too.

And Saih says: "It doesn't have to be much. Just a small amount for a decent life until I die, and to give my children and grandchildren a better life."

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