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Jakarta Post

Irawan Soejono, a Dutch, Indonesian hero

  • Aboeprijadi Santoso

    The Jakarta Post

Amsterdam   /   Tue, June 30, 2015   /  06:21 am

It has been a long time since the Perhimpunan Indonesia (PI) '€” the Indonesian student association in the Netherlands '€” used the word '€œIndonesia'€ in 1924 to express the nation'€™s aspiration to become independent '€” the very first expression of its kind.

The PI, formerly Indische Vereeniging, set up in 1908, is an important precursor of Indonesia'€™s nationalist movement, whose members include one of Indonesia'€™s founding fathers, first vice president Mohammad Hatta.

Today, few, perhaps, would have heard of Irawan Soejono '€” PI'€™s most legendary figure and a symbol of the Dutch-Indonesia anti-fascist resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Thanks to the initiative of the children of former members of the Dutch resistance movement '€” Irawan Faiman, Ernst Janz, Murjani Kusumobroto and others '€” a series of recent public events were held to commemorate the role of Indonesians and '€œIndos'€ of mixed Dutch-Indonesian blood, who joined the Dutch resistance in the 1940s against the Nazis.

The program included the unveiling of a memorial at the spot where Irawan was once buried at the Groene Steen Park in Leiden on June 7. In 1946 his body was cremated and the ashes sent to Jakarta.

Referring to his nom de guerre '€œHenk'€ and the PI magazine, the memorial translates: '€œIrawan Soejono 24/1/1920 '€” 13/1/1945 '€” Indonesian student, Member of the P.I. '€” Henk of the Liberation '€” Resistance fighter'€.

Irawan, a student at Leiden University, was a member of PI'€™s armed unit. He was responsible for the printing of the resistance'€™s illegal magazine De Bevrijding, which was published three times a week and there were about 20,000 copies. A dangerous task, yet he often escaped police raids.

But on Jan. 13, 1945, he was caught and shot dead by the police as he cycled carrying a stencil machine near Leiden railway station.

To honor him, the resistance brigade was named after him. On May 4, 1990, his name was immortalized as a street name, '€œIrawan Soejonostraat'€ in Amsterdam Osdorp '€” as was also the case with leading Indonesian figures honored in other cities: Sjahrir, Hatta, RA Kartini and in April this year, Munir.

Indonesian resistance activists saved many Jews from persecution.

In occupied Netherlands, there were about 1,000 Indonesians, some 100 of them students in Leiden and Rotterdam, and about 800 others included sailors, workers, shop employees, domestic workers and children.

Life became hard as the Nazis came to occupy the Netherlands in May 1940 and contacts with the homeland were broken when Japan occupied then Netherlands-India from March 1942. Food became scarce.

Yet, despite growing isolation and the social gap between students and others, the PI was able to organize meetings, food distribution and cultural events to alleviate the suffering.

War in Europe meant growing political awareness. Only very few Indonesians were attracted by
Nazi propaganda while most were with the PI, organizing Indonesian students, workers and sailors employed by the shipping company Rotterdam Lloyd.

When the occupiers closed the State University of Leiden in 1942, the PI moved its headquarters from Leiden to Amsterdam, marking its growing solidarity and stronger collaboration with Dutch resistance groups and media around them like Het Parool and Vrije Nederland.

The PI never abandoned the aspiration of independence. Neither did they view their collaboration with local resistance as a postponement of their own ideal. To collaborate '€œis to save humanity'€; thus '€œIndonesia merdeka'€ [Indonesian freedom] can only be achieved by fighting against fascism, the PI declared at its jubilee in 1938.

Given total isolation from the homeland during the war, to fight against fascism seemed, to many, a strategic road toward Indonesia'€™s independence.

The historian Harry Poeze argued that Indonesians within the Dutch administration, too, retained their own ideals. Irawan'€™s father, Raden Adipati Soejono, as minister in the Dutch cabinet in exile in London (1942-1943) '€” the first Indonesian in that position '€” was enthusiastic when Queen Wilhelmina declared support for Indonesia'€™s right to self-determination.

However, he was deeply disappointed when the Queen later indicated she would only support self-government under Dutch royal reign, rather than full independence.

Not much is known about Indonesians'€™ part in the antifascist struggle in Europe. Only PI member Parlindungan Lubis wrote a memoir. '€œNew [historical] sources are scarce,'€ Poeze, the author of In Het Land van de Overheersers (In the Land of the Rulers, 1986), complained.

Irawan was a committed antifascist fighter. A humble man with '€œshabby clothing'€, he was known to have a very warm heart.

'€œHe once made a long trip to find food, cut the firewood and cook for those who were hungry,'€ his close friend Soeripno wrote in his obituary. The only remaining photograph of him is that of his dead body, with a wound on the left side of his head.

Indonesian resistance activists saved many Jews from persecution. There was a remarkable role, too, of Indonesian women, including Evie Poetiray and Irawan'€™s sister Soetiasmi, as clandestine messengers.

One Indonesian nurse, named Soetanandika, is known to have ingeniously helped Setiadjit, the PI top leader, escape hospital by giving sleeping pills to the two German police who guarded him. Her whereabouts after that incident are a lost story.

Some PI members were brought to Nazi camps. Most were killed and only two survived: Parlindungan Lubis and Djajeng Pratomo. Today only two PI members are known to be alive '€” Djajeng, 101 years old in the Netherlands, and Evie Poetiray, 97, in Jakarta.

A film about the contribution of Indonesians in the struggle against fascism in the Netherlands will be screened in Amsterdam in November.

Much of what is known about their role, however, is believed to have been hidden or stashed amid chaos following postwar conflicts between the Netherlands and Indonesia.

Hence, it is hoped that the Dutch government and the greater public will welcome the commemoration and fully acknowledge the Indonesian part of the Netherlands'€™ national liberation.

Equally, it is important for Indonesia to recognize that particular episode '€” in which their sons and daughters suffered, played an important role and sacrificed their lives '€” as part and parcel of the history of Indonesian independence.

 The writer is a journalist based in Amsterdam.

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