Not much is known abroad about the “Indische Kwestie”, people from Indonesian descent, mainly from the Moluccan Islands, in particular, Ambon are waiting for 75 years for compensation and excuses from the Dutch Government, the only excuses came in 2013 and 2016 from The Dutch Ambassador in Indonesia. The Netherlands occupied Indonesia for more than 300 years, left in 1949, after the independence and “forgat” about the people, never compensated them, also a lot of them went under “false” promises to the Netherlands, where they were housed in the former concentration camps Westerbork and Vught. The prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, gave excuses today for the Holocaust, but not to the “forgotten” people of Indonesia, who were in Japanese concentration camps and fought for the Dutch army.
Ambon and the surrounding islands were some of the first and most thoroughly colonized areas of the East Indies by the Dutch. Because of successful missionary work, today about half the population is Calvinistic/protestant. Especially (but not exclusively) with these Calvinist Moluccans, a career in the Royal Dutch-Indonesia or Indian as it was called back then Army (KNIL) was popular. (The KNIL had Dutch officers, but mainly native soldiers.) The Moluccans were considered reliable, loyal soldiers.
After the occupation of the Dutch East Indies from 1942-1945 by Japan in World War II, the Dutch government wanted to restore its authority over the colony. The Indonesians revolted against this and under the leadership of Soekarno an independence struggle broke out between 1945 and 1949. KNIL was instructed by the Dutch government to maintain order and to disarm freedom fighters. Since Moluccans were an important part of the KNIL, many Indonesians considered them as henchmen of the Dutch after independence.
After the independence of Indonesia on December 28, 1949, the KNIL was abolished. The 62,000 native soldiers of the KNIL were given the choice to either be demobilized or to become part of the national Indonesian army. Both options were not particularly attractive, especially for the Moluccans, so that in October 1950, 8,000 people still had not made a decision. They were temporarily included in the normal Dutch army until they could be demobilized.
In the meantime, the situation in Indonesia had changed. Because the Netherlands received no international support in its attempts to retain a role in the colony, it had to withdraw definitively from it in 1949. Although the transfer of sovereignty stipulated that Indonesia would have a federal structure, the country soon changed into a unitary state. In response, on April 25, 1950, on the Moluccan Islands, the Republik became Maluku Selatan.
The remaining indigenous KNIL soldiers, who were temporarily on Java, supported the RMS. They, therefore, wanted to be demobilized on Ambon to join the RMS army. (According to the KNIL regulations, soldiers had the right to be demobilized in a place of their choice.) The Netherlands, however, did not want to disturb the young relations with the former colony and therefore did not allow the wish of the Moluccan soldiers. At the same time, it was under strong international pressure to accelerate decolonization.
A court ruling prohibited the Dutch government from firing the remaining Moluccan soldiers after the Indonesian War of Independence on Java, as this was the territory of a foreign country. On the binding advice of the RMS delegation in the Netherlands, the soldiers voluntarily opted for the, in their view, the only real possibility of a temporary transfer to the Netherlands. There was, therefore, no question of service order for boarding. The remaining 3578 soldiers – 1231 non-commissioned officers, 2341 regular soldiers, and 6 clergymen – were brought to the Netherlands. Therefore, between March 23 and June 21, 1951, they and their families – a total of about 12,500 people – were taken to the Netherlands. There they were told after their arrival that they had been released from military service.
Because it was thought that their stay in the Netherlands would be temporary, they were housed in around 90 central residential locations. These were former camps of the Nazi period, old barracks and monasteries, and the former concentration camps Westerbork and Vught.
During the first twenty years, the Dutch government insisted that the Moluccans only stay in the Netherlands until they could be repatriated. That is why they were deliberately kept out of Dutch society. They did not get a chance to become Dutch citizens but were considered Indonesians. (Since they refused Indonesian citizenship, this meant that they were stateless.) Initially, it was even thought that it would not be necessary to integrate the children into the Dutch education system, although this eventually happened. The Moluccans were prohibited from working.
Being discriminated, not allowed to work and harsh living conditions, they rebelled, which resulted in kidnapping and upheaval under the 2nd generation:
- 1975: Train hijacking at Wijster and occupation of the Indonesian consulate
- 1977: Train hijacking at De Punt and hostage primary school in Bovensmilde
- 1978: Hostage in the provincial government office in Assen
In 1986, after lengthy consultations, a commemorative medal of Amazons coming to the Netherlands and a so-called Rietkerk benefit were established.
In 2016, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport paid benefits to former KNIL soldiers for the first time because they had received no wages during the Second World War. These included Moluccans.
On October 30, 2017, after 66 years, the Ministry of Defense recognized the former KNIL soldiers as veterans and promised to look at who is eligible for medals. This applied only for approximately eighty former KNIL people who are still alive. By being recognized as a veteran, the veteran institute will organize an annual reunion and the Moluccans will have their own place on Veteran Day. However, until today it is still unclear whether the KNIL veterans will also get a role in the parade during Veterans Day. Also, the benefits are up til today not received by many because the had to prove that they were members of the KNIL.
As an old veteran says in the Video: ” We were sent home with 35 Guilders that’s it. How can we prove we were soldiers for the Dutch or in Japanese concentration camps?