April 15, 2009

11. The Shadow Under the Sun (March 1942 - November 1945)

Anna and Margie in occupied Surabaya, circa early 1943
Margie holds a portrait of her "Pappie"
Photo by Nikola Drakulic
Han Samethini Collection

Evacuated from Borneo in December 1941, Anna and Margie returned to Surabaya as planned. They lived in the Brantasstraat house with mother-in-law Emma and sister-in-law Elisabeth, who was now pregnant. During the frequent Japanese air raids of February 1942, they took refuge in a bomb shelter in the front yard. This was a dugout reinforced with sandbags, built by Emma's neighbors from across the street. At times they had to remain in the shelter for up to eight hours.

Any expectation of further reinforcement from America was dashed on March 1 by the news of Japanese landings on Java. Enemy troops reached Surabaya on the 6th, fighting their way into the suburbs in the Wonokromo district and advancing along the Surabaya River towards the Gunungsari golf course. The Samethinis must have heard the artillery fire from American defensive positions, but this ceased on the 7th as Allied resistance crumbled. From the direction of the port and naval base came the sound of heavy explosions. Great, dirty smoke clouds billowed from burning oil stocks and war material, set ablaze to deny them to the invaders. On the 8th, at 9:00 a.m., General Ter Poorten, commander-in-chief of Dutch forces, surrendered all of Java to the Japanese. At 11:00 p.m., NIROM, the radio network of the Netherlands East Indies, concluded its final broadcast: "We are closing now. Farewell until better times. Long live the Queen!" The night deepened and Surabaya passed into a shadow that was to prevail, even under the brightest noonday sun, for the next three and a half years.

Oil stocks torched by retreating Dutch forces in Surabaya
Source: The Dutch East Indies Campaign

In the hours following the Dutch collapse, mobs of Indonesian looters swept through the city, plundering factories, shops, offices, and homes. The Japanese soon imposed order, but this relief from anarchy meant neither law nor justice. It was merely the start of a more systematic robbery. Bank accounts were frozen and then confiscated. Ruinous levies, including a property tax 70 times higher than the prewar rate, bled off any remaining sound currency. When they scrupled to pay for what they took, the Japanese purchased goods with fiat paper money. Printed in vast quantities and forced upon sellers as legal tender, this depreciating scrip would cause severe price inflation and its attendant woes. [1]

Japanese occupation money for the Netherlands East Indies, issued in 1942

The Japanese Army seized Dutch homes to provide living quarters for its officers, turning the former owners out into the streets. The hospitals were likewise commandeered. When Elisabeth went into labor on April 8, there was no question of taking her to a maternity ward:

I could not go to the hospital because the Japs had taken everything. So Mum [Emma] called the Indonesian doctor and Mary-em was born the next day, 7 lb. 950 grams. [2]

With equal vigor the conquerors began the extirpation of European culture, a policy implicit in their slogan, "Asia for the Asians." Dutch schools were closed, the Dutch language banned from publication. Surviving newspapers had to print all articles in High Malay. Personal life became degrading and fraught with danger. Encounters with Japanese soldiers required a ritual servility which, if not instantly displayed, was exacted with military strictness. The Dutch learned to respond to the barked orders: "Kiotske!" (Stand to attention!) "Kerei!" (Bow!), "Naore!" (Return to attention!). Tardiness to show proper respect could be punished with face slapping or outright beatings. Harsher treatment awaited those who ran afoul of the Imperial Army's security police, the Kempei-tai, whose province was the concentration camp and the torture chamber.

Indonesian bus conductress bows to a Japanese officer
Netherlands Institute for War Documentation

Officers of the Kempei-tai
Netherlands Institute for War Documentation

Having locked up Dutch military personnel in POW camps, the occupiers meticulously registered all "enemy alien residents of the Japanese Empire." Effectively this was a screening process to determine which Dutch civilians should be imprisoned immediately and which should be arrested later. The Samethinis reported for registration in May 1942. Anna stood in line holding 6-month-old Margie in her arms, trembling with fear, until she was called before the desk of a Kempei officer.

"What are you?" he demanded. "Are you Dutch or are you Indonesian?"

"Indonesian," she stammered.

The officer bowed his head and placed his hands flat on the papers covering his desk. For a moment he sat motionless, as if in meditation. Gathering himself into a sudden rage, he shouted, "No!" He fixed Anna with an accusing stare and pointed to her green eyes, declaring, "You have traitor eyes!" Thinking quickly, Emma broke in:

"She's German. Her maiden name is Gunthardt."

Amazingly, the bluff worked and the Japanese relented, allowing Anna to complete the registration process and return home. Emma's German surname, Wychgel, was of similar advantage. Elisabeth also successfully ran the gauntlet, but she was at greatest risk of receiving further attention. She was a white Dutchwoman, of the race most suspected and hated by the Japanese, and the daughter of a naval officer. [3]

Home was a place of relative safety, and the Samethinis were not poor according to the severe standards of the time. Anna's diary records the employment of housemaids, purchases of children's shoes, trips to the zoo and the ice cream parlor, and a visit to the Nikola Drakulic photography studio to have family pictures taken. There is no mention of hunger. Emma's dance school continued to give classes, though this probably generated only a modest income.

The former Samethini home on Brantrasstraat, in Surabaya
A new veranda has been added in front
Today the street is called Jalan Irian Barat
Photo by Adi Hartono (August 2010)

Jean Muller (Jeannette Muller von Czernicki)
1939 driver's license photo

Courtesy of Margie Samethini-Bellamy

Albert Emil Muller von Czernicki
Japanese ID photo, 1942

Courtesy of Margie Samethini-Bellamy

Added financial support came from Anna's friends, Jean and Albert Muller, who lived on Altingstraat (where they had settled following the confiscation of their house on Koetaistraat). Albert, it seems, worked as an illustrator for the publisher H. Van Ingen. Jean was an accountant at the Suikersyndicaat (Sugar Association), a consortium of sugar producers. High ranking Japanese military officers also employed her as a tennis instructor for their daughters, because she had been a champion tennis player before the war. With thousands being deprived of their jobs and sent to concentration camps, the Mullers were fortunate to continue earning a livelihood. But Albert suffered from tuberculosis and grew weaker with each passing month.

Emma with Mary-em (seated) and Margie, 1943
Photo by Nikola Drakulic
Han Samethini Collection

A page from Anna's diary
March 17-22, 1943
Han Samethini Collection

In her diary, Anna wrote mostly about the doings of Margie and her younger cousin, Mary-em. Margie had grown into a precocious toddler by mid-1943, speaking words and short phrases distinctly enough to ask for music:

Margie and M.E. now have the whole studio to themselves. They want music, go to the record player and go at it. You won't believe Margie's agility. We could never do such movements. She will be a star someday, Hans! [4]

Han's portrait was an object of special importance. The little girl had a fascination with her father despite being separated from him at an extremely young age:

If she is naughty she asks for her father's forgiveness. And she walks around carrying your picture, Hans, and says, "Bagie naughty. Sorry, Pappie, sorry." At night she wakes up and asks for Pappie's picture and falls asleep holding it in her arms. She asks while pointing to the phonograph, "Mama, open. Bagie dance." When she hears the music she says, "Oh, Pappie." [5]

B-24 Liberators of the U.S. 5th Air Force, 380th Bomb Group
This unit flew missions against Surabaya, 1943-1944
The sound of their engines is one of Margie's earliest memories

Margie paid keen attention to the city's air raid sirens. On June 23 she remarked, as they began to wail, "Naughty noise, Mommy, watch out." Java lay deep within the Japanese Empire, but not so deep that it was beyond the reach of Allied warplanes. Flying some 1,170 miles from their base in Northern Australia, American B-24 Liberators bombed Surabaya's harbor docks, the railway yards, and the BPM oil refinery. It was the first of three missions flown against the city that year. These targets were safely distant from Brantasstraat, and the raid must have inspired cautious hopes that the end of the war might be near. But it was not near enough. On September 25, Elisabeth received a summons from the Japanese. Anna writes:

A bad day. We got the news that Lies [Elisabeth], M.E., and Ida have to go into the camps on the 30th. I've bawled like a baby. We will miss them so very much. The children won't know each other anymore. We hope the good Lord will bring us together again, with our boys and men. [6]

The parting came sooner than expected, on the 28th.

A dreadful day. Lies, M.E., and Ida have to go into the camps immediately, only allowed two suitcases with belongings. We are so upset, as we had counted on the 30th. The farewell was horrible. Mom [Emma] shrieked with anguish, also because she believes M.E. cannot do without her.....Oh well, this is behind us now. What else can befall us? [7]

Elisabeth Samethini's Japanese ID certificate
Anna's name and signature appears in the "Orang Saksi" (witness) section,
beneath that of Elisabeth's mother, Maria Boerman

 Frank Samethini Collection

Front and reverse of the postcard mailed to Elisabeth at Ambarawa camp.
The card is postmarked 9 January, 1944

 Frank Samethini Collection

The Japanese sent Elisabeth and Mary-em to Ambarawa Camp No. 4 in Central Java, near Semarang. Elisabeth managed to get word to the family of her whereabouts, and they sent her a postcard bearing well-wishes written in a combination of Malay and Javanese:

Dearest ones: Very happy to receive news. We are all fine. Jannie [Jean], Ceciel, Rita, Alma together with Mom [Emma] and Ans [Anna]. Margie talks a lot about MaryEm. Lots of kisses from the seven of us. [8]

Conditions at Ambarawa were bad: hunger, disease, brutality. Determined to keep Mary-em and herself alive to be reunited with Frank, Elisabeth developed a toughness equal to the ordeal. She marveled at her little girl's cheerfulness despite all the privations they suffered. Like cousin Margie, Mary-em treasured a picture of her father, saying good night to him every evening before she went to sleep. [9]

At home, Anna worried about Margie's repeated bouts of illness, a potentially dangerous development given the lack of hospitals. The liquid medicine she could obtain was effective but foul-tasting, with the result that Margie recoiled from her and gravitated to Emma.  The girl's favoritism towards her grandmother was only temporary, but it probably added more strain to an already difficult relationship between Anna and her mother-in-law.

Sometime in late 1943 Albert Muller died. Jean remained briefly at Altingstraat before coming to live with the Samethinis in January 1944. It was a fateful move. Jean resented Emma's domineering treatment of Anna and could not abide the apparent neglect of Margie, whose health continued to worsen. Taking matters into her own hands, she brought Margie to a Chinese doctor and persuaded Anna that the three of them should leave. After quitting the Brantasstraat house, they lodged with Jean's relatives, the Haccous, at Bothstraat No. 10. It is possible this intervention saved Margie's life, but there was a cost: Jean's influence on Anna precipitated a rupture in the family that was to cause much heartache in the years to come.

Jean Muller's Japanese ID certificate
Residence listed as Bothstraat (Jalan Both) No. 10
Note the previous addresses crossed out in Section (C)
Courtesy of Margie Samethini-Bellamy

Jean continued working at the Sugar Association, under the direction of a Japanese supervisor who delighted in menacing and humiliating her. On the wall facing her desk he put up a poster of a scowling Japanese soldier pointing at her, with a single word printed in large letters: "SPY!" Calling her into his office on another occasion, the boss proudly showed Jean a newly sharpened katana sword resting blade-up on his desk. He roughly plucked a hair from her head and laid it across the blade. "Watch this," he ordered. He blew gently on the hair and it was instantly sliced in half. Such was his sense of humor. [10]

Allied air strike on the Surabaya naval base
"Operation Transom" - May 17, 1944
Direct hit on the BPM oil refinery

Grumman F6F Hellcat
Source: www.vfa32.navy.mil

On May 17, 1944 a swarm of new Allied warplanes appeared in the sky above Surabaya: Barracudas, Corsairs, Dauntlesses, Avengers, and Hellcats. They roared in to attack their targets, bombing and strafing. Jean's boss watched in fascination from the office window, but the restricted view did not permit him to satisfy his curiosity. "I'm going up to look," he told her, making for the stairs leading to the roof. For a while he was gone. Then he came scrambling down with a bleeding hand and an astonished expression on his face. "I've been shot," he declared blankly. Jean waited until he ran out of the office before bursting into laughter. [11]

Translated SEAC leaflet
These were air-dropped to Japanese occupation troops at war's end


The occupation continued for another fifteen months, formally ending when Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945. Theoretically the East Indies now came under British authority as part of the territories allotted to South East Asia Command (SEAC), but in fact it would take weeks or months for Allied forces to disarm the Japanese garrisons and establish control. In the interim the Japanese were instructed to keep order without inflicting any further mistreatment on their captives. Jean was able to return to her old house on Koetaistraat, where she settled with Anna and Margie to wait for the British. They were joined by Jean's sister Elly and her children, Hanneke, Marijke, and Peter.

Prewar photo of Jean Muller's house at Koetaistraat 43
Courtesy of Margie Samethini-Bellamy

The same house photographed in 1992
Photo by Margie Samethini-Bellamy

The women waited in fear. On the heels of Japan's surrender, Indonesian nationalists led by Sukarno had proclaimed independence from Holland and the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia. Generations of pent up resentment against the Dutch, both white and Eurasian, erupted in a deadly revolution that neither asked nor gave quarter. All over Java the Dutch were murdered in the streets and even in the internment camps, where many of them still languished. The revolutionary watchword, Bersiap ("be ready"), became the historical name for this terrible period. Newly arrived British forces were so hard pressed that they employed Japanese troops to fight the Indonesians, an ironic measure by which the late oppressors of the Dutch became their unlikely protectors.

Chinese refugees fleeing revolutionary violence in Surabaya
September, 1945
Bandjir: Een Indische Kroniek 1935-1950

The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria)
October 26, 1945

National Library of Australia

The pemuda (young revolutionary fighters) took over Surabaya in September. Here as elsewhere, they looted and slaughtered, but their larger purpose was to fortify the city and prevent its reversion to European rule. They were joined by more disciplined Republican soldiers, who had received Japanese military training during the occupation. On October 24 the British landed 4,000 troops comprising the 49th Infantry Brigade of the 23rd Indian Division, unaware that they faced well-armed Indonesian forces numbering 20,000 regular soldiers backed by more than 100,000 irregulars. The Indonesians permitted the 49th to take up positions in the city. These posts were stealthily surrounded. When the signal was given, the revolutionaries attacked, overrunning and wiping out a number of Indian detachments. Street fighting raged until the negotiation of a ceasefire six days later.

The truce did not hold for long. On October 30, the British commander, Brigadier Mallaby, was killed in his car. The British brought up infantry reinforcements and tanks in preparation for a final offensive to take the city. Before launching the attack they evacuated Allied POWs, civilian internees, and as many other Dutch as they could save. [12]

Margie relates:

The British soldiers were very much taken by my mother, a pretty woman. They told her, Elly and Janny [Jean] that they had heard some very bad news about planned massacres of Dutch women and children. They told them to listen for their whistles, and if they should hear them, to leave immediately, no dogs, no baggage, nothing, just the kids (Hanneke and Marijke were with us, Elly was their mother). The whistle would mean bersiap "pelopor" youths would be entering the street. They also hacked a hole on the convent hedge behind the house and told the nuns about our planned escape.

The whistle went off early in the morning. Hanneke remembers how Janny frantically left food for the dogs everywhere. Janny thought Anna had taken the pieces of gold with her (all they had) and Mom [Anna] thought the other way so they had nothing.

We went to the three trucks waiting for us by the convent. The first one was machine gunned, the third was hand grenaded, the middle one, ours, came through unscathed and I remember my mother's body shaking on top of me. When we reached the submarine I looked up and saw many "dolls" floating in the river ending in the harbor. They must have been people killed days before. [13]

Bullet-riddled, burned out British evacuation trucks
Dutch newsreel "Nieuws uit Indie: Bange dagen in Soerabaja", 1946

Dutch evacuees preparing to board a British warship at the port of Surabaya
November 1945

 Bandjir: Een Indische Kroniek 1935-1950

British Indian troops advancing during the Battle of Surabaya
November 1945
Bandjir: Een Indische Kroniek 1935-1950

Motorized column prepares to roll forward
Dutch newsreel "Nieuws uit Indie: Bange dagen in Soerabaja", 1946

House to house fighting in a residential neighborhood
Dutch newsreel "Nieuws uit Indie: Bange dagen in Soerabaja", 1946

A house damaged by artillery fire
Dutch newsreel "Nieuws uit Indie: Bange dagen in Soerabaja", 1946

The British attacked on November 10. Supported by combat aircraft and naval gunfire, they fought house to house against stubborn Indonesian resistance. In six weeks Surabaya was secured at the cost of 600 British and Indian casualties versus approximately 6,000 Republican dead. Many thousands more Indonesians fled the tormented city, now reduced to a shadow of its former colonial splendor. [14]

Dutch women queuing for food at a Singapore refugee camp
Geheugen van Nederland / KITLV Leiden

In the meantime the Royal Navy conveyed Anna, Margie, and Jean to Singapore, where they joined a great multitude of other Dutch evacuees, fellow survivors of the wreck of the Netherlands East Indies. Their new home was a refugee camp. It had its good and bad points. Margie enjoyed never-before-tasted American delicacies: spam and condensed milk. Her very first school lessons were interesting, even though the classroom was just a large bomb crater. But she dreaded having her picture taken. The big camera, mounted on its heavy tripod, looked disturbingly like a machine gun. [15]



[1] For details on Japanese taxes and confiscations, see: Annual Report 1942 from the Royal Swedish Consulate in Sourabaya, pp. 10-12. (External link to scanned documents in the Dutch archival web site Beeldbank Nationaal Archief. Page numbers according to the web page, not as printed on the original document. Use arrow buttons at bottom right of the page to navigate through the documents).

[2] The Sky Looked Down, Appendix A: Lisa's Story. See also: Annual Report 1942, p. 53 concerning the seizure of Surabaya hospitals by the Japanese military.

[3] Recalled from a conversation with eyewitness Jeannette Muller von Czernicki, sometime in the early 1990s. Anna's Japanese ID certificate has not been preserved, but she would have been classified as either Belanda (Dutch) or Belanda Indo (Dutch Eurasian). To be registered as a German national, one had to possess a Nazi German passport. See: Annual Report 1942, pp. 40-41. Probably Emma's comment simply distracted the Kempei inquisitor long enough for his wrath to cool.

As can be seen in this mid-1960s photo, Anna's "traitor eyes" were noticeably green.

Courtesy of Margie Samethini-Bellamy

[4] Anna Samethini diary: June 3, 1943 entry. Translation by Margie Samethini-Bellamy. Han Samethini Collection.

[5] Ibid., August 7, 1943 entry.

[6] Ibid., September 25, 1943 entry. Ida Bowyes was a friend of Elisabeth's mother.

[7] Ibid., September 28, 1943 entry.

[8] Translation by Mrs. Linda Santoso. Per Japanese Army regulations, all correspondence with internment camp inmates had to be submitted on postcards, written in Malay, and must express only a positive message. See the Dutch Wikipedia article: Jappenkamp.

 [9] The Sky Looked Down, Appendix A: Lisa's Story. Conditions in the NEI camps can be judged from these postwar photos of survivors, posted on the Dutch discussion forum Onze Plek (click on thumbnails to enlarge):

[10] Recalled from a conversation with Jeannette Muller von Czernicki, early 1990s. The former Suikersyndicaat building still stands in Surabaya, on Jalan Rajawali. Below is a photograph of the interior taken in 2010. Click on image to enlarge:

Photo by David Wurangian (August 2010)

[11] These were naval warplanes launched from the aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and USS Saratoga. The attack was codenamed Operation Transom. See: Operation Cockpit and Operation Transom. Aircraft types deduced from the Wikipedia article: Operation Cockpit. Information on events at the Suikersyndicaat office recalled from a conversation with Jeannette Muller von Czernicki, early 1990s. The name of the Japanese company she worked for seems to have been Togyo Bengo-kai.

[12] Indonesian forces at Surabaya were greatly strengthened through an act of Dutch hubris. In September 1945, the top Dutch commanders in the Indies, Admiral Helfrich and General Van Oyen, permitted a lone naval officer, Captain Huijer, to take the surrender of the Japanese 16th Army in Surabaya. The Japanese dutifully paraded on the airfield and handed over their weapons before marching away to Semarang. This vast stockpile of arms, including tanks and artillery, was promptly seized by a division of Republican troops arriving on the scene. Richard McMillan, The British Occupation of Indonesia, 1945-1946 (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 32. Other information gleaned from the Wikipedia article: Battle of Surabaya.

[13] Personal e-mail from Margie Samethini-Bellamy. Pelopor is an Indonesian word meaning "vanguard fighter," i.e., a young revolutionary. It derives from the Dutch voorlooper (advance guard). Margie's account suggests that she and Anna were evacuated in late October, during the first outbreak of fighting. Unlike their overconfident commanders, British soldiers on the streets were keenly aware of anti-Dutch agitation and the growing hostility of the revolutionaries. Thus they were able to give advance warning to the women in the Koetaistraat house.

From an article published on the UK web site Standpoint:

On the afternoon of October 28, the TKR and Pemuda struck all across the city, killing 11 British officers and 44 Indian other ranks in a matter of minutes. Numerous small outposts were overrun, and a lorry convoy with hundreds of Dutch and Eurasian women and children was attacked with great loss of life. Fighting resumed at first light next morning and the situation became desperate, as many detachments were short of ammunition. Survivors recalled the attackers' reckless ferocity. "Death Knell of the British Empire" by Patrick Heren, Standpoint Magazine (November 2010).

[14] Information on the battle drawn from the Wikipedia article: Battle of Surabaya.

[15] The vessel that took Anna and Margie to Singapore was the Talma, an old freighter pressed into British military service. Dutch refugee H. Beers, who was in the same evacuation group, described it as a Gurkha hospital ship.

The Talma
 The account of Dutch refugee H. Beers
Anna's maiden name is misspelled "Gunthout"
(Click images to enlarge)
Moesson (June 15, 1995)


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