Homepage Former Dutch East Indies

The Indo Culture

To The Netherlands

Aurelia Hes & Alfred Eduard Abels
1918-1972            1913-1962


Both my parents come from Central-Java in Indonesia - my father from Semarang (1913) and my mother from Cheribon - now Cirebon (1918). They married in 1939 in Semarang.

They both were Indo-European.



1939 - Trouwfoto van AE Abels en A Hes. Wedding photo of AE Abels and A Hes

About 1940 - Vliegveld Andir bij Bandung - Airport Andir near Bandung

Andir, the airport of Bandung, 1938.
On the photo is the grandmother of Charles Vermeulen, the owner of this photo. On his website are splendid pictures and more.

The War

The war

Two years after their marriage, World War Two was in full flow on Central Java. At that time my father worked at the airport "Andir" near Bandung.
He was in action as well as a soldier of the KNIL, the Royal Dutch-Indies Army, but soon he became a prisoner of war in one of the many Japanese war camps.

At the beginning of the war my mother lived at a few different family addresses but soon she also was imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp. Together with her mother and sisters she had to go from one camp to another and finally she ended up in Djakarta.

War Experiences

I don't have much information about the war period from my parents themselves, but when I was eight,
I heard my father talking to someone about his war experiences.
What I heard has made a deep impression and I still remember the pain and anger I felt at that time.
It was an anger towards the Japanese in general because of the horrible things they did
to 'my' father and 'my' mother.


The enemy had shot down an amount of people and amongst them was my father. While he laid on the ground heavely injured, the murderers walked over the field to check whether everyone really had been killed. For a long time my father had to play 'dead' and apparently he did it well as he happened to be one of the few survivors.
Event 2

In the 'Jap camp' my father was buried in sand up to his head, with or without other victims. This was for the "amusement" of the enemy who for at least one full day used his head as an urine marker.


Semarang 1953. Aurelia, zus Ot en de drie kinderen. Aurelia, Ot and the three children.

Semarang 1953.
From r.: My mother Aurelia, me (Astrid), Hanny, Andrew and a sister of my mother Antonia (or Ot).


Their first two children - firstly daughter Evelien and a year later son Ferdinand - unfortunately died rather soon after being born and the big grief for these two remained fresh because of a few following miscarriages. When my mother was pregnant again in 1948, my parents - as an aunt told us - bought the baby 'for a cent from the devil' and a few months later they indeed got a healthy son, Andrew.
(Why the story about the devil was told, we don't know but as a child we thought it was rather interesting. The aunt who told us this, became Andrew's godmother.
To their great joy daughter Hanny followed in 1951, and in 1953 the family was extended with another daughter, Astrid (undersigned).



The Passage

Because of random acts of violence and uncertainties in Indonesia my parents too decided to move to a safer environment, that being Holland, heartbreaking though it was.
They had to sell or give away almost all their belongings to pay for the cost of the passage and also because they were only allowed to take a certain amount of luggage with them. In fact all they could take as luggage was one cabin trunk, a little green painted wooden chest of hardly 1.20 metres wide, 0.35 metres tall and 0.50 metres deep.

Hutkoffer - Trunk


Our cabin trunk, (as shown) serves as storage box now. For me it's of a big value in an emotional respect.

Another valuable memory of my parents are two little wooden figurines, the little heads of two Indonesian dancers. The original head dress of the female dancer waved out on both sides. My mother had to break them off so they would fit in the trunk.

Twee beeldjes van dansers (hoofdjes) - Two figurines of dancers' heads



Mid December 1955 we were effectively repatriated to The Netherlands.
It took about a month for The Waterman, 'our' steamship to sail
from Semarang via the Suez Channel to Rotterdam.


The Waterman 1947-1963

Picture of the official Rotterdam Lloyd card.

De Waterman - Ship The Waterman




Familie in contractpension - Family in a contract pension

A family in a contract pension
Source: 'Ik wilde eigenlijk niet gaan',


Starting All Over Again

In The Netherlands my parents first had to live on a  contracted pension and they had to take out a big loan because everything they were "given" such as clothing, food and furniture, had to be paid back until the very last cent. Such things were purchased on recommendation of the so called experts, without any consultation with my parents, however they had to pay it all back.
This happened not only to my parents but it involved many other refugees (in the literally meaning of the word this was the case for many of them) from the Dutch East Indies, who came to Holland with just a few possessions left from "home".
Sometimes ridiculous instructions were given like how to act (also for in leisure time, such as knitting for women!), to cook and to do the householding. This and poverty was routine for many families of the Dutch East Indies, however they kept themselves quiet as they wanted to be  integrated as soon as possible.

Muur met 'Indo's ga weg' - Wall with 'Indo's go home'


There were a lot of friendly & genuine people who helped the people from the Dutch East Indies to settle down in the circumstances, but unfortunately there was a lot of discrimination as well.
Besides more attention and energy was spent on addressing the grief the Dutch people suffered under the oppression of the Nazis.

The fact that the repatriated people had suffered a lot as well, albeit not under the oppression of the Nazis, was ignored totally for a long time. Any attempt to talk about it was stopped immediately. This led to a deep bitterness in the hearts of many.

Photo above:
(Text on the wall: 'Indo's Go Home!)
People from the Dutch East Indies later started to call themselves Indo's which can be seen as an acronyum for In Nederland Door Omstandigheden - In The Netherlands because of the situation.




In 1957 the family over again was elightened with the birth of a daughter, Els. Later on my parents were allocated a council house in Enschede in the centre of Holland. My father's family went to live in the south in Limburg whilst my mother's family went to lve in the west of the country in Leiden.

Enschede 1961

From left to right:  Astrid, Hanny, Els, Andrew
and Daisy, a niece who would emigrate  to California with her mother in 1961.

In a letter my parents wrote to an aunt it appeared that The Netherlands was seen as a temporary abode. Their wish was to emigrate to Curacao or Brazil.
Unhappily this dream could not come true as my father's health was seriously weakened by the World War followed by the Independence War. He got a chronic disease and passed away in 1962.

My mother had a fragile constitution and caring for four young children in very difficult circumstances was disastrous for her. Immediately after my father's passing away she contracted several serious ailments and after staying in hospitals and numerous nursing homes, she passed away in 1972.



Alfred, Aurelia en AndrewLeft:
My parent and
brother Andrew.


Right: My mother's stepmother and father.

Oma Jet en Opa Ferdinand

Homepage Former Dutch East Indies