The Bersiap, the Fight for Independence: 1945 – 1946

Survivors’ Stories

Going to Mother in Banju Biru – Conclusion

After several hours the train pulled into the station at Tasikmalaya. Hundreds of people were streaming on and off the train. A large group of wild-looking Indonesian young men was milling around yelling “Merdeka, merdeka.” They were armed with spears, axes, machetes, krisses and bamboo javelins. Some started throwing rocks at our windows. Women and children right beside us started screaming. We were terrified!

My older brother Piet, myself and two older men barricaded the doors with all our might from the inside. Poor Jan, siting on the floor, thought he would die any minute. Some of the native young men began chopping at the wooden doors of our train car to force their way in. Just when it looked as if everything was totally out of control and something serious was about to happen, the whistle blew and the train pulled out. Had the train stayed for a few seconds longer it would have been disastrous. As we continued on our way, many on the train thanked God for rescuing us from imminent death. We later heard the there had been a full-scale slaughter on the train behind us. Many Europeans, including women and children, were murdered on that train.

In the late afternoon we arrived in Bandung. Although it was very busy there too, we did not see any armed groups of young insurgents. Since it was still daylight, Piet suggested to walk to Tjimahi, about two hours away. As we were walking along, it suddenly got very dark, as it does in the tropics. We began to wonder whether there were extremists lurking in the shadows and became very anxious. Why had we not stayed in Bandung? How stupid we had been!

Suddenly, we heard the sound of an automobile and a Japanese military vehicle stopped right beside us. A Japanese officer got out and asked us in the Malay language what on earth we were doing in such a dangerous place. After hearing our story, he commanded us to get into his vehicle, wheeled it around and took us promptly back to Bandung. He left us at the school where the other Dutch passengers from our train were staying for the night. We thanked the officer, who, once our oppressor had become our savior.

The next morning we left in an armored transport truck for Tjimahi, a distance of about ten kilometers. Tjimahi had been a garrison town; the Japanese had converted the garrison into a concentration camp. In Camp 4, the camp we shared with father, there were about 10,000 men and boys. When we arrived at the camp, father was overjoyed to see us again and ecstatic at the unexpected arrival of Jan, whom he had not seen since December 1942. Then Jan told father of his lonely ordeal in one of the worst death camps on Java, Camp 7 in Ambarawa. It was heart breaking to hear what he had gone through. Even today, Jan still struggles with wartime Post Traumatic Stress disorders.

Back at Camp 4, the agonizing months dragged on while we waited for mother and the girls to arrive. Finally, under heavy protection, mother and sisters were taken to Semarang by train. There they boarded a plane to Jakarta and then to Bandung. In a heavily guarded automobile convoy they traveled the last distance to Tjimahi. For the first time since June 1942, we were all reunited.

Unexpectedly, on a Sunday night in March, our camp was shelled with bullets and grenades. As the situation became too dangerous, it was decided to evacuate the women and children to Holland on a special ship. Jan had already left for Holland in February, and the rest of us was evacuated from Tjimahi to Bandung under the protection of Gurkhas, where we were temporarily put up in a cloister run by the Sisters of Saint Ursula. Eventually, in June 1946, we had all moved to Holland and we lived with Grandma Mobach and Aunt Marie in a very tiny house in Breukelen.

by Gerard Mobach                                                    Previously published in “Four Years till Tomorrow”

This concludes Gerard Mobach’s story about the Bersiap, the gruesome time after World War Two, when the young Indonesian extremists fought a bloody war for their independence from the Dutch.

Questions or Comments? Jot them down below.

Until next time


World War Two in the Pacific: 1942 – 1945

Survivors’ Stories

I am postponing the conclusion of Gerard Mobach’s story about the Bersiap until next week.

This week I have an Easter Story for you written by my mother, Jeannette Herman-Louwerse.


The day before Easter a deluge, probably one of the last rainstorms of this season, flooded the back yard. When we were drinking our tea, Loekie (my friend) remembered we still had to get milk, fruit and vegetables from the pasar (open air market). I draped Fokko’s beloved raincoat across my shoulders like a cape, down to my heels, took an umbrella and left. I hadn’t gotten very far when a totally flooded street blocked my way. I took off my shoes to save them from being ruined, and continued on bare feet. The water came up to my ankles. I thought, this is something I have to write home about, that I’m going shopping on my bare feet. I grinned as I remembered the poem “She was bareheaded and barefoot and was wearing old clothes.” That is true of me now, because my dress is old. My whole wardrobe is old.

I first got the milk, then went to the pasar. The merchants started laughing when they saw me. I first put down my shoes, then got out my wallet. They had fun, and so did I. In the meantime it had stopped raining. When I was on my way home more people came out. The slokans (cement gutters on either side of the street and about two feet below street level) had become six-foot wide streams in which the native boys were playing.

At night I usually read the children a story. This time it was about the Easter Bunny of course. One of the neighbor boys wanted to paint eggs, so we gave him ten eggs that morning. There are no Easter things for sale these days, but at the pasar  I saw some cute baskets, which Klaartje, the lady who cooks for us, filled for the children. Early on Easter morning Loekie went to get the eggs. We put the nicest ones on the table next to each plate and hid the others, so the children could go on their egg hunt.

We heard that all Dutch women who had stayed outside the camp until now would move in within two days: registration was completed. The camp won’t be enlarged, so the homes will get fuller. Maybe we’ll have to take in another family. I’m glad I moved when I still had the choice of where to go. I’m glad too that Easter is over. I was a little down, homesick and longing for you and for Fokko in spite of the joyous Easter message of the Resurrection. But on we go!

by Jeannette Herman-Louwerse
Published earlier in Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: A Story of Love, Survival and Joy.

Now I have a question for all of my subscribers, and a gift. The first person to send me the correct date, the year and the camp in which this story was written will get a free e-book for Kindle or iPad.

For those of you who have not read my book and cannot answer this question I have another gift. I will send you a copy of  my e-book on Kindle or iPad, your choice, if you promise me to write a review on before May 31, 2014.

The questions need to be answered in the Comment Box below, not in an email please.

Until next time,





The Bersiap, the Fight for Independence: 1945 – 1946

Survivors’ Stories

Going to Mother in Banju Biru – Part Two

We learned that mother was hospitalized. She had almost died in a long struggle against typhoid. When mother saw us she said very weakly “Dag Gerard en Piet”. How sweet to hear my mother’s voice! I couldn’t believe how emaciated she was; I had never seen her so thin. Words failed to express the feelings that we experienced. It gave us great joy to tell her that father was still alive. How we enjoyed just being together again.

Piet and I related some of our dreadful camp experiences. Just before the capitulation of Japan my father, Piet and I had been moved to camp Tjitjalenka, where we had to build a railroad for the Japanese. We went through an absolutely horrendous and depressing time and were at the point of despair. Although we had been promised better food, it never came. Lies, all lies: the food was deplorable, the water supply almost non-existent, the heat oppressive and the forced labor on the railroad so difficult that it had almost killed us. We had to work seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset. Had it not been for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent cessation of war, we would all have perished.

We stayed in Banju Biro for about a week, and even though mother pleaded with us to stay, we felt that we had to return to father to bring him the good news that his wife and daughters were alive. We decided to take Jan with us as a surprise for father. Mother wept, gave us a letter for father and kept pleading, “Be careful, be very careful.”

The political situation in Indonesia was very volatile. On the very day we left Banju Biru the Bersiap broke out in all its fury. We had no idea what awaited us on our return journey and even we three boys were taking a tremendous chance. We were transported by truck to the train station in Ambarawa. Again the trains were overloaded. For some unknown reason all the Europeans were told to move into one train car, creating an uncomfortably small minority of passengers. In the afternoon we arrived at the bustling station Toegoe  in Djokja, where we met some Indonesian acquaintances, who had heard that we had all died in the concentration camps. They put us up for the night; how we appreciated their warm hospitality.

Early the following morning we walked to the train station accompanied by a member of our friends’ household. We heard a racket and saw a group of Indonesian young men writing graffiti on a wall; then  they threatened us with spears and bamboo sticks, yelling Merdeka (freedom) and Bersiap (change). At that time we didn’t know what those words meant, but they sounded threatening. To our horror we saw more groups of  threatening Indonesian youths. Our friend told us to ignore them and just keep on walking. To our relief we arrived at the station without incident. There were many Dutch women and children who, like us, were trying to find family members.

Hundreds of Indonesians were trying to board the train as well. It was almost impossible to get on. We could feel that the day would be very hot, muggy and tiring. Inside the train it had become unbearably hot already; children were starting to cry; the bathroom facilities were inadequate for so many people. We were beginning to feel like genuine refugees. Finally the train left.

by Gerard Mobach                                                         Previously published in “Four Years till Tomorrow”

To be continued

Questions? Comments? Please leave them below

Until next time,



The Bersiap, the Fight for Independence: 1945 – 1946

After the Japanese capitulation another war erupted, called “the Bersiap” (Indonesion word for “get ready”). Gerard Mobach, who survived the camps, describes his experiences during this extremely bloody fight for independence by young extremists, led by their newly appointed president Soekarno.

Going to Mother in Banju Biru

In 1930 my father, Jan Willem Mobach, answered the call of the Dutch Government to become a teacher in a Dutch Christian school in Yogyakarta on Java. As a result, our family moved from Holland to the Dutch East Indies. There were five of us at the time: father, mother, Piet (four years old), myself (three years old) and Jan (two years old). During the years there, three sisters were born: the twins Wil and Aaf, and Annie. Ours was a busy and happy household until World War Two disrupted it all.

Java fell to the Japanese on March 8, 1942. My father was taken prisoner and was moved to Fort Vreeburg in Djokja in June 1942. After that, hard times descended upon the Mobach family. There was less and less to eat with no money coming in and no father at home. Somehow mother managed to keep things going until we, too, were forced from home and sent to the first of several camps on December 27, 1942. Piet and I ended up in camp Tjimahi. My story begins with our final period in Indonesia, starting with our last days in Tjimahi.

It was September 1945, the eve of the Bersiap time. Although the war had officially ended on August 15, 1945,  we still remained in the concentration camps for our own protection. The camps were in a kind of “power vacuum”. We were guarded by the Japanese on behalf of the British, as the Allied troops had not yet arrived.

From other prisoners we had heard that my mother was in Camp 11, Banju Biru, so my brother Piet and I decided to go and see her. Father, who had ended up in our camp, Tjimahi, did not really want us to go, but we had been planning this trip for weeks and weeks. I somehow had to prove to myself that I also could do what others were doing, namely leave the camps, without official permission, to look for loved ones. I had to know if my mother and sisters were still alive.

One evening, just after dark, Piet and I crept under the barbed wire fence, crossed a ditch, and ran across a part of a race-track to the kampong (village). We heard shots. Our hearts were pounding but we kept on running. Out of breath, we arrived at the home of Indonesian friends of my father’s, who were expecting us. They took us in for the night, fed us, and gave us clothing and food for the trip.

Very early the next morning we went to the train station in Bandung. The train was overcrowded with native Indonesians hanging or sitting on every conceivable railing, window sill and rooftop of the train. Since the windows were wide open, we were soon covered in soot. Piet and I were probably the only white people on the train, and it felt strange. We reached Djokja towards the evening. A committee of Indo-Dutch people met us at the railway station and put us up in a first-class hotel.

The following morning a committee member helped us to get tickets for Magelan. Native Indonesian groups of young men who would have given us the right of way on the street before the war now did not move aside. We had to walk around them. It gave us an uneasy feeling; for the first time we noticed hatred towards us, the white people, or belandas. We felt very insecure and threatened.

The train to Magelan was overcrowed too. At every stop more people boarded the train till at last it was bursting at the seams. We were very hot, thirsty and uncomfortable. At Magelan, an extra mountain locomotive was hitched to the train to pull us up the mountains to Ambarawa. As the train progressed, we could catch glimpses of the beautiful tropical countryside of Java, with its lush rice fields and palm trees.

After arriving in Ambarawa, we went the last distance to Banju Biru where our mother and sisters were supposed to be. We had not seen them for about two and a half years! We had survived a trip of 400 kilometers at a very uncertain and dangerous time. Our hearts were racing with anticipation. What would mother look like? Would the girls have grown a lot? Piet and I rushed to the gates of Banju Biru. Much to our surprise, we saw Jan, who was supposed to be at Ambarawa; then we saw our twin sisters, and our sister Annie. Everyone was astounded at our unexpected arrival – they could not believe we were really there. But we were! There was an unspeakable emotion as we cried, hugged, laughed and talked.

By Gerard Mobach                                                     Published previously in “Four Years till Tomorrow”

To be continued

Feel free to leave a comment!

Until next time,