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

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Until next time,


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