Dissenting Voices

Cees Fasseur and his critics

Dissenting voices have been underrepresented in the post-war debates on colonialism and its legacy for decades. One of the main reasons for this omission is that the notion of the objective historian was not effectively problematized for a long time. The dynamics between writer and essayist Rudy Kousbroek - an important critic of the Dutch historiography of colonialism – and Leiden-based historian Cees Fasseur emphasize this. Anne-Lot Hoek argues that Fasseur was selective concerning the ‘Excessen’ note and debate, whilst presenting himself as neutral, which had an impact on younger historians and on the notion of Dutch war crimes in Indonesia in the public debate.

A one-sided national narrative

‘Only when the animals get to write history, can we judge the culture of the hunters.’ That is what writer Rudy Kousbroek (1929-2010) said in an interview with OVT for VPRO Radio (in Dutch), conducted by historian Remco Raben (1962) in 2002 (see below). The culture of the hunters referred to historians dealing with the colonial past, in which the voices of Indonesians were left out. The statement further refers to Raben’s remark during the interview that we, as a postcolonial society, are still not able to show what it looks like, or how it was perceived on the other side; in other words, we as Dutch, have not been able to convey the Indonesian experience of colonialism.

Interview with Rudy Kousbrouk by Remco Raben for OVT radio in 2002 in which they problematize the Dutch historiography of the colonial history of the East Indies [English subtitles added from 27.17].1.

The reason why historians didn’t speak up, Raben and Kousbroek both agreed, had to do with a problematic Dutch historical culture that has paid little attention to the moral side of history and used sources that are almost always European. Colonial violence was downplayed, and the perspectives of Indonesians – however researched by (international) anthropologists and Indonesian specialists – were often overlooked by the traditional Dutch historians of the previous generation. It resulted in a one-sided national narrative in the Netherlands. There’s a real danger in telling one-sided stories, as the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated at the TEDGlobal talks of 2009.2 It can (de)form our understanding by making it incomplete and can normalize exclusion. In 2000 Henk Schulte Nordholt (KITLV/University Leiden) stated in his inaugural speech that the Dutch Indies were a ‘state of violence,’ which was further researched by Marieke Bloembergen (KITLV) in her extensive publication on the history of the police in the Dutch-Indies (2009) and by Piet Hagen in Colonial wars in Indonesia (2018).3 The Swiss-Dutch historian Rémy Limpach (NIMH) published his much discussed dissertation (University Bern) on the nature of extreme violence during the Indonesian independence war in 2016.4

This article is a short exploration of the question why professional historians neglected or ignored dissenting voices on colonial violence and Indonesian perspectives, and the effects of a one-sided history on the public debate. My focus is on Leiden based professor Cees Fasseur and his critics. One of them was writer Rudy Kousbroek. Kousbroek was born in the Dutch Indies. He was a member of the writers’ collective ‘de Vijftigers’ and the author of Het Oostindisch Kampsyndroom [The East Indies camp syndrome] (1992). He was one of the most outspoken critics of the historical culture on the subject of decolonization in Indonesia and criticized the one-sidedness and so-called neutrality of colonial historians.5 Raben, a professor of colonial history (University of Amsterdam/ Utrecht University), was historian at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the time of the interview. He conducted the interview with this inspiring writer as part of a series of interviews of young historians meeting their idol or inspirer. Kousbroek in turn had been inspired by Sutan Sjahrir – an inspiration, one could argue, that links several generations of critical voices inside and outside of academia.

In the interview Kousbroek took the unknown fate of the thousands of killed Romusha, the Indonesian prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation, as an example of Dutch historical neglect. The death rates among this group was extremely high, but according to Kousbroek: “no one cared about this, no one ever claimed damages for them. It was all me, me me. And again: that is what historians should have done!” Kousbroek had challenged the Dutch historical culture by introducing a ‘doofpot’ thesis in which he put the neutrality of historians up for discussion. He accused Dutch historians of a ‘cover-up’ operation to downplay colonial abuses.6 Many historians, especially Cees Fasseur, strongly denied such a cover-up existed.7

The culture of the hunters

It was the debate around the Rhemrev report that started a polemic amongst historians on the existence of a ‘doofpot,’ a ‘cover-up’ that Kousbroek described in De diachronie van de doofpot [The diachrony of the cover-up].8 Kousbroek’s introduction of the ‘cover-up’ theory was one of the highlights in the postcolonial debate amongst historians. In Kousbroek’s view, the Rhemrev report was covered up. The report was brought to light only in 1987 by Jan Breman9, and it gave a shocking account of the abuse of forced laborers on the plantations in Medan, Sumatra. In Oostindisch Kampsyndroom [The East Indies camp syndrome], Kousbroek wrote: ‘I feel that the Rhemrev report is the most horrible revelation of this century for the Netherlands; it brings to light not only a history of suffering of such colossal size that no words can be found to describe it, but also the widespread participation of the rulers in the whole of the Dutch Indies.’10 Kousbroek - as had Jan Breman - expressed his annoyance with historian Cees Fasseur, who was aware of the Rhemrev report but had done nothing with it.

Was this really an attempt at a ‘cover-up’? Or were historians simply being selective in what information they published, as a result of taboos, as Kousbroek also argued? And why would that have been the case? The ‘Excessennota,’ - note of derailments - or ‘Excesses Memorandum’ that Fasseur co-wrote formed a good case to examine the cover-up thesis for historian Stef Scagliola in her PhD thesis in 2002.11

In 1969, the silence on Dutch war crimes was broken by war veteran Joop Hueting (1927 – 2018), who succeeded for the very first time in attacking the dominant narrative that extreme violence had been incidental and non-structural. In a Dutch television interview (see video below) he explained how Dutch extreme violence during 1945-1950 was structural in Indonesia. Although there had been interviews with critical veterans before, it was this television interview that made Hueting the most important whistleblower of post-war Holland. The interview caused a great deal of commotion, and Hueting and his family were forced after many threats to go into hiding: the veterans’ lobby was furious.12

Interview with war veteran Joop Hueting for the Dtuch television show Achter het nieuws (VARA) on 17 January 1969. His confession about the excessive war crimes, committed by Dutch soldiers in Indonesia during the police operations 1945-1949, caused a great deal of commotion. The so-called "peaceful mission" turned out to be a "horrible display of violence, revenge, torture". Hueting even spoke about "structural violence".

The government reacted to the public arousal with an inquiry into the ‘excesses’ or violent incidents that happened during the Indonesian war for independence. A quick assessment of the violent crimes resulted in the ‘Excessennota’13, a short memorandum of reported ‘derailments’ co-written by the young historian and ambitious civil servant Cees Fasseur, who was responsible for the centerpiece of the note, the so-called Appendix 5. The inquiry took only three months, Prime Minister De Jong formulated the conclusions of the report in favor of the soldiers, and a parliamentary survey was not initiated. Therefore, the memorandum was meant to uphold the national narrative at that time, of a Dutch nation that did not perform too badly in Indonesia. The government, in other words was covering up violence, and gave room for impunity, which had an impact on the narration forming on a national level.

In her dissertation Last van de oorlog [Burden of the war] (2002) Scagliola examined history writing in the context of the Excessennota of 1969 and concluded that there is no evidence of a ‘cover-up,’ but there were ‘traces of taboos’ within the academic sphere at hand.  The discussion about the existence of a cover-up is not so much about the history of the Dutch Indies as about the attitude of historians towards sensitive topics, says Scagliola. Most historians were not in favor of a ‘taboo’ or ‘cover-up’ theory and Fasseur, the main author of the ‘Excessen’ note was defended by some of his colleagues. Historian Elsbeth Locher-Scholte reacted by stating that because of the concentration on civil reports in the note, there is no indication of a taboo or cover-up, “at most of an incomplete research.”14 However, since Scagliola’s dissertation came out, more indications have come to the surface that show Fasseur and his team were indeed selective in dealing with sensitive material, that undermines the argument of an incomplete research. First of all, the ‘Excessen’ note did not include much of the material from the report by lawyers Van Rij and Stam, that formed an important basis of Limpach’s dissertation De brandende kampongs van Generaal Spoor [The burning kampongs of General Spoor] (2016). It was written in 1949, and discussed by the government in 1954 in the context of the debate on possible prosecution over the notorious South-Celebes case of 1946/1947. Stam had kept it at his “chicken coop” until 1969.

The report ended up in Fasseur’s attic where it stayed for fifteen years. What was this kind of important historical evidence doing in Fasseur’s attic? And why was so little of the information used? Limpach concluded in his dissertation that it was because of time and a late arrival of the archive, but Fasseur himself argues in his memoirs (2016) that “the research was made easier, but was also complicated” when Stam himself handed it over to the archive.15 Remarkably enough Fasseur transferred it later on to his attic. In his memoirs Fasseur stated that because the report contained the names of Dutch soldiers who had been the subject of juridical research, it seemed “irresponsible” to trust it to “possible loose-lipped archive-staff.”16 He only handed it over to the National Archive in 1986, where it surprisingly enough was put away in the collection Fasseur, and nobody took notice of it for years.

Secondly, there are examples of cases, such as of Rawagede and Rengat (see section Research journalism for video and audio) that support the argument that Fasseur was indeed selective in the ‘Excessen’ note. Both cases concern the counting of deaths on Indonesian side. Harm Scholtens was one of the first to look underneath the material of the ‘Excessen’ note to offer a case study, a reconstruction of what had happened in the Javanese village of Rawagede in 1947 for his history thesis. Scholtens started out with a basic question that many historians before him could have asked: what had happened in Rawagede? In 1995 journalists of Dutch broadcaster RTL 4 had interviewed Indonesian witnesses of the mass killing, so awareness of the case was there. According to the ‘Excessen’ note, one hundred and fifty people died in Rawagede, ‘twenty’ of them by execution.17 It turned out the number of executed people was between 150 and 433 (Indonesian estimation).18 “I thought it was strange” Scholtens told research journalist Jouri Boom from De Groene Amsterdammer in 2008, “making 150 deaths, liquidating 20 men and not finding one weapon. This case stank.”19 According to Limpach, Fasseur who was responsible for ‘Appendix 5’ in which the case appeared should have been aware of material that indicated an execution of between 103 and 118 Indonesian deaths.20 Fasseur responded in 2008 that he must have made a mistake by leaving out a ‘1’, and wrote 20 instead of 120.21 He also reacted in an article in Trouw, stating that the Excessennote was “incomplete.”22

Another case was the mass killings at Rengat on Sumatra. I was surprised when I studied the civil reports underlying the material of the Excessennota after I visited the yearly memorial service in Rengat on 5 January 2016. It turned out that during the Second Police Action on 5 January 1949 an assault had taken place that took the lives of at least hundreds, while the ‘Excessen’ note had mentioned only 80 casualties. Not only did Indonesian witnesses in Rengat23 mention a much greater number, but the note did not include the police report with Indonesian witnesses, an article in a Chinese newspaper that showed a different perspective than that of the Dutch and a list of the execution of 120 persons.24 If the argument would be, that the report was incomplete because they lacked time to research it in full as Fasseur stated on numerous occasions, then why did he or one of his colleagues in the summary cherry-pick pieces of information that covered up the facts in the reports instead of giving the reader an indication that there was other information at hand? Why didn’t Fasseur come back to it later on, before these cases were revealed by media or independent researchers?  Fasseur had disputed in 1995 that the note would have been “a weak piece.”25 It was Scholtens’s research that made him come back to the subject in 2008 and acknowledge that the case was not described in a correct way.

The note was incomplete, and time was short, but other choices of presenting the information could have been made or the reader could have been given the opportunity to look at the material more closely or critically to come to a different conclusion or interpretation. The note contained falsifications, and the dominant narrative that was produced by the Excessen note had a long-lasting effect on society. Although most historians acknowledged the limitations of the Excessennote, the idea that Dutch society more or less knew what had happened in Indonesia in terms of war crimes was firmly rooted.26 Historian Pieter Drooglever even stated in Volkskrant that the Excessennote had proved “reliable” and was an “honest display” of the archival material.27Fasseur and his team had been selective, but in the public and academic debate the historian presented himself as neutral and objective, and it had consequences for the perception of Dutch war crimes in Indonesia in the debate. To understand Fasseur, requires a closer look at his position in the public and historical debate, and to the debate itself.

So at least we know in hindsight”

Was Fasseur representative of the Dutch historical culture at large? If we go back in time, we can see that the subject of colonial violence in general was highly contested in the Netherlands. In his autobiography the most famous Dutch resistance fighter, Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, who would later become known as the Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange) writes how he was struck by the thought of a ‘young Indonesian soldier, killed by a Dutch bullet’ in the summer of 1947, when the Eerste Politionele Actie (First Police Action) was launched by The Netherlands against Indonesian independence. What did he die for – ‘his country? For “Merdeka” (freedom)? […] In what way is he different from me, except for the part that I am alive and he is dead?’ But Roelfzema did not really want to think about that further. After the Second World War he suppressed the thought of the dead Indonesian boy he identified with. Like many other Dutch people, he demanded “the right to move on, away from death and decay.”28 The comparison that Roelfzema had made between his battle for freedom and that of his Indonesian counterpart was complicated and confusing, and it would stay that way in the Netherlands for the next few decades.

Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema stood up for the Dutch liberation from the Germans and supported the movement for an independent Moluccan state after the Independence of Indonesia. However, he was not in favor of Indonesian independence. He therefore did not unambiguously interpret the concept freedom in the same way as Siebe Lijftogt did, also a former resistance fighter. The photo shows Roelfzema returning to Schiphol in 1951, being greeted by Moluccan women. Photographer: Noske, J.D. / Anefo Source: Wikipedia / Nationaal archief.

It took a long time in the Netherlands before the connection that Roelfzema hesitantly recognized between his own freedom struggle and that of the young indignant Indonesian also came to the fore in a broader debate, in both public and academic domains. Literary scholar Paul Bijl (UU/KITLV) wrote in his dissertation “Emerging memory” that information on colonial violence had always been there, but that people did not want to hear about it. Sociologist Abraham de Swaan concluded in De Groene Amsterdammer that it was a national secret that was uncovered and hidden over and over again. “At the heart of this nation, two powers fight each other constantly: oblivion and remembrance.”29 It is understandable that it takes time before a society dares to look critically at a painful episode in its history. The downfall and the trauma of Fascism and Nazism on the European continent caused the post-war Netherlands to focus on the future of a new Europe. The legacy of a long period of state-based colonial violence in Indonesia, however, did not match the dominant narrative that framed the Netherlands as the victim that had stood on the right side of history and collectively said ‘never again.’

One can name many other causes for this long period of silence, and more analysis on that topic is needed. The government for starters didn’t take responsibility for extreme violence in the period of 1945 – 1949, and covered it up several times. In 1954, they refused to prosecute those responsible for the mass murder in South Celebes (violence in 1946-47 preceding the so-called police actions). In 1971 a law was passed that abolished the prescription of war crimes, with the exception of war crimes committed by Dutch military soldiers in Indonesia between 1945 and 1949.

For politicians, veterans and post-colonial groups, the topic of the Dutch Indies was sensitive and contested. For the broader Dutch audience, it was very far away, and they had little interest. Was it a black page in history? A blind spot?30 The Dutch academic elite was equally not interested in discussions on the period of 1945 – 1949, which was broadly seen as a political topic. Historian Stef Scagliola often stated that Dutch historians lacked a radical tradition.31 Australian historian Joost Cote further stated that Dutch historians have a problem with the interference of English-speaking historians, because the Dutch believe that outsiders will never understand their special form of colonialism and their extraordinary relationship with the Dutch Indies.32

Little effort was made by Dutch researchers to reach out to listen to Indonesian experiences and integrate their stories into history writing. What remains painful in the Dutch-Indonesian relationship is that the Netherlands still doesn’t formally recognize the Indonesian independence of 17th of August 1945, (two days after the Japanese surrender, when Sukarno proclaimed independence), but instead dates independence from the transfer of sovereignty that took place in December 1949. The Dutch for a long time referred to Indonesian freedom fighters as ‘terrorists’ – to indicate the illegitimacy of the fight for independence –, and hung on to the term ‘police actions’, whereas the Indonesians call this the ‘Agresi Militer Belanda,’ which gives a clear idea of the nature of the actions. But also in publications on the political and diplomatic aspects of the struggle in 1945 - 1949 or on Dutch colonial history in general, Indonesian perspectives were more often than not absent. Harry Poeze (Kitlv) is one of the few who wrote extensively on Indonesian revolutionary Tan Malakka.33


This video shows Sukarno reading the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence (Indonesian: Proklamasi Kemerdekaan Indonesia, or simply Proklamasi) at 17 August 1945. The declaration marked the start of the diplomatic and armed resistance of the Indonesian National Revolution, fighting against the Dutch forces, until the Dutch were forced out of the country by international pressure.34

Counter-narratives were there in the Dutch debate, but were either contested or received little attention. For instance, when journalist Willem Oltmans interviewed Sukarno in 1956 and spoke out for the ending of Dutch colonialism in New-Guinea, the Dutch government not only opposed him, but put him out of work. Surprisingly enough, the Excessen note was challenged one year later, in 1970, by the book Ontsporing van Geweldwritten by two sociologists Van Doorn and Hendrix, who came to the opposite conclusion from the note: there had been a pattern of (extreme) structural violence. They were veterans who had made notes during their time as soldiers in Indonesia. As academics, but relative outsiders to the history establishment, they were able to say what one year before their publication caused so much upheaval. On the inner cover of the book one could read: ‘those who take the responsibility to commit structural violence should know the reality of this violence, not the picture that is painted for the outside world. This book wants to contribute to showing something of the reality of the years between 1945 and 1949. So that at least we know in hindsight.’35

This very important scientific publication received limited press attention. Historians talked about it with each other, but it did not lead to a broad debate in the public arena, or to more research. This resulted in a peculiar situation: that we knew, but did not want to know. So when Lou de Jong was critical of the war in Indonesia in the 1980s in part 11A of his magnum opus Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog,36 and later on used the word ‘war crimes’ in his conclusions, it again caused a huge public outcry, especially amongst war veterans. In 1987 De Jong was forced to withdraw ‘war crimes’ from his conclusions under public pressure. His feelings as a young man, shocked by the events in Indonesia in 1945-1949, as he wrote in his reaction, had influenced him in an emotional way while writing. “A historian is just a human,” he wrote.37

During the 1990s critical voices were there again when the public debate flamed up now and then, especially during a controversial state visit to Indonesia by Queen Beatrix in 1995 and the upheaval over Ponke Princen’s visit to the Netherlands. Critical pieces were written on the Queen’s visit. Philosopher Lolle Nauta stated that “by keeping silent on crimes and human rights violations, by not even recognizing that a moral problem has occurred, the Dutch guests didn’t distance themselves from the past.”38Ad van Liempt wrote the book A nice word for war about the so-called Police Actions (1994)39, in 1995 Dutch broadcaster RTL published a critical documentary on the case of Rawagede40, and Thom Verheul produced the documentary film Tabe Toean in 199641.

Several important academic publications came from Willem IJzereef (1984)42, and from Petra Groen (1991)43, and more progressive historians such as Maarten Kuitenbrouwer44 and Elsbeth Locher Scholte45, were involved in critical debates around the existence and nature of Dutch imperialism. Henk Schulte Nordholt stated in his oration in 2000 that the Dutch-Indies were a police state46 which was empirically substantiated and problematized by Marieke Bloembergen (2009).47 Scagliola wrote Last van de Oorlog [Burden of the War] (2002). The Dutch government, however, remained reluctant to acknowledge crimes in Indonesia, and historians did not call for new, broad research. The Dutch ambassador Ben Bot stated in 2005 in Indonesia that the Dutch were on the wrong side of history, but no further attempts were made to come to a better understanding of this history, and no general apology for crimes committed was issued by the Dutch prime minister.48

It took till 2011, when the critical postcolonial voice of Jeffry Pondaag, together with lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld successfully held the Dutch state responsible for the killings of Indonesians in the case of Rawagede, for the debate to be finally opened in a broader sense. (see section Research journalism). It was this event that caused three historical institutions to make an appeal to the Dutch government for financing a broad research project, and academics and journalists were activated to pay more attention to the subject. Several important publications came out later on, including by writer Alfred Birney (2015)49 and Swiss-Dutch historian Remy Limpach (2016).50 Before he came to work for the NIMH in the Netherlands in 2014, Limpach was an independent researcher from the University Bern in Switzerland who, in his own words, saw “a huge black hole” in Dutch academic research on Dutch war crimes.51

It was an uncompromising, anticolonial voice from an individual of Dutch-Indies/Indonesian descent that strongly influenced the debate. Pondaag (1953), a retired labourer, had pushed for years in vain to find recognition for Dutch war crimes in Indonesia. He came from Indonesia to the Netherlands in 1969, the year in which Joop Hueting appeared on television and Fasseur wrote the Excessennote. He didn’t understand why his Dutch-Indies family in Holland didn’t recognize the Indonesian independence date, and why they referred to the Indonesians as ‘terrorists.’ “Weren’t we free on 17 August 1945?” He identified himself with the Indonesian part of his family, and says he suffered from name-calling and exclusion in Dutch society.52 “What right did the Netherlands have to colonize Indonesia?” was his persistent question during debates relating to the issue of legitimacy.

What Pondaag basically emphasizes is the lack of moral conviction regarding the colonial past in Indonesia in Dutch society, which emerged for example during a debate on 5 April 2018 in the debate center de Balie (see below) about colonial statues (in particular that of Johannes Benedictus Van Heutsz), where Pondaag, Esther Captain and Adriaan van Dis were on the panel. He criticized author Vilan van de Loo who wanted to look at the good and the bad aspects of Van Heutz in the biography that she is writing. Pondaag questioned the usage of such a perspective on a person like Van Heutsz, because for Hitler this would not be acceptable. As historian Martijn Eickhoff (NIOD) noticed in a reflection on the debate: the cruel military 'pacification' politics of Van Heutsz were indeed quickly overstepped, she did not mention any Indonesian by name, and did not show how the applied mass violence was in fact related to the Dutch authority in Sumatra or the ethical politics.53

Presentation of Vilan van Loo on the statue of Van Heutz and the response of Jeffrey Pondaag at the debate 'Van standbeeld tot schandpaal [From statue to pillory] at debate centre De Balie in Amsterdam 5 April 2018.  Van Heutz was governor general of the Dutch East Indies and as a military officer involved in the Aceh War that ended in 1904. His statue (see photo) was placed in Amsterdam in 1935. It has been been highly contested and underwent several changes. Van Heutz biographer Vilan de Loo argued more or less that in judging Van Heutz as a ‘bad’ colonial, the Netherlands showed convulsiveness in dealing with its colonial past. Van Heutz also had good sides. Pondaag, dressed in Soekarno outfit, responded to the presentation of Van Loo by firmly arguing that an incomplete representation needs to be confronted. 54

Fasseur’s attitude towards the debate on Dutch colonial crimes in Indonesia is rooted in Dutch historical culture at large. The Dutch debate was for the most part pushed by relative outsiders, activists, journalists, writers and independent researchers. When the message that Joop Hueting had already delivered in 1969, finally came through to a wider audience with the publications of Birney and the dissertation of Limpach, Fasseur reacted defensively. He called Limpach’s conclusion, namely that there had been ‘extreme structural violence’ in Indonesia, “an open door.” Everybody knew it, but in 1969 it was impossible to say it, as Fasseur also stated in the NRC Handelsblad in a reaction. He referred to an anonymous letter he had once written in Vrij Nederland in which he had called out for more research, and at the same time he blamed historian Van der Wal for the obstruction of historical research after the Excessen note.55

To understand Fasseur’s defensive response, it is important to first look at his role in the public debate. During his lifetime he was the leading historian who took the stage quite often in media appearances on the ‘Excessen’ debate. He had supported historian Lou de Jong when the latter wanted to use the word ‘war crimes,’ in 1988, but did not actively promote a change of discourse or modify the terminology in his own publications for a long time. To him the terminology was “not more than a play on words,” as he formulated it in his memoirs.56 Usage of euphemistic terms like ‘politionele acties’ (police actions) when talking about war and violence anchored a hint of good intentions into the country’s DNA that was passed on from generation to generation. As historian Martijn Eickhoff (NIOD) wrote in an article on Dutch historians and the Rawagadeh debate, “by continuing to use words such as derailments and military excesses, the colonial character of the mission is not exposed.”57 Indonesian voices were hardly considered. For instance, to the testimonies of Indonesian victims who had been interviewed by researcher Max van der Werff for the Dutch TV show Altijd wat broadcast in 2013 (with Piet de Blauw, NCRV)58, Fasseur replied in a personal telephone conversation: “These people mix up this violence with the violence of their own army! They are confused!” The tapes on which he makes similar statements are held by the KITLV in Leiden. In this interview he states: “the idea that such an enormous massacre would go unnoticed is out of the question.”59 Fasseur implies that the Indonesians’ accounts of their experiences are unreliable, while he did not take the effort to make room for these voices in the debate, or research the matter more deeply. It emphasizes the one-sided Dutch narrative that was upheld.

When confronted with criticism or his own critics, Fasseur would often push it aside by stating that enough had already been written about colonial violence, or that history writing is different from moralism.60 Fasseur’s conviction was not unique in the debate, he had supporters of his own generation. The historic debate was particularly formed around the meta-discussion of the notion of moralism: should historians take a moral stand? It was much less focussed on coming to a better understanding of 1945 – 1949 by doing research.61 Historian Jur van Goor explained in 1995 how focussing on violence, such as anti-colonial writer Ewald Vanvught did, or speaking about the crimes of Captain Raymond Westerling - who was responsible for the massacre in Sulawesi -  is focussing on “scandals,” with the risk of “mythologizing” and picking sides in history. “I don’t throw stones at windows. As a historian I don’t choose sides.”62 But by qualifying research into Westerling’s crimes as moralism, he is clearly choosing sides, as Kousbroek had rightfully stated.

‘Big men’ of history

The problem is that leading historians such as Fasseur strongly contested the idea of subjectivity and saw themselves as neutral, as an “objective judge” as Fasseur stated.63 Others, who criticized him, were often disqualified. Vanvught was branded by the historian as a “failed writer.” 64 It is noticeable that Vanvught published the anti-colonial book Nieuw zwartboek van Nederland overzee [New black book from the Netherlands overseas] in 2002, and got little attention, while the updated reprint from 2015 became a bestseller under the title Roofstaat. [Thieving state].65 It is indicative of the fundamental change in the debate on the subject. Vanvught published the book at hip-hop label Topnotch of Kees de Koning, had hip hop artists reflect on his work in De Wereld Draait Door [A Dutch talk show] and held the launching of his book in a sold-out Paradiso, where postcolonial groups made themselves heard with critical raps, speeches and debate.66 The presentation says nothing about the scientific or literary value of Vanvught’s work, but it says everything about dissatisfaction of postcolonial groups with the way the academic elite excluded what these groups perceive as an important part of their history.

Fasseur later in his life did not come back to push for a better understanding of Dutch war crimes, for taking political responsibility or the inclusion of Indonesian perspectives. He could have done so in his position as a professor in Leiden where he enjoyed more freedom, but stated he had ‘no interest’ in looking further into the matter. What explains Fasseur’s attitude towards this sensitive history? Was it simply a lack of interest, or were other motivations at hand? An important factor in understanding Fasseur’s position is that colonial history at Leiden University was in Fasseur’s time still squarely placed in a liberal tradition, which tended to exclude the more critical Marxist-oriented scholarship that held sway in the 1980s and early 1990s.67 Historian Frances Gouda implied that the Leiden-based colonial historians acted as a private ‘club,’ not open to outsiders or people with other ideas.68

It can be argued as well that Fasseur’s background in the Dutch-Indies and his sympathy for the Indo- and veteran community could have played a role. In the radio conversation with Remco Raben, Kousbroek criticized Fasseur for bringing into the traumatized Dutch Indies community the idea “to deviate from the historical facts, to be unreasonable.” Fasseur apparently believed that the hardships this group had suffered was of such gravity that historical facts were of less importance. According to Kousbroek, such a “crazy point of view” from a historian was not taken seriously by anyone, “but he did introduce it in the Dutch Indies community.”69

In the interview with KITLV-researchers held in 2014, Fasseur shows that the sensitivity of the issue amongst veterans – most of them had just come out of five years of German occupation – was a valid argument against truth-finding, for the Dutch government as well as for himself. “Your own fathers and brothers, so to speak, perhaps not you, but your mates have been guilty of war crimes.”70 That was not something that could be written about. It shows how deeply Fasseur was concerned with the feelings of veterans.

At the same time, Fasseur combined conflicting roles within the establishment. In her Master’s thesis in 1996, Stef Scagliola had asked the question how Cees Fasseur combined his two roles as participant in the ‘Excessen’ debate and as advisor to Queen Beatrix on her state visit to Indonesia in 1995. Scagliola had touched a raw nerve. How could one be critical, and hold such an establishment position at the same time? According to Scagliola, Fasseur had later on pressured her indirectly to remove from her dissertation in 2002 this same section in which she criticized his double role.71 As she told the NRC Handelsblad,she took the comment out of her work as Fasseur suggested, as she was afraid that her opinion and approach would damage her position in the network of historians.72 The incident shows the awareness Fasseur had of his position as a dominant authority and how his multiple roles related to each other, but he was not willing to put it up for discussion.

A cover-up is not merely a malign, deliberate plan to hide information; it can just as much be a subtler process in history writing in which historians are selective, while claiming to be neutral. Fasseur and others like Wesseling had represented a period that professor Susan Legène calls “the era of history by big men,”73 history written by historians who had to be big men themselves. Their history writing determined the dominant perspective on the past, and they had a great impact on the history narration. Younger historians, like Scagliola, were therefore confronted with predecessors who had preached ‘neutrality’ in relation to sensitive topics.  Leiden historian Wim van den Doel acknowledged that younger historians were in that sense not challenged to question their superiors in a critical way about sensitive topics.74

Read further in the section The way forward.


Rachmad Koesoemobroto: fighting for freedom, a life imprisoned

Stories of Indonesian anti-German resistance fighters in the Netherlands, such as the story of Rachmad Koesoemobroto (1914-1997), have to date not attracted much publicity in the Netherlands. Koesoembroto studied in Leiden in the 1930s and became a member of the Perhimpoenan Indonesia (PI). During World War Two he joined the Dutch resistance, together with his wife, and was involved in hiding Jewish children. After the war, he returned to his country of origin to pursue the ideals of freedom he had developed while staying in the Netherlands as well as to continue the battle for an independent Indonesia. He was imprisoned by the Dutch, and later again under Suharto, only to be released in 1981. His story shows the transnationality and continuity in ideas and ideals about freedom. The children of these forgotten Indonesian war heroes are still fighting for the recognition of their fathers in the Netherlands. In this section Anne-Lot Hoek introduces Rachmad Koesoemobroto, about whom she had previously published as a journalist, aiming for more recognition in the Dutch debate over the anti-colonial and anti-German resistance of Indonesians in The Netherlands.


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Artist Herman Morssink painted the series 'Echte Helden' (Real Heroes) commissoned by the 4&5 May Commité Zuid-Oost in Amsterdam to honour resistance fighters during the German occupation in the Netherlands. Rachmad Koesoemobroto was one of them. He was one of the many Indonesian anti-German resistance fighters, like Rudi Jansz, the father of Ernst Jansz. Source: Website 4&5 May Comité Zuid-Oost.

Murjani Kusumobroto (Surabaya, 1954) recognizes a lot of Sjahrir’s ideas in those of her father, Indonesian nationalist Rachmad Koesoemobroto (1911-1985). As was the case with Sjahrir, his political ideas caused him to spend much of his life in prison. As the son of a Javanese leader, her father studied law in Leiden in the 1930s and, like Sjahrir, he became a member of the Perhimpoenan Indonesia (PI). Whilst living in the Netherlands, he married a Dutch woman. When World War Two broke out in 1940, Koesoemobroto - and with him many other Indonesian PI members like Slamet Faiman and Abdul Madjad Djojoadiningrat - paused his battle for Indonesian independence and joined the Dutch resistance, together with his wife. They were involved in hiding Jewish children. “My father was an antifascist, just like Sjahrir. For him, it did not matter if that fascism was Dutch, German, Japanese or Indonesian,” his daughter says about his decision to join the resistance, during a conversation I had with her in the framework of an interview for an article in De Groene Amsterdammer in 2017.75 Stories of Indonesians who were active in the Dutch anti-German resistance are fairly untold in the Netherlands. Many Indonesians died for the freedom of the Netherlands, including Irawan Soejono76, whose remains were later brought back to Indonesia by Koesoemobroto and his wife.

Rudi Jansz (Batavia, 1915 – Amsterdam, 1965), the father of singer and songwriter Ernst Jansz, was also a member of the anti-German resistance. Jansz was a courier of documents, brought Jewish children to safety, and was imprisoned by the Germans. Although he was fighting for freedom in the Netherlands, the ideal for a free Indonesia was always present. In his book De Overkant Ernst Jansz quotes a letter that his father wrote from the prison to his wife in 1944: “I try as much as possible to be worthy of Christ’s name, your love and my country Indonesia.”77 Another important Indonesian PI member in the Dutch resistance was the Javanese Raden Mas Setyadjit Sugondo, who received the pseudonym ‘Sweers.’ Henk van Randwijk, an important figure in the Dutch resistance and editor of the illegal magazine Vrij Nederland (Free Netherlands) was highly impressed by Setyadjit’s personality and political insights. Van Randwijk’s increased interest for the Indonesian independence struggle was influenced by PI members, amongst whom Setyadjit.78 After the war, Vrij Nederland published articles in favour of Indonesian independence. Famous is Van Randwijks critical words on the frontpage of the magazine at the start of the so-called ‘First Police Action’ against Indonesia in the summer of 1947: “Because I am a Dutchman.” He wrote: “because I am a Dutchman, I say, no! Against violence, which is currently committed by us in Indonesia. By unleashing a colonial war in Indonesia, the Netherlands is committing political folly.”79

Some of the children of the Indonesian resistance fighters have been fighting for years to get the deeds of their fathers recognized. One of these dissenting voices is Iwan Faiman, the son of Slamet Faiman. Faiman, Sr. smuggled Jewish children over the Dutch border and arranged false documents. “The heroic deeds of the members of PI have never been recognized,” Faiman, Jr. says. “Even worse – the Netherlands took a hostile position after World War Two because the goal of independence that the PI-fighters pursued was seen as a threat to the Dutch nation.” But their lives were equally marked by war. Faiman says his father’s war past affected the entire family. His father contracted polio during the war and because of his resistance activities he could not get proper medication. “Nevertheless, my father had to struggle for 25 years to get his resistance subvention.” Faiman wants recognition for this forgotten group of freedom fighters. He feels that his voice and that of other relatives remain unheard. “It is about time that we are heard – not only by the government, but by the Netherlands as a whole.”80 Journalist Herman Keppy  is one of the few in the Netherlands who has paid attention to this group of Indonesian and Dutch-Indo resistance fighters.81


The photo from the Herman Keppy archive shows Rachmad Koesoemobroto on the left with two Jewish sisters Jewish sisters Emi and Miri Freibrunn who were in hiding in the foreground, and his then fiance Nel van den Bergh on the right. When the house was betrayed, Nel van den Bergh was taken prisoner and murdered. The Jewish children survived the war and live in Israel. Rachmad Koesoemobroto later married Nel van de Peppel, was also active in the resistance movement, and who knew Koesoemobroto from his time in Wageningen, where he was head of the PI district. In 1946 they boarded the ship Weltevreden to go to Indonesia, where their seven children were born (personal communication Murjani Kusumobroto).

Fight for independence

After the war, in 1946, Koesoemobroto returned to his country of origin to pursue the ideals of freedom he had developed while staying in the Netherlands as well as to continue the battle for an independent Indonesia. In 1945, Indonesia had declared its independence. The Dutch newspaper Het Parool wrote about the farewell at the harbour of three members of the PI, Eveline Poetiray, Soeripno and Koesoemobroto who returned to Indonesia with the boat ‘Weltevreden.’ Although the Indonesians were happy to return home, it turned out that many friendships had been made, which made the farewell “heavy” according to the newspaper.82 Ironically enough, the Dutch imprisoned him in Indonesia, as he was a former member of the resistance. When he was interrogated, he denied that he was the famous revolutionary Rachmad Koesoemobroto. “Just as this questioner started to doubt if he had the right person in front of him, a Dutch soldier walked by. He knew Koesoemobroto from their time in the Dutch resistance together and shouted ‘Hey Rachmad, what brings you here?’’ Despite describing the event with much humor afterwards, it was a tough thing,” says Murjani. “He was imprisoned for one and a half years and my mother had to survive on her own. There was no money and she lost an eight-month-old baby. Both of Koesoemobroto’s brothers were shot during the battle for independence, one by the Brits and the other one by the Dutch.”83 The British, as one of the allies, had to protect law and order in the Dutch Indies after the capitulation of Japan, and quite often also got into conflict with the Indonesian resistance, for example at the battle of Surabaya, near the end of 1946.

Koesoemobroto was imprisoned in post-colonial Indonesia. Initially, Sukarno had sent him to the Netherlands to work at the Indonesian embassy in Wassenaar in 1964.  When he visited Indonesia shortly after that, there had been a change of power. Sukarno and his government had been deposed, and since Koesoemobroto had been part of that regime, he had to go into hiding for three years. The regime of the Indonesian army and General Suharto murdered tens of thousands of alleged ‘communists’ in 1965 and 1966. Koesoemobroto was betrayed and arrested in 1967. He was released only in 1981. During his imprisonment he was put in front of a firing squad four times, as a form of fake execution, says Murjani. But he never let go of his ideals. “My father could have gotten out of prison earlier via an amnesty ruling that applied to him because he had been part of the resistance, but he wanted to get out of prison only if all his fellow prisoners would be released. That was his political belief; he did not want to be privileged. He also never applied for a Dutch Verzetskruis (badge of honor for resistance activities).”

When he was in prison, Koesoemobroto received the news that one of his children had passed away, the fourteen-year-old sister of Murjani who died in a car accident. “The guards laughed about it. That must have been terribly humiliating for my father.” Despite that, Koesoemobroto always tried to change the beliefs of the younger guards. “One time, the prison had organized an educational trip to a statue of one of the heroes of the independence struggle, who coincidentally was one of Koesoemobroto’s brothers. “Koesoemobroto?” said one of the guards. “Is he related to you?” “Yes”, my father said, “that is my brother. We all fought for the freedom of Indonesia and look how you are treating me right now.’’’84


The statue of Lt. Soejitno Koesoemobroto, brother to Rachmad Koesoemobroto, in the middle of the square in Bojonegoro, East Java, Indonesia. He was remembered as an independence fighter while Koesomoebroto, who fought from for the same ideals, was arrested because of his ties to the Netherlands. Source: Wikipedia

Fight for recognition

Like Sjahrir, Koesoemobroto had to pay for his ideals: he could not see his children grow up. Murjani says: “we did not even know if my father was dead or alive.” After the fatal accident involving Murjani’s sister, the mayor of their hometown Bennekom tracked down Koesoemobroto with help of the Red Cross and Amnesty International. At that moment, he was on the prison island Buru, that had ironically had fulfilled the same function during the Dutch occupation. In his letters to Murjani, he wrote: “The belief that what I stand for is the right thing, keeps me going.” Strikingly enough, she saw the first images of him on the Dutch TV-show Hier en Nu, presented by Catherine Keyl in 1978. Keyl interviewed the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Soebandrio, in the same prison that Murjani’s father was locked up in. The camera team that was with Keyl heard someone shouting from behind a wall, ran towards it and filmed what they saw. “From behind that wall, my father shouted ‘I used to live near the Magere Brug in Amsterdam! Say hi to my daughter!”85 Not long after that, he arrived in the Netherlands, severely weakened. He was able to return later to his country of origin as a free man.

Koesoemobroto’s story shows how there was a continuity in ideas and ideals about freedom and a protest voice against the supressing of it that arose in the Dutch Indies, found its way into Dutch society, was lived by in the German-occupied Netherlands, Dutch-occupied Indonesia, and in an independent Indonesia itself. Koesoemobroto fought for a freedom that was inclusive, an ideal that got him imprisoned for life by several regimes. His story and that of others also shows how interrelated Dutch and Indonesian history are, how ideals about freedom were exchanged and how, especially in the memory of the Second World War, little recognition is given to Indonesian resistance.

The story of Koesoemobroto and the stories of many others did not attract much publicity in the Netherlands. These kinds of stories were complicated and did not fit in with the dominant narrative. Murjani has been telling her father’s story for some time now, mostly at primary schools, via the story-telling initiative ‘’Oorlog in mijn buurt’’[War in my neighborhood]86 in Amsterdam. The 4&5 May Remembrance in Amsterdam, ‘Huizen van verzet’ also often pays attention to this forgotten group.87 When telling her father’s story, Murjani reflects on the traces of colonialism and resistance against it in her own family connecting Dutch and Indonesian history. Murjani and Faiman believe that the way in which history is being taught in Dutch schools does not present a sufficiently broad perspective, since the mainstream curriculum offers little recognition to their fathers. Murjani and Faiman, who were heavily influenced by their fathers’ experiences to fight for human rights, hope that their fathers get recognition in the Netherlands for their role during the war and that their stories contribute to a better understanding of Dutch history in schools today.


The ballad of Sarina and Kromo

Musician Ernst Jansz was inspired by the story of Willem Bosch to compose a protest song against the injustices and hardship that people experienced during colonialism in the Dutch East Indies. The song 'The ballad of Sarina and Kromo' shifts the perspective to the colonialized people, allowing for a more fundamental criticism of the premise of colonialism. The song was performed twice as part of the process, and conveys the emotional impact of the colonial regime. Like Willem Bosch in his time, Ernst Jansz also tries to mobilize people by voicing a personalized story. As a Dutch musician with family roots in Indonesia, Ernst Jansz explained during the performances how his family history is characterized by a long tradition of dissent and resistance fights. Many of his songs are characterized by themes of belonging, truth seeking, and compassion.


Ernst Jansz, was inspired by the research of Maartje Janse about the life story of Willem Bosch and wrote 'The ballad of Sarina and Kromo', a song about a young couple experiencing injustice in the Dutch East Indies. He and his band performed at the Voice4Thought Festival – People in Motion at Scheltema, Leiden (24 September 2016) and the Bridging Humanities launch meeting on Decolonization of knowledge in the digital age (7 June 2018). Willem Bosch was one of the most outspoken critics of the culture system, the system that forced the population in the Dutch East Indies to cultivate crops for the government. Ernst Jansz has re-interpreted an old Malaysian ‘krontjong’ song and transformed it into a protest song that recalls the protest songs of the 1960s.88

Ernst Jansz about the collaboration:"Last year I was contacted by Maartje Janse, who works at Leiden University and was at the time working on a research project on people who wanted to make the world a better place in the 19th century. Amongst them were people protesting slavery and the culture system in the Dutch Indies. The main focus of her research was Willem Bosch (1798-1877), one of the most prominent critics of the culture system. She asked me if I wanted to think about ways to convey the message of Willem Bosch to a contemporary audience, by writing a song about it. Because the story of Willem Bosch showed strong similarities with the story of my great-grandfather, who also protested the oppression of people in the Dutch Indies, I immediately said yes. I also feel very strongly that people here in the West still do not realize that a large part of our wealth comes from the blood of slaves and the exploitation of the former colonies. Sooner or later, we will have to pay the price for that. And that is how a new song was born."

Maartje Janse about the song: "The text is primarily a criticism of colonial injustice and exploitation. But by choosing Sarina and Kromo’s perspective, it can also be read as criticism of centering this story of colonial rule around a white man who was part of the colonization project, and not fundamentally critical of the premise of colonialism either. By giving Sarina and Kromo a voice, by adding their perspective, Ernst added an important layer to my history of Willem Bosch."

From the section co-creation.

Performance 2016

The video captures the full performance at the Voice4Thought Festival in 2016. Ernst Jansz sang the following six songs, accompanied by his band members Guus Paat (Guitar), Richard Wallenburg (Bass), and Aili Deiwiks (Violin). The video starts with the interview with Maartje Janse in which she talks about Willem Bosch.

2:52 Performance of the song De Ballade van Sarina en Kromo [The Ballad of Sarina and Kromo], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: "The person you just saw, Maartje Janse, did research on 19th-century reform movements. She asked me if I wanted to write a song about one of those reformers, Willem Bosch.  She asked me if I wanted to write a song, with Willem Bosch in my mind. Willem Bosch was someone who stood up for the rights of the oppressed in Indonesia, the Dutch East Indies, at that time. The slaves, the farmers who were forced by the Netherlands to grow certain crops, which did well in the market and by which the Netherlands became rich. And Willem Bosch stood up for the oppressed. And I've tried to highlight a few small details from that oppression of the Dutch at that time. And one of them is .. Very often it happened that a Dutchman, for example a planter who had a rich plantation, put his male or female slaves to work, and did with the girls what he wanted to do. She often bore the planter’s children. And the planter adopted those children, because they were his. But that Indonesian mother, who was not allowed to be there, was chased away. There is a beautiful story from an Indonesian writer, Reggie Baay, who wrote about slavery in the 19th and 20th centuries in Indonesia. And his father remembers that an Indonesian woman was chased away from the gate. He did not know who it was. Later he realized that it was his mother who was chased away. The farmers were forced to grow crops that did well in the Dutch markets, making the Netherlands rich. And Willem Bosch could have said this. Here in the Netherlands with regard to the high-ranking men, The rich, high-ranking men." (Song text: De ballade van Sarina en Kromo ENG)

11:23 Performance of the song Dit huis [This house], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: "The next song is about hospitality. I told my son, who is about eight years old, that we owe our wealth and prosperity to the blood of countless slaves. And the wealth that we have stolen from distant foreign countries. And then my son said: but Dad, did we ever say thank you? No, boy." (Song text: Dit huis ENG).

16:13 Performance of the song Rumah Saya [My house], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: "And the strange thing is that even very good friends of mine, not really stupid people, still do not understand that you cannot steal things from everywhere with impunity. At some time the bill will be presented. And that can happen any time. All those people who come from distant foreign countries to the Netherlands to build a new life here. The next song is for all those people. Especially for the second generation, for the children of those people who came from distant foreign countries to the Netherlands to build an existence here. And those children who may not feel at home here and who might be thinking: 'if only I was at home in the land of my father or my mother’. And I sing this song for all those people of the second generation who do not know exactly where they belong. Because we, as we are here on stage, actually come from distant foreign countries. We or our parents arrived at some time in the Netherlands. My father came from Indonesia."(Song text: Rumah saya ENG).

22:12 Performance of the song Huiswaarts [Back home]89, introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: "And now you may wonder, where does a person belong? I believe that you belong somewhere, where people love you." (Song text: Huiswaarts ENG).

26:48 Performance of the song Tijd Genoeg [Plenty of Time], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: "Ladies and gentlemen, love is the most beautiful thing there is." (Song text: Tijd genoeg ENG).

32:93 Performance of the song Luna Luna Mijn [Luna Luna Mine], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: "And the last song - because everything comes to an end - is for a very important woman in my life. She was born with a full moon and we called her Luna. And I want to give her something. Not all those nasty, awful things happening in the world, but also the incredibly beautiful, what this beautiful sweet earth has to give us." (Song text: Luna Luna Mijn ENG).

Performance 2018

Performance of the song De Ballade van Sarina en Kromo [The Ballad of Sarina and Kromo], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: "Maartje asked me to write a song. She was working on a topic called 'wereldverbeteraars' I don’t know the word in English, but people who were fighting for justice in the 19th century. And especially Willem Bosch. And I had to think about, what I told you already, that my great-great-grandfather, my grandfather’s grandfather, who was a missionary in the Netherlands Indies, and who saw what was happening there, and who wrote open letters and publications. It is not good what we do here, we Dutch, it's not good, the people are starving, from the taxes. And he wasn’t heard my great-great-grandfather. But his son, my great-grandfather, published a newspaper, and he wrote about slavery. There was officially no slavery in Netherlands Indies, but actually it was still there. My father came in the 1930s to Holland, to study and then came the war, and he joined the resistance against the Germans. And he got caught. They put him in jail. And afterwards in a concentration camp. But he survived. But after the war, he kept on fighting for the freedom of Indonesia, his motherland. You have to know, that a lot of Indonesian students, before the (second world) war, were working for the independence of Indonesia, already, here in Holland. And when the war came, and the Germans took over, all those Indonesian students joined the resistance. They rescued Jewish people, and they fought for the freedom of Holland. If you realize that all these Indonesian students were Muslim, and they saved Jewish people...this is a story that should be told all over the world, actually. And the headquarters of the Indonesian resistance was here, in this building. And from here, they organised all kinds of activities. And after the war, some people died, and those who survived, kept on fighting for the freedom of Indonesia. And this was a political fight ofcourse. And the Dutch government didn't like it, and kicked them out, and put some of them in jail. So if you realize that these people, who would have given their lives for the freedom of Holland, were kicked out after the war..It is a story not many people know, but now you know. And I, for being a son of my father, and a grand grand grandson of my grand grand grandfather etc., I thought what can I do, I am just a musician, I am just writing songs. So I said yes to Maartje when she asked me. And this is the song I wrote, It is called the ballad of Sarina and Kromo." (Song text: De ballade van Sarina en Kromo ENG).


Performance of the song De Naakte Waarheid [The Naked Truth], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: "The next song is about what it is all about here. The idea is about being trustful, being respectful. It is about the truth actually. In Holland we have a saying 'De naakte waarheid'. It is the naked truth. The naked truth is just the truth, nothing around it, to make it more beautiful, more suitable, more convenient for us. And nowadays, the naked truth is not wanted anymore. She is chased away. People say we don’t like you anymore, go away. And everywhere she comes, people close the doors, people close the windows. And she is just desperate. And actually, she is lying down, and she is dying. And people come from all over the world to look at her, the naked truth, lying there dead and naked. Why not a cloth or a blanket or something, why naked? Naked is not good. And especially not for the truth. And people say: it is a pity, because actually she is very beautiful. And in the last verse, I tell about a garbage dump, where they say a naked truth has been seen. And then I ask my audience, I ask you, if you see her, if you meet her...please say goodbye from me, and tell her that I miss her, dancing around barefoot in this world." (Song text: De naakte waarheid ENG).


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The performance of Ernst Jansz in 2018 took place at the Tropenmuseum. As he explained in his introduction (see above), this was the former headquarters of the Indonesian resistance against the Germans during World War Two, in which his father Rudi Jansz was involved. These photos show  Ernst Jansz at a meeting about Indonesian resistance fighters furing the second world war at the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam, Remembrance Day 5 May 2017. The meeting was part of Huizen van Verzet [Houses of Resistance] of the 4-5 May committee. During the meeting he spoke about his father, whose portrait was included in the series Real Heroes by Herman Morssink, that were exhibited during this meeting. The last photo shows Anne-Lot Hoek in conversation with Joty Ter Kulve – van Os (1926) during that same meeting, about the Indonesian revolutionary Sutan Sjahrir. (Photos by Kevin Kwee).



Siebe Lijftogt: a critical voice branded a traitor

Former resistance fighter and Indonesian civil servant Siebe Lijftogt (1919-2005) challenged the narrative of a Netherlands that was on the right side of history during the Indonesian independence war on the island of Bali. He held on to the values of the anti-German resistance as they were manifested during the Second World War and encouraged his now powerful resistance friends to take responsibility. Inspired by Sutan Sjahrir, he felt that the Netherlands had only one job: helping to build up a new, independent Indonesia. But in his letters, which his children found after his death, he describes another reality. He became part of the colonial system, a system he fiercely criticized, and it isolated him in a terrible way. In this section Anne-Lot Hoek describes the life story of Siebe Lijftogt, about whom she had previously published as a journalist aiming to give more insight into the role of dissenting voices during the Indonesian independence war.



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Photos from the archive of the Family Lijftogt show Siebe Lijftogt as a young servant on Bali.

The Swiss-Dutch historian Rémy Limpach describes in his dissertation De Brandende kampong van Generaal Spoor (2016) a forgotten, but meaningful group during the war in Indonesia: the many whistle-blowers. Critical soldiers or civil servants stationed in Indonesia who wrote to editorial boards of Dutch magazines and newspapers and whose letters to their supervisors or parents were published (with or without their permission). Limpach researched who notified the authorities in cases of extreme violence and what kinds of resistance there was against mass violence, but also looked into the consequences of being a whistle-blower and the responses of the authorities in the different cases. There were cases of soldiers sending letters home or to the press, but there were also people who notified judicial or military authorities and people who resisted orders to execute Indonesians without any kind of legal process. Twenty-six soldiers defected to the other side.90

The most famous defector is Poncke Princen, who was called a traitor for decades after the incident and was not allowed to enter the Netherlands until 1994. The stories of critical soldiers and civil servants and deserters have received little scholarly attention, which is striking. According to Princen, the cause partly lies in the fact that chauvinism and freedom were such loaded concepts that the previous generation had a very hard time cutting themselves loose from them. In his autobiography Een kwestie van kiezen he underlined the central issue in times of war: “should you, despite conscientious objections, be forced to follow orders, or should you obey to your own conscience?”.91

Soldiers and civil servants who had been in the Dutch resistance in World War Two were also confronted with questions of conscience. A special example is the story of the civil servant Siebe Lijftogt, who wanted to produce change from within, based on his interpretation of the humanist values of the resistance, and was therefore branded a traitor by his countrymen. It would not be the first time that critics were kaltgestellt (sidelined) on Bali: in 2014, I published in the NRC about a report made by a police agent who had collected almost six hundred pages of information on the role of Dutch authorities in corruption and illegal trade.92 One of the critical voices on the island was sidelined by the authorities on the island, and the same happened with the police agent who wrote the report.

Letters on the attic

Lijftogt suffered a similar fate on the island, when he criticized the harsh military course. He was briefly mentioned in The Dark Side of Paradise, the PhD thesis of Canadian historian Geoffrey Robinson, published in 1995. The statement in a footnote that he and his wife were called ‘inlanderliefhebber’['native lover']93 inspired me to trace his relatives.

The encounter with his daughter and son and the discussions we’ve had resulted in my receiving a big suitcase full of letters that he actually wanted to burn before he died, but did not. The letters included Lijftogt’s experiences and ideas as a critical civil servant on Bali and Lombok. They made a huge impact on me personally. I was impressed by Lijftogt’s philosophical thoughts in the midst of a confusing, violent historical crossroads, his modesty, and his honesty, but also by his firmness and, as a former member of the anti-German resistance, his strong emphasis on non-violence towards the Indonesian resistance. But most of all, I admired the fact that he observed and understood things that others didn’t seem to understand or refused to act upon. He was part of the colonial system, but criticized it, and it isolated him in a terrible way. I wrote an article about Lijftogt for the Dutch newspaper NRC94 and gave several classes about his life for high schools in Amsterdam and The Hague. For the Amsterdam 4&5 May committee I interviewed Ida Lijftogt at the NIOD (see photo below), as well as Wolter Gerungan, whose father fought as a freedom fighter on Bali.95 The experience of interviewing children of these critics was meaningful for both parties: pieces of information were gathered into a new narrative and placed into a broader historical perspective.


Anne-Lot interviewed Ida, Lijftogt’s daughter and Wolter Gerungan, son of a Menadonese revolutionary on Bali at the Niod on the occasion of a commemoration of Liberation day 5 May 2016.96

A new, independent Indonesia

Lombok, 4 July 1946

‘The new supervisor […] is a man, raised in the tradition of a proper administrative body and with a proper education. […] He is punctual, precise and deals with people in a nice way. However, everything that is outside of his view is being handled with such ease that it is frightening’. When you hear him speak about the way the English expelled the extremists [the Indonesian resistance] from Bandung […] “These extremists fell from the tree like ripened apples. I can see such a guy lying down there. He got what he wanted – it is what he asked for, right?” This man […] that deals kindly with his servants, loves animals and is also a carpenter, tells his stories with such liveliness and taste that almost make you forget what terrible things he says. He simply does not see it, he does not see the consequences of what happens there, he cannot see it.’97

This is what Siebe Lijftogt wrote to his wife Linde on the 4th of July of 1946. He was 26 years old at the time, had been part of the Dutch resistance and had left for Indonesia shortly after the Second World War to work as a civil servant. In the year before that, the nationalists led by Sukarno had declared the independence of Indonesia. This was only partly recognized by the Netherlands, triggering a very violent conflict. From 1946 until 1950, Lijftogt held positions on Lombok and Bali. The ethos of the Corps Binnenlands Bestuur (BB) – assisting the local residents – matched very well with his ideals as a former member of the resistance. In his view, the Netherlands had only one job: helping to build up a new, independent Indonesia, ‘with all the best that we brought from home.’ One of the people who inspired Lijftogt was Sutan Sjahrir, whose Indonesische Overpeinzingen he had read with much interest. He urged the home front, the Indology faculty in Utrecht, to read Sjahrir’s work. He offered more than other revolutionaries – ‘he offers a road to healing’, according to Lijftogt.

But in his letters, which the children of Lijftogt found in his attic after he passed away in 2005, he describes another reality. His fellow civil servants, colleagues and supervisors seemed to have the capability to understand the violent battle for independence, but an internalized blind spot prevented them from doing so. That led to even more violence. Lijftogt sees the violence, including that of his own supervisors, as ‘German behavior’. He does not want to be an occupier. That is why he makes a desperate moral appeal to his former resistance buddies, the former board of the National Committee of Resistance: Marie Anne Tellegen, who had become the director of the Cabinet of the Queen, and Lambertus Neher, who had become the delegate of the Supreme Management in Batavia. The latter calls Lijftogt crazy. The recent attention to violence in the Indonesian war for independence (1945-1950) mainly focused on soldiers. The involvement of civil servants with extreme violence has thus far received little attention.


17 January 1969

It is the night on which Dutch Indies veteran Joop Hueting (see video in section Cees Fasseur and his critics) publicly revealed that Dutch soldiers were guilty of war crimes during the battle for independence in Indonesia. His revelations caused a shock throughout the Netherlands. Veterans were filled with rage. Hueting had to go into hiding with his family. The whole commotion led to the so-called Excessennota, a limited investigation into the alleged excessive violence ordered by the government. Siebe Lijftogt, together with his daughter Ida, watched the show in which Hueting made his claims and ‘nodded in agreement’, as she remembers. However, he did not speak about his own experiences in the Dutch Indies nor in the resistance movement.

Lijftogt was the head of the Nationale Comité-courier center in Utrecht and had given the go-ahead for the Februaristaking, which happened in Amsterdam in 1941. He chose civilized resistance over violence. He had wanted to destroy letters and documents from his time in the Dutch Indies, but his daughter stopped him from doing that, she says. ‘He was a humble man who did not speak much. He was afraid that no one would understand him’, says Ida. When she and her brother Gerard recently read his letters, they were shocked. Their father had never been so outspoken and sharp towards them. ‘It is only now that I understand how dramatically significant what my parents experienced there was’, she says.

 ‘Completely wrong’

Maart/March 1946

Many Dutch military personnel and civil servants were completely exhausted from the hardships in the Japanese camps, Lijftogt observes after he arrived in Batavia, in March 1946. Despite that, the ex-prisoners wanted to return very quickly to the colonial situation they were used to. ‘Linde, you can see the arrogance and the impotence of so many Dutch people here’, he writes to his wife.

According to Lijftogt, his fellow civil servants severely underestimate Indonesian nationalism and believe that the Indonesians are on their side. They do not put much effort into trying to figure out the real situation. ‘They all talk about the hatred of the baboe [maid] for Sukarno and the loyalty of the bicycle repair man’. However, his colleagues have little contact with the baboe and the bicycle repair man, Lijftogt concludes.

In April, Lijftogt addresses his first cry for help to the Nationaal Comité, his supervisors in the resistance and his ‘mentors’. These are the people on whom his moral compass is based, as he would emphasize multiple times. Together with a fellow civil servant he calls for rapid changes in the Dutch Indies policy. ‘We have completely lost power here’ and the Netherlands quickly needs to accept that, ‘if we want to be welcome here in the future.’

On Lombok, his new location where he arrives in April, the political situation is a lot calmer than on Java. Lijftogt becomes responsible for the shelter of political prisoners. He sees this as ‘a unique opportunity to get in touch with the local inhabitants’, as he gleefully writes home. From his letters we see that he becomes more and more understanding of their battle for freedom and even becomes friends with some of them.

His boss, however, Assistant Resident Edy Lapré, who had spent the occupation in a Japanese camp, did not share Lijftogt’s sympathy with the ideals of freedom. When resistance group Bantang Hitam (black bull) spread anti-Dutch pamphlets one night and committed an attack on a military camp, Lapré reacted ‘ as if a bomb had exploded in his mood’. Many people, including some who were innocent, were arrested and forced to sit for long periods in the sun. He also recruited one thousand locals to demonstrate against the resistance movement with slogans that were written by Lapré himself, such as ‘Come on out, the knives and slaughter houses are ready’. Lijftogt confronted his supervisor about this.

That had little effect, as Lapré’s superiors seemed to support his behaviour. The Bali and Lombok Resident, H. Jacobs who was ‘a devilishly fine’ man with lots of humour and tact, even called for executions after the Balinese resistance took revenge on a town that had collaborated with the Dutch. Jacobs gave the chiefs ‘explicit power to straight away kill every pemuda [resistance fighter] that arrived on Lombok, without any kind of legal process. The sooner the better.’

Japanese men who were still free got a price on their head. Lijftogt writes to his family that he feels these measures are ‘completely wrong’. He cannot reconcile these actions with the friendly Resident, who ‘cried during church service’ last Sunday but told Lapré when leaving church to kill anyone who was seen putting up anti-Dutch pamphlets.

‘The pemoeda and the Japanese’ were for many ex-prisoners a case of ‘kill them all’, as Lijftogt writes home. However, when one colleague tells him about the horrible experiences of the Japanese internment camp, Lijftogt becomes more understanding of the behavior of his supervisors, who are ‘on the verge of breaking down’ because of their traumas. ‘People are still very bruised, and so are we’. Then, Lijftogt gets the message that he is being transferred to Bali. The military regime is much harsher there. Jacobs, himself not very gentle, said about this that ‘the daily killing of approximately one hundred men, of which forty per cent are innocent, happens there quite often’, Lijftogt writes to Linde before his departure to Bali.

‘Indigenous-people lovers’

July 1946

On Bali, his conscience quickly gets put to the test even more. ‘How is life here?’, he writes. ‘Linde, we are going to have a very difficult time here.’ His wife is about to board the boat to the Dutch Indies, together with their one-year-old son. ‘The number of human wrecks that one finds here is unsettling’, he says about his ex-prisoner colleagues and the military men.

Despite all this, he is militant. This is the place where he will see if he and his wife can ‘practice their beliefs’. These beliefs were inspired by Christianity, Buddhism and different philosophers. Linde was a nurse with pacifist ideas. ‘She hated all the military stuff’, says Ida. ‘She also went to treat Balinese people with scabies. That was not done, you were not supposed to interfere with these people as a European’. The couple were called ‘indigenous-people lovers’. They became isolated from the European social life, and Lijftogt mediated with the Indonesian resistance. Sometimes, he went away for three weeks to talk to them in their local language. However, he could not prevent the violent killing of the Balinese resistance leader and his followers, on the 20th of November 1946. ‘That really hurt him’, his daughter says, filled with emotion. Lijftogt wrote fiery accounts to Frederik Baron van Asbeck, a friend of the family who was also a professor of international law and a high civil servant in Batavia. He calls the behavior on Bali ‘mild’ compared to South Celebes, but states that on the island 10,000 people have been taken as political prisoners, 2000 of whom have been violently abused. ‘Hitting, kicking, putting them in the sun for hours, hanging them up with their feet barely touching the ground.’

The harsh policy was motivated by the belief that the Balinese people who were loyal to the Dutch could be separated from the ‘extremists.’98 In reality, that division was difficult to make. The policy only caused the local inhabitants to become victims of violence – by the resistance movement and by the Dutch army with their local supporters. According to Lijftogt, this would lead to a civil war. Similarly, on Java a military solution would end with a ‘more disastrous situation than ever’ and inevitably lead to feelings of revenge among the local inhabitants. He writes this in June 1947 to Van Asbeck – one month later, the Eerste Politionele Actie (First Police Action) would start.


Oktober/October 1947

Van Asbeck is the first one to do something with the information Lijftogt provided him, as his account is published anonymously in the resistance journal Je Maintiendrai, in October 1947. Van Asbeck also sent one of Lijftogt’s letters to former Prime Minister Schermerhorn, who was involved in the negotiations with the Indonesian Republic.

In this letter he writes that he opposes a situation that he feels is inhuman, just as during the German occupation of the Netherlands. He feels like an ‘intellectual SD-member’ who is being used to do ‘dehumanizing work’ like ‘making up ruses to catch pemoeda’s after gaining their trust’. Lijftogt reports in his letter: ‘that we kill, torture and imprison the spes patriae of a people by the hundreds, that we are becoming completely corrupt and hold large drinking parties to forget the mess we made’.

Tellegen sends his letter to Lambertus Neher, who is involved in the negotiations with the Indonesian Republic as a delegate from the Opperbestuur in Batavia. He is not very impressed by the observations of his former resistance pupil. He sees the mood of Lijftogt as ‘bitterness’. Mistakes are being made, but a comparison to the German occupier is a bridge too far for him. Horrible side effects are part of a battle for freedom and are often a response to terror from the Indonesian side, says Neher.

‘Bitterness?’ responds Lijftogt. He wrote his letter because he feels ‘responsible as a Dutchman, for what we, as Dutch, do here’. And if Neher really believes that Dutch terror is a response to Indonesian terror, ‘then you are very poorly informed about what happens outside of Batavia’. It must have been very painful for Lijftogt that the people he used as a moral compass did not understand him. Neher wrote to Tellegen that ‘the mood of the letter feels like mania’. ‘I fear that the young man has been tasked with something too big for him’. And so closed the cover-up.

For the remainder of his life up until his death in 2005, Lijftogt did not want to return to Indonesia. He became a professor of sociology and worked as consultant at the Nederlandse Stichting voor Psychotechniek. During an interview regarding the role of civil servants in Indonesia held in the 1970s, he avoided answering the question about whether the Dutch committed war crimes. ‘He closed it all off and did not want to become a second Joop Hueting’, is what his daughter Ida thinks.

Lijftogt had served in the Dutch resistance ‘because he was unable to do otherwise’. He held on to that moral standard during his time in the Dutch Indies. His progressive ideas caused him to be called a traitor when he left the Dutch Indies. Ida: ‘he was one of the very few people who understood that violence was not a solution. That isolation was a personal drama for him’.


Anne-Lot Hoek talked about Siebe Lijftogt during an interview with OVT radio in 2018 [English subtitles added]. A quote from the interview: "And he identified himself very much with that Indonesian resistance fighter. We called those people extremists. And he thought: extremists? That man on the other side, actually looks like me and what I fought for."


Authors / Contributors

The publication is a co-production of authors Maartje Janse and Anne-Lot Hoek, with contributions from musician Ernst Jansz and filmmaker Sjoerd Sijsma. Biographical information about the authors and contributors is presented here. The editorial committee of Bridging Humanities guided the co-creation process and developed the design of the website.

Photo: Authors at the launch of the Bridging Humanities platform, June 2018.

Maartje Janse is a lecturer in Dutch history in transnational context at Leiden University. She is a scholar of protest, social movements and popular politics, currently writing a transnational history of the ‘invention’ of the pressure group in the nineteenth century. She coordinates the Global Abolitionisms Network that is linked to the Leiden Slavery Studies Association. In 2009 she was awarded a Veni Grant from the Dutch Council for Scientific Research (NWO) for her project ‘Organizing the Masses: The Contested Nature of Early Irish, British and American Pressure Groups, 1825-1845’. After that she coordinated, with Henk te Velde, the programme ‘The Promise of Organization: Political Associations, 1820-1890, Debate and Practice’.

Profile on website Leiden University

Anne-Lot Hoek is a research journalist with a background in contemporary history. She has been working on issues concerning human rights violations and liberation movements in Namibia and the history of development aid in Africa at the Africa Study Centre in Leiden. More recently she has been involved in the Dutch media on issues relating to the Dutch military performance in Indonesia in 1945 – 1949. She participated in a research fellowship at NIAS (Amsterdam), and is currently working on a PhD/book about the Indonesian independence war on the island of Bali under the supervision of Peter Romijn (Niod/University of Amsterdam) and Remco Raben (Utrecht University/University of Amsterdam). She is also involved in the government-sponsored project ‘Decolonization, violence and war in Indonesia 1945-1950’ at the KITLV in Leiden.

Personal website

Ernst Jansz represents an important part of Dutch pop history. In the 1960s he was part of the legendary hippie band CCC Inc. And later he made history by establishing the renowned band Doe Maar. Following his departure from Doe Maar he remained active. His father, born in Semarang on Java, is an Indo (Dutch-Indonesian), who went to the Netherlands in 1932 to continue his higher education after finishing his studies at the Batavia HBS. Much of the literary work of the author Jansz is based on his Indo identity and his father’s heritage. His father became one of the few Indo advocates for an independent Indonesia.

Personal website

Sjoerd Sijsma is a filmmaker and founding member of the Voice4Thought organization. He holds a BA in Tropical Land and Water Management, and has used film for monitoring and evaluation purposes, as well as for making promotional and educational video content. His production company, ‘Eyeses’, is collaborating currently in a project of the African Studies Center and the University of Leiden on how new technology impacts African societies under duress. He is interested in how voices and visuals can be connected to help understand polarizations.

Profile on Voice4Thought website

Authors / Contributors

The publication is a co-production of authors Maartje Janse and Anne-Lot Hoek, with contributions from musician Ernst Jansz and filmmaker Sjoerd Sijsma. Biographical information about the authors and contributors is presented here. The editorial committee of Bridging Humanities guided the co-creation process and developed the design of the website.

Photo: Authors at the launch of the Bridging Humanities platform, June 2018.

Maartje Janse is a lecturer in Dutch history in transnational context at Leiden University. She is a scholar of protest, social movements and popular politics, currently writing a transnational history of the ‘invention’ of the pressure group in the nineteenth century. She coordinates the Global Abolitionisms Network that is linked to the Leiden Slavery Studies Association. In 2009 she was awarded a Veni Grant from the Dutch Council for Scientific Research (NWO) for her project ‘Organizing the Masses: The Contested Nature of Early Irish, British and American Pressure Groups, 1825-1845’. After that she coordinated, with Henk te Velde, the programme ‘The Promise of Organization: Political Associations, 1820-1890, Debate and Practice’.

Profile on website Leiden University

Anne-Lot Hoek is a research journalist with a background in contemporary history. She has been working on issues concerning human rights violations and liberation movements in Namibia and the history of development aid in Africa at the Africa Study Centre in Leiden. More recently she has been involved in the Dutch media on issues relating to the Dutch military performance in Indonesia in 1945 – 1949. She participated in a research fellowship at NIAS (Amsterdam), and is currently working on a PhD/book about the Indonesian independence war on the island of Bali under the supervision of Peter Romijn (Niod/University of Amsterdam) and Remco Raben (Utrecht University/University of Amsterdam). She is also involved in the government-sponsored project ‘Decolonization, violence and war in Indonesia 1945-1950’ at the KITLV in Leiden.

Personal website

Ernst Jansz represents an important part of Dutch pop history. In the 1960s he was part of the legendary hippie band CCC Inc. And later he made history by establishing the renowned band Doe Maar. Following his departure from Doe Maar he remained active. His father, born in Semarang on Java, is an Indo (Dutch-Indonesian), who went to the Netherlands in 1932 to continue his higher education after finishing his studies at the Batavia HBS. Much of the literary work of the author Jansz is based on his Indo identity and his father’s heritage. His father became one of the few Indo advocates for an independent Indonesia.

Personal website

Sjoerd Sijsma is a filmmaker and founding member of the Voice4Thought organization. He holds a BA in Tropical Land and Water Management, and has used film for monitoring and evaluation purposes, as well as for making promotional and educational video content. His production company, ‘Eyeses’, is collaborating currently in a project of the African Studies Center and the University of Leiden on how new technology impacts African societies under duress. He is interested in how voices and visuals can be connected to help understand polarizations.

Profile on Voice4Thought website

The way forward

Is The Netherlands finally trying to come to terms with its colonial past? What are the ways forward towards a better understanding of the colonial legacy? Anne-Lot Hoek argues for inclusion of dissenting and focus on Indonesian voices and sources, more emphasis on transnational perspectives and the long-term effects of colonialism, and the use of literature and film to reach larger audiences. The discussions between Indonesian and Dutch researchers offer great opportunities, especially for the further decolonization of the Dutch debate. We hope this publication offers some incentives for joint debate.

Featured image: Remembrance ceremony at the river Indragiri, where many of the victims of the massacre of Rengat on 5 January 1949 were killed. The radio reportage by Anne-Lot Hoek with English subtitles can be found in the section Research journalism. Photo by Anne-Lot Hoek, 2016.

Dissenting voices: the way forward

Looking back on the historical debates and the critics that have been portrayed in this publication, one can say that critical, dissenting voices that challenged national narratives have always been there, but often, they were not heard, recognized, understood, amplified, or explained well. Critics were often rejected as unreliable, or even demonized. For a long time, there has been little space for critical reflection on the blind spots in the narrative about the Dutch Indies by ‘outsiders’ to the academic world. However, the dissenting voices pushed the public debate forward. The establishment often pushed back, attempting to delegitimize critics in debates about the colonial past with powerful tools such as labelling their criticism as moralism, conspiracy theories, activism, incompetency or as judging history by the norms and values of today.

Bosch, Sjahrir, Koesoemobroto, Lijftogt, Hueting, Kousbroek and Pondaag were part of a long tradition of critical voices. Many of their statements, actions or writings refute Fasseur’s argument that moralism or activism are contra-productive. Has the public debate moved in new directions in terms of inclusiveness? There are several examples in which Indonesian perspectives have been taken into account: the exhibition ‘Oorlog! Van Indie tot Indonesie’ at Museum Bronbeek in 2015132, where the documentary ‘Libera me’ from Martin van den Oever was shown on the joint experiences of Indonesian and Dutch veterans133, the photoproject of Suzanne Liem (see below)134 on the widows of Rawagede (also shown in the Dutch National Military Museum in 2017) and the work of Nicole Immler (University of Humanistic Studies/NIOD) on transitional justice, based on interviews with Indonesian victims.135 Nevertheless, Remco Raben stated in his inaugural lecture 136 at the University of Amsterdam in 2016 - fourteen years after his radio interview with Rudy Kousbroek-  that Indonesian perspectives still play little role in the representation of our national memory or remembrance, and that the histories of Indonesia and the Netherlands follow nationalistic lines, instead of acknowledging the strong entanglement.

Ibu Taswi, one of the widows of the massacre in Rawagede (1947) photographed by Suzanne Liem for her book De Weduwen van Rawagede -  Getuigen van de dekolonisatieoorlog [The Widows of Rawagede - Witnesses to the decolonization war] (Amsterdam University Press, 2018). Source: website of Suzanne Liem

Professor Ariel Heryanto (Monash University) stated that the current Dutch debate is best defined as ‘colonialism in crisis.’ The Dutch are arguing amongst themselves in a domestic debate on the so-called good and bad of colonialism. Different interpretations of the colonial heritage indeed lead to heated debates in the Netherlands.137 There is, however, more attention for postcolonial critics, and a much broader debate on the Dutch colonial heritage has evolved. Dutch perspectives remain dominant in these debates, and postcolonial critics, such as Gloria Wekker, are often met with harsh criticism,138 especially on their academic merits. Dissenting voices, (postcolonial) critics and Indonesian perspectives in the Dutch debate are important, not just to fill in the blind spots in colonial history, but especially to move the Dutch mind-frame in new directions that lead to a better understanding of the colonial heritage.

These voices call out for an understanding of the colonial heritage that transcends national borders and timeframes. Bambang Purwanto – a leading historian at Universitas Gadja Mada in Yogjakarta – equally emphasized in 2016 in the newspaper NRC that he would like to see a historiographical dialogue on colonialism between Indonesia and the Netherlands in its wider form rather than narrowing the history down. 139 In Heryanto's view pluriformity and transnational solidarity form important elements. For instance, few Indonesians – and Dutch as well – are aware of the important role Australia played in the Indonesian revolution, or the different societal groups involved in the revolution. In Indonesia the debate is defined by anticolonialism, with a strong focus on the unity of the nation.140 Historian Bonnie Triyana stated during a public event of the Dutch based project Independence, decolonisation, violence and war in Indonesia 45-50,  that his history teacher told him at school that the Indonesian independence was gained by the struggle of ‘Indonesians.’ But who are ‘the Indonesians’? Triyana questioned himself. Amongst ‘the Indonesians’ were in fact many people who are in present day Indonesia considered as ‘the others,’ such as the Chinese.141

Indonesian artist Iswanto Hartono calls out for more ambiguity in remembering the colonial past. Hartono feels that ambiguity is opening new perspectives on how we see our past. In 2017 he held an exhibition in Oude Kerk Amsterdam where he burned a wax-figure of Jan Pieterszoon Coen. According to Hartono Coen is a controversial part of Dutch-Indonesian history because there are people who want to remember him and there are those who just want to forget. Hartono used wax as a medium because it represents the tension between remembering and forgetting. “In order to forget, we must first remember” he says.142

The public debate in the Netherlands led to the decision of the Dutch government in 2016 to sponsor the Dutch based project Independence, decolonisation, violence and war in Indonesia 1945-50 of Dutch institutions NIOD, KITLV and NIMH.143 The aim of the project is to answer questions regarding the nature, scale and causes of structural violence in Indonesia, considered in a broader political, social and international context. Purwanto – head of the Indonesian part of this research - underlined the difficulties in cooperation during a workshop in May 2018 between Dutch and Indonesian researchers. The project is aimed at investigating Dutch military violence: addressing a Dutch problem, not an Indonesian one. At the same time, he emphasized that cooperation – that has been part of a longer process – has an advantage for opening up the dialogue. Whereas in the past joint Indonesian-Dutch projects were characterized by freedom to discuss anything, the sensitive period of 1945 – 1949 was carefully avoided. That has significantly changed according to Purwanto, but there are still many difficulties to overcome. For starters: what is the point of departure for research? Indonesia declared itself independent on 17 August 1945, but the formal Dutch governmental approach is that the Dutch handed Indonesia its independence in 1949. This is one of the points that critical voices such as Jeffry Pondaag (Kukb), Francisca Pattipilohy, Marjolein van Pagee (Histori Bersama), historians Lara Nuberg and Dr. Ethan Mark (University Leiden) who speak out against the project have responded to in a letter that was directed towards the Dutch government.144

This video shows Francisca Pattipilohy, an Indonesian voice that speaks out about the set-up of the research project Independence, decolonisation, violence and war in Indonesia 45-50. In the video she states that “The research seems to consider colonialism as a given, the illegality of the Dutch occupation (the core problem) is not investigated. The video was published by the Histori Bersama Foundation, that aims to translate recent publications from Dutch and Indonesian media that refer to the colonial past and the Indonesian independence war (1945-1949), to arrive at a shared history.145

Reflections of critical voices inside and outside the Dutch research project further emphasize the lack of critical voices in the set-up of Dutch research, one of the features of modern-day decolonial thinking. (See also the section Research journalism). Why was Jeffry Pondaag, for instance, not involved in an advisory board group? And why are Indonesian and independent international academics not invited to co-write the summary/synthesis of the research?146 At the same time Dutch academia is carefully stepping into the deepening of critical awareness of past and present academic positions and practices that has recently intensified worldwide. Sanne Rotmeijer (KITLV), Marieke Bloembergen (KITLV) and Priya Swamy (Museum of World Cultures) for instance organized the workshop ‘Academic research in a decolonizing world: towards new ways of thinking and acting critically’ at the KITLV – and supported by KITLV, KITLV Society and Leiden University – in Leiden in 2018.147 The aim of the workshop – with international keynote speakers Prof Walter Mignolo (Duke University) and Dr. Priyamvada Gopal (Cambridge University), scholars, activists, curators and students – was to make participants think more critically about their own position and academic knowledge production, including in relation to activism outside academia, and to seek for ways to act more critically, and for inclusive forms and practices of academic research and teaching. This was also emphasized during the Dutch historical KNHG year congress in 2018, which was titled: ‘Who writes the history? Exclusion, silence and taboo in the history.’ The aim of the congress was to deepen the awareness of the exclusion of perspectives in history writing.148

The Netherlands finally seems to be trying to come to terms with its colonial past. History writing on colonialism and 1945-1949, however, the creation of new narratives, has moved into the wider sphere of opinion makers, activists, filmmakers, museums, writers and artists, aiming for a larger audience to become aware and involved. Inclusion of dissenting, postcolonial critical and Indonesian voices and sources, the opening up of the focus in the Dutch debate to transnational perspectives and the long-term effects of colonialism, and also a better connection between academic research and the public debate are the way forward towards a better understanding of the colonial legacy. The discussions between Indonesian and Dutch researchers in several different projects therefore offer a great opportunity, especially for the further decolonization of the Dutch debate.149


A process of co-creation

“Two years ago I wondered: How can we give voice to those historical actors who are long gone?” Initiator of the project, Historian Maartje Janse, reflects on the process of co-creation that followed her decision to introduce the story of Willem Bosch to a wider audience. Bosch was one of the first outspoken critics of the colonial regime in the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia) in the 19th century but has not received much attention. Maartje rewrote his life story in a comprehensive and digital format and invited Ernst Jansz (a musician), Anne-Lot Hoek (a journalist), and Sjoerd Sijsma (a filmmaker) to reflect on it. This resulted in a cross-disciplinary project that investigates the historical development of voices of protest against colonialism.

Featured image: Screenshot of the video by Sjoerd Sijsma in which Maartje Janse reflects on her research about willem Bosch and the collaboration with Ernst Jansz (see below).

Giving voice to an old story

Two years ago I wondered: how can we give voice to those historical actors who are long gone? It was anthropologist and Africanist Mirjam de Bruijn’s project Voice4Thought that prompted this question. V4T developed a web platform that experimented with new ways to engage with the data that was collected for the research project 'Connecting in times of Duress.'150 Through a process of co-creation Mirjam had developed videos of the Chadian artist Croquemort’s political slam poetry that shed light on the broader context of socio-political changes in Chad. In this form, academic research comes to life in new ways.151 What options are there for historians of the nineteenth century, who are by definition studying dead people, to make audible the voices of the past? Could an artist perhaps give a new voice to an old story?

I decided to accept the challenge of experimenting with the Voice4Thought format that was later developed into this article. The case study of Willem Bosch, a nineteenth-century critic of the colonial regime that I had researched and published on at length, seemed a good choice: he, too, spoke out against perceived injustices, but he had been largely forgotten after his death. I had stumbled upon his organization the ‘Maatschappij tot Nut van den Javaan’ (Society for the Benefit of the Javanese) by accident, when I was a student in Utrecht, and had written my thesis on this organization. Years later, one of the chapters of my dissertation on pressure groups in the Netherlands was also devoted to this organization.152 My personal aim was to introduce Bosch to a wider audience. I started by making a short biographical text and published this online on the V4T website.153

"Willem Bosch was in his time someone who spoke out a lot. It seems that he spoke very emotionally, very enthousiastically. His lower lip would vibrate, and his hair would blow about. So you would like to offer someone who is that enthusiastic, another stage, to make his voice heard."

Adding new dimensions through artistic contributions

I then approached Ernst Jansz, a legendary figure in Dutch cultural life. Not just because he is a talented musician and a founding member of Doe Maar, the most popular Dutch band of the 1980s, but also because his wonderful catalogue of projects, including albums and books, spans half a century.154 As his Indo roots are a recurring theme in Ernst’s work, I asked him whether he would want to compose and perform a song that would capture Willem Bosch’s perspective in ways academic writing could not.

I was very happy when Ernst agreed to do so. He came to the Leiden University Library to look at Willem Bosch’s publications. His song ‘De Ballade van van Sarina en Kromo premiered at the Voice4Thought festival in September 2016 (see the section The ballad of Sarina and Kromo). The performance was preceded by a screening of an interview (see section Willem Bosch) in which I introduced Willem Bosch and the collaboration with Ernst Jansz. I was delighted to hear that this song in a musical sense can be placed in the tradition of 1960s protest songs of Bob Dylan and Boudewijn de Groot. The text is primarily a criticism of colonial injustice and exploitation. But by choosing Sarina and Kromo's perspective, it can also be read as criticism of centering this story of colonial rule around a white man who was part of the colonization project, and not fundamentally critical of the premise of colonialism either. By giving Sarina and Kromo a voice, by adding their perspective, Ernst added an important layer to my history of Willem Bosch.

My collaboration with Ernst Jansz was the first successful collaboration on this project. With help of the V4T platform, I was interviewed on video (see the video above). And this material was combined with the performance of Ernst Jansz and historical film footage, in the form of a pamphlet by filmmaker Sjoerd Sijsma. This added a visual dimension to the co-creation process that allowed a new form of expression. Sjoerd’s short analysis of the search for the visual material gives us more insight into how the colonial context was perceived. (see section Pamphlet)

Facebook post of Maartje Janse about the collaboration with Ernst Jansz, with a picture of them at the library of Leiden University, where they looked at archival material about Willem Bosch. Maartje quotes what Ernst Jansz wrote about the project: "Last year I was contacted by Maartje Janse, who works at Leiden University and was at the time working on a research project on people who wanted to make the world a better place in the 19thcentury. Amongst them were people protesting slavery and the culture system in the Dutch Indies. The main focus of her research was Willem Bosch (1798-1877), one of the most prominent critics of the culture system. She asked me if I wanted to think about ways to convey the message of Willem Bosch to a contemporary audience, by writing a song about it. Because the story of Willem Bosch showed strong similarities with the story of my great-grandfather, who also protested the oppression of people in the Dutch Indies, I immediately said yes. I also feel very strongly that people here in the West still do not realize that a large part of our wealth comes from the blood of slaves and the exploitation of the former colonies. Sooner or later, we will have to pay the price for that. And that is how a new song was born."

The wider context of criticism

In the same month ‘De ballade van Sarina en Kromo’ premiered, I started a year-long fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) to work on a new book about the invention of the pressure group in Europe and the United States, between 1820-1840. At the NIAS I met Anne-Lot Hoek, a journalist and historian, who was working on a book (later to become a dissertation) on the Indonesian independence struggle on the island of Bali. It turned out that she had researched and published about a twentieth-century critic of the colonial regime during the independence war on Bali (Siebe Lijftogt). This story showed remarkable resemblances to that of Willem Bosch. We realized that, by placing their stories within an even wider context of several critics of the (post-)colonial regime, we could offer an often ignored perspective on colonial history.

Anne-Lot’s contribution was substantial and we needed to reimagine this project as an equal collaboration and as such the process co-creation continued. Most of Anne-Lot’s contributions to this article had already been published in Dutch as journalistic writings.155 We decided to add the revised versions to this project because put together in a new context they shed light on the history of criticism of (post)colonial rule. We wrote a new introduction that reflected on this often ignored tradition of criticism and protest. One of the most attractive aspects of our collaboration was that Anne-Lot’s involvement in the public debate as a research journalist linked the story of Willem Bosch to the current debate on the way we deal with our colonial past. Furthermore, her position also allowed for critical reflection on the position of research journalists and scholars in this debate (see the section Research journalism).

It may be clear by now that this project is one of experiment and improvisation. I could not have envisioned this outcome when I started my experiment. Initially I was weary of too much reflection on the process of creating this publication, not only as I do now, but also when V4T interviewed me for the video. Why talk about yourself and your perspective and motives when writing history? The wider social and academic debate about the context within which knowledge is produced has changed my ideas about this. We can no longer hide behind an obsolete notion that academic history is an objective process. We all need to think about and reflect on what stories we are telling, and what stories we leave out. Whose voices are we amplifying, and whose voices do we deem less relevant? In that sense this article also reflects on the challenges historians face to not simply reproduce dominant narratives and the power structures that they uphold, but also – if necessary and if possible – to challenge them.



In these videos Maartje Janse speaks about the process of co-creation (with Ernst Jansz) during the launch meeting of the Bridging Humanities platform Decolonising Knowledge in the digital age, June 2018.  Anne-Lot Hoek added her reflection on the cooperation with Maartje Janse during the interview.


The review process

The review process

In June 2018, the editorial committee asked two experts from the field to review the publication. The publication at this stage comprised all the posts and some featured multimedia, that were basically presented on the homepage in sequential order, with all the excerpted texts as guiding texts. The reviewers had as reference: one preceding publication (Croquemort: A Biographical Journey in the Context of Chad), a newly drafted peer review form, and the Bridging Humanities website that was still in progress and prepared for the launch of the journal in that same period.

Review 1

One review was submitted by Dr Stef Scagliola. This review can be found here: Dissenting Voices - Peer review 1. This review recommended that the submission should be rejected in its current state, but should be used as a test case on how to improve the format for the next contributions. Here are the main points:

a. It questioned the added value of co-creation and proposed that a workshop should be held to answer the question: How is knowledge about dissenting colonial voices perceived and consumed differently?
b. It suggested adding an explanation of the film essay.
c. It suggested a visual pathway for better understanding of the relationship between the various contributions and the large amount of texts (to avoid getting lost).

Review 2

One review was submitted by a reviewer who would like to remain anonymous: Dissenting Voices - Peer review 2. This review recommended that the submission should be accepted after some reworking. Here are the main points:

d. It suggested adding audiovisual media, because text was too dominant, so as to allow for new ways of writing.
e. It found that the publication was lacking innovative concluding statements.
f. It suggested including Indonesian voices, because without them it would lack agency of Indonesian historians.


In line with the suggestions of the peer reviewers the editorial committee chose to proceed with the publication process. In reaction to comments c and d. we produced the interactive multimedia story made with the digital storytelling tool Slices. The contributions of Anne-Lot were moreover substantiated with audiovisual material.

With regard to the focus and scientific approach of the research (comments a, e and f) the authors positioned the process more clearly in the introduction, a text that was rewritten in the last stage of the process. The authors explain their focus on the Dutch colonial debate and the need to decolonize knowledge in this regard, but also place their work and that of the dissenting voices they portray, in line with an anti-colonial tradition.  Furthermore, in the work of Anne-Lot Indonesian voices from the field and perspectives from Indonesian researchers on the Dutch historiography can be heard and seen.

The question whether the artistic contributions and the methodology of co-creation adds scientific value and generates new knowledge is still up for discussion, although we believe that bringing these different contributions together and building on the work of the the others does bring new perspectives and important room for self-reflection.

With regard to comment b, we acknowledge that more can be said about the explanation of the film essay, and especially the form of the pamphlet that has been chosen. Yet we decided to go ahead and let stand the text on the interpretation of filmmaker Sjoerd Sijsma.