Fokko de Haas talks about his father who was a pharmacist in the Dutch East Indies
My parents Gerrit de Haas and Hiske Boerstra were both born in Sneek respectively on the 10th of September 1906 and the 2nd of May 1909. Father and mother married on the 7th of January 1931 at the Civil Registry in Amsterdam at the young age of 24 and 21.
There was little work in the Netherlands at that time, and salaries in the Dutch East Indies turned out to be twice as high as in the Netherlands in order to attract people to come and live and work there. Father received a scholarship from the company Rathkamp & Co on the condition that he would go to the tropics to work for the company for at least 20 years. He was a pharmacist.
The company was founded in 1815 and had branches in both the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. NV Chemicals Trade Rathkamp & Co established its first pharmacy on the Rijswijkstraat in Batavia before 1865. This company grew into a group of twenty pharmacies that lay like a ribbon over a large part of the Dutch East Indies, later Indonesian, archipelago.
Shortly after the wedding, the new couple left for the Dutch East Indies in 1931.
Father became responsible for setting up the branches, hiring staff and managing them. He was employed at the Batavia branch for the first 3 months.
Then my parents were transferred to Semarang. After having lived and worked in Semarang for 5 years, they moved to Surabaya. Here the young family lived for another 3 years after which they moved back to Batavia. The goal was to set up new pharmacies or to reorganise existing branches.
Father and mother had a very good life in the Dutch East Indies with many friends from similar circles. Their spacious house, that was located in one of the European neighbourhoods, included a living room, dining room, 3 bedrooms, large bathroom and a toilet. There was also a front gallery, back gallery, extra rooms behind the house that served as storage facilities and spacious gardens both in the front and back of the house.
They had a lot of staff and the housekeeping consisted of a Kokkie, Kebon (gardener) Djongo's (servants), Baboe Dalem (indoor servant), Baboe Tjoeti (laundress) Djait (seamstress) a Sopir (driver) and later also a Baboe Anak (nanny).
There were often and a lot of parties organized as was customary with the well-to-do people.
My parents had a great yearning for children and 10 months after their marriage on the 9th of November 1931, my eldest brother Gerrit, named after his father, was born in Batavia. Their second son named Lieuwe followed on the 4th of July 1934 and was born in Semarang. Lieuwe was named after his maternal grandfather.
My mother was a housewife; she loved making clothes such as dresses, and occasionally made small trips to the larger cities for shopping. She was very much affected by the heat in Dutch East Indies and was therefore regularly ill. As a result, more children stayed out.
It was customary for Dutch people who had settled in the Dutch East Indies to go on leave for six months every six years. So in 1937 our parents went on leave with Ms Poelau Laut. This freighter with passenger accommodation from the Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland (SMN) sailed to Marseille on the 28th of December 1928 and from there took a special express train to Amsterdam (SMN) or Rotterdam (KRL).
According to custom, the Baboe Anak (nanny) named Mangan joined them to take care of the children. I remember the story told to me that Lieuwe, then three years old, slept in the luggage racks above the seats of the train.
The young family stayed with the paternal grandparents in Sneek. The nanny slept there, as they were used to in the Dutch East Indies, on a mat in front of the children’s cots. Grandma de Haas thought this was strange because she was absolutely not used to native staff. My parents also rented a house in Blaricum and travelled through Europe together for a month.
On their way south somewhere near Frankfurt they had bad luck with their car and it took about 3-4 days to have the engine repaired. After another 2 days on the road in Switzerland they had a head-on collision with a Swiss on a mountain pass which prevented them from driving further to Italy and the car had to go into the garage again for a few days. Fortunately Switzerland wouldn't be Switzerland if a new radiator didn’t arrived by train from Chur the next day.
Once back on the road, my parents were confronted by young boys in black shirts at the Italian border. These were followers of Mussolini who shouted "Il Duce, Il Duce" with their hands diagonally upwards. After travelling around for a month, they returned to the Netherlands to continue their holidays in the rented house in Blaricum and visited family and friends. After a great leave of 6 months they returned to the Dutch East Indies from Marseille to resume their lives there.
But then the Japanese arrived and a terrible time dawned.
From April 1942 all Dutch people on Java over 17 years of age had to register. The Japanese occupiers distinguished "thoroughbred" Dutchmen (totoks), Belanda/Euro-Indos (mixed blood) and thoroughbred Indonesians (natives).
After this registration the adult men were first interned into camps. A temporary exception was made for men who still needed some time to keep public life going. In October 1942, women, children and the elderly were interned in civilian camps. My mother and the two children who had stayed with family in Bandung for a short period of time before this were interned aswell.
My father was a reserve officer in the KNIL and was sent to camp Tjimahi as a POW (Prisoner of War). Camp Tjimahi was located in the northern part of Tjimahi, bordered by Kampementsweg, Stationsweg (railway), Gedong Delapan (Racecourse) and Gedong Empat.
“We got to know Dr de Haas through the Amsterdam physician Dr. Wulff who, together with de Haas, was imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the 2nd World War. Dr Wulff, who died a few years ago, once told us how many dozens of Dutch people were kept alive thanks to Dr de Haas' extensive knowledge of herbs, medicines and food preparation methods. De Haas was one of those rare practitioners of science who, in addition to a theoretical approach, did not shy away from practice. Under the most primitive conditions, he built appliances with which he could, among other things, apply digestion processes in the preparation of tempeh (from soya beans).
In the pharmaceutical weekly of June 1947 he wrote how he made large quantities (sometimes as much as 500 litres per day) of dedek extract. Dedek is a rice grind and was used by the Japanese as pig feed.
When all attempts failed to get hold of this strong vitamin B1 supplement, he managed to get the camp commander to 'borrow' him the dedek, to make the infusion, provided he promised that the pigs would not suffer any deterioration. He promised this immediately.
Later it turned out that the pigs no longer had any tendency to grow, but by then Dr de Haas had already cured many of the camps inmates of the beri-beri, pellagera and other manifestations of severe vitamin B deficiency.
For these merits, he received a Japanese sword from Lady Mountbatten after the war at the end of 1945.
According to a piece from the memoriam of the "kleine aarde" medical journal from 1974.
In 1945 he was moved to Singapore Island where he was interned in the River Valley Road camp. On the 9th of February 1945 he was transported by a so-called Japanese Hell Ship called the Haruyasa Maru to Saigon in Indochina, which is now Vietnam. There were 2530 prisoners on the ship, of whom 238 were Dutch. Once he arrived, he was interned in Longthan prisoner of war camp. On the 2nd of May 1945 he was then transported by train to Dran, where he travelled another 30 km on foot to another camp, located in the mountains, called Dalat also known as, Lien Khieng Khan, Lieng Kiang or the No. 10 Branch Camp. (source roll-of-honour.org & Japanese POW camps.nl)
My mother went with her two sons (my brothers) to Tjihapit. This internment of the totok women and children from the Bandoeng-Tjimahi region (West Java) began in November 1942. They were housed mainly in "European" houses with outbuildings, which were enclosed by high barbed wire fences.
In Tjihapit all boys over the age of 11 were taken and sent to the camp on the other side of Tjihapit. So was my eldest brother Gerrit who was taken to such a boys' camp in June. Later mother and my brother Lieuwe were tranferred to camp Kramat.
Between October 1942 and September 1943, mainly "totok women" and children from Cheribon and Batavia etc. were interned in the somewhat older "European" residential area of Kramat in Batavia (West Java). After some time they were moved to the Kedoengbadak camp near Buitenzorg.
This camp had served as a men's camp until February 1944 and then as a women's camp for internees from Bandung.
From here they spent another two years in Tjideng from 1943 onwards. From August 1942, Tjideng functioned as a "protective district" for European women and children from Batavia. Later the district became a collection camp for internees from all over Java. The camp was gradually reduced in size. From April 1944 to April 1945 Captain Sonei was the general commander of the camp.
Konichi Sonei was the notorious and violent camp commander of Tjideng. He was an extremely unstable man who deliberately turned the lives of the internees into hell. Sonei was moon-sick and his cruellest acts of violence often took place at full moon. He had camp prisoners, even the sick, arrive every day and then stand in the full sun for hours on end. He shaved women bald, beat them and in front of the prisoners' hungry eyes, because he rationed there food, served his dogs fried eggs with meat personally.
My mother and brother Lieuwe were very sick during their internment, with dysentery which was common among the internees.
It was through the intervention of Corrie Vonk, Wim Kan's wife that Lieuwe was able to stay with my mother in the camp. When a Japanese guard came to fetch Lieuwe, Corrie stood between the child and the Japanese guard and said resolutely "this boy stays here"!
After the Japanese capitulation in 1945, my eldest brother Gerrit returned by train from the boys' camp in Bandung. He had heard on the grapevine that mother and Lieuwe were in Batavia and they were reunited there.
The neighbourhood where they were located was protected by Gurkhas, because the rogue Indonesians started killing women and children, at least those who were not in so-called protection camps.
Through the Red Cross, they were informed that father had ended up in Bangkok during the war, and were given the opportunity to travel to Bangkok by an English ship two weeks later.
The family was then reunited in Bangkok after three years and spent four months in the English military camp called Wadji Rawut. They could only leave after this period for the Netherlands because there was no transportation available sooner.
When my parents and Gerrit and Lieuwe returned from Bangkok on th 11th of April 1946 with the ss Nieuw Holland to the Netherlands, they had a stopover in Egypt. Once there, they were taken by train to a tent of the Red Cross. To make it a bit pleasant for the people, who came from the boat and who had experienced the horrors of the war, marching music was played.
People were given clothing by the Red Cross. The cost of these clothes had to be paid back to the Dutch government once they arrived in the Netherlands. The fact that half of these clothes had been donated by the Netherlands and Canada to the Red Cross did not matter. The money for the crossing from the Dutch East Indies also had to be paid back to the government.
The ss Nieuw Holland was built in 1928 as a passenger ship for the KPM in Batavia. In 1940 it was converted for the British navy in Sydney into a troop transport ship and was requisitioned by the Dutch government in 1942. It returned to its first owner, KPM, but continued as a troop carrier on charter to the Dutch government.
Once they arrived in the Netherlands (on the 23rd of May 1946) it was one of the coldest winters you can imagine. They were used to the tropics for all those years and this was quite a change. They went to live with my paternal grandparents in their hometown Sneek.
On the 19th of September 1946 another baby was born in Sneek, a so-called liberation child. He received the name Thijs and was named after his paternal grandfather. A year later, on the 18th of October 1947 in Rotterdam, I was born and got the name Fokko Titus, named after both grandmothers. Two years later, on the 20th of August 1949, in Voorburg, the only daughter followed, my sister Hiske Titia, who was named after our mother and grandmother.
As a family we lived in Sneek from 1946 until 1947, in Rotterdam until 1949, then in Voorburg and finally my parents moved to Amstelveen in April 1956.
In 1952 my father bought 4 pharmacies in Amsterdam which also started the later move from Voorburg to Amstelveen. My eldest brother Gerrit moved to the United States in 1952 and brother Lieuwe moved to Canada in 1955 and later also to the United States.
My parents were scarred by life and especially by the war in the Dutch East Indies. They acted as being very old parents. The upbringing consisted for a large part of stories about the camps and their hardships and experiences during the Japanese occupation. Much was traced back to the war. If we did not want to eat we were punished and were practically force to eat. In the war they had nothing to eat and that was what we were told. If we didn't walk properly we were called "Lift your feet and don't shuffle around like that" or "Those dirty Japs shuffled around like that".
So we all had quite a bit of a "struggle" because of this and you can also say that we suffered from second generation camp syndrome.
My parents' hatred of the Japanese was so great that absolutely nothing that was made in Japan was allowed into the house. No radio, no car and other 'made in Japan' items, and not only because of the generally poor quality of these items at that time.
My brother Gerrit, who immigrated to America in 1952, came by car from Germany to the Netherlands at the beginning of 1971 with his wife and three children. We went with them and my father to Amsterdam and a bus stopped at a souvenir shop. A large group of, Japanese people got off the bus and this was about the worst thing that could happen to my father at that time.
In fact, my father's hatred of the Japanese was so great that I will never forget his words on his deathbed. My father said "now the Japanese have finally caught me".
This is something you carry with you all your life, caused of the stories that were told to me during my upbringing.
My father died on the 18th of January 1974 as a result of a very nasty illness at the age of 67. My mother died in Amstelveen on the 10th of February 1979 or 69 years of age as a result of a fatal fire in her home.
It is said that the Japanese are a very cruel people, but the Koreans were even crueller in the war. And these 2 population groups were dominating and running the camps during the war in the Dutch East Indies.
The father of my wife Ans, with whom I have two beautiful daughters and with whom I am now the proud grandfather of five grandchildren, was in the resistance in the Netherlands. There, too, are many poignant stories told.
We learned from our parents and tried to pass on the past to our two daughters without burdening them too much.
Fokko de Haas , October 2020
Mariage certificate 7 januari 1931
Wedding picture of my parents
Arrival in the Dutch East Indies on Febuary 1931
1931: farewell to an employee of Rathkamp & Co.
(on the far right is father sitting on the ground, looking away from mother at an angle/left above and in a floral dress)
Branch of Rathkamp in Batavia
My father in the middle of the staff of Rathkamp in 1937-1938
ms Poelau Laut
Rotterdamse Lloyd Express
left Gerrit and right Lieuwe
Accident on a mountain pass in Switzerland
Father, mother, Gerrit and Lieuwe in 1936
A part of Camp Tjimahi
The Map of Camp Tjihapit
Camp Tjihapit in Bandung West Java
The House Kenichei Sonei… The gates of Camp Tjideng…
ss Nieuw Holland
Lugano 1956, left Fokko, behind Hiske, right Thijs ( ϯ 1982 )
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