Jan Dörsch's story about his family
On the 6th of April 1907, my father, Johannes Thomas Dörsch, son of Lambertus Christiaan Dörsch and Berber Terpstra, was born in Amsterdam. He was the eldest son of a police officer. My father obtained various degrees, including accounting, commercial correspondence and other related studies. It was common knowledge, that there were not enough opportunities for well-paid jobs in the Netherlands and salaries in the Dutch East Indies were higher and the supply of positions much better. Although father already knew my mother at this time, he was tantalised by the aforementioned offer to move to the tropics.
My mother Catharina Wilhelmina Christina Meijer was also born in Amsterdam on the 30th of May 1906. She was an only child and named after her mother Catharina Wilhelmina Christina Meijer -van Tuijl from a town called Bloemendaal. Her father Jan Siebolt Meijer had a bakery in Amsterdam.
In 1928, at the age of 21, father left for the Indies on the m.v. Tjerimai of the Royal Rotterdam Lloyd. From August 1928 until sometime in 1939, he worked as an assistant accountant at Frese and Hogeweg Register Accountants in Semarang. Frese & Hogeweg's first office was opened in Jakarta in 1918, followed by branches in Bandung, Medan, Semarang and Surabaja in 1934. He got an appointment with the firm H.G.TH Crone, also in Semarang. Among my father's papers, which I found well after his death, was also a notarial deed from the notary office J. Hofstede in which my father together with a colleague, Eduard Veltkamp, were given power of attorney to act freely in the name of the firm. This indicates the position of trust my father had within this firm.
Heinrich Gottfried Theodor Crone came from Germany in 1790 and was employed by a trading house, after which he set up another trading company himself in private. When he died in 1855, his business was continued by his sons. In the beginning, they only traded with products from Germany, but from 1830 onwards, they developed trade with the Dutch East Indies.
A large number of goods were imported and exported, mainly luxury goods as well as cocoa, kapok, sugar, grains and medical supplies. The firm was always kept in the family and if one family member died, the firm was taken over again by another family member. From about 1885, the Crone family acted as directors of cultural companies it founded or took over with plantations in the East Indies.
The management of culture companies became such an extensive business that a separate division of the Amsterdam office was set up in 1911, but disbanded again in 1928. The bulk of imports still took place on a commission basis.
Since inspection trips were organised very regularly, it was decided to appoint a permanent agent in Surabaya. This agency grew into an office and was followed in 1917 by an office in Semarang, then in 1921 in Batavia. The office in Surabaya was closed again in 1928 after an extensive fraud.
The company thus consisted around 1920 of a board of members, the limited partnership Fa. H.G.TH Crone with offices in Amsterdam, Surabaya, Semarang and Batavia (source Archives of the company H.G.TH Crone).
My mother got her teaching certificate in 1926 and worked as a teacher at various schools in Amsterdam until 1930. She wanted to follow my father to the East Indies, but as a woman, that was only possible if you were married. After father and mother, like so many in those days, married by the gauntlet on the 6th of March 1930, she was allowed to leave for the East Indies. After a voyage of just under a month aboard the m.s. Prins der Nederlanden of the Stoomvaartmaatschappij Nederland (SMN), she arrived in the Dutch East Indies on the 10th of May 1930.
Marrying by the gauntlet is a marriage ceremony where one of the partners cannot be present and is replaced by a proxy. (source wikipedia).
Even if you were on Dutch soil, which was what the Dutch East Indies was back then, you had to register and get an immigration document. Nowadays, this is quite different if you want to settle in the Netherlands from an EU country. It must have been a big transition for my mother, a totally different world, different climate, customs and having to rebuild a circle of acquaintances. In the Netherlands, she had been an active member of a gymnastics club and, of course, a teacher, receiving a nice parting gift, "a Dutch Townscape", when she left.
It is clear from pictures that mother really enjoyed the tropics and got used to them very quickly. Compared to homes in the Netherlands, in the tropics they were large, detached and very often surrounded by a large garden. Depending on your position and earnings, you also had a number of servants. People moved several times, often to a bigger house and also to a town that was situated higher up where it was slightly cooler. These houses often had a gallery with several rooms behind the house. A mandi (bathroom) with a large stone basin filled with cold water. With a gajong, a stick with a small bucket attached, you would take water out of the tub and throw it over yourself, this was very cold but very nice in that heat. There was also a kitchen/cooking area, but this was the domain of the kokkie. There was still the goedang (pantry) and a room where washing and ironing was done. Usually, the servants lived in the nearby kampong or desa, but sometimes there was also a room for the babu at the house.
Anecdote: the iron was filled with hot coals. In 1989, my wife and I went to Samosir, an island in Lake Toba, among other places, and there we saw, that ironing was still done with an iron filled with glowing coals!!!!
The daily schedule was as follows: since it was already light at 6 am and still cool, we got up around this time. After washing with the mandi there was breakfast. Father went to the office early and if there were school-going children, they went to school from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mother would discuss what needed to be done that day with the servants and the cook would be told what needed to be bought on the pasar for the day. The tasks for the other staff were then also discussed. It may sound a bit pompous and elitist, but this was the way it was back then and everyone was treated with great respect.
It should also be remembered, that in this way jobs were created for the indigenous population. Nowadays in Indonesia, it is even made compulsory from the government for an expat to hire at least 4 servants.
Mother spent the day in various ways: shopping with acquaintances or friends, playing tennis and swimming are just a few examples. At the hottest part of the day, in the afternoon, everyone rested. Although the children were also supposed to rest, they often went outside when they got the chance to play. The hot meal was served in the evening and one usually stayed home after that.
People also made regular trips, alone or with friends, to "up there", into the mountains, where it was cooler.
My sister Ineke was born in Semarang on the 3rd of July 1932 and I was born in Nieuw Tjandi, a residential area of Semarang, on the 27th of May 1939 and was given the name of my maternal grandfather Jan Siebold. The many photos clearly show that it was a great time for my parents, they had many acquaintances with children who played with each other. It was common to get holiday or domestic leave and after 6 years in the tropics, one also got a paid (by the company you worked for) European leave. European leave was common for 6 months within which one usually went to the Netherlands. If you subtract the journey, which took about a month each way, from this leave, a 4-month family visit in the Netherlands remained. For many, the voyage by boat was a holiday in itself as there were many activities on board for both adults and children. You could call it the modern-day "cruise" of that time. There were also families with very small children who took their babu with them on leave so that they could look after the little ones.
You went to the Netherlands to visit family, because after all, you hadn't seen them for all those years, but sometimes those four months felt very long. After all, you were used to a different way of life and no longer felt at home in the Netherlands. You could also visit other countries on your own and take the train to Genoa or Marseille and finally embark there for the journey back to the Dutch East Indies.
There were a lot of amenities on these luxury ships, there was a shop, barber shop, reading room, smoking room and of course a number of dining rooms. Meals were plentiful and consisted of many courses. During the day, you could sit on the deck in lounge chairs, walk around or take part in various games. You could even gamble and guess the number of miles, which were sailed that day. There was also a large tank on the foredeck, which was used as the "swimming pool", covered with a large sail and filled with salt water. When the ship swayed from side to side the water in this swimming pool looked just like waves. Along the way, the ships docked at a number of ports because the ship had to dock to be restocked anyway.
On the way back from the Netherlands to the East Indies, it gradually got warmer as you approached the tropics and could disembark at different ports, depending on which Island you lived and worked. For instance, Belawan, the port of Medan on the east coast of Sumatra, or Tandjong Priok, the port of Batavia, Semarang on central Java or Surabaya on eastern Java.
If your destination was to one of the many smaller islands, you were then transported on a KPM (Royal Parcel Shipping Company) ship, which provided connections between those islands.
One passed through several countries during the journey via the Strait of Gibraltar to Port Said in Egypt. There you often stayed for one day and got acquainted with the Middle East. You could also shop in a large department store owned by Simon Artz. In the port, traders also came to sell anything and everything. There were adults and children scooping up coins that had been thrown off board. Then the Suez Canal, where you could see caravans of camels. Then you went via the Red Sea, to Aden (Yemen) and the next stop Colombo on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). There you could also disembark to see a few places of interest. The (for many) first introduction to Dutch East Indies was the next stop at Sabang, North Sumatra.
I myself made the trip as a child in 1946, 1948 and 1949. As far as I know, my parents did not use the European leave, perhaps they did not feel the need. My mother did have a passport picture taken with the children in connection with a planned trip to Holland in 1940, but it was decided to cancel it because of the war in Europe.
My grandmother, already widowed at the time, did go to Dutch East Indies around 1935 to see her first grandchild. After the occupation of the Netherlands from May 1940 onwards, a lot changed. Contact with the family in the Netherlands was almost non-existent and very difficult. There was also the threat from Japan, which put pressure on the colony to make use of raw materials, which we desperately needed, to carry out their expansion drive. These raw materials, especially oil and rubber, were plentiful in the Dutch East Indies. When the US fleet was surprised and destroyed by the bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, America declared war on Japan. In the Dutch East Indies, the Japanese had been infiltrating normal life as spies for years. From the local Japanese photographer to the Japanese barber, after the declaration of war, all of these people had suddenly disappeared from the scene.
The Netherlands offered the Allies every assistance but life changed completely. The men were mobilised and the women and children were left behind. Reports from the battlefield were bad and Singapore, thought to be impregnable, fell into the hands of the Japanese. Soon other areas, such as Borneo which was important for oil extraction in Tarakan, were also occupied. After the widely known battle on the Java Sea in late February, the invasion of Java could take place. Many families from the outlying areas left for the big cities. The cruel Japs entered the cities in large numbers at once, and since the surrender was unconditional, for the Japanese this meant that anything was allowed. Houses were confiscated and the natives in the outer regions looted the houses, which were abandoned, leaving only a short time for the population that had stayed behind to take one thing or another. The men were interned and had to go to POW camps.The fear of the unknown and what would happen to the men, was great.
In the cities, families moved in together to save costs as they now had to do everything themselves without servants. There were always exceptions, with some loyal servants continuing to help. Schools closed and home-schooling was done buy the people who were left behind. There were all sorts of rules such as compulsory adult registration. The price for the registration was 130 guilders for men and 80 guilders for women. If you know that a meal cost 18 cents at the time, you can understand that this was done to rob the people of their money. My parents had taken shelter at the Ketandan tobacco company near Klaten even before the occupation by Japan. This enterprise was under the management of the Crone company, where my father was employed. It was also here where my father was made a prisoner of war on the 10th of March 1942. He went to a camp near Tasikmalaya, a town in west Java.
In late 1942, joined by 450 women and children, we had to go to a civilian camp in Soemowono, which was housed in the shooting bivouac of the KNIL, about 10km northeast of Ambarawa and about 1.5km northwest of the village of Soemowono on Java. There we met Mrs Saveur, who lived there with her son, also born in 1939, and twins (girls) born in 1940. We spent the whole camp time together until liberation and we supported each other a lot. After the war, they happened to run into each other in Haarlem after which there was regular contact. I am still in regular contact with the son and also sometimes with the daughters.
On the 14th of March 1944, we had to go to Ambarawa camp 6, where we were "stored" until well after liberation in August. Sometimes families received postcards from their men, with of course the obligatory insignificant texts. These postcards had sometimes been in transit for months, a year or even longer so one did not really know anything about your husband's condition and wellbeing, when you received such a card.
It's a miracle that the baby book my mother had kept from the day I was born was never discovered and taken away, otherwise there would have been punishments. She really did write all sorts of things in there, in pencil, such as receiving postcards, signatures of fellow camp residents and many children's birthdays. Perhaps the monitoring in Soemowono was not so strict at that time. She did not write anything about the camp in the baby book for fear of possible reprisals and the next addition is from Monday 20 November 1945, long after the liberation. It was the battle cries of the Indonesian paramilitary organisations and gangs, which almost immediately after the end of the Japanese occupation caused death and destruction among other especially non-inlanders, but also among natives suspected of 'collaboration' with the Dutch authority.
Conditions in the camp got worse and worse, and apart from the little food we received, we had to stand on roll call for hours in the burning sun. Women were sometimes locked up for days in small rooms, beaten, and as new families from other camps kept arriving, we not only had less space but no privacy at all. As a result, tempers flared and arguments often arose over nothing. Mother often gave her food as much as possible to the children at her own expense, and I can still remember that I had to eat chilli peppers because they contain a lot of vitamins. This made me develop an aversion to them.
One did not notice anything of the surrender of Japan on the 15th of August 1945 in the camps. It was only days or weeks later that this became known, as chaos reigned in Japan. Pamphlets were thrown from aeroplanes to announce it after which the attitude of the Japanese changed rapidly. The food got better and where there was no medicine available for the sick before then, it was now being distributed. The doctor, Dr Lodder, from the camp was very emotional when he saw the available medicine because he said he could have saved so many people from dying if he had had the medicine earlier. It also fits with the mission the Japanese had of starving the prisoners and, when the war was lost, killing the prisoners. Because of the chaos, the latter was no longer possible.
In late 1945, after the liberation, all the residents were taken to Semarang and transported from Semarang to Batavia by boat or plane. I can still picture the bare space, the "benches" of the plane, a Dakota, and the people. In Batavia we were most probably put up in a "camp" again, and after talking to others who were also transferred, it is very likely that this was the Tjideng camp. On the 14th of March 1946, my mother, sister and I left on the SMN's m.s. Tabinta, which was a troop transport ship with "beds" stacked four high, for the Netherlands. My father left Singapore on the 14th of March 1946 with the Holland America Line's m.s. Nieuw Amsterdam and we were all reunited at Ataka in Egypt for a short while. Everyone was given clothes there and the necessary equipment as everyone had left the Indies with only the clothes they were wearing. I remember I was given a "drollenvanger" a kind of knee breeches. We were given (horse) blankets of which I still owned two grey ones for many years and recently got rid of because they were full of holes. One white blanket I still have but it is so thin that I can't imagine it was ever used.
To receive all this, they left Suez by train and on arrival were welcomed by an orchestra playing melodies. As to whether it was a German or Italian orchestra is a debate that scholars have yet to agree on. Meanwhile, the children were kept busy. Very precise lists were kept of what they were given, as well as an identity card, indicating the vessel they left the East Indies on. Finally, the Nieuw Amsterdam docked in Rotterdam on the 19th of April 1946 and the Tabinta in Amsterdam on the 14th of April 1946.
It turned out somewhat later that everything had to be paid back, both the clothes and the trip, and since no one had any possessions, this meant that you were immediately encumbered with debts. It is a great shame when you consider that all these items which were distributed had been donated by the Canadian Red Cross. Our family can count itself lucky that we all survived. There were many casualties and many families were no longer complete.
We had a place to go and could join my grandmother, on my mother's side, immediately, in Bloemendaal. Many returnees who had no family or other circumstances ended up in contract boarding houses, where the costs were advanced but had to be repaid in due course. There was no sympathy in the Netherlands after the war for survivors of the Japanese occupation. The general attitude was that after all, it was nice and warm in the Dutch East Indies and the fruit was hanging on the trees for the taking. This was the Dutchman's lack of understanding for our stories, after which those who returned from the East Indies kept quiet and tried to fend for themselves as best, they could.
Minister Drees later said as more and more people returned, "the Netherlands is full", there were 7 million people living there at the time, "there is housing shortage and also little work". This was the welcome we received in the Netherlands after such harsh times! Not surprisingly, many emigrated to other countries like America, Australia or others to build a new life. Others, tried to return to the Dutch East Indies at a later date.
Despite many attempts, my father could not find suitable work because the diplomas obtained in Dutch East Indies were not valid in the Netherlands. My parents were not happy and wanted to return.... In late 1947, he found a suitable job with the Deli company in Medan. The situation in Indonesia had improved a lot after the 1st “politionele actie” of late 1947, so he did dare to go back. In December, he started, at the company's Amsterdam branch, to be familiarised. In January 1948, he travelled ahead by plane to Medan. My mother and I followed him on the m.s. Sibajak, but my sister Ineke, because of her school attendance, stayed in the Netherlands. Ineke did not stay with my grandmother but with grandmother's neighbours, a very sweet family, who were childless.
The period in Medan was a very nice time, we had a nice house again, a big garden, a car, servants and all the trimmings. My father enjoyed his work, a top job as chief accountant and chief financial officer at Deli. There, they also met the Spanjer family again, whom they had also been in touch with in Semarang. The Fleerkamp family, who had a son in my age, and who stayed at the Hotel De Boer, which was very well known in Medan we met aswell. I often played there with the son and we would run through the corridors of the hotel which was not appreciated by everyone. Sometimes we were quite scared of some people at the premises. We would then run away fast because we were afraid of being "getjintjangd”. That meant being chopped up and I think we heard those words when the adults talked about the Beriap era.
At that time, my mother still filled in as a teacher for someone who was on European leave, at the school I also attended, the Medansche School Association.
One had a good time as a child, going to school early and getting home around 1 o'clock. In the afternoon, you might have to rest because of the heat, but if you could, you went to play with your friends at the nearby kali. We also regularly went to the beautiful swimming pool or sometimes to "Tip-Top", where we would eat an ice cream or enjoy a drink. Although I thought it was a very big place as a child, when I returned to it as an adult, it was only relatively small.
Sometimes we sought the freshness of the mountains on weekends, because Medan, like Semarang, had a very warm climate. This was usually accompanied by a military jeep, because of possible attacks. I think it was more for peace of mind, because to my knowledge nothing ever happened.
After the 2nd “politionele actie”, the goals had been achieved and Djokja, the capital of the Republicans, was occupied. The Netherlands was more or less forced to restart negotiations on independence for Indonesia.
We then lived on Boolweg with a military hospital next to our house. My parents and especially my mother had lived through the Bersiap period after liberation, a period of chaos, killings and looting. When Indonesia's independence became increasingly likely in 1949, my parents made plans to return to the Netherlands. Therefore, making such a decision was very difficult, since you had such a good job and you had the experience of facing an uncertain time given the previous time.
My mother and I returned to the Netherlands on the 10th of October 1949 on the s.s. Indrapoera and docked in Rotterdam on the18th of November 1949. Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of whether my father also went with us right then or only in early 1950. As he did not complete his contract with the company, which to my recollection was for three years, he had to pay for the return trip himself. An uncertain time dawned for my parents and even though my grandmother had a house, we stayed in various boarding houses, first in Bloemendaal, then Zandvoort and then in Ede.
Father was obviously looking for a job at the time and this should have been easy given his experience and qualifications. Later I heard that it was a big problem as the jobs were not financially attractive at all. Through his former employer in Semarang, he did get offered a job with an oil company in southern Sumatra in what had now become Indonesia, but this did not qualify. Eventually, he took over an office in Ede as a tax consultant and was duped considerably in that takeover.
We never talked about the Japanese camps and when I tried to broach this subject with my sister, she told me she didn't remember anything about it. I found this quite strange because she was 10 years old when she entered the camp and 13 years old when she came out. We will therefore refer to this as the "Dutch East Indies silence".
For me, apart from the Dutch East Indies period, it was a weird time. In primary school, which consisted of six years at the time, I went to six different schools and was sometimes set back twice. I haven't really kept any contacts from that period and after Ede we went to live in Voorburg. I don't think my father had a job in those days and there, I went to two different schools in the first year of secondary education too.
My father eventually found a good job in Rotterdam, again at a tobacco firm. We moved to Rotterdam. In Voorburg, he met former acquaintances from Semarang, the De Haas family. Because he moved to Rotterdam in the middle of the school year, I moved in with them for a short time. My father had rather fluctuating moods and suffered from swelling from the POW era, I came across this in a document containing psychological and medical examinations of my father. The cause of the fluctuating moods was probably due to the moves and disappointments of not finding a job. My mother will certainly have suffered from this but I do believe, all in all, my parents did have a good time again in Rotterdam.
I completed the MULO and the teacher training School and worked in education in Schiedam, Aalsmeer and Haarlemmermeer until my retirement.
While attending a meeting on the forgotten war in November 2019, I struck up a conversation with a lady. Her husband turned out to be named De Haas and to be the son of the pharmacist who knew my parents from Semarang. To this day, I keep in touch with "Fokko" De Haas, a contact I appreciate very much.
The world is such a small place after all!
Jan Dörsch, October 2020 revised June 2022
Note: Fokko's story about his father can also be read on this webpage.
Wedding photo of mother in Amsterdam (1930)
("with the gauntlet" therefore she is by herself on this picture)
Wedding Certificate of 06.03.1930
Wedding announcements the 6th of March 1930 & the 11the of March 1930
Declarations of residency father and mother (for residents not born in the Dutch East Indies)
Heinrich Gottfried Theodor Crone painted by Jan Philip Simon Rijksmuseum
Notarial deed from notary office J. Hofstede Power of attorney for father and his colleague
Passenger lists from Soerabaijaasch Handelsblad and Het Nieuws van de Dag
Declarations of residency father and mother (for residents not born in the Dutch East Indies)
The gallery behind the house
Our house in 1935
Father's internment card
Sumowono civilian camp northeast of Ambarawa
Handwritten baby book
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