Johan van Leer tells a gripping story about his childhood and his father
With the wave of emigrants and returnees from the former Dutch East Indies, our family, father mother and three children arrived in the Netherlands in 1950. The family left in Tandjong Priok on August 30th 1950 with the British troop ship s.s. Ormonde and arrived in Rotterdam on September 24th 1950.
I myself came to the Netherlands earlier and traveled with the Nieuw Amsterdam from Singapore to Rotterdam on March 16th , 1946 where I arrived on April 10th , 1946 (source: passenger lists1945-1964.nl). In the Netherlands I was looked after by a sister of my father Engeline or aunt Lien Lessing - van Leer and her husband Nardus Lessing.
My parents had also gone back to Holland with the three other children in 1946, but returned with the two youngest children to the Dutch East Indies in 1947. My father went back as a so called "short stay", so a contract for 5 years for the "government information service". Later he would also be used to rebuild and restore the library and herbarium of 's-Landsplantentuin in Buitenzorg (now Bogor).
My grandmother Elizabeth Boutelje-Elte, born in Alkmaar on December 25th, 1864, lived in a stately building on the Sandmannlaan in Bussum. Because of the horrors of the Nazis in Europe and with their aim to exterminate the entire Jewish people, my mother's family members, including my grandmother Elizabeth, were murdered. My grandmother on April 16th, 1943 in Sobibor, Poland.
As the only heiress, my mother expected and thought no other than to be able to live in grandmother's house in Bussum with her family after the repatriation. This was one big deception!
In the Westland, V-1 rockets were ready to destroy London. So the Allies regularly bombed this area and the population was evacuated. NSB families were preferably given housing in the houses abandoned by the Jews.
My mother was shocked when it turned out that there was a "wrong" family (NSB family,) whose "lord of the house" was somewhere serving his sentence, in the house she inherited in Bussum. In spite of several attempts of lawyers whom my mother had instructed, she never got the house back. It fell under the so-called Krakerswet (Squatters' Law). However, the government offered her a compensation, peanuts, which she unfortunately accepted.
My parents were tired of fighting, my mother who had been through jap camps with 3 children and my father who was one of the few survivors of the Junyo Maru Shipwreck and now back in the Netherlands. This is his story :
Father Abraham van Leer was born in The Hague on September 2nd, 1895, my mother Clara Anna Cerlina Boutelje was born on December 29th, 1900 in Amsterdam.
I recall that father already to the Dutch East Indies in 1920 and worked as a librarian for the testing station of the sugar industry in Pasoearan.
Father and mother married on Wednesday, June 23rd, 1926 in Amsterdam.
On July 7th, 1927 I was born in Paseroean. When my mother was pregnant and due in a few months, my mother and I travelled to the Netherlands with the ms Sibajak from Batavia to Rotterdam. We left on May 20th, 1931 and docked in Rotterdam around June 25th, 1931. My sister Elizabeth was born in Bussum on August 25th, 1931, my father was still on his way to Holland with the ss Tjikembang at that time.
A few years later my father worked as a journalist for the Surabaiasch Handelsblad and it is in Surabaya that my second sister Henriette was born on May 16th, 1938.
In September 1940 father served as a volunteer in the KNIL (Royal Dutch East Indies Army) and on March 9th, 1942 he was made prisoner of war by the Japanese. My mother was pregnant again and during my father's absence and so during the japanese occupation another son was born, on November 26th, 1942, named Bram. Because Bram stayed in 3 Japanese camps as a baby, he suffered a poor vision due to lack of protein, which improved with the use of contact lenses some years later. He was until his retirement, due to no longer being able to correct student work, connected to the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan as professor of astronomy. Unfortunately he is now completely blind, but eventhough he suffers from blindness he still is able to play the piano and is an excellent pianist. Bram has a daughter Eva, a son Daan and two great-grandchildren.
After I had finished 5 years at the HBS-B in Delft back in the Netherlands (from 1949-1954) I worked at Philips in Eindhoven. The reason for me to never being able to go to college is decribed in a Dutch article in the Java Post of September 2019 (read the dutch article here) .
In 1954 I emigrated to the United States where I still live in a sunny but at the moment somewhat deserted California.
My sister Liesbeth died on July 9, 2001 in Tilburg at the age of 69. She was married to Hans Reens (1924-1973) and have 2 daughters, Ginette and Nicole both living in the Netherlands.
My sister Henriette was married to Leen de Niet, who died in 2015, she still lives in Soest. We were no longer complete an article written in Dutch by Sandra Heerma van Voss about Henriette. You can read the translated article here.
My father described his experiences as a prisoner of war in a letter made available to the Soester Courant by my sister Henriëtte. This letter was first included in this newspaper on 13 August 2008 and later published on the website for the Stichting Commité 4 & 5 May.
In order to get a good picture of his suffering, I am publishing his whole story below:
Abraham van Leer writes:
I have now told you the most important things of the present and I want to tell you something about my experiences of imprisonment in telegram style. I did not keep a note of the letter to Riek and do not remember what I said. That is called 'camp brains' here. Do I repeat myself, then you know the cause (.).
On March 9th, 1942, I was interned in a camp in Soerabaia. The radio had announced that the Landstorm had to report and we did this with Dutch meticulousness, which we later deeply regretted. I said to Clara, who was busy with the lunch: 'I'll register, bye, see you later'. That later became December 8th 1945. We had so little idea what was in store for us. From March 1942 to mid-April 1943 we stayed in the Surabaya camp, got a baccilar dysentery, which was not recognized by the doctors (later they got more experience) and finally, on Clara's birthday, December 29th 1942, was brought into the hospital as a skeleton. My friends had already written me off. I recovered, thanks to the miracle cure, darginan, and was discharged at the end of March 1943. In mid-April, I was put on transport to Harukoe, a small island next to Ambon, for the construction of an airport. Sea transport under the jap is the worst thing that could happen to a prisoner of war in the East. We arrived with 150 dysentery cases of the 1000 men, after having been at sea for 18 days. Normally the journey takes 6 days. In Harukoe we lay with 1700 Englishmen and 350 Dutchmen. After four months already 300 Englishmen and 100 Dutchmen had died. Hardship and dysentery. In November 1943 a transport of sick people was assembled, which was to go back to Java. I also belonged there and arrived at the end of December 1943 in Soerabaia, emaciated, under the scabies and clay lice.
Part of our transport was transferred to another boat in Ambon. This boat was torpedoed and perished with man and mouse. I was already on board, when the order came, that all of us with stomach disease had to get off again, so was I. That has been my preservation.
In Java we were forwarded to Batavia, where we were received very well. Our transport was the first thing the people saw in the Java camps and aroused an awe-inspiring pity. We looked at these well-fed people as if they were a miracle. In Batavia we moved several times and finally I ended up in an agricultural work camp 'kampong Makassar' on the way to Buitenzorg, where I led a healthy life, fairly good food, marching in the open air and working in the gardens. Gradually this camp became less good, but when I was put on transport to Sumatra in mid-September 1944, I was in pretty good physical condition. Later 'Makassar' became a women's camp with a very bad name; the japs made the women there work and live like coolies. In fact, a coolie had it much better under Dutch rule.
The transport to Sumatra - we were told we would go to a rest camp - consisted for the most part of people of my age, who had never left Java and had no understanding of a japs transport. With 4000 coolies and 2100 prisoners of war, we were put on a ship, or rather stowed in a ship. There was no room to lie down. The jap thought: 'For a voyage of 5 days it is best this way'. For hundreds it became a voyage to eternity. On the 18th of September at 4 o'clock in the afternoon our ship received two 'Allied' torpedoes and sank within half an hour. 1500 prisoners of war and 3500 coolies drowned. This is the worst disaster that has hit the Indian prisoners of war. I was one of the first to jump into the sea and one of the last to be rescued, on Wednesday 20 September at about 1 a.m. and had therefore been in the sea for 45 hours. I owe my salvation to the fact that I managed to reach a life raft after a few hours of drifting and, hanging or sitting on it, managed to keep me above the water for the next 42 hours. Tuesday morning we were still with 15 men, Wednesday morning with 2 men, a young sailor and me. The young man was delirious when I woke up from a kind of unconsciousness. Insanity has happened a lot, also I saw in the morning, when the sun was already high in the sky, a country road on the Indian ocean. Most of them had visions, followed them and drowned. The rescue capacity of the jap was very small, a corvette that could take 150 men and they had to be brought ashore first, which also took at least 12 hours. I believe that twice in my life I have experienced the epitome of joy: the moment I saw the rescue coming and the reunion of the family.
The jap did not treat us like drowning people. In Padang, we were put in a prison and spent two days in an indescribably polluted environment, without a single deck, only dressed in thin cotton pants. Then a night in the train awfully cold and then a day in a transport car exposed to a tropical sun under the equator. Numerous rescued passengers died from the 'aftertreatment'. Muscularly naked I was brought ashore in Padang and lived for three weeks with a pair of shorts and a Japanese blanket as a cover for the night. Immediately malaria infection followed and that is, besides diarrhea, my body disease in Sumatra remained. We were taken to Pakan Baru, around which were several camps for prisoners of war, who had to work on the railroad line. Because of weakness, I was practically spared for this work and worked in the vegetable gardens, before I was sick. The main obstacle for buying food was the lack of clothes, which had been lost with the torpedoing. This was the capital of the prisoner of war. Selling inside or outside the camp yielded quite a lot of money and for this one could buy visch, bean, trassi, fruit, etcetera. All trade was clandestine and resulted in risk for the companies. I was able to feed myself by borrowing money and I was lucky; several people helped me and that is how I passed the Pakan Baroetime. By the way, also a death camp. In half a year 400 dead. On the 20th of August we were informed of the Japanese capitulation and immediately all work was stopped, the rice ration increased, the food improved and large quantities of medicines and bandages were brought in. Malaria patients swallowed a chinabark that had been ground for a long time, which did not do the weak intestines any good.
Afterwards they waited for allied planes, which showed up around September 10. They brought not only food but also Lady Mountbatten, who gave a speech to the 'boys' and promised them the glories of freedom. Later we learned that she spoke to a few thousand Dutch people in this camp before the few hundred Englishmen. When the last Englishman was evacuated by airplane, the Dutch were no longer reached. Most of them were transported to Medan and Palembang by boat. I was lucky to belong to the sick, who were taken away and was a passenger of the last plane that was used for this purpose. September 18, 1945, exactly one year after the torpedoing, I arrived in Singapore and received for the first time white bread, coffee with sugar and milk. My dress consisted of japansch pants and a jacket. My footwear was a pair of wooden slippers. (.)
I notice, as far as the representation of my own fate is concerned, that I didn't stick to the telegram style. However, I do not intend to return to all this in more detail and at least now you have an overview of my fate. Clara will treat hers. I do not write this with self-complaint, because I see these things as a phenomenon of war, in which the life of the individual no longer has any value and moreover I am too much aware of how insignificant all this is in comparison with the enormous suffering that has come over Europe in general and over the Jewish people in particular'.
Because of my strong negative feelings towards the jap and the suffering they have caused, I have asked Tilly to replace all words written in the original text above concerning jap, japanese etc. with a lowercase letter j.
My mother Clara died in Soest on March 13th, 1984 and father Abraham on February 7th, 1962 in Arnhem.
Johan van Leer, 93 years old California U.S.A.
Clara van Leer - Boutelje
1900 - 1984
Abraham van Leer
1895 - 1962
's Landsplantentuin in Buitenzorg
Clara Anna Cerlina Boutelje
born 29th of December 1900
My father Abraham van Leer
born 2nd September 1895
Marriage certificate Abraham van Leer eand Clara Anna Celina Boutelje
My father as librarian of the testing station of the sugar industry in Pasoeroean.
source: Tropical Museum Collection
Advertisement in newspapers ot the birth of the first three children. Bram was born during the occupation and no advertisement was found.
Camp chart of my mother
Internment cart of my father Abraham van Leer
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