Not so long ago I received the NICC Magazine (Translated: Dutch-Indonesian Cultural Centre) which is focused on Indonesia, its people, its culture, its past and present. I go through it like a starved animal, adding to what is still, and will always be in my memory.
I left Indonesia after WW II. Therefore the experience of the brutal ‘Bersiap Revolution’, (when Indonesia fought for Independence, killing millions of Europeans and Indo-Europeans) was not part of my life. The ruthless inhumanity of the revolutionary young fighters equaled Japanese cruelty.
My friend Peter (‘The Remains of War’) was an Indo. His father was Indonesian and his mother was Dutch. I knew him since the first day of school. We were always together. We played together and when necessary we fought together.
During the years in the Japanese Concentration Camps we shared everything. Whenever we could, despite the watchful eyes of the guards, we caught chickens whenever the opportunity presented itself. We crawled through ditches, cutting alang-alang, (tall, knife-sharp grass) to visit my house, only to find it had been properly ransacked. We hunted for snails, rats and shared discarded food whenever we could, including the banana peals thrown out by the guards.
I wept when I believed he was dying as he haunted me for answers, and all I gave him was silence.
Peter was such a friend I never had before and never knew after.
After the war ended and we were transported in large groups to the city of Medan, I looked for Peter. I hunted for him whenever I had a chance. I searched the streets after school, I questioned as many teachers as I could find. I visited the polyclinics and discovered Nadine there. Neither on her rounds through the city clinics, nor caring for all those patients, had she seen or heard frrom Peter.
Dad became angry with me. It it was too dangerous to roam alone through the streets asking questions. There were always numerous brooding young boys and men on the street corners. They stopped talking whenever I came near and stared me down with hostile eyes. They wouldn’t move away when I wanted to pass; so I bent my head and circled wide.
Dad was right; it was dangerous to wander alone. But I couldn’t stop; I needed to know where Peter was and why I couldn’t find him.
In the end, I never found Peter and I never found someone who had seen him or known of him.
I have never been able to forget him, or bury him. Millions of Europeans and Indo-Europeans were killed during the Bersiap Revolution. Peter’s father was a soldier in the Dutch Army; he became a prisoner in one of the many concentration camps, like my father. What happened to them and numerous others during those brutal years after the war in Indonesia will remain unknown to me.
People disappeared—the rivers ran red.
Peter was my friend and dearer to me than my brother. I miss him.