Santa Maria in Tjideng

White RoseTjideng was a prison camp for European women and children who lived in what was then the Dutch East Indies. I visited for the first time in 2005 and even though I have no experiences to call my own, in regard to camp life, the emotion that was generated during my time there was powerful.

I have discussed life at Tjideng with my mother and aunts, who were interned in 1942, and have read several accounts from others. I feel I have some knowledge of Tjideng, and what went on there, however coming to grips with the reality of the ground upon which I walked was difficult.  I assumed that the charge of emotion I felt last time would not be repeated during this second visit.

I was wrong.

Prior to the Japanese invasion of Indonesia, Tjideng along with Menteng, had been developed as residential areas for the more affluent Dutch. The houses were large in comparison to other areas and on Laan Trivelli the houses contained 3 bedrooms, a large living room, a study, a kitchen, a veranda, and gardens front and back.

For a single family these houses were spacious, and comfortable. They announced to the world a certain status. The houses on the side streets were smaller.

It’s difficult to describe the feelings that began to flood over me as I traced my route around the camps perimeter; down Jalan Kampar and to the house where my family had been imprisoned.

Anticipation, anxiety, sadness, and a  calming sense of gratitude.  Grateful for the fact that I can return to this place that is part of my family heritage, and sad because of what Tjideng represents to my mother and many others around the world.

Grateful that so many people (especially my family) were able to come through this experience, and sorrow that so many others did not.

My mother is the most positive person I know yet she has said many times about many situations; “people can be so cruel”.  It is cruelty that describes Tjideng however it is perseverance of spirit, by those held captive, that I believe defines it and many other camps just like it.

As I walked around I tried to imagine what it was like.

I could feel the heat, but I could only imagine the hunger and illness. Over 10,000 women and children crammed into an area that took me a total of 15 minutes to walk around.

The smaller houses on the side streets becoming home to six families.  Laan Trivelli becoming home to tenko, fear, and the rantings of a madman during full moon.

I don’t know a lot about Sonei.

I do know he was volatile and in command. This is not a good combination under any circumstances. His brutality earned him a post surrender execution.

In Tjideng right by the corner of Laan Trivelli and Musiweg is a church. In 2005 I spent time in this church having a word to whomever was listening, I did so again today.

My mothers name is Maria, the name of the church is the Santa Maria.

For photos of Indonesia click here.

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34 thoughts on “Santa Maria in Tjideng

  1. hello tim. stumbled upon your blog while i was googling pics of old batavia. i was born n grew up in jakarta, lived in jalan petojo binatu for many many years (not far for from tjideng) yet i was clueless of the history of tjideng. love your blog and the old pics of indonesia! thanks!

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    1. So glad you found me Mimmy and that you enjoyed the post. There are many stories in here related to my family and their experiences in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) so hopefully you will find them interesting as well. I spent a lot of time in the Tjideng area and I do not think you are alone in not knowing the history. All the best to you.

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  2. Honestly, I have never even heard of this, so thank you for shedding some light on it. It does sound like a bad very situation, but it’s amazing that you have family members who can share their experience with you.

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  3. I have to admit that I have never heard of it before but I guess that is the travesty of it. We visited Auschwitz last year and felt very overcome with emotion but at the same time it’s unfair that one is more recognised for the suffering than others. Thanks for shedding some light on these stories we would not other wise have known.

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  4. Gosh, so interesting to hear about. I didn’t even know this camp or camps for Europeans in the East Indies existed. I guess I’d never really thought about it. Thanks for enlightening me!

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  5. Hi Tim,
    I’m a friend of Bianca D-H & one of your new friends on FB. My husband’s from the Netherlands and both of his parents were born in (different parts of) Indonesia.
    They were young children during the war. Papa by some miracle never was sent to a camp but like your mother, Mama was interred in Tjideng for most of the war. I didnt know a thing about what happened there until I met them. The horrors.. I too could not find much info about it except for what she has told me until the last 5 years.

    Thank you for sharing this. It is very touching. Perhaps we shall meet some day!
    Eileen

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  6. The above accounts remind me of the Australian movies about women and children in Japanese prison camps in Indonesia. Both were based on the Nevil Shute novel: “A Town like Alice.” The version from the 1950s starred Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna. The 1980s version starred Bryan Brown and Helen Morse. If anyone else has seen these movies, did you find them to be realistic and historically accurate?

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    1. Hi Rob, My Mum watched these when they first came out. A Town Called Alice was watched in our house as a television mini-series; must have been the 80’s version. All I can tell you is that Mum watched it but I cannot tell you what she thought of it. I can only assume they were somewhat accurate but imagine they were watered down. I have done a lot of reading on the subject and the pendulum most definitely swings far on the various accounts of this time with Tjideng having a very nasty reputation as one of the worst; but there were plenty that could be counted as “one of the worst”. There are many accounts of this time now online in the hopes that it will not be forgotten.

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  7. I do find it hard to understand how human beings can do such horrendous thing to each other. I can’t even imagine the range of emotions you must have had. However, your words did give me a glimpse regarding how hard that must have been for your mom and for you many years later.

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  8. I have never heard about Tjideng. But I can imagine how you will be feeling. Due to Santa Maria the name of your mother is still in air of Tjideng., I believe.
    My grand father was imprisoned for 5 years in Japan during world war too. For others this can only be a story but one who goes through suffers the most. I feel sorry to hear what your family have faced during that time.
    It is nice informative post to bring something from history.

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    1. Learning about my family history and sharing it has been challenging, exciting, and emotional but very rewarding. I am glad you enjoyed the article. I will be sprinkling other historical pieces in along the way. Thanks, Tim

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  9. hi tim; i don’t have any personal experiences or know anyone who does. but i imagine just being in a place like that will make any person of conscience feel those same stirings. thanks for sharing with us. take care out there, max

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  10. I echo the others in that it’s a part of history I’m not familiar with. Thank you for sharing something that is so personal for you.

    A bit of local history I was surprised to learn was that the Washington state fair was previously the location of a Japanese internment camp.

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    1. You are very welcome Christina. The Japanese internment camps in the US were all along the west coast and into Nevada. Thanks for reading and glad I could shine a bit of light on some history that is largely unknown.

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    1. Most people haven’t Donna. In fact when I first began researching this subject there was very little written about anything to do with civilian incarceration during the war in the pacific. People had heard of the Thai Burma Railway but that was about it. As the years have gone by there is more information out now but even so, it remains unknown to most people. I appreciate you reading and commenting Donna.

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  11. Thanks for sharing Tim. I have never heard of Tjideng, you have opened my eyes to the world around me. It makes me reflect on how many people have been through such atrocities in the past. Humans can be cruel beings, yet there is a glimmer of hope.

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  12. Tim, I hate that stuff like that happens to people. I am sorry that happened to your family. Great article and thanks for sharing your past with us. =)

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    1. Mum would often say when rotten things happened in the world that life can be tough. It wasn’t until I began researching her past that I began to understand exactly where she was coming from. She wasn’t talking about the tv going off in a storm that’s for sure. Thanks for your comments Crystal, they are much appreciated. You may like to take a quick look at this post also; it relates.
      https://flattiresandslowboats.com/2014/01/12/strong-bugs/
      Tim

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    1. Hi Jay, when I first started researching it back in 2003 there was not a lot of information about it but over the years more and more has been released. It was not a proud moment, among many, in human history.

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  13. Tim, I was born right after the war in Holland but I heard many stories of the cruelty that went on. I felt sorry for people but at that time I was still naive enough to think that no one would hurt children. How wrong I was. Thanks for a powerful story.
    Lenie

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    1. I too was completely unaware of much that went on until recently when I began researching the subject. Mum had never really spoken much about that time so it was not until she and I actually went back to Indonesia that the stories began to flow. Thanks for your kind words and I am glad it had meaning for you; it certainly does for me.

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  14. Great post Tim, nothing like travel to stimulate deep thought and quiet reflectiôn. You are inspiring me to visit this country, which has always remained just out of my grasp!!

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    1. Thanks Tomas, Cambodia was like that for me…always just out of reach until just recently. Indonesia is the country I have visited most often. Partly because of family history but also because it is just so diverse and beautiful. With 17,000 islands, or thereabouts, you get to see and experience some amazing things. Well worth getting to when you have the chance.

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