Earlier this month the court ordered the Dutch state to pay compensation to the relatives of 421 Indonesians executed by the Dutch army in Rawagede in 1947. Historian Stef Scagliola wrote a book about Dutch war crimes in Indonesia called Last van de oorlog (Plagued by war memories). She talked about it to the Volkskrant.
How could an army unit made up of 90 soldiers who were considered ‘friendly to the natives, and critical of their paymasters’ colonial politics’ have been capable of executing 421 people without trial?
The soldiers and their commander Alphonse Wijnen were never prosecuted for the crime. ‘It wasn’t opportune’, says Scagliola. ‘The Netherlands lost the colonial war and that was not something that was discussed.’
According to the historian the conspiracy of silence about what really happened in Indonesia obscured another side to ‘Rawagede’. ‘The other stories that didn’t come out were those of the continued attacks by the guerrilla army from Rawagede on the villages that were cooperating with the Dutch.
The soldiers witnessed how people were abducted, tortured, shot, how their cattle was robbed. When they received the order to shoot the prisoners they didn’t think: right, we’re going to shoot the bastards, no, they were thinking of the responsibility they had to protect the people who were being attacked. One of the Indonesians that helped the Dutch was decapitated. That is something that stayed with that unit. It is the other side of the story.’
There was also a logistical problem, Scagliola explains. ‘It was difficult to transport prisoners to a place were they could be interrogated. They just did not have the resources. A lot of prisoners of war could not be held and were out the next day. They decided they had to execute on the spot, horrendous as it sounds.’
It wasn’t until 1969 when veteran Joop Hueting opened up about Rawagede on television that a commission was installed which did little more than file the available documents on Rawagede in the government archives. They contained a few paragraphs on the executions.
Another belated confession, putting in doubt the number of people executed and the date of the executions, was made as recently as a few weeks ago by a former sergeant on his sickbed
Scagliola: ‘In 1969 the Dutch government should have said: we won’t prosecute but we will investigate what happened. That would have caused political problems but it would also have meant veterans could have dealt openly with their trauma and guilt over what happened. Some are still alive but they are too ashamed to talk and they don’t want to betray their comrades.’
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