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Born on Java, adopted by colonists, fled from Indonesian nationalists, settled in the Netherlands as one of the first people with dark skin... The life story of Gijsbert Johan Heitinga (July 19, 1927) reads like a boys' book. The reconstruction of the fate of John's grandfather was made possible by his uncle Andy, who delved into the family history. “Here people have no idea of ​​what happened in the Dutch East Indies.” Text: Bart-Jan Brouwer
Image: John van Helvert

With thanks to Ellen Verkaaik-Van Meerkerk (for inspecting documents about and letters from Richard James Sutherland), Bart Verkaaik (thesis 'Independence Indonesia'), Henk Notté (youngest brother of Gijsbert Johan)

NNineteen years ago my parents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. I wanted to wrap that in the atmosphere of sentiment, so I decided to delve into the family history,” explains Andy Heitinga, the youngest of six sons. “We never talked so much about the colonial past and the war. At family parties you only heard snippets of that time, but you never really thought about it. I found out that it must have been at least as serious in the East as in the Netherlands. Because there you not only had the war, but also the violent period after Sukarno declared independence.”

Digging out the roots starts on the side of John's grandmother, Andy's mother. “That branch of the family has its origins in Overijssel,” Andy begins the family history. “John's great-grandmother, Christina Wilhelmina Lugten (1906, Java – 1992, Voorburg), married Charles Eduard Sutherland (1927, Celebes – missing since February 1902, 17) in Batavia, now Jakarta, in 1942. This Sutherland originally comes from Scotland. In the seventeenth century there were four Sutherland brothers, three of whom traveled to different directions: one to Germany, one to the Indies and one to America. Film star Donald Sutherland is a descendant of that American branch. Charles is employed by the Billiton Company as head of the electrical district. He and Christina started a family on Billiton Island and had four children: John Eduard (1928), after whom Johnny was later named, Richard James (1930), Suzanna Carolina (1932) – my future mother – and Mildred Geraldine (1934). . At the end of 1941, when the Netherlands declared war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Charles was militarized and assigned to a demolition brigade. He is tasked with sabotaging all energy companies on Billiton so that the advancing Japanese cannot use them. On February 17, 1942, Charles, together with colleagues and soldiers, boarded the MS Sloet van de Beele in Tandjong Pandan, the capital of Billiton, to be evacuated to Batavia, escorted by the destroyer Hr.Ms. Van Nes.

Half an hour after departure, a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft is spotted. This is under fire by the HNLMS. Van Nes, but manages to escape. About two hours later, about twenty Japanese planes appear on the horizon, bombing and sinking both ships in the Java Sea. 249 people on board the Sloet van de Beele die, 203 are picked up by lifeboats. Charles is reported missing.”

“Christina and the children are also being evacuated as a precaution. They leave home and hearth behind - only a small backpack with clothing is allowed - and are taken to Java by amphibious plane. A crate with Charles's tailor-made suits and silverware is already on its way to Java by ship. By selling these items, Christina is assured of money to buy food. Through the Billiton company, they are first accommodated for two weeks in the Sans Sourçi hotel and then in the Cramer farm in West Java, just outside Soekaboemi, on the mountainside of the Gunung Gedeh volcano.

When the war really starts, that area is annexed by the Japanese as an outpost. To keep them friends, Christina cooks for them. She is fortunate that she and her children are not put in a camp, which happens to other family members, including her grandparents. There it is bursting with diseases, including beriberi. Many of her relatives do not survive. From the mountainside, Christina and the children see the bombing of Soekaboemi lower. During their stay on the farm, they are informed of the bombing of the Sloet van de Beele and the disappearance of Charles. Christina goes into shock for a long time. She would never enter into a relationship again for the rest of her life, convinced as she is that Charles will one day return. Her friends take care of the children. Family in Bandung, which is now also occupied by the Japanese, ensures that the family can move there.”

“After more than three years of war, the Americans forced Japan to its knees on August 15, 1945, after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two days later, Sukarno proclaimed the independent state of Indonesia. Merdeka! is the battle cry: free! Radical youth, nationalists, open the hunt for non-natives - Indian Dutch, Europeans, Moluccans... During the purges during this so-called Bersiap period, from October 1945 to early 1946, as many as 15.000 to 30.000 people were killed. To escape the raids, Christina and her children have to flee, leaving all their belongings behind.

The buses in which they try to escape, probably to another part of the city, are shot at and surrounded. They are liberated in the nick of time by Captain GS Vrijburg. After the transfer of sovereignty in 1949, they decided, like many other Dutch people, to leave Indonesia. But that is not that easy, because they have to pay for the crossing themselves - the government does nothing for them. The two eldest sons are the first to cross.

They arrived in the Netherlands on August 26, 1952. Followed a few months later by their mother and youngest sister. They settle in The Hague. Christina wanted to leave earlier, but stayed because her eldest daughter Suzanna Carolina became pregnant. And immediately afterwards she became pregnant again, and again. After yet another pregnancy, Christina felt like: it's enough now, I'm going. Suzanna Carolina and the children would come later, with their husband and father: Gijsbert Johan Heitinga.”

A nice bridge to the roots of John's grandfather, Andy's father: “His biological parents are Johannes Hubertus Notté (1889, Limburg) and the Javanese Sabaria (last name cannot be determined, died in 1993, Java). Like many other Dutch people, Johannes Hubertus has a mistress in the East. Every time he leaves his family in Limburg and goes to the Indies, he visits Sabaria, with whom he has three sons and one daughter. Sabaria is unable to independently raise four children. They have already given away their daughter, but three children is still a lot.

Johannes Hubertus' best friend, Gijsbert Berends Heitinga (died 1945, Jakarta), and his wife Theodora Heitinga-Vermeer (died ±1962, Ter Aar) have a wish to have children, but cannot fulfill their wish themselves. Johannes Hubertus proposes that they adopt one of his Indian sons: Gijsbert Johan, born July 19, 1927. This is how my father became a Heitinga. He never saw his sister, and we were never able to trace her. While his biological mother and brothers Jan (the eldest) and Henk Notté (the youngest) are in the poorhouse, Gijsbert Johan lacks nothing: his foster father is a government official in the field of finance and lives in the very wealthy 'Arab Street' in Jakarta .

His foster parents always kept in good contact with Sabaria, Gijsbert Johan knew her and his two brothers, and in the Netherlands he, Jan and Henk would find each other again. When the Japanese occupy the Dutch East Indies, the adopted son ends up in a Japanese camp. Gijsbert Berends Heitinga, an influential man, manages to convince the Japanese that the biological father of his foster son also has German blood. Because Germany is an ally of the Japanese, my father is left relatively alone. He can come in and out of the camp whenever he wants. His foster father died of natural causes just before the end of the war.”


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