INDONESIA: The Most Tragic

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TIME Correspondent Robert Sherrod witnessed the faces of men fighting and dying on New Guinea, Attu, Saipan, Tarawa, Iwo and Okinawa. Last week he beheld what he described as "the most tragic face I have seen in the war." The place was Batavia's Koningsplein Railway Station. The face was that of a woman—one of 156 weary Dutch internees detraining after a 52-hour trip across the length of Java from Malang. Cabled Sherrod:

She was young, but her face was pale and pinched and she had a spot of grey hair as big as a saucer atop her head. Of her five small children two were burned to death when the Indonesians set fire to their evacuation truck during the street fighting at Surabaya last October. A third child was kidnapped and has not been heard of since. The mother was shot through the ankle.

The internees were escorted by 24 soldiers of the Indonesian army—the same army which has held them captive since they were prisoners of the Japanese. Nipponese P.O.W.s unloaded their baggage. Indonesian military police directed traffic outside the station as a motor convoy moved the forlorn group off to evacuation camps and hospitals. In all this dismal scene, the only other Dutchmen in evidence were a few doctors wearing Red Cross armbands.

Such is the plight of the quarter-million whites and Eurasians who had once ruled Java. Before the war they had attained a comfort of living probably unmatched elsewhere. Now their sprawling, marble-floored houses are occupied by British officers (in unreclaimed cities, by Indonesians). An estimated 200,000 Dutch and Indo-Europeans remain in Java, many of them still living in former Japanese "hell camps"; 17,000 evacuees are in crowded, poorly supplied camps in Singapore, 11,000 in Bangkok. Some 15,000 are hostages of the Indonesian rebels.

Dutch humiliation is nourished by British refusal to allow Netherlands marines to land in Java; by the "undeclared war" waged by Australian wharfside workers who refused, out of sympathy for the Indonesians, to load Indies-bound ships; and by a gradually growing realization that Dutch mistakes brought defeat and disaster.

Dutch voices here in Java are quick to blame their own "woodenheaded" Parliament for its inability to roll with the punches in imperial British style. Many admit that the freedom movement had not been "made in Japan" (however much it was nurtured by Tokyo). President Soekarno had openly collaborated with the Japanese; but anti-Jap natives still rallied to his nationalist party.

Most rankling of all is the war record of the Dutch army in Java. Built into a formidable myth by misleading propaganda, it yielded quickly to the Japanese. Now Indonesian papers fling taunting jibes like: "We pitied the Dutch when the victorious Jap hordes sent Dutch soldiers fearfully fleeing in sarongs and pajamas or underwear, hurriedly throwing their equipment away."

After four years of defeat, imprisonment and abuse, the Dutch in Indonesia are morose, sullen and apparently unable to cope with the vigorous native independence movement. Many would agree with the young naval lieutenant who bitterly opined: "Who won the war I can't say. But I can tell you who lost it. We did."