Maria Bertha Hertogh was five years old when the Japanese soldiers took her mother & father away from Bandung, Java, where papa Adriaanus Hertogh was a sergeant in The Netherlands East Indies army. Bertha was too young to remember just how it happened, but while she was staying at the home of Che Aminah, a Malay woman known to her parents, the rest of the family disappeared into prison camp.
The war years passed. Che Aminah loved the girl, gave her the Moslem name Nadra, moved with her to a jungle village north of Singapore. After VJ, the Hertoghs were repatriated to Holland. As best they could, they tried to find Che Aminah and their lost daughter, finally found them last May. Then they ran into fierce emotional barriers. Che Aminah insisted that mama Hertogh had given her Bertha. The girl, now 13 years old and brought up as a Moslem, did not want to leave her foster home.
The Hertoghs brought suit in the British colonial courts. Countrymen back in Holland contributed funds to rescue the "jungle girl." While lawyers argued, Bertha was married to a young (22) Moslem schoolmaster, Inche Mansur Abadi; since she had passed the age of puberty, the marriage was proper under Moslem law.
Early this month, the Singapore Supreme Court ruled that Bertha, Dutch by nationality and Roman Catholic by baptism, should be returned to her parents. By British law, she was under the age of consent and therefore her marriage to Mansur was annulled. The girl bride wept over the verdict. "I am a Moslem," she wailed. "I don't want to go to Christian parents." She turned to Che Aminah. "Mother, what can I do?" The Malay woman fainted.
Screams of "Nadra!" The Moslems of Singapore (Malays, Pakistanis, Indonesians) had followed the case with mounting religious and racial excitement. Cried Schoolmaster Mansur's enraged kinfolk: "This is a fight between European and Asian!" In the mosques the mullahs spoke of an affront to Islam. Last week the Moslem anger erupted in the most vicious rioting in Singapore memory.
A fanatic mob, 5,000 strong, ranged the streets, shouting "Nadra!" and "Allah!", stoning and cudgeling Europeans and Eurasians, overturning automobiles, driving whites into terrified hiding. Singapore's Malay police seemed to have no heart to restrain their coreligionists. British and Gurkha troops, with bayonets and riot shields, barred the mob from a march on the Convent of the Good Shepherd, four miles outside the city, where Bertha and mama Hertogh waited for a plane to Holland. There the girl doffed her Moslem veil for European dress, tried to remember her Dutch, fondled a doll, told her mother: "It's hard having two mothers. I love you, and I love Aminah."
After three days, Singapore came under control again. Scores of demonstrators were in jail, and seething Moslem leaders vowed to carry on the legal fight for Bertha's return to her husband. The Singapore "Nadra Fund" collected $3,000 to keep it going. The riots had cost 17 dead, more than 150 injured.