IN MEMORY OF MY MOTHER – JULIANA GOUTIER-NIKS
In 1942 the Japanese invaded Indonesia. At that time, I was 6 years old. My dad was a Dutch sergeant-major (Opper-Wachtmeester), employed by the Cavalry of the Koninklijke Nederlands Indisch Leger (“KNIL”). He was taken prisoner by the Japanese. My mom (who was pregnant) and her four sons, ages 11, 9, 6 (me), and 3, went to her family home in Salatiga to live with Neneh (grandma) and my mother’s younger brother and sister. Neneh died shortly after we moved in with her. There was no income and no access to bank accounts.
We became creative and made things we could sell. Our mother sewed clothes. Our uncle and us kids made kites, slingshots and charcoal we could sell or trade for food. We made rings from the canary nuts, brooches from the kapok beetles. And we sold the goat’s milk before we ate her.
On Nov. 3, 1942, my youngest brother was born.
The Totoks (visibly “white” Dutch people) were taken prisoner and sent to Japanese camps. But because our mother was a native of Indonesia, we stayed in our home to survive on our own. Our family survived those years of war because we had a big garden with fruit and vegetables. But we also ate all our pets; the ducks, chickens and then the goat.
On July 31, 1943, my father, at 39 years old, died in Tarso, Burma. This is where he’d been imprisoned by the Japanese and made to work on the railroad in Burma. In the official version, he died of malnutrition.
When our pets were eaten, we ate larons (termites) and slugs to stay alive.
On Sept. 2, 1945 the Japanese surrendered. Afterwards, we were threatened by the Pelopers (Indonesian Ransackers) with their bambu spears, but then the Pemudas (Indonesian youth) adopted the weapons left behind by the Japanese. They turned into terrorists with a vengeance against all that was Dutch. The Pemudas could not be controlled. When they could no longer reach the Totoks because they had either already been murdered or because they were protected, they turned their vengeance on to the Indonesian people with Dutch nationality.
We were taken out of our home and placed at Kamp Huis De Witte where we stayed for our own safety. No comfort. Not enough food. Too many people. Our oldest brother was taken away because he turned 14 and was too old to stay with us. We did not know where he had been taken.
When the Red Cross showed up we had to vacate Huis de Witte and were to be placed in Camp Banyu Biru near Ambarawa. That camp was previously a prison meant to house 140 people. There were more than 1,200 of us. We walked to that camp, our mother with four young boys. When we arrived, again, there was not enough food. No comfort.
Finally, in June of 1946, the allies came and we were transferred to Batavia. My mother still did not know where our oldest brother was and whether or not he was alive.
From Batavia, we were transferred to Bandung where we stayed with other families at a compound in a building called Blauw Gebouw (Blue Building). Our mother, while waiting to hear news of her oldest son, became ill and ended up in the hospital.
Her four sons were placed in the orphanage. In that orphanage I was abused by one of the priests. He used his fist on my bare bum so long that I was unable to sit for more than a week.
When our mother recovered, we left the orphanage and went back to the Blue Building.
My oldest brother’s camp had finally been closed in February 1947. The Red Cross helped him find us. Our family was finally reunited, and our health had been checked and rechecked. We could finally go to Holland in June 1947.
My mother was 38 and her five boys were 15, 14, 10 (me), 7 and 4.
We thought our problems were over. Little did we know what awaited us in Holland.
Initially, our family of six was placed in a Pension (a single bedroom in a boarding house) in Rotterdam. Then we were sent to another Pension in Glinstra State, Bergum, Friesland. During this time, our mother pleaded to be considered for housing. She was never given any consideration.
In the middle of winter, we were sent from Bergum to be placed in Kamp Wyldemerck, District Gaasterland, Friesland. This was a row of barracks, and there was one outhouse for all of the barracks. The only heat was a potbelly stove that my mother did not know how to start up. It was in this place where my mother got very ill with pneumonia and ended up in the hospital in Heerenveen. Us five children could not stay in Kamp Wyldemerck by ourselves and my two older brothers were directed to go to Leiden and stay with our uncle (our deceased’s father’s only brother). My two younger brothers and I were placed in a health resort “Mooi Gaasterland”. At that health resort I got sick and was diagnosed with meningitis and transported to the same hospital in Heerenveen where my mother was.
When my mother got better, they placed her in Pension Herikerberg between Goor and Markelo, Overijsel. She collected my two younger brothers and later when I came out of the hospital I joined her there. My oldest brother wanted to join us there but he was not allowed. The “Child Protection” Department had ordered him to live with his uncle. This uncle had seven children of his own. He did not do anything to help our mother. And because my mother had been sick, steps had been taken to take away her parental rights, making our uncle the guardian of all five of us children.
On February 13, 1950, a court hearing decided that we could not live with our mother. This decision was followed with men who came into our room, picked up my two younger brothers and I, and pushed us into a black car. It did not matter how hard we fought.
Our mother was left on her own. Her children had all been taken away. No one cared about her. This was a woman who had kept her family alive through the years of war, Bersiap (anarchy), and when we finally made it to safety, she was discriminated against, ignored and as a final blow, her children taken away from her. She never did “qualify” for housing and stayed with friends. She had no permanent address. Can anyone imagine what she went through? My mother wandered for the next 8 years alone.
My two younger brothers and myself were taken to Leiden where they deposited us in an orphanage called Huize Sint Maarten. Here, I was separated from my two younger brothers.
Our uncle, as appointed guardian, never once visited the orphanage. My two older brothers left his house and joined the navy as soon as they turned 18.
In 1953 I was kicked out of the orphanage and forced to live with different families, paying them for room and board. Soon after they closed the “big boys” department at the orphanage and my younger brothers were placed in foster care after they turned 12.
In 1955 I joined the Dutch Air Force. For 24 months I had no home to go to on the weekends and volunteered to take over guard duty from my fellow soldiers for a few bucks. My oldest brother applied to have my uncle removed from guardianship of his younger brothers. He was successful and guardianship was transferred to Vereniging Liefde voor Kinderbescherming, with my brother being co-guardian.
In 1958 my oldest brother got a job in The Hague with the Ministry of Defense. It was not until then that he qualified for housing and was able to rent a house in which our mother could live. I moved in with my mother after I served my compulsory military service. By that time all her children had grown up (without her) and we never did live together as a family again.
I married in 1961. In 1966 I took my family to Canada.
My mother died on June 12, 1979. She died alone. And lonely.