Life experiences of a beautiful woman during the war in West Sumatra and after in The Netherlands and the United States of America. 

A letter to my niece Claudine as an answer to her question: “Why is my mother always so angry?” 

Daughter – Claudine – Army Vet
Mother – Sylvia van Bronckhorst – Florida

To fully understand the situation I give you first some family history. I will keep it short and start with the grandfather and grandmother of your mother.

Grandfather and Grandmother of your Mother.
Married May 28, 1903

Henri Antoine Joseph Chevalier – Jacqueline Beljaars

Born: September 25, 1885           –  Born: October 30, 1881

Muara Sipong, Sumatra              – Banjuwangi, East Java

Died: October 21, 1934                – Died: March 11, 1951 – Katwijk, NL

Grandmother of your mother became just 70 years old. At that time your mother, Sylvia S.J. van Bronckhorst, just 13 years old. When she came home from school, she found her oma dead on the floor of her apartment. (1)

To make the family relation more clearly I have to move back a few steps.
Jacqueline Chevalier-Beljaars got 9 children. The 3 youngest were:

  • Clara Elisabeth Chevalier, born on March 22, 1915 and died on December 10, 2005. She was married to Eddie Geenen. (Both my parents)
  • Romainville Josephine Chevalier was born on October 12, 1918, Padang Sumatra and died on January 1, 1939 in Medan, Sumatra. Romainville Josephine Chevalier married in Padang, Sumatra on November 17, 1937 with Philippus Meindert van Bronckhorst (Your grandparents). Your grandfather was born on July 24, 1905 in Semarang, on Java. He died on July 10, 1944 at the death railroad in Birma, Thailand. He is laid to rest at Kannyu Jungle Cemetery.
  • The youngest was Antoine Coenraad Chevalier – born May-5-1921, died October 25-1997 Tilburg, Netherlands. Antoine Coenraad Chevalier married to “Cucks” Sylvia Gladys De Zilva, born 9-6-1922 en died 18-2-2008 in Tilburg, Netherlands.
    Antoine Coenraad Chevalier and Sylvia Gladys De Zilva have 3 children. One is Antoine Henri, who lives in Anaheim, California.Let me repeat about your grandmother Romainville Josephine Chevalier (#2).
    She died within 4 months after her daughter, your mother, Sylvia S.J. van Bronckhorst was born.

During her pregnancy, your grandmother Romainville found out that her spouse had left her for another woman. She could not handle the situation, became sick and died 4 month after her child was born. At her bed were her mother Jacqueline Chevalier-Beljaars and her sister (my mother) Clara Elisabeth Geenen-ChevalierRomainville asked her sister, my mother, to take care of her baby daughter. (2)
1942 – World War Two started in the Dutch-Indies. Japan created concentration camps behind barb wires. My mother and 4 children including Oma Jacqueline Chevalier-Beljaars and your mother end up in Japanese camps. First in Padang and later in Bangkinang, Sumatra. Total prison time lasted 3 ½ years including lack of food and punishments. (3)

After the capitulation of Japan on August 1945, Indonesia started their war for independence from the Dutch. The japs had trained Indonesian men, especially youngsters called permuda’s, to get rid and kill the Europeans and Indo people.

In 1946, we were moved to Batavia (Jakarta), because my father was very ill after being tortured by the Japs. The family Geenen and Chevalier moved into a small home, which was rented from the city. We children, my mother, our grandmother Jacqueline Beljaars, and my niece Sylvia of 8 years old were all protected by British soldiers from India.

Antoine Coenraad Chevalier, the younger brother of my mother was a Sergeant Major in the Dutch Navy Airforce and left with family for the Netherlands around 1947/1948.
They moved into temporary housing in the town of Nijmegen.

My father died on August 15, 1948. My mother, Clara Elisabeth Chevalier decided to apply also to move to the Netherlands. Beginning 1949 we all got permission from the Dutch emigration Services in Jakarta to move to the Netherlands. The repatriation was scheduled for the third week of September 1949. But about 6 weeks prior to departure, my mother received a letter to come to the Dutch Emigration office. She was told, that her mother Jacqueline Beljaars and Sylvia van Bronckhorst (your mother) were allowed to leave for Holland as scheduled. But she and the 4 children had to stay in Indonesie. A widow with 4 children is not able to make it in the Netherlands. That means Oma and her grandchild Sylvia left alone to the Netherlands. At arrival Uncle Tony, oma’s youngest son, had arranged a temporary living space in Nijmegen. (4)

Meanwhile friends of my mother helped us. You remember, I told you we were living in a rental home from the city. The situation at that time was chaotic. A friend of my mother being one of our neighbors just sold the home for 12,600 rupiah. (Indonesian money)
My mother bought tickets to leave for Holland and booked space for us on a British passenger ship the Chitral at the kost of 8,800 rupiah. We left on January 3, 1951 and arrived in Nijmegen at the end of the month.

Meanwhile Uncle Tony Chevalier and his family moved to Katwijk. Being close to the MLD, Marine Air Force and arranged a small apartment for his mother Jacqueline Beljaars and niece Sylvia van Bronckhorst.

One day, coming from school, your mother Sylvia van Bronckhorst, at that time 13 years, found her grandmother dead on the floor. It was the year 1951 and oma was just 7o years old. The move to the Netherlands was too much for her. After the funeral my mother went back alone to her mothers grave. It was raining and oma and the coffin were zitting halfway in water. The hole had not been closed and the coffin was standing in water.
Sylvia van Bronckhorst has to move somewhere. After a conversation with his sister Clair, my mother, they agree that 13 year old niece will move in at Uncle Tony home. When she finished her high school education at the age of 18, she became a very pretty looking young woman. Uncle Tony’s wife, very pretty herself, became jealous and afraid something might happen. The situation became unbearable. (5)

At that time my mother Clair Elisabeth Chevalier remarried with an old friend and the whole family moved to a larger home in The Hague. In this home living space was created for your mother Sylvia van Bronckhorst too.

At that same time, I was gone and studied for ships engineer in Flushing and lived intern. Meanwhile Sylvia van Bronckhorst got an administrative job and started earning money. She met a young man with the name Menno van der Veen. In the early 1960 Indo people started leaving Holland for the USA. My younger brother Billy Geenen and Daniel Ungerer with Meity and children all moved to the USA. Menno wanted that too.

He asked Sylvia, your mother to marry him. She had one week to decide. Menno wanted to sign an agreement with the American Emigration Services to join the American Army for four years and they will pay the cost to move to the USA. Yes or no!
Funny that there was one woman, Menno’s mother, your oma Juul, told your mother Sylvia not to go to the US. And especially not to marry her son Menno. Why? Because Menno has the same attitude as her spouse she had divorced.
Her late husband was a womanizer and she noticed that her son has the same attitude. (6)

But Sylvia van Bronckhorst said yes, got married and left with Menno for California.

Few month later they had to move to Texas. Menno shows up for the army. Your mother became pregnant from Alex (your brother). It became a very difficult birth. Alex was born without your dad being there. And his birth was not easy, I was told. Menno was very rare at home.

After the 4 years military service in Texas Menno and his family moved back to California. Then the second baby was born, you Claudine. Your dad Menno found a job. After work left the home to go to his friends to play guitar. Was hardly home.  Then you mother Sylvia remembers what Menno’s mother, oma Juul, had told her.

Menno forget that he was married and started dating girls.
One day your mother got so angry, she filled a suitcase with all Menno’s items and cloth and hired a lock smith. Change the front door lock and put the suitcase in front of the door.
Few month later they were divorced. (7)

Claudine, I think you know what happened also with Jack and Paul. Also both marriage experiences were not pretty. (8)

Your mother whole life has been a mess. She never could grow and adapt to a normal family life.

Items (1) to (8) are reasons enough to ruin somebodies life and gets traumatized.
You Claudine and your mother Sylvia S.J. van Bronckhorst are both victims of the bad habits of mankind.

Your uncle Ronny Geenen
June 1, 2020, Glendora, Ca.



  1. What sad events shaped everyone’s life especially Claudine’s Mom…I hope she has a happier life now. Thank you Claudine and Ronny for sharing this story..

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