Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gewoon tabee en wegwezen

Chapter 11 gets its title from an interview with an old camp inmate, remembering many years later how things were. "It was the usual farewell and gone away," he said. The deaths went on and on. In this short chapter, Geert Mak looks at a number of social trends and camp life. It is the last chapter that ends with commentary by his brother, Hans. Rather than treat this chapter chronologically, I'll look at it in terms of issues that stick out.


In the Dutch context, there were incredible efforts made to avoid assimilation. That is why two of the Mak siblings were parked in Holland in 1939. The Indische jongens were considered a problem. They needed to be more European, whether they had ever been to Europe or not.

The camps stripped away the urban European context, which had been transplanted to Asia. Those who did the best at survival were the ones who knew the land the best. Mak recounts the story of one person who escaped a camp and sat out the war as a hermit who ate well. Most escapes ended in capture and death.

Having been to Dutch festivals, I wonder how much assimilation took place. So far, I haven't seen a Dutch festival without a majority of food stalls serving Indonesian food. There are lots of Indos who speak Dutch. There are many forlorn Dutch people dressed in tropical garb. The Dutch language is home for all Dutch speakers, but the Netherlands is not.

Still, everyone at the Dutch festivals gets along. There are visitors from Europe, people who came in the war years, and various Dutch speaking ethnicities. There are also many Americans of Dutch descent, whose ancestors came here before 1900 and Abraham Kuyper, and even long before 1800, when the Dutch East Indies were colonized.

Camp Life

I always thought that among the prisoners, there was a lot of solidarity. I was surprised that Catrinus Mak's notebook said that he was, "Tired of the gossip, tired of backbiting..." Although there were deaths left and right, the pettiness of day to day living went on.


Apparently, there are plenty of Atheists in foxholes and similar places. Not a very high percentage of people went to church in the camps. Catrinus Mak spent more time preaching to the English and Australians than the Dutch, as secularization in the Netherlands was well under way.

He most likely survived camp life, because he kept his old job as a minister. In other words, unlike the businessmen, he kept his identity. He teamed up with a Catholic priest, and they went around doing funerals and services.

The majority of their audience brings us to the next issue.


The chapter opens with a preprinted postcard, made by the Imperial Japanese Army. It tells about how nice camp life is in English. Below the printed text, Catrinus has written a note, also in English. The card is apparently intended for people in the Netherlands. All of this makes me wonder: How and when did he learn English? As those who have studied and learned languages know, there are big differences between studying a language, understanding it, and being able to express yourself in it, which he does well. Also, why would he write in English to Dutch speaking people?

Japanese Management

In going over the death toll, Geert Mak takes up the question of whether or not the Japanese intentionally killed off their prisoners. He comes down on the side that they did not. From reading this however, one cannot conclude that the Japanese were interested in anyone's health, even their own. Although there were notes on the Japanese side about excessive camp deaths, neither food rations nor rest times went up.

The Japanese were not the Germans, but their prison camps were still prison camps. It appears as though the Japanese were mainly interested in keeping the Bangkok-Rangoon rail line open, and things just got out of hand, as they often do in wars.

The War's End

Hans Mak recounts how the war ended. It seemed like it would never end, then it did. The Indos were the first to know. Jubilation started, then the red and white flags. Then the Dutch flag came out, and the Japanese were just standing around. The war was over.

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