Book Reviews

The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies, 1942-1949, Survivors' Accounts of Japanese Invasion and Enslavement of Europeans and the Revolution That Created Fee Indonesia (by Jan A. Krancher.)


In the early 90s when contemplating starting research for the book, I contacted a number of knowledgeable people to get assurance that this would be a worthwhile endeavor. One recommendation I received after a personal conversation with Dr. Dirk van der Elst, Ph.D., Professor and Chairman Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, California State University at Fresno, California was this written statement. "Being a survivor himself and fluent in Dutch and English, Krancher is well qualified for this effort. It is likely that this work will benefit historians as well as the descendants of those who suffered and perished during those days."

Review by: the Cellar Book Shop, CA xxv/9

This book contains 280 pages and 2 full maps; index, appendixes; chronological summary of events in the Dutch East Indies 12/3/41 to 12/31/42; foreign terms and abbreviations; mortality statistics of civilian internees; Indonesian place names.

The 24 personal narratives of military and civilian prisoners of the Japanese in this anthology, largely centered on Java but including Sumatra, Singapore, Thailand- Burma and Japan, cover a wide variety of experiences but have unifying theme: the cruel treatment they received both from their original captors and the Javanese revolutionaries who succeeded them after August 1945. The victims indeed were enslaved. The accounts are apparently unedited. Each is followed by a brief biographical detail. Andrew A. van Dyk's "Overview of the Imprisonment Experience" provides information, largely unknown to non- Dutch readers, which places the stories in context. Bong's "Eight Prison Camps" fits neatly with and corroborates this compendium of horrors and quit heroism.

Review by: Sandra Phelps

This is a history book that all Americans would do well to read. It is war in a microcosm, not from a military standpoint, not from a political view, not from the conquerors perspective, but through the filters of those most affected - the invaded - during the time the Japanese Imperial military occupied this territory for three and one half years.

It is easy to read, thanks to Mr. Krancher's excellent translating and editing, but it is not easy reading. Here are all the despairs, deprivations and horrors of war; not in a national overview, but on a person-by-person level, told by those who actually endured the suffering.

Indonesia (or the Dutch East Indies, as it was known before 1949) is not a part of the world with which most Americans are overly familiar. In this case, that is a plus. Not only does the reader learn something of the history, geography, and populations of this areas, but as he reads, a paradigm shift takes place. First there is the feeling: "I have little in common with these people--this happened a half-century ago--do I really need to know about this now? This view is gradually replaced by a profound sense of: "These people are just like I am...they are me if I were to go through this experience."

In these pages we find accounts of suffering, yes - and also personal sacrifice for another's survival. Cruelty and compassion, unthinkable hardships and amazing resilience, stoic endurance and genuine heroism.

Reading these pages is a journey that leaves an indelible impression as well as an understanding of the importance of this relatively small piece of history. The introduction states it clearly: The passage of time...tends to obscure the reality of war and its consequences, and that should not be.

The premise of this book which begs the readers' attention is a little known, not much publicized, yet important and significant event in World War II Pacific Theater history. Many Americans are unaware that during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies there has been an incarceration of more than 100,000 innocent men, women, children and teenagers, and almost 200,000 warriors in the Pacific Rim areas. The plight of these prisoners has been described in vivid detail in this book.

Review by: Freya and Chris van der Voorst, Aruba- Savaneta

First of all our special thanks is extended to the Editor of this book, a copy of which we received from a good friend of ours in the Netherlands.. The editor lives in Visalia, California. The book is a compilation of 24 personal accounts of those who survived this miserable period of history that the Indo society experienced in the former Dutch East Indies.

My husband Chris and I were born in 1949 in the Indies and hence belong to the first post-war generation. Obviously, our parents endured first hand this wretched, hash reality under Japanese Imperial Army's heel. However, the stories they told their children were, in our opinion, not always entirely "complete." The reason for this may have been that they wanted to spare us, the younger generation, the memories of their darkest experiences.

Fortunately, we now have a book at our disposal that provides us with a much clearer and more honest picture of that sad episode. This historical account is the most poignant once since the survivors have their roots throughout the entire Indonesian archipelago. Thus their point of view represents the various strata of Indies society.

Personally, we both find the content more informative than that was written by Gavan Daws (POWs of World War II in the Pacific), that deals exclusively with the Japanese occupation. Krancher's book, on the contrary, also covers what happened inside the camps during the Bersiap (Indonesian revolutionary period. Ed.) Chris' colleagues, merchant marines who were also once stationed in the West, all concur with this assessment.

In short, we can recommend this fine book for reading by all those who belong to "our generation." (Dutch-English translation of an article in "De INDO", September 1996)

Review by: Bernice Harapat-Terluin

"The younger people just aren't interested in our history!" Sounds familiar? I hear it a lot from Indos of my parents's generation. It's heartbreaking to hear. It's also not true - speaking for myself - and, I suspect, many other U.S. educated anaks - I was, for my years, completely clueless! We came to this country as small kids, many of us had never lived in the Indies, and our American classmates all thought we wore wooden shoes! Our elders told fascinating stories of life in Indie, and I loved to listen, (even when I wasn't supposed to) but their historical and geographical context were a puzzle - they didn't match anything I learned in school. On the subject of the Pacific War, for example, my formal education consisted of: 1) Pearl Harbor; 2) Hiroshima. Getting the rest of the picture required teaching myself to read Dutch and of course pestering my long- suffering parents.

I wish we'd had a book like Jan Krancher's The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies, 1942-1949 (McFarland & Company) when I was growing up. Jan has created a perfect introduction to, and overview of, the wartime and postwar history of the Indies for the English- speaking reader - sort of "Indo 101", as well as a must-read for the rest of us. His is the most thorough treatment of the subject that I've ever found in English.

The 24 first-person survivors' accounts that comprise the book, represent people of many ages and occupations, military and civilian. Their stories of suffering and quiet heroism; so obviously still fresh in the authors' minds, will quite simply blow you away, even if you've grown up with war stories. I am still haunted by Greta Kwik's The Loss of my Father. For the serious student of history, Jan include a historical overview, a detailed chronology, glossary, statistics and a list of old and new place names.

Long-time INDO readers may already be familiar with Jan's work; for those of you new to the family, I encourage you to make a place in your collections for The Defining Years. And when you've read it, be sure to share it with your anaks and tjoetjoeks. After all, they won't learn this history in school!

Bernice Harapat-Terluin, Langley, WA in "De INDO" Aug. 98.

My father's family was incarcerated in a variety of camps as POWs of the Japanese. The subject was never discussed and as the next generation, I want to know what happened. This book helped enormously in that respect. Other books tend to be just one person's view point, which, if they were not in the same camp, or underwent the same experiences as those you are thinking about while reading, seem quite distant, but because this is essentially a series of articles, it seems somehow more relevant. Recommended reading for anyone who's family suffered in the Japanese POW camps, and who wants to know more., Berkshire, England,, August 11, 2001

Review by: John L. Hennekes

Jan A. Krancher has edited a book about the occupation of the former Dutch East Indies by Japan's military during WWII, and it contains the personal survivors' accounts from that notable invasion. The book "The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies, 1942-1949" has become indispensable to me since my parents are no longer present to tell me about their personal ordeal...the details of which I've long forgotten. My father had been a member of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL), and he was held in Japanese captivity for 3 1/2 years. It's an excellent book for anyone wanting to know more about that particular theatre of the war. Krancher has included the link to his book below, and I hope that some of you, maybe even most of you, will want to secure this book, and to also pass this information along to anyone, who you think might be interested. Krancher established an email relationship with me nearly four years ago, after I contacted him about my mother's family history in Java. It was then that I learned of his book, and after some deliberation, the book was purchased, and it is now one of my treasures.

In "De Wieken." February 14, 2004

Review By: Reid Butler

A thorough document, full of vivid details. This book consists of eyewitness accounts of various people, mostly Dutch nationals or Dutch colonists, who were caught up in seven long years of war -- beginning with the Japanese conquest of Indonesia (then known as the Dutch East Indies), the Second World War and the subsequent revolution by Soekarno and Hatta, Indonesian revolutionaries whose drive for independence was given the blessing of the Japanese.

The Dutch received an unfortunate smear -- "Dutch courage" - - as a result of a premature surrender to the Japanese; if what I've read is true, then this smear is undeserved (particularly in light of the British surrender at Singapore). This book should go a long way to rectifying that unearned stigma. March 22, 2006

Review by: J. Huster

My family is Indo (Dutch-Indonesian), and our family history has been oral. It was difficult to relay their story to American friends who had never heard of any atrocities of the second World War other than the holocaust. As it's noted in the book, "It is unconcionable to allow future generations to forget what happend in the Indies, just as it is folly to turn our backs on the holocaust in Europe."

Memory fades fast, and it's good that this history is written down to be remembered. I'm involved with some contemporary Dutch organizations, but I look different by my dusky skin, and sometimes I think that this book explains to the "whiter" Dutch what I am, and where I came from. Forgotten or not, I'm part of their culture.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I've read enough about the American internment camps that the Japanese-Americans were held, and while there is a great deal of sympathy towards them in the United States, what the Japanese did to the Dutch and Dutch-Indonesians shouldn't be forgotten either. I sometimes wonder if it isn't known as much in the US because it didn't take place in Europe. March 13, 2007

Review by: Mary Michaels

This historical book provides individual, personal in depth try accounts of the Dutch and Dutch-Indo's plight during and immediately following Japanese invasion and internment in the former Dutch East Indies during World War II. A truly inspiring book of courage and fortitude that gives the reader an opportunity to acquire an understanding of this turbulent period of time in the Pacific theater of war. An excellent and informative read of stories that need to be told. review, April 20, 2007

Review by: Roger Mansell

The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies, 1942-1949 is compiled and edited by Jan A. Krancher. Survivors' Accounts of Japanese Invasion and Enslavement of Europeans and the Revolution That Created Free Indonesia. Published by McFarland. 24 of 60+ interviews selected to present a picture of their internment and story of their efforts to survive, during and after the war. Krancher has done an excellent job, not just describing the horrors of Japanese internment but has researched in depth the long ignored period called "The Bersiap", the time when the Indonesian fought a war of terror against the Dutch. Here again, the terrorist of the Islamic world attacked and slaughtered innocent men, women and children to drive the Dutch from their midst. The parallels to day cannot be ignored. It is not history that repeats itself but human nature. Well done. Credit card orders: Call McFarland's toll free 1-800- 253-2187 or order through publisher's web site at (Roger Mansell,

Review by: Dean Mann

Not my usual taste or interest, but nevertheless an interesting and compelling story. Despite my knowledge of the principal areas of battle - Europe and the Pacific - I knew little of the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia.

The book contains mainly the reminiscences of the then- young Dutch settlers whose predecessors, the Dutch elite, had ruled the islands in luxury. It is the story of brutality, starvation, sickness and forced labor in camps, mainly in Java. It is mostly a harsh story, with occasional mercy shown on both sides.

But there were more than two sides. The Indonesians who had suffered under Dutch rule eventually used the invasion and defeat of the Japanese to launch a successful expulsion of the Dutch.

The latter story is more briefly told but displays the brutality of people, regardless of who and when and where they are. These personal stories get to be a bit much, but in many ways it's a revealing history of a less known area of the world.

The Japanese were no patsies, but their treatment of the subject population, at least for me, contrasted with the almost mechanical and routine annihilation of the Jews in Europe. Because of the nature of the book, it does answer the question: Did the Japanese gain access to and exploit the natural resources of the island, or did the effort expended in controlling the population overwhelm their extraction effort? Look elsewhere for answers to that question.

Visalia Times Delta review, July 27, 2007

Review by: Bert Holt, Visalia, CA

The book, "The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies, 1942-1949," by Jan A. Krancher was an enlightening experience. I was born in 1933, so my experience growing up was to be involved in the WWII problems of the United States and that was limited due to my age. The problems in the Indo-Asia was far removed from my exposure. The knowledge of what went on with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust became knowledgeable at the conclusion of WWII. Krancher's book reveals experiences that were very difficult and often costly to people of the Dutch East colonies.

I was aware of the colonial efforts of European countries around the world as a teacher in U. S. History. However, the expansion of Japan prior to WWII was not of awareness to the consequences that it would have on that area. The stories in his book reveal a very hard and cruel treatment of the people that apparently had the influence and the successful operation of business and civil approach to operations of normalcy. Such a change in their life was absolutely abrupt and became in most cases very difficult.

I am struck by two observations:

1. The amount of survivor's who continued their education and live in the United States.

2. The comments about the use of the atomic bomb on Japan to shorten their difficult times.

These are experiences of people that went through a very, very difficult time, beyond belief, and only my admiration can be added.

March 9, 2009

By:Sabine Kowalzik - Frankfurt, Germany, October 5, 2009
I'm taking the opportunity to thank you for this good book I'm reading at the moment, "The Defining Years". My dear mom Annemarie Kowalzik (Kaptijn) was born in Yogya in 1938, from a Dutch-Indonesian mother and a Dutch father. And like so many others Indos, she had to experience internment, hunger and cruelty. I did not know about this heritage until I was 21 and my father died. Strange enough, my mother always felt ashamed of this childhood. My (German) father forbade her to talk about her experiences to her children. Violence, greed and hurt are like a virus passed on from generation to generation and is only overcome by stopping this strange sense of shame. Just last weekend, my mom visited me here in Frankfurt. Both of us being a bit tired, laid down on my bed, chatting a bit in this certain zigzag-way. And then my mom looked at the books piled up on the floor, yours being on top. She took it into her hand. I explained to her what it was about. My mom did not say anything but just firmly took my hand and held it for quite a while. There would be no better way of approval. Just that moment when I felt so uncertain about the reading and research I was doing for the last months (is this just some midlife-tick? am I making a lot of ado about something which in the end doesn't really have to do something with my mom?), here I was in the heart of what my relationship to my "special mom" is all about: I am her beloved Anak, sharing not only sorrow and shame but courage and inspiration. We then also spent some time on the Internet together. I showed her the articles her brother Felix Kaptijn wrote for the Dutch TongTong/Moesson magazine. In this very intimate moment, your book has done so much good for my mom and me. Every now and then, we talk about my readings, which will trigger new fragments of her memories. But even if this will seem Kitsch to you: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing those war stories with the world.

Book Review by: Bali Advertiser

TEMPO, No.26/XI/17-23 Feb 2010. (The dark side of the revolution) "....captures the nightmarish drama of the physical and political landscape of Indonesia under Japanese rule with a number of scenes possessing extraordinary cinematic potential. The first-person narrative employed is more riveting, vigorous, and credible than if the stories were told in the more conventional third-person historical text. This unusual and moving compilation richly augments the existing canon of literature" (On McFarland&Co. book review)

Review by: Roy F. Wilson, December 29, 2010 on

An informative, sometimes chilling account of the cruelty of Japanese forces that occupied Indonesia during WW II, & the horrors visited on Dutch residents by the Indonesian natives during their subsequent war for independence. The tale is told through anecdotes written by the survivors. A similar book about that place and time, is "Unplanned Odyssey," the first person account of a young Dutch woman who lived through WW II as an escapee from the Japanese prison camps in Indonesia, then went to Japan post-WW II, & ultimately settled in the U.S.

Seven Steps to the 'Defining Years'

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