Thursday, May 03, 2007
  Once again I am pleased to host an article by my good friend Dave Jardine, author of Foreign Fields Forever and historian of all things related to Britain, Indonesia and Carlisle United. This article is copyright. Please email Dave if you wish to reproduce it.


On November 4 1938 a Netherlands line vessel, Johannes van Oldenbarnewelt, docked at Batavia’s Tanjung Priok. Its complement of passengers included eleven German Jews.

Johannes van Oldenbarnewelt

Any non-Dutch nationals were required to have immigration clearance. The Dutch colonial authorities denied it to the Jews, the fact that there was a German community in Batavia at the time notwithstanding and that the Jews were carrying German passports. These desperate people were, like many of their fellows, fleeing Nazi terror. They offered to put up bonds but the colonial authorities remained stone-faced. Permission was denied.


Earlier in the year, representatives of thirty-two nations had met at Evian’les-Bains in France to discuss the problem of European Jewish refugees being generated by Hitler’s Nazi terror. In the words of Rabbi Eliahu Ellis and Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky, “Acknowledging the plight of Jews in German lands, the nations of the world arose to do…nothing.” (aish.com)

The Evian Conference, called on the initiative of US President Franklin Roosevelt, was a flop. Even nations with large areas of potentially settleable farmland like Argentina and Australia refused to offer refuge to these desperate people. The rich nations turned their faces away.

But in Vienna, Austria, which Hitler’s forces occupied in the Anschluss (German: political connection or union) on March 12 1938, the Chinese Consulate-General Dr. Feng Shan Ho, on his own initiative, issued visas to the would-be asylum seekers.

One 17 year old Jew, Eric Goldstaub, would later report that he had visited perhaps 50 foreign missions in the city before he went to the Chinese and was granted visas for himself and 20 members of his extended family. Dr. Feng was their saviour.

The visas were for entry to Shanghai, which was the only port in Asia without any Immigration restrictions anyway. But why would anybody choose to travel to China at the time? Racked by the war initiated by the Imperial Japanese invasion, it was fighting furiously for its life. True, Shanghai had its International Settlement, established in 1854, where the foreign non-Chinese could live in a kind of bubble but Shanghai was in late 1938 under the same Japanese threat as all the other cities of China.


The answer is, of course, that the Jews were desperate as the eleven aboard the Dutch ship in Tanjung Priok on that day in November 1938 must have been.

Not even the fact that the Dutch East Indies was home to an established Jewish population, principally in Surabaya, where some 3000 lived, mostly of Iraqi origin, who would have proffered aid to these hapless folk … not even this would move the colonial authorities.

Singapore’s vigorous Jewish community did what it could for European Jews arriving there by boat but the British would only allow them to stay if they could find work. Given that the Depression had not passed, this was difficult and few were successful. Shanghai it would be for the rest.

There, a relief committee including, incidentally, anti-Nazi Germans was on hand to aid the disembarkees.

Dr. Colijn, the Dutch Prime Minister said Holland could do nothing. Hendrikus Colijn was not unfamiliar with the East Indies. He had, after all, spent sixteen years here, ten of them in the colonial army in which he served in the Aceh War.

There were just too many German and Austrian Jews to admit to Holland, not to mention those from Poland, Hungary and elsewhere. Not even in the huge Dutch colony of the Indies, not even in relatively small numbers, not even in stable communities like Manado.

Meanwhile, Germans who had left Singapore, which had long had a German community, as the political crisis in Europe deepened in 1938-39 and moved to Batavia were allowed to stay.

In the neighbouring Philippines, then under so-called Commonwealth status of the United States, the mood was somewhat different, at least at the national level. The Philippines said it would admit 10,000 Jews for re-settlement in rural Mindanao in the south. This plan, however, broke up on the twin reefs of local hostility and the difficulties of resolving land ownership disputes.

A similar plan was mooted for Australia, where Melville island off Darwin in the Northern Territory, was earmarked for settlement by 10,000 European Jews. Needless to say perhaps, there is no record of the local Tiwi aborigines being consulted. We may surmise that they would have been completely mystified by the proposal and the forces that had created the need for it.

On November 9 1938 a desperate Jewish youth called Herschel Grynzspan (Greenspan) entered the German Embassy and shot dead Ernst von Rath, a diplomat.

Hitler reacted with rage. The ‘Kristallnacht’ (Night of Broken Glass) followed and all over Germany Jewish properties, amongst them many synagogues, were smashed and torched by Nazi stormtroopers. A collective indemnity for von Rath’s death was levied on German Jewry. The number of Jews desperate to leave grew.

Jews continued to arrive at the colonial ports in the Far East, where the authorities could not claim ignorance of the terror in Europe; it was common knowledge from the papers and the radio.


A few amongst the refugees were Dutch including the Arnon family who fled first to the United Kingdom and then, taking advantage of their Dutch passports, headed to the Indies. They would find temporary respite. Not even the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (NSB)* sympathisers could deny them entry. But, when in March 1942 the Dutch colony fell to the Japanese, they were interned in camps in Batavia and Java along with their compatriots, including, of course, NSB sympathisers! The latter could not appeal to the Japanese on political grounds that they were fellow-believers with the Nazis. They were enemy aliens and that was that.

David Jardine

*Dutch National Socialist Movement = fascist


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