I was born on April 17, 1930 on a sugar plantage at Gujangan in Indonesia, formerly the Dutch East Indies.
Grandpa was German; he joined the Dutch army to Indonesia. Dad was naturalized Dutch and mom became Dutch by marriage. So we children were automatically Dutch. I became a US citizen in 1962.
I was approximately 3 years old when we moved to a sugar plantage named Redjosarie, located about 20 miles South of Madiun, a provincial capital of East Java.
Our family then consisted of 6 members, mom, dad, my oldest sister who was adopted, 2 older brothers and myself. In 1934 my younger brother was born and in 1939 my parents adopted a baby girl.
To my knowledge, we were getting along real fine. Dad was assistant supervisor of the machinery and locomotive department and common in those colonial days, we too had our servants, a cook, a maid, a gardener and at one time even a chauffeur. Until our 5th year of age each one of us children had somebody to look after us, they were usually one of the servants’ older children and for them, this was a part time job. Mom did not have to work and usually gave the servants their daily orders and spent time on her hobbies, sewing, batik (An Indonesian art, on an approximately 6′x4′ linen cloth, figures are drawn on with melted beeswax. This linen is then dipped in different colors dye. And after every dip, after the cloth was dry, certain parts of the wax were scraped off.) And she also played Chinese card games, according to what I heard and saw of the pennies (which she often divided among us) and the chickens, she won, she was very good at this. She also spent much time with us. We have had a wonderful youth life, much of which we spent outdoors in the never-ending summer like climate, leading a life described in the Tom Sawyer stories. We fished, swam and played in the river, creek and canals, flew and fought kites (we glued powdered glass on the string and tried to cut each others line). The frames were made out of bamboo. A sling shot was always dangling from our neck, there was no law against it and bird hunting season was always open, but we were only allowed to shoot the edible ones and had to eat those we bagged. We did cock fighting sometimes or watched it. Cock fighting was mostly done by the Indonesians. We children hunted or bought crickets which sometimes were 1 1/2 inch long and fought them against each other. Dad did much hunting and he sometimes brought home a wild boars piggy or a baby deer or wild chickens which we tried to raise.
So we had pets all over the yard, 2 mynah birds and several others. My oldest brother and dad kept about 10 aquariums of tropical fish. Dad’s hobby was, he thought, raising roses and orchids, but mom had the green thumb and she was keeping an eye on them. Some of them were beautiful. My second brother had a pet goat mom won with her card games. My oldest sister did much tailoring and batik, she even taught me knitting with knit racks, embroidering and some sewing. I did some outdoor cooking and although it sometimes did not taste good mom often made it taste better and tried some afterwards. Dad gave me carpenter tools and helped me with my projects and he also supervised me with my little garden. When my youngest brother was little, he was either running after a chicken or had one in his hands. He later on got a dog and at one time tried to teach it to smoke. Yet mom and dad were very strict, there was no rough talk or abusive language at home, we had to respect older people, even if we were right, we still had to respect them for their age. There was no difference between my sisters and us. It was not allowed to accept gifts, from anybody but a member of the family not even a cookie or a candy. Especially since the factory and field workers were making less than dad, we could not accept anything from them, and I surely felt it when I accepted a piece of chicken my friend gave me which he got from one of those workers. Although there were always exceptions. Since with 4 boys in the house, there was always some fighting and arguing, to keep the peace, mom used a 6 ft. whip which at that time, to me, always appeared in her hand from nowhere.
At home, we never had birthday parties with friends or birthday presents. We could select our gifts after we passed our finals at school; the gifts were according to the grades we made.
Mom and dad were generous with this and it made us work harder at school. Once a week we went to town to do our shopping and there was always money left for a small gift for each of us, so missing our birthday did not bother us at all.
Christmas was celebrated in a religious way, St. Niklaas was celebrated on the 5th or 6th of December, like Santa Claus, and the New Years were celebrated in a big way, all 3 of them, namely the Christian, Buddhist and Mohammedan new years.
Moms dad who was widower was staying with us until he passed away in 1934 we all loved him; he was always ready to make us toys and to play with us.
We went to school in Madiun and traveled the distance by school bus. I started kindergarten at the age of 4 and had to break off my schooling because of the war when I was in the 6th grade. It was a government school but we were also taught religion once a week and the children could take or skip this hour which those of different religions did. We have always been to school with children of other nations or races. The education was taught in Dutch and we also spoke Dutch at home with each other and Indonesian with the Indonesians.
When in 1941 the war with Japan started, my father was called up for duty and only my two older brothers have seen him back since, when he was in the concentration camp. My oldest sister then was married and lived in Surabaje and my 2 brothers were in Djakarta where the oldest went to a trade school and the second to a high school. During the Japanese invasion, many families had to leave the plantage for their safety. We stayed with an Indonesian family until the Jap. allowed us to return. Meanwhile many of the families lost their possessions to the Indonesian and Jap looters and many houses were ransacked. The items people could not carry were shattered. We ourselves were a little more fortunate that we have always had a good relationship with the Indonesians; once a week dad use to have his crew bosses (Indonesians) over at our house for a meeting and gave them a meal afterwards, which was more or less a custom and a hospitality and these men tried to save some of our belongings yet we have still lost plenty. Until we returned to the plantage we stayed with an Indonesian family.
When the Japs were in control, we were allowed to return to the plantage. Because of his asthma, my 2nd brother came home we could not afford any help and so were required to do the chores ourselves. Being the healthiest, I kept the house clean and did the family laundry by hand every day and also did the ironing with those coal filled irons. None of the nice flowers or animals were left, I do not know, what happened with them. But I started to raise chickens for our own use. There were no schools to go to but one of the ladies, a teacher tutored us a few hours a day. Meanwhile, there was no income and we were living from mams valuables which she sold a little at a time. And a little business of small items mam was doing. The chickens we kept were those mom won with card games which then she did to make a living also, although she shared much of her gains with a family which lost all but the cloths they took along when they left the plantage. There was no mail service so all mom and the other ladies could do was worrying about the husbands.
In 1942, the Jap. ordered all the ladies without a husband off the plantage. Fortunate for us my sister’s in laws lived in Ngawi, so we loaded everything on ox wagons and left for this place. It took 24 hours to get there. Also fortunate was that mom and dad invested very much money in jewelry which at one time when we where still living on the plantage, mom had approximate a value of $4000.00 sewed in a strap of cloth and wrapped around my waist to take to my sister’s in laws to be put away. I was just 11 yrs. old and had to travel those 20 miles by bicycle on the way up I had to pass an airfield guarded by Japs. Every passerby had to bow for the guards. I do not remember how many times I bowed and I surely hurried along that stretched of road. The Japs were known to do anything which came up in their minds to passersby and could not take any chances, because besides the jewelry, the bicycle I rode was borrowed. Furthermore, that area had always been known for people friendly during the daytime robbers by night. On my way back, I took a 20 mile reroute to miss that airfield. When we were in Ngawi, mom sold some of the jewelry to buy ourselves a house.
Meanwhile, dad and my uncles were in a concentration camp in Bandung and to be near him grandma (dad’s mother) and my oldest brother Ludwig and my 2nd brother Johann (short Jan) had moved to that city, when we were still at the plantage. It was because of the dampness of this city that Jan became very ill of his asthma, that we all though he would not make it.
In Ngawi his health improved. Also mam stopped her card games and after we were better acquainted with the place mam started doing business. We bought bulk food outside the city which I carried to the market to be sold. Mom did most of the transactions I took care of the heavy items and my brother because of his condition took care of the lighter ones. At one time because of the scarcity of clothing mom managed to exchange 2 pieces of batikked cloth with a small house of one of the Indonesian society families. Mam sold the house right away. For a fee, I also worked in people yards, picked coconuts and cleaned the crown of these trees, from squirrel nests and insects. Jan and I also peddled meat, for which we had to walk miles to get it and then more miles to sell it. Once we even had to walk a total of 60 miles back and forth to get the meat. Meanwhile, the food situation was getting worse in places and we heard where people had to eat things they ordinary would not think about. Rice, formerly the national diet was scarce. We ate a mixture of rice and dried cassava and corn meal. For the Dutch people, the situation grew worse all the time, everyday we could hear the Japs on their motor bikes rounding up people they so called suspected from underground action against them. They were then either put in a labor camp or in jail. We heard about the ways they were tortured. The Japs were then only taking men from 18 yrs on up and especially those who where staying home or were home at the time they came around. After a while they were moving down the,”to be picked up age.” All this added more worries to mom and she kept us on the road all the time and put my youngest brother Adolf on an Indonesian school. We knew that one day our turn would come. Being away from home, we missed one pick up, but they left the message better to be home at a certain date. The Dutch ladies and children were at that time required to work in the rice fields or clean the road sides a few times a week. In June 1945 the Japs finally came around to pick us up, my brother had a asthma attack at that time so I went by myself to a labor camp approximately 30 miles away where we were required to do agricultural work. We ate from our own crops so the food was not too bad and were so better off than so many others. We did not hear about the peace until 1 month after it. The Jap guard had left and they did not tell the Indonesians anything. Anyway after they let us free, we walked part of the way and rode the train part of the way home. The Indonesians were mean while revolting against the Dutch government. I was home about 1 month when they picked up my brother and myself and put us in the city jail which was then used as a concentration camp. My youngest brother, then 11 years old and my little sister 6 were put in a different camp by them self and they left mom outside. So for months once a week, if she could not get a ride, mom had to walk the distance of a few miles with a basket of food on her back to see the 2 youngest and to bring them some additional food until she managed to get them out to stay with her. In this camp we were fed a handful of cooked rice, 3 times a day sometimes with vegetable soup made out of not quite cleaned vegetables, pieces of grass, bugs, snails etc. were still floating around and sometimes there was nothing else to eat but starch. The few valuables the people had on them were exchanged for additional food which was so called “smuggled” in the human waste-barrels after they were emptied in the river and rinsed out. Since medicines were scarce, many people died from diseases. When the conditions were very bad, we were allowed to receive some food from the outside and so we saw mom occasionally and it was also then that mom received a card from the Red Cross that on June 1944 the ship dad was being transported on to Japan as a prisoner of war, was hit by a torpedo near Nagasaki and that dad was among the missing, after the war, mom received a notification of his death. On July 1946 we were moved to the camp my little brother and sister where originally in and mom was allowed to visit us once a month. In January 1947 we were evacuated to Djakarta, I then went to Bandung and my brother Jan went to Surabaja. Mam had to stay behind since she was not in the camp.
In Bandung I stayed with relatives and I finally could continue my schools. The last grades of the elementary schools I had to finish in half the normal time and hereafter went to high school. Being a minor, I received social security, but for my school expenses, clothing and spending money, I delivered bread after school hours. Since at that time the Dutch army only occupied part of Java, I did not hear anything from mam and the youngest children until 1949 when the Dutch forces occupied the whole island and my youngest brother suddenly appeared. One day, I was delivering bread by bicycle when a passenger passing in a buggy called my name. Not recognizing him I only said hi! When I stopped by my next customer, I heard that the same person had asked for directions to our house. I then turned around and went after the buggy and found out that it was my youngest brother. He was in a bad shape of lack of food and we then needed money real bad to put him back in shape. My parents never mentioned to me about having started a savings account for each one of us when we were little, but after my brothers’ arrival, we received word from the Dutch National Bank that certain sums of money were waiting for us.
My brother told me about the bad times they had, also that at one time he was rounded up by the Indonesian communists to watch them torturing and butchering one of the prominent non communistic Indonesians, who we knew real well and he was the only one who when we starved in jail twice treated all us prisoners of war to good food.
In February 1950 I joined the Royal Netherlands Navy for 6 years. During the medical examinations in Surabaja I finally saw mam, Jan; and my youngest sister Fanny back again. I stayed with them 10 days. In April that year I left for Holland. While in the navy I visited England, Scotland, Norway, Denmark, France, Spain, Malta and Italy. The navy time was not always enjoyable especially having chronical seasick, but I tried to make the most of it. The highest rank I could reach without re enlisting was that of seaman 1st class and also obtained certificates of radar navigator and plotter. I have also sailed on several types of ships, gunboat, torpedo boat, light cruiser, landing craft, and aircraft carrier. Several times I have tried to study by correspondence course, but had to break it off every time because of the many transfers. Just before my discharge I started a correspondence course of surveying. After my discharge I got a job as a draftsman and survey help with the Ministry of Public Works in Delft. Meanwhile I received word that 2 of my brothers have left for New Guinea, my oldest sister stayed in Surabaja, Jan went back to the sugar plantage and mom and Fanny went back to Ngawi.
In November of 1956 I emigrated to the U.S.A. under the sponsor ship of the World Church Service. Because of the overpopulation and my 6 years of service, the Dutch government paid part of the boat fare, medical and life insurance for 3 months and I was also handed $45.00 spending money. In Ft. Wayne, the only job I could find after about 12 days of job hunting was that of bus boy at Hotel Van Orman, for 50 cents/hour and a free meal. I was fortunate that the high school I went to had 5 languages as required subjects and English was one of them, I under stood the written English better than the spoken American language. In January of 1957 I started with Shirmeyer as a part time draftsman and in February of that same year, I started to work for the Ind. & Mich. El. Co. as draftsman.
One day in 1959 a Dutch friend who just lived here for a few months asked me to pick up their relatives at the Nickel Plate Railroad station since they did not know their way around and had trouble expressing themselves. This was how I got acquainted with my wife. We found out that in Holland we once lived in the same addition, Overschie but never met each other. In March 1960 we were married in the Gospel Temple and lived at 456 W. William’s St. In 1961 we moved to our present address.
As a last remark I like to mention that we children have gone through bad times but I would not know how to call this for mom who has gone through worse has given us all she had and even after we offered her to come along to Holland were my other 3 brothers are rather stayed with my younger sister who last all her papers and birth certificate and could not prove that mom and dad adopted her, even the files in the city of Madiun were burned during the war and so she could not leave Indonesia. Mam often let us know that she did not want any support and that her only wishes were that her children would grow up to worthy people and that those who left home would drop her a letter once a while.