It is well established that during the Second World War and the war between the Netherlands and Indonesia led to the loss of thousands of lives. A cemetery in Jakarta honours victims and serves as a space for future generations to learn lessons from the past.
Located in southern Jakarta on Jl. Menteng Pulo, this cemetery was designed by Lt. Col. HA. van Oerle on 7 December in 1946, and a year later the cemetery was inaugurated by Lieutenant General Hendrik Simon Spoor while he was at that time the highest military commander of the Dutch military troops in Indonesia. It was not expected at all that Menteng Pulo gravesite served as a resting place too for General Spoor two years after the establishment of the place.
The Menteng Pulo is the resting place of almost 4000 Dutch war victims and is open to the public free of charge. Organised by Oorlogsgravenstichting (OGS), or The Netherlands War Grave Foundation, the cemetery encourages the public to engage with the stories of the war dead and honour those who have lost their lives during various struggles.
“The Netherlands War Grave Foundation is an organisation with one Head office in The Hague and one office in Jakarta and is powered and funded by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. In the Netherlands we find a moral obligation to take care the graves of our war victims who died during the Second World War and here also during the war between the Netherlands and Indonesia from 1945-1949. Our organisation work together with the Embassy of the Netherlands for Indonesia to hold a series of events including a commemorative service at the cemeteries. For example, on the 27th of February we commemorate the Battle in the Java Sea in Surabaya, on the 4th of May we commemorate all the fallen Dutch war victims during the Second World War, and on 15 August we commemorate the official end of the Second World War for the Kingdom of the Netherlands”, said Director the Netherlands War Grave Foundation for Indonesia Robbert van de Rijdt.
“The OGS in Indonesia is responsible for the maintenance of 7 war cemeteries all located in Java. There are 2 war gravesites in Jakarta; one is located in Menteng Pulo and one in Ancol. In Bandung, West Java, we have Pandu and Leuwigajah cemeteries. As in Semarang, there are Kalibanteng and Candi. Another one in Surabaya is Kembang Kuning graveyard”, he added.
In fact, the Netherlands War Grave Foundation used to have 22 cemeteries in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Java, Papua, and throughout Indonesia. However, during the ninety sixties the Indonesian government requested the Netherlands to bring back the amount to the current 7 war cemeteries only on Java. All war victims on the cemeteries that were to be closed, were all reburied at one of the 7 cemeteries in Java.
“The Netherlands War Grave Foundation exists to serve the public by ensuring the proper operation and maintenance. My contribution as the director here is to manage, monitor and execute a series of projects, as well as carry out the function with respect to the maintenance and its operation in a spirit of cooperation with individuals who directly manage and operate the cemetery”, explained Robbert when asked about his main task and responsibility.
Officially inaugurated in 1947, this field of honour is unique because it has become the resting field not only for the war victims of the Indonesian national revolution, the Dutch colonial period and Japanese war crimes, but this place is also the tomb for members of Koninklijk Nederlands Indische Leger (KNIL) or the Royal Indies Army who had fought during World War II and any other global violent conflicts thereafter. All graves are the same; only the gravemarker indicates the religion of the person who is buried here. There are Christian, Muslim, Budist and Jews gravemarkers. The children gravremarkers are smaller in seize.
Moreover, Menteng Pulo is a gift of the people of Indonesia for the perpetual resting place of the sailors soldiers and airmen who are buried here. This cemetery and memorial contains the graves of 25,000 war dead, many of whom were Dutch service members who lost their lives during World War II. These are lists of individuals whose bodies were identified; 80 per cent of them civilians, 20 per cent from the military.
“We realise that many among the young generation, especially Indonesians and Dutch, are interested in history. By showing the cemeteries we would like to show the visitors in general what the result of a war can be. In the war between the Netherlands and Indonesia many innocent civilian war victims were killed on both sides. Therefore this cemetery must also serve as a symbolic place. What I’m trying to imply is that we would like to honour both the living and the dead, so that people get to memorialise them and have some respect for their own family and history. That’s all that matters! I am really hoping that we could encourage the public and stimulate them to learn about [our common] history. Let’s have a positive point that we must not forget what had happened in the past, but we also have to move on and embrace the good things in the future. Things have happened. Mistakes had been made, and we should learn from our mistakes”, explained Robbert.