‘I shot 9 women and 3 children dead’

Not only is an NSB member mentioned at VU’s war memorial, but also one who had men, women and children slaughtered in the Dutch East Indies: Hendrikus Colijn. Should not his name also be removed?

There is trouble about the name of an NSB member at VU’s war memorial, but there is still a name of a VU man that makes you wonder if he really belongs to it: Hendrikus Colijn. Military, statesman, five times prime minister of the Netherlands and an esteemed and admired administrator of VU, where he had already received an honorary doctorate in 1930.

But he had created chaos in the Dutch East Indies. First in Aceh, as an assistant to Johannes Van Heutsz, “the butcher from Aceh”, where the fight against the colonial Dutch regime was crushed with great deadly force. Later, in 1895, he led a punitive expedition against rebels in Lombok, about which he wrote to his wife, among other things:

‘I had to pile up 9 women and 3 children who begged for mercy and got them shot. It was an uncomfortable job, but there was no other way. The soldiers happily put them on their bayonets. ‘

As prime minister, he was known for his harsh austerity measures that led, among other things, to the infamous Jordan riot in 1935 because poor families were starving. Police beat down the rioters so hard that 56 were seriously injured and 5 were killed. Colijn ordered the police to act even harder.

When the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, Colijn wrote a pamphlet in which he briefly called for submission to the Nazi regime. He recovered later, but that was after the Nazis banned his party from the ARP. Because he had suggested in a speech that ARP should go underground, he was sent into exile by the Nazis, and he died in 1944 at a hotel in Ilmenau, Germany.

war crimes

Does such a man who has committed war crimes, along with the VU people who gave their lives in the fight against the Nazis, belong on the war memorial? This is the opinion of historian Wim Berkelaar from the Historical Documentation Center for Dutch Protestantism. “I would not have put him up there myself, but I do not think his name should be removed,” Berkelaar said. “There is no denying that he committed war crimes in the Dutch East Indies, but this is a monument commemorating World War II.”

‘I do not think his name should be removed’

Colijn was treated by the Nazis as a “privileged prisoner”, but according to Berkelaar, his opposition should not be underestimated. “At first he took a defeatist stance, but later he recovered. Not only did he say ARP should go underground, he also appointed a number of ‘apostles’, party leaders who were well-known resistance fighters, such as Sieuwert Bruins Slot and Jan Schouten. ”

obey the government

Colijn was of an older generation than Bruins Slot and Schouten, says Berkelaar. “He had grown up believing that one should obey his government. For example, he saw the rebels in the Dutch East Indies and also the initiators of the Jordan uprising as people who oppose a legally appointed government.”

‘We must be able to discuss this honestly and freely, take tomatoes with you if necessary’

Can Berkelaar imagine that bicultural Dutch, including descendants of the inhabitants of the former Dutch colonies, get a strange feeling when they see someone like Colijn at a war memorial? “I can see the field of tension that one sees the name of a colonial oppressor among all the resistance fighters. We should be able to discuss that honestly and freely, bring tomatoes if necessary, but I do not agree to remove that name. “

awkward truth

Hendrikus Colijn had previously been divisive at the VU, where the now retired historian Herman Langeveld in the late 1990s had warmed up the emotions by also mentioning his war crimes in a new biography of Colijn.

In his books on Colijn, the founder of the historical documentation center for Dutch Protestantism, George Puchinger, had carefully omitted all the facts that could damage the reputation of the VU hero.

A controversy arose between historians from the Faculty of Art, who wanted to reveal the unpleasant truth, and those from the Historical Documentation Center, who wanted to protect Colijn, who also reached the news and opinion pages of the national media.

Wim Berkelaar describes that match on his personal blog.

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