the weight of memories

Hans Friedrich Overbeck

Victim | 28 April 1882 | Several

Hans Friedrich  OverbeckBorn in Bremen on 28 March 1882

Hans Overbeck became known in many professional qualities: merchant, linguist, ants specialist, malayologist. He was the ex-CEO/director of Behn, Meyer & Co. in Jogyakarta.

Overbeck's biography is fascinating and yet another example of how successful German immigrants were in NEI.

In this picture, Overbeck is seen in prison uniform following his arrival in Sydney on 17 April 1915. He was incarcerated as an enemy alien by the British authorities from 1914 to 1919. He was imprisoned in Singapore, then at Holsworthy (Liverpool) and later in the Trial Bay internment camps in Australia.

This is one of only 4 known images that remained in the family. The personal effects of the Overbeck family were destroyed in Java and Bremen during WW2.

Prior the First World War Hans Overbeck was a manager at the German trading house Behn, Meyer and Company, based in Singapore.

When arrested as unwanted German in NEI, several witnesses recall that a friendship developed between Hans Overbeck and Walter Spies during their internment in Sumatra. Both were moved to the "traitors" section of the camp, meaning that they openly declined the Nazi ideology. Perhaps they knew each other already from before the war. During the sinking of the Van Imhoff they distanced themselves from the turmoil and sat close together, waiting and accepting their destiny.

Wilfried Wagner: Adventures into the Soul of the Malays. Hans Overbeck 1882-1942

Rüdiger Siebert: „Deutsche Spuren in Indonesien – Zehn Lebensläufe in bewegten Zeiten“, mit ausführlicher Bibliografie, Horlemann-Verlag, Unkel/Rhein, 2002.

(writer) The orientalist Hans Friedrich Overbeck 1882-1942: his entomological work, prisoner-of-war experiences and known photographic images. In: Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol 87, No. 1 (306), June 2014, pg 37-51

Further reading on internet:,_Hans_Friedrich_(1882-1942)

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