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Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff is the Governor General of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) from 1743 to 1750. Up to the year 1800, this function includes the position of Governor General (GG) of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). GGs are the absolute rulers of the colony and expected to reign the area as would-be kings without bothering the homeland government (The Netherlands) too much.

The freighter ss Van Imhoff is named after this Gustaaf. He descends from Frisian nobility with a few obscure links to the German aristocracy. In the Van Imhoff affair, the vague ancestry is used in two ways. For the Dutch, Gustaaf Van Imhoff is an exemplary nobleman from The Netherlands, managing the colony with aristocratic authority. For citizens of NEI with a German background, Van Imhoff is seen as one out of many examples of German colonial supremacy.

The links between Indonesia and Germany (scientific, political, economic, missionary) continued till after the war. When the Dutch were struggling to regain power and influence, German authorities started to bond with the emerging Indonesian Republic. Many German memoirs and historical studies were published describing the German footprints in NEI.

The covert and sometimes open competition between the Dutch and Germans in NEI may also have triggered later hostilities.

Source › wiki › Gustaaf_Willem_van_Imhoff

The Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij (Royal Packet Navigation Company) better known as KPM, is a Dutch shipping company operating in the Netherlands East Indies from 1888 till 1966.

It is the dominant inter-island shipping line in Indonesia during the last 50 years of the colonial era. The KPM maintains connections between the islands of the archipelago and supports the unification of the colonial economy. The KPM brings inter-island commerce from Singapore directly to the capital Batavia.

The company is founded on an exclusive preferential contract with the Dutch government and in charge of the transportation of passengers, freight and mail. Hundreds of ships are built in a short period of time. The first services start on 1 January 1891.

In WW-2 the KPM with its advanced maritime logistics and experience came under military control. The chain of command for the KPM captains, with no wartime experience or orientation, changed overnight.

Further reading on the KPM

To accommodate their war ships in East Asia, the German government closes a deal in 1896 with the Chinese Government to lease and exploit the Kiautschou area, with Tsingtau as its harbour (later renamed as Qingdao).

This free trade area attracts many migrants: adventure seekers, sailors, military, civil servants, traders, dealers, technicians. A colonial society emerges, a world famous brewery (Tsingtao, still on the market) and a strategic marine harbor. These developments in worldwide German expansion are closely watched by other nations.

At the start of WW I the Japanese, aided by the British army, attack the enclave of Tsingtau. The local army and volunteer militia engage in a short, impossible battle of three months. Massive deportations follow to Japan where the Germans are imprisoned in camps until 1919. For Germany and its allies, this boosts the public image of the militia as real war heroes (Tsingtau kämpfer).

Tsingtau information

The heroes of Tsingtau

During the Interbellum period, the Netherlands East Indies is constantly exposed to internationally inspired unrest. In response, the Dutch build a chain of prisons and prison camps, established a network of police informers and organized military response units.

A wide variety of people are declared enemies of the state. In 1916 a rebellion is provoked among 3,000 Dutch soldiers and sailors in Surabaya, following the example of the Bolsheviks in Russia in the same year. The rebellion is knocked down by the authorities who are keen to keep the lid on growing political segregation in the colony. The Dutch Bolshevik revolt ends with deportations, imprisonment and executions.

The authorities face a period of more than 30 years of large scale oppression of political enemies.
The communist party in the NEI starts as a movement of mainly white intellectuals. However, the followers become increasingly Indonesian as an expression of revolt against white colonial power.

In 1926, Partai Kommunist Indonesia goes public with extensive rebellions in Banten and West Sumatra. They even proclaim the Sovjet Republic of Indonesia. Dutch authorities hit back excessively. More than 13,000 people are arrested and 1,000 people got killed. The party top is imprisoned and interned in Boven Digoel in West New Guinea, later renamed as Irian Jaya and West Papua.

Anti-communist sentiments in pre-war NEI run parallel with repressive action against Indonesian nationalists. In 1933, earlier positive support for Indonesian intellectuals swings around overnight and front runners of the independence movement are quickly imprisoned.

To create an macho show-off, a decency campaign is launched in 1938 with arrests of homosexuals. These include high profile public figures who are jailed as criminals.

Military events and parades are organized to show the strength, manhood and moral standards of the colony. On YouTube these parades can be viewed in full glory. Right-wing political movements emerge in the multicultural society. These include NSDAP and NSB branches which are initially allowed but later dismantled, and its members deported, when the war starts. The NEI is falling apart. The colony is very much on its own against the growing threat from Japan. Military support from the motherland can not be expected.

The round-up of citizens with a German in 1940 and, later, a Japanese background are organized with striking efficiency throughout the archipelago.

Japanese threat

Magazine Deutsche Wacht is the bi-monthly mouthpiece and forum for citizens in NEI with a German background.

The full heading reads: Deutsche Wacht, Niederländisch-Indische Halbmonatsschrift für Handels- und Kolonialpolitik, Volkswirtschaft und Völkerrecht.

The publisher was the “Deutsche Bund” interest group, established on 27 January 1915 in Weltevreden (Batavia).

Germans in NEI maintained their own identity and are often in competition with the Dutch colonials as estate managers, industrial entrepreneurs, scientific researchers, missionary workers, and for positions in the police and local government. For Indonesians, the difference between a German and Dutchman is often not obvious nor relevant.

Deutsche Wacht magazine no 1, January 1915

More info

More info

Upon their release in 1919, the German internees in Japan are offered the option to return to Tsingtao, to Germany, to Japan or to re-settle somewhere else in SE Asia. The Netherlands East Indies took this opportunity to offer 345 men and their families the possibility to start a new life in the colony. In NEI, Germans were held in high esteem and considered useful as employees, entrepreneurs, civil servants and scientists. They also had the same appearance and cultural background as the white colonials. Judging from the sort of final postings, there appears to have been a deliberate attempt to have more European faces in the police and military.

Magazine "Deutsche Wacht" (German Guardian) targets the German community in NEI. Issue 5, May 1922, page 30-32, lists most of the new German immigrants from Tsingtau, mentioning their address and profession or employer. Initially, 244 names are mentioned. Later, 101 names are added of which 13 leave some doubt because of spelling errors and the use of initials.

Originally, the listing was meant as a sign of welcome and recognition of the immigrants. However, after the bombing of Rotterdam in 1940, local newspapers such as the Java-bode used the same lists to expose individual German immigrants as potentially dangerous citizens. The lists helped to implement operation "Berlijn" in May 1940 when all citizens with a German background are rounded up and interned within 24 hours.

In hindsight, Tsingtau prisoners faced 2 years of imprisonment in NEI and an additional 3 years in Dehra Dun in India. Combined with their years as internees in Japan, many spend a total of 10 years of their expatriate lives behind barbed wire.

Among the 483 Germans deported with the Van Imhoff, there are 32-42 Tsingtau immigrants out of whom only 5 or 6 safely reached the island of Nias.

Full list (transcript)

In September 1919 Marius Berveling is admitted to the Maritime School (Zeevaartschool) in Vlaardingen near Rotterdam. He is then 15 years of age. On 22 September 1923 he passes for his first exam as future deck officer.
The exams are taken in The Hague.

As part of his KPM career and training, a number of sailings follow in the years 1928-1934, back and forth to the Netherlands East Indies. Most exams are taken at the KPM Head Office in Batavia.

In the Dutch newspapers, precise lists of passengers travelling to and from NEI were published. Even connecting shipping lines and (Genua) train trips to Holland were noted down. This way, friends, family and colleagues could keep track of arrivals and departures.

Example trips of Marius Berveling taken from the newspapers:

Ship: Jan Pieterszoon Coen. Amsterdam (27 October) - Batavia

Ship: Koningin de Nederlanden. Batavia (26 December 1928) – Genua (21 Januari 1929) – Amsterdam (26 Januari 1929)

Slamat: Rotterdam (24 July 1929) to Batavia

From 22 February to 13 March 1930 Marius passes the 1st Officer exams in Batavia with good results.

Ship: Sibajak. Travelling via Colombo on 27 September 1933.

Ship: Baloeran, travelling from Rotterdam on 24 October 1934 to Batavia

Between the two world wars there are several persons with the name Berveling travelling to and from NEI. Their initials include: C, G, L en J.M. They are not necessarily related, although it is not uncommon that after the successful settlement of one family member others follow with the understanding that they will help each other starting their new lives in the colony.

In 1935, when Marius' career with the KPM is settled, he marries his beloved Janna in Holland. Janna is then 25 years old and pregnant. Marius is 30 and in the final stages of his naval training. They move to the colony in the same year.

Passenger lists from 1935 show erratic travel dates for the young couple: On 26 June Marius travels with the ms Johan van Oldenbarnevelt from Amsterdam to Belawan where he arrives on 22 July. On 7 August he travels from Batavia to Sabang where he arrives on 11 August and to Amsterdam where he arrives on 4 September. On 18 September Janna travels as mrs M.L. Berveling on the ms Johan van Oldenbarnevelt from Amsterdam to Belawan where she arrives on the 14 October. Around 25 October, Marius is on his way to the Netherlands where he arrives on 26 November. But on 11 December he is heading for NEI again.

Looking at these dates, Marius and Janna may have had one week together in October to set up house in NEI and settle down. Janna celebrated her first Christmas in NEI as a novice mother, all by herself or, more likely, socializing with other KPM women in Padang.

The couple’s first child (Cornelis) is born in Padang in October 1935. Later, the family moves to their more permanent residence in the harbor city of Makassar. There, on 3 June 1938 daughter Mery is born.

From Februari 1937, Marius Berveling is registered as 1st Officer with the KPM. He remains in that position till July 1941 when he is promoted to captain on the ms Boelongan, a freighter with passenger accommodation. His main cargo is coal, loaded at the Emmahaven in Padang which is the main storage and export harbour for coal from the local mines.

In the telephone directory of colonial Makasser (Makasar, Sulawesi) dated 20 April 1939 M.L. Berveling is listed with address Prinsenlaan 34 and telephone number Ms 607. The Prinsenlaan was in a neighborhood with social standing and later renamed in Jalan Bontolempangan.
Berveling's travels and examination results are traceable on the Dutch newspaper archive site

ms Boelongan. The large lettering was a wartime security measure to have a ship quickly identified, also by the enemy


Telephone directory of Makassar with Berveling's name

Hermanus Johannes Hoeksema, the future captain of the ss Van Imhoff is born on 28 June 1899 in Usquert. His father is Haje Hoeksema, tailor by profession. His mother is Maria Petronella Vahrmeijer.

Hermanus is 29 when he marries Catharina Klaastina Boerma, nurse by profession, daughter of Anthony Ewoudt Boerma and Klaastina Balkema. She is 33. The marriage takes place in Slochteren, Groningen and is noted in the marriage register under entry #90 on 16 August 1928.

(more details on his career and family life in NEI pending)

ss Van Imhoff

In September 2019 Willem Jan Spriensma mailed a rare photo taken in the engine room of the ss Van Imhoff. It was found between the inheritance papers of Jan Willem's father who, perhaps, received the documents from his father.

Further details on who is who are yet to be found. The person on the left is marked with a X and probably somebody known to grandfather Spriensma.

The photo was taken on 4 July 1923 in Singapore. In pencil, a sideline clarification is written: "De kerels met die platte wangen(?) zijn inlanders" ("The chaps with those flat cheeks(?) are natives"). Source and copyright with Willem Jan Spriensma (@ 2019)

This lecture was delivered by Mr Bloys van Treslong Prins on behalf of the Regional Section Batavia for the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Natur und Voelkerkunde OstAsiens in Tokyo (1937)

The content covers the presence and merits of the first generations of Germans in the NEI.

Full script of the original lecture

In the 1930-ies the National Socialist Movement (NSB) is rapidly growing in NEI. In many places NSB communities are started. "De Opmarsch" (The Advance) is the leading magazine for NSB communities in Semarang en Yokyakarta.

The posting of A.W.L. Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachouwer as the new Governor-General is applauded by the NSB as they appreciate his conservative attitudes and views.

NSB magazine De Opmarsch welcomes the new Governor General


1937 - Swastika in Bandung at the occasion of the marriage between Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard

(translation pending)

Het is een vergeten geschiedenis, het Indisch zedelijkheidsoffensief. Ofwel de jacht op homoseksuelen eind jaren 30 in Nederlands-Indië. Daarbij werden zeker 223 homo's geïnterneerd. De meesten waren Europeaan.
Het merendeel van de mannen werd berecht en veroordeeld tot een gevangenisstraf die varieerde van twee maanden tot twee jaar. De gearresteerden waren vooral mannen uit de hogere lagen van de Indische maatschappij, zoals leraren, bestuursambtenaren, planters, politiemensen.

Historicus Marieke Bloembergen beschrijft de affaire in 'De geschiedenis van de politie in Nederlands-Indië'. De kwestie was in wetenschappelijke kring bekend. In 1982 werd hij al beschreven in de doctoraalscriptie van Gosse Kerkhof.

De affaire laat zich verklaren in de tijd waarin hij speelde, aan het eind van de jaren 30. In een periode dat de koloniale macht tanende was. Bloembergen schrijft: "Achteraf bezien kan de massale jacht op homoseksuelen begrepen worden als een uit de hand gelopen poging van de koloniale autoriteiten om sterk en deugdzaam over te komen."

"Door homoseksuelen te vervolgen benadrukte de politie de masculiene kracht van de koloniale staat. Tegelijkertijd was de grote zedenschoonmaak bedoeld om deze koloniale staat een beschaafd gezicht te geven en daarmee tegenover het publiek zijn gezag te bevestigen."

De affaire begint als in 1936 de nieuwe gouverneur-generaal Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachouwer door de Christelijke Staatpartij wordt aangespoord iets toe doen aan wat wordt genoemd de hand over hand toenemende zonde der homoseksualteit onder zeer belangrijke personen. Waarmee wordt gesuggereerd dat er sprake is van een homo-netwerk dat de maatschappij op vitale punten ondermijnt.

De eigenlijke arrestatiegolf begint als de politie in Batavia, eind 1938 een tip ontvangt. Op een hotelkamer zou een bekende homoseksueel jongens ontvangen. Na een inval vindt de politie de uitgebreide correspondentie van de man met vrienden in Nederland en Indië. Veel van de briefschrijvers worden gearresteerd.

De publieke verontwaardiging over het verval van de zeden is compleet als de resident van Batavia wordt gearresteerd, Fievez de Malines van Ginkel. Hij is bovendien hoofd van de politie.

Homoseksualiteit is niet strafbaar in Indië. Maar het plegen van bepaalde handelingen wel, net als omgang hebben met minderjarigen. Veel levens werden geruïneerd door de affaire. Carrières waren geknakt. Ook Walter Spies, de veelzijdige Duitse kunstenaar werd slachtoffer van de homojacht. Hij was het middelpunt van een kunstenaarskring op Bali. De resident van Bali ergerde zich aan de "ongebreidelde sensualiteit" van de groep. Een journalist van de Javabode drong er op aan dat er schoon schip zou worden gemaakt met "het internationale wrakhout dat daar aanspoelde."

Spies zat vele maanden vast. De affaire had nog een praktisch gevolg. Wie voortaan in Indië aan de slag wilde, moest een officiële verklaring overleggen waarin stond dan hij geen communist was of homoseksueel.


Posted: Saturday 14 November 2009. By reporter Pauline Broekema
Marieke Bloembergen De geschiedenis van de politie in Nederlands-Indië. Uit zorg en angst. - Marieke Bloembergen, uitgeverij Boom/KITLV, 2009
Gosse Kerkhof (Masters thesis, 1982)

Uit: Het Nieuws van de Dag voor Nederlands Indie , 8 januari 1938 via:

... De beide vakorganisaties van varend KPM personeel stellen zich in haar actie ten doel: het verkrijgen van een collectieve arbeids-overeenkomst, kortheidshalve aangeduid als CAO. Dit zou de eerste CAO in Ned.-Indië zijn. Wel bestaat bij enkele grootbedrijven, o.m. in de suikerindustrie, een collectief rninimum-contract aan arbeidsvoorwaarden, doch een CAO in den zin van het burgerlijk wetboek is dit niet.

Twee vragen dienen bij de beschouwing van deze doelstelling te worden besproken: de bizondere vraag, of de KPM directie een C. A. O. heeft verdiend als een soort straf voor sociaal wanbeleid; en de algemeene, of de omstandigheden bij de KPM een instituut noodig maken, dat met name in het moederland nogal opgang heeft gemaakt en waarvan, na tientallen jaren ervaring, de verbindendverklaring voor bepaalde bedrijfstakken een der jongste sociale vorderingen vormt.
Het geval stellend, dat een kwade economische tijd de directie dwingt tot versobering en bezuiniging, dan hangt het geheel van de vakvereenigingsleiding af, of de verslechterende bedrijfsresultaten van invloed mogen zijn op de arbeidsvoorwaarden. Kort en scherp geformuleerd: wat de beide organisaties eischen, is een medebeslissende stem in den bedrijfscconomischen gang van zaken. In deze richting gaat het verzoek aan de regeering en indien men nu weet, dat de gouvernementeele werkgever dit zelfs niet accepteert voor zijn ambtenaren, is het aan gerechten twijfel onderhevig, of de regeering wat zij niet wil dat haar geschiedt, aan een ander gebiedend zou voorschrijven. Aangenomen, dat zulks mogelijk ware, hetgeen niet het geval is.
‘sZoo geldt de CAO voor de moederlandsche koopvaardij mede in vele bedrijven, waar het dienstverband (met zeer korten opzegtermijn) automatisch eindigt bij het afmonsteren. Een schip dat geen emplooi meer heeft, zendt zijn menschen eenvoudig naar huis, terwijl het KPM personeel in vasten dienst is. Hoe vast is wel gebleken in den crisistijd, toen de KPM in de uitzonderingspositie verkeerde, dat zij niemand heeft ontslagen.

Er is zóó schandelijk met het personeel omgesprongen, dat daaraan eens en voor al een eind moet worden gemaakt; zulk een einde kan alleen een CAO brengen en daarom dient invoering te worden geëischt van een instituut, dat de vakvereenigingsleiding een beslissende stem van medeszeggenschap zal geven in de arbeidsvoorwaarden van het varend personeel....
Hier zal vóór alles de ter interventie geroepen regeeringsinstantie moeten spreken en deze zal geen onzeker geluid laten hooren. De straks te verwachten publicatie zal uitwijzen, dat de regeering er een anderen KPM - kerfstok op na houdt dan de vakorganisaties, zoodat een CAO als straf op de zonde tot de vrome wenschen van de vakantie behoort, aangenomen dat de kwalificatie „vroom" er op van toepassing kan worden geacht....

In 1938 the German airplane industry produced a two-seater training aircraft. A promotional flight was organized from Berlin to Sydney establishing new records, testing advanced technology and impressing or intimidating the countries were stops were made.

While traveling through the far East, this promotional tour linked up with Hitler's master plan where it was assumed that the Reich had worldwide pre-Aryan roots in Asia and South America.

The background of this flight is described in detail here:

The press in the politically right-wing colony is predominantly conservative. Only the magazine "Kritiek en Opbouw" (Criticism and Development) is openly suspicious about the fascist tendencies in the colony and discusses the growing suppression of Indonesian nationalists and other groups which are considered a threat for the colony.

The magazine is launched in Bandung on 16 februari 1938.
Well-known writers include Marcel Koch, Eddy du Perron, Beb Vuyk en Soewarsih Djojopoespito. Indonesian nationalists also use the magazine as their communication channel.

Developments in prewar Europe are closely followed in NEI. German immigrants come under close scrutiny. The wartime alliance between Germany and Japan is a nightmare for many countries in South East Asia.

In 1940 meticulous plans are made to imprison and evacuate all citizens with a German background and all explicit Nazi sympathizers from NEI. Should The Netherlands be attacked, the round-up will be triggered by the code-word "Berlijn" which will be wired throughout the archipelago to mobilize the police, military and civil servants who are already used to monitor and arrest a wide variety of enemies of the state.

The NEI authorities identify 2,800 - 3,000 persons with a German background. This includes the crews of 20 German warships that found shelter in the neutral NEI but are later grounded by the Dutch. The ships are guarded with help from the British allies to avoid escapes, to manage skirmishes and keep the crews at bay who are bored stiff. It is also feared that the crews might destroy the ships with explosives to avoid confiscation by the British or the Dutch.

After the invasion of Norway, Holland, Belgium and France hair-raising stories of Fifth Column activities in those countries circulate worldwide. Later, when Japan enters the war, citizens with a Japanese background (or looks) are also considered potential Fifth Columnists by the NEI authorities, arrested and deported, mainly to Australia.

In response to the bombing of Rotterdam on 10 May 1940 the operation with code-word "Berlijn" is started. German men of 17 years and older are arrested. Women and children are separately interned. Properties are confiscated. More than 100 women and children are permitted to leave the country on a Japanese ship. Many go to Japan as temporary stopover. Others go to China. A journey back home through Russia is blocked when the German Reich is at war with the Soviet Union as of 22 June 1941.

Japanese immigrants in NEI took pictures of the prisoners' arrests and transports. These pictures were wired all over the world and the pro-German press used these for their anti-Dutch campaign. In The Netherlands, well-known citizens were picked up by the German authorities in retaliation. Initially the Swiss government, as intermediate, proposed to exchange these arrested persons with German prisoners in NEI.

Treatment of the German men is sometimes rough. Friends become foes overnight. Indonesians watch in amazement from the roadsides how one group of white colonials arrests the other. For the Germans it is a painful embarrassment to be seen pushed in procession through the streets with armed KNIL guards whisking them away in trucks, as common criminals. For the white-skin colonials the fact that many KNIL soldiers are brown-coloured indigenous people makes the public shaming more painfull.

The start of Operation Berlijn is quick, efficient and unexpected. In the panic and haste, arrests are often erratic and included Austrians, Hungarians, children of retired German KNIL soldiers who had married with local women and didn't even speak a word of German, and German Jews who had just escaped from the horrors in their homeland.

Some of these cases of mistaken identity are later corrected, but not all. On top of the national labels comes the question of who, of the "real Germans", is actually dangerous. Only a minority has Hitler's portrait on the wall and are registered as National Socialists and Nazi sympathizers. This is also the case among a considerable portion of the Dutch citizens in NEI. These Dutch enemies of the state are not mixed with the Germans but separately arrested and deported to camps in the other colony: Surinam.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald 20 May 1940. Arrests in Batavia

Pencil drawing. Sanitary break for German suspects during their transport from Makassar to local detention center. Drawing taken from sketchbook with 15 pages. @ MUSE0N 1:TPC-IC-I-P-026 5 / NIOD

Louis Johan Alexander Schoonheyt (1903-1986) was a Dutch medical doctor and writer. From 1935 to 1936 he was the camp doctor at the Boven-Digoel concentration camp in New Guinea. Today, he is mostly known for the book he wrote about his experiences there: “Boven-Digoel: Het land van communisten en kannibalen” (1936).

During World War II he was imprisoned by the Dutch and sent to the Jodensavanne internment camp in Surinam because of his perceived sympathies for the Nazi movement. After the war he petitioned the government to be rehabilitated, which was granted in 1949. Source:

A biography was written by Anthony van Kampen entitled "Een kwestie van macht: het bewogen leven van de arts dr. L.J.A. Schoonheyt in het voormalige Nederlandsch-Indië, Nieuw-Guinea, Suriname en Nederland (1975)

Dutch authorities recognized the usefulness of Schoonheyt’s medical experience and he was often assigned as medical officer in the camps where he was imprisoned himself, including camp Ngawi and Onrust Island on his way to Surinam. Apparently he was also allowed to take pictures there. His interest was mainly in the hygiene and health conditions.

His pictures were archived by the authorities or stored in his professional or family archive. Either way, the Royal Netherlands Institute for the study of Southeast Asia and the Caribbean (KITLV) in Leiden obtained these rare pictures from the legacy of doctor Schoonheyt.

Today, the pictures are circulating in publications and on internet. Together they provide a good overview of the camp conditions. Perhaps, visitors of the site are able to recognize persons they know and share this with us and the world.

Louis Johan Alexander Schoonheyt (1903-1986)

After their quick arrests all over the archipelago, generally within 24 hours, German internees are initially secured in local prisons and improvised facilities.

In the same month of May 1940, the Governor-General Tjarda Van Starkenborgh inspects the conditions on the Island of Onrust off the coast of Batavia where many internees are temporarily brought together. He travels with army commanders lt. gen. Berenschot and gen. maj. Schilling. Living conditions are considered very unsatisfactory.

A decree is issued to immediately build one central camp for all male German adults and adolescents. The Germans, represented by the Swiss Consul-General in Batavia, demands that the new camp is situated in a cool, mountainous area.

A suitable place is found in the Alas valley in the north of Sumatra: a deserted sisal estate, 15 km southeast of Koetatjane to the west of the Kabandjahe road. In a few months the area and buildings are operational as a camp site. Among the Dutch, the area is known as Lawé Sigala-gala, among Germans as Kota (or: Koeta) Tjané.

When the German internees are moved out in 1942, the camp is kept as prison site under Japanese rule till August 1945 when the Japanese are held as prisoner up to 1948.

Pictures of Pulau Onrust prisoners

In June, September and October 1940, Nazi authorities in The Netherlands round up many high profile Dutch people in retaliation for the Germans imprisoned in NEI.

The prisoners are referred to as the "NEI hostages" (Indische gijzelaars), a category separate from the usual war victims. They are moved from one camp to another: Schoorl, Buchenwald, Haaren and finally to seminary Beekvliet in St. Michielsgestel. Later, early 1943, they are moved to Ruwenberg, near St Michielsgestel, were they get a somewhat better treatment and more liberties.

During the war, the reason for their internment is gradually forgotten and they become the odd group of internees without linkages to Jews, suspect minorities, political in-subordinates, criminals and resistance fighters. However, the indirect link with the Van Imhoff disaster keeps the enmity alive.

More information

When the Germans invade The Netherlands on 10 May 1940 most of the KPM merchant ships are out at sea and the largest firms of allied ship-owners happen to be in London. They consult with the Dutch government to establish a wartime strategy.

Mutual competition is set aside. A unified cooperative is established: the Netherlands Shipping and Trading Committee, NSTC, "The Shipping" for short. It is directly supervised by the Dutch government.

One of The Shipping's first decrees is the Compulsory Shipping Order (Vaarplichtbesluit) which makes all captains and crew conscripted military. Overnight, they have to obey military commanders. Up to the termination date in February 1946, all merchant ships and crews worldwide are mobilized for the allied war effort including the shipment of military, weapons, oil, food, and other raw materials.

At the start of World War II, the Dutch government in exile (London) approves to mobilize all KPM ships for the allied war effort against the Japanese. This implies that all captains have to follow orders from their designated marine commander-in-chief Conrad Helfrich.

In the Van Imhoff affair, this shift in responsibilities has far-reaching consequences. The decision of the captains of the ss Van Imhoff and the rescue ship ms Boelongan to leave German prisoners at sea rather than save them is imposed as military command and not as corporate KPM policy let alone a personal preference of its captains.

In NEI, the CEO for all maritime movements is Admiral Helfrich. The shipment of German internees and the specific rules of engagement with German victims at sea fall under his responsibility and are probably were his direct orders.

Following the arrests of citizens with a German background, a special employers meeting is held in Batavia, headed by the sugar and tobacco sectors. Participants define who is to be considered an anti-Dutch element and should be fired. The findings are publicized in the newspapers.



In July 1940 the first shipments with German internees, who have been imprisoned all over the archipelago, arrive in Belawan harbor in Aceh, North Sumatra. In total, about 2400 people end up here. From Belawan, the transports are continued in trucks fortified with barbed-wire cages under armed guards.

In those days, Aceh is an almost inaccessible area with bumpy roads. One road leads to the newly organized camp Kota Tjané, 200 km away from Medan, passing through Kabanjahe, a mountain pass at 1800 meters, endless jungle and with hardly any local population or foreign settlers.

As instructed by the Governor-General the camp itself has lots of provisions to make the prisoners' stay as humane as possible. The camp area has a surface of 10 hectares and at an altitude of 300 meters a cooler temperature is expected in comparison with previous transit prisons. Still, even at this height the climate is tropically hot and humid.

The camp area is divided into 6 clusters of 8 to 12 sleeping barracks for 400 persons each. In addition there are four eating barracks, bathing provisions and a hospital. Most units are separated by a stretch of no-mans land, double fencing and barbed wire. At each corner of the camp area there is a high watchtower for round the clock surveillance, each equipped with a machine gun.

With a power generator and beamers, the whole camp can be flooded with light. Clean water is pumped up from the Alas river nearby. By means of a network of concrete gutters, rubbish and sewerage is flushed away to a downhill area where wild pigs flourish on the menu.

A full company of 250 KNIL soldiers is mobilised for guarding duties. They are not allowed to go inside the fenced area. It is typical for the social relations in NEI that the German prisoners registered an official complaint about the fact that they are guarded by coloured KNIL servicemen. This is considered below their dignity. The insult felt is similar to the public round-up a few months earlier when the Germans were arrested and pushed through the streets, also by coloured KNIL soldiers and police. It is considered a disgrace to be seen like this by the local population. The Germans claim the same respect as honourable citizens as the Dutch.

The prisoners are socially and politically very diverse: Nazis, Jews, priests, sailors, planters, business men, artists, lunatics from an asylum, youngsters from secondary school and older, retired persons. Some are too weak and sick to move around. Like-minded people make their own groups or are forced by the camp management to do so. The most outspoken Nazis have their own living quarters (about 30 persons) and declare others as traitors. They spread the rumour that they will eventually be convicted in Berlin. Nazi sympathizers manage to get the best positions in the camp. There is even a gang of thugs to teach Nazi "dissidents" a lesson.

At times, malaria and dysentery epidemics break out. These are quickly suppressed by the camp management in order to comply with the code of conduct for wartime prisons should there be medical inspections which indeed occurred.

Without any information on their ultimate destiny, the prisoners plant productive gardens with vegetables and fruits or make fermented alcoholic drinks. Others run a canteen with lemonades, fresh garden produce or utensils made from coconut. Others start a music, theater or dance group for public performances. Among the 150 Indo-Germans a kroncong ensemble is formed which becomes very popular among the KNIL guards with a similar cultural background.

In the course of time, about 200 internees are released upon confirmation that they do no longer have the German nationality. These investigations take a long time and many prisoners stayed behind barbed wire for 18 months without such clearance. Then, from December 1941 up to January 1942 a deportation program is started to avoid the prisoners would be freed by the approaching Japanese and become their active allies.

Colour pencil drawing of KutaCane barracks by F.R. von Purschka. Copyright @ Museon / NIOD. Item MUSE01:TPC-IC-I-P-042

The earliest reports on the round-up and treatment of German and Germany-linked citizens appeared (as late as) August 1940. These reports often originate from the German Embassy in Japan or the mediating Swiss Embassy in Berlin.

This particular story was shared and published by newspapers that joined the German propaganda machine. The Nazi movement was promoted as European liberation with the Dutch authorities depicted as war criminals.

Original article

On the 9 August 1940, the German consulate in Kobe (Japan) starts to wire initial reports on the arrest and treatment of German internees.

These messages also reach occupied Holland where most newspapers are under close supervision of the German authorities. In this situation, journalists have to depict the behavior of the NEI authorities as cruel and maintain that possibly war crimes were committed.


On 24 September 1940, six weeks after the dispatch of the message from Kobe, De Volkskrant publishes a detailed summary. The source is kept anonymous.

In 1963 Emil Helfferich disclosed to German newspapers that he made a serious effort in 1940 to free German internees NEI. Helfferich was a prominent trader in NEI and an influential political lobbyist. He narrowly escaped the round-up by the NEI authorities. In Germany he contacted Von Ribbentrop and Bohle with his plan to involve Dutch officials to travel to NEI and negotiate the release of German internees.

In October 1940, the council of secretaries-general mobilised two representatives for the mission to NEI: luitenant-generaal M. Boerstra (retired commander of the Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger) and mr. W. G. F. Jongejan (Chair person of the The Hague-based Ondernemersraad voor Nederlands-Indië).

For their mission a laissez- passer was issued to travel overland through Germany, the Asian continent, Shanghai and to Japan. They arrived there in November 1940

They had to convince the GG cs to take a more pro-German stand and release German internees in exchange for the prisoners that were imprisoned in the Netherlands in retaliation.

At the same time, British authorities warned the GG that they would sink any ship with German internees on board. Only the wives and children from Germans would be allowed to leave. NEI authorities were not in favour to relax their measures against the Germans. Boerstra en Jongejan were not even allowed to enter NEI. This decision was endorsed by the Dutch government in exile in London. Negotiations took place in Shanghai but failed.

Ribbentrop and Bohle then decided to keep the "Indische gijzelaars" in The Netherlands behind barbed wire.



Murk Boerstra


Details on Boerstra mission

W.G.F.Jongejan (1891-1963)

From the start of the round-up, the final destination of the German prisoners remained unclear. From February 1941 onwards consultations with allied governments intensify on the ways and destiny of full scale evacuations. Several options are considered. Only towards the end of December 1941 it is decided that they will all be deported to British India were an enormous detention camp is being built in Dehra Dun to imprison all Germans arrested in Asia.

A secret letter from the Australian government to the NEI authorities gives an interesting overview of past and new proposals. These include the Japanese offer to ship the Germans to Japan, including their wives and children. In the same letter, the Australian allies also seek to confirm "the rumor" that the Dutch intend to transport the prisoners abroad to an unspecified country.

The Japanese invitation to transport the prisoners to Japan illustrates their commitment to assist their German allies. It also explains why the Japanese would later allow safe passage for three ships for deportation of the male prisoners to British India.

In the Lawe Sigala-gala camp the quick approach of the Japanese army is closely followed. The fear for collaboration between the axis countries is growing. Trees and bushes in the camp are cleared and extra searchlights are installed to monitor expected shoot-outs and weapon droppings.

The mood among the prisoners, especially the Nazi loyalists, improves by the day. Malaysia and Singapore are almost conquered. Liberation by the Japanese army seems immanent

German women in NEI are arrested separately from their male partners and families. Specially targeted are women active as National Socialists or as spies. Many are locked up in the Banyubiru prison in Java. Some were left alone, but their social lives become impossible. As protective measure they are advised to apply for voluntary internment to escape hate campaigns and revenge by the Dutch.

There is a shortage of shipment capacity to transport the German women who are allowed or forced to leave NEI in small groups. In July 1941 Japanese passenger ship "Asama Maru" is chartered to ship 670 German women. In Shanghai more than 200 disembark. The others proceed to Kobe in Japan, many with the intention to cross Siberia on their way to Germany. But Hitler had attacked Russia and no such passage is possible. These women and children strand in Japan and North China, facing difficult times up to 1947 when they can finally return to (a destroyed) Germany.

An illustrative account is published on a personal website

In Singapore our family escaped internment by the British in September 1939 by fleeing with hand-luggage to Batavia. Unfortunately, however, my father was interned by the Dutch on 10th May 1940, but later on handed over to the British and was a civilian prisoner of war in Premnaga, Dehra-Dun, British India until December 1946. My mother, sister and me were interned by the Dutch in a camp at Sindanglaja (former spelling Sindanglaya) close to the Poentjak (Puncak) Hills, West Java. Almost all German women and children in D.E.I. had to leave the country and were shoved off to Japan on board of the Asama Maru in July 1941. A fortnight before leaving the camp many persons were contaminated with Malaria by Dutch medical staff during series blood examinations by using the same nonsterile lancet for a prick in the ear lobe. I was simultaneously infected both with Malaria Tropica and Malaria Tertiana. It took me almost three years to recover from the grave infection and it changed my total further life till today. I have never received an excuse or compensation from the Dutch for this criminal act.

Personal homepage for the full story

Main building of the Sindanglaya "protective camp" for German women and children. It is a former grand hotel in the Puncak area at the foot of the Gedeh mountain.

Auswaertiges Amt - Dritter Merkblatt ueber die Lage der Deutschen in Niederlaendisch-Ostindien - August 1941

Archive ref: Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte ED353-2-15-(up to 20)

Original memo

After the attack of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 Governor General Tjarda Van Starkenborgh issues the order to arrest all citizens with a Japanese background in NEI. In America, Canada and elsewhere, similar actions are taken.

These actions are usually justified as measures to protect the Japanese against hostilities. In practice there are many complications. How to distinguish between a Japanese and inhabitants of Sumatra and Java? Many Japanese citizens are in fact immigrants from Formosa (Taiwan) who are detested by the Japanese as lower ranking human beings. Others are married to Indonesian or local Chinese women and do no longer feel related with the original Japanese. Even the domestic servants from Japanese households are suspects as "they all look alike".

The Japanese on Java are interned in Ngawi. The local CEO Major Van Baarsel describes the prisoners as "worn-out Japs, small yellow men, who could not hurt a fly". Specially targeted are the small shopkeepers. Among them are indeed some undercover high ranking military officers and spies who facilitated the amazingly quick invasion by the Japanese army.

In total, more than 2,000 persons are arrested. After assessments, about 1900 remained imprisoned: 1400 men, 300 women and 200 children. They are transported on the ms Cremer to Tatura in Australia, 200 kilometer north of Melbourne.

During the war, there are 7 camps in Tatura: 3 for prisoners of war, 4 for German and Japanese civilians.

The fear for fifth columnists resulted in serious tunnel vision among the Australian selection officers. Typical is the story of an interned girl of 16. Her Japanese father had died a few years earlier in Java. The girl finds herself and her brother in a Tatura camp in Australia, together with her Indonesian mother who, sadly, dies during internment.

From its temporary offices in London, the Dutch government in exile drafts a proclamation of war against Japan in the name of queen Wilhelmina. Initially the Japanese authorities waive the declaration of war. But the Dutch show their determination by sinking three Japanese warships: the Tosan Maru, Asosan Maru and the Kinka Maru. In response, the Japanese bomb Borneo nine days later.

For a month, the Japanese try to convince the Dutch not to continue their hostilities. Then the invasion of NEI starts. Borneo is the first to fall (19 January 1942). They continue to bomb strategic cities, harbours, factories and all the ships they spot at sea, including the ss Van Imhoff and the ms Boelongan.

On 9 March 1942 the Dutch overplay their hand and challenge the Japanese fleet in the Java Sea. The Dutch lose this infamous battle. The Japanese invade and conquer Java. The NEI army surrenders with 93,000 men in active service.

The deportation of about 3,000 imprisoned Germans with a German passport (Reichsdeutschen) and NEI citizens with a German background (Volksdeutschen) was estimated to require three full shiploads.

It is likely that the Dutch authorities informed the Japanese through neutral diplomatic channels about the intended shipments of the Germans to avoid attacks by the Japanese air force. This is agreed with the understanding that the ships will be marked as red cross transports. For the Dutch, dividing them into three groups helps to keep the Germans under control: 1) Nazi party members and supporters, 2) moderates and 3) harmless innocents. Mixing them is dangerous.

The KPM ship Ophir is the first to leave Sibolga with 975 - 995 prisoners on 28 December 1941. The second is the Plancius with 938 prisoners, leaving on 3 January 1942. They arrive in British India in the period 7-10 January 1942.

As per schedule, on 2 January 1942 the third and last group of prisoners from the central Lawe Sigala-gala camp arrives in Sibolga. They are housed in a school that was converted into a temporary detention center. This third group includes the least dangerous people, many of them from the camp’s “traitors block” i.e. anti-nazis, fugitive Jews, sailors, planters, protestant and catholic missionaries, academics, traders etc. They were protected against offensive hostilities by the hard core nazis.

An estimated total of 75 prisoners are left behind in the central camp as they are considered too weak, old or sick to travel.

The authorities need two weeks to mobilise a third ship to deport the third group to British India. This unexpected delay is confirmed in several reports. Van Heekeren (1967) assumes that suitable KPM ships were unavailable as these were mobilized for the war effort in other places.

Other authors suspect that a large group of mainly Japanese fugitive women and children who are also waiting in the transition camp in Sibolga are given priority to leave, but then to Australia. Deportation of Japanese citizens from NEI had indeed been ongoing, right from the beginning of the war.

Some authors suggest that Dutch authorities abused the Japanese waiver for three ships by using the third ship to evacuate Dutch nationals to Australia.

If this is what happened, a fourth ship had to be mobilized in a more improvised manner than the first three, putting at risk all people on board, both prisoners and crew as they became sitting ducks at open sea without any internationally recognised protective marks.

ss Ophir

ss Plancius

ms Van Imhoff

The ss Ophir is the first of three KPM ships to leave Sibolga harbor on 28 December with 975 - 995 prisoners on board. It is marked with a red cross, visible from the sky. It arrives safely in India. The conditions during the prisoners' transport are appalling.

The evacuation of the first group from their camp in North Sumatra is scheduled for 25 December 1941. They are woken at 05.00 in the morning. Departure is scheduled at 07.00. No details are given the purpose or destination.

A thousand prisoners are randomly selected making sure that the most "fanatic" Germans are included. Their luggage and clothing are carefully inspected. They are loaded onto open trucks wrapped with barbed wire, in groups of 10-15 people. Halfway in Siantar there is a stop-over. The prisoners are boarded in the local jail

The trucks used for transport are outdated. Engines are running hot, axles break, tyres blow up. The guards lose control and let off steam on "the bloody krauts" (“rot moffen”).

In Sibolga they spend three nights in a converted school building, sleeping on the concrete floor. The ss Ophir is waiting in the harbour, circled by a motorized barge full of armed soldiers, ready to shoot. In the holds of the ship cages are prepared, making sure that no daylight gets in and prisoners will not be able to follow the whereabouts of the ship. Armed guards on board are on high alert around the clock.

The ship cruises zig-zag to Colombo and Bombay in ten days. Upon arrival, the British authorities and military inspect the ship and blame the Dutch for mistreatment when they face the nearly thousand polluted men in their confined space.

A report of the seizure of the ss Werdenfels was posted at by 3rd Officer Harald Wentzel and includes details of his internment and the shipment to India on the ss Ophir.

Name list ss Ophir + ss Plancius
In internment camp Dehra Dun in India a list was made of the internees with a German background who arrived from NEI with the ss Ophir and ss Plancius. Perhaps this list was meant to calculate a financial claim for the Dutch authorities based on the number of inmates as unit cost. The original list was machine-typed and includes details on the place of origin, profession and the place in NEI were the arrest took place. The list includes 1234 persons which is considerably lower than the combined number of internees on the ss Ophir (975-995) and ss Plancius (938). The original name list can be consulted in the digital archive of the Institut fur Zeitgeschichte. The retyped version, without the personal details, is in the attached search-help (Find Mittel)

Born in Semarang on 11 October 1886. Conrad Helfrich starts his professional career as officer in the Dutch navy. As a young officer he is involved in the military crack-down expeditions of 1908 in Bali.

In World War II he is promoted to commander-in-chief of the naval force in the Netherlands East Indies. During the war, the merchant fleets of the allied forces in Southeast Asia, including the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij (KPM), are incorporated in the navy to expand the operational war strength.

In 1941 the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM) is established. To his disappointment Helfrich is initially passed over as commander of the maritime component. That function goes to the American admiral Thomas C. Hart. On 10 Januari 1942 when the Japanese invade the NEI, Helfrich is in charge of the maritime operations against the Japanese. Because of his submarine successes Helfrich soon gets the American nickname "ship-a-day Helfrich". On 14 Februari 1942 he succeeds admiral Hart as maritime commander of ABDACOM. Helfrich then forms a Combined Maritime Striking Force against the Japanese. However, he underestimates the strength of the Japanese and loses the infamous battle of the Java Sea.

Tactical decisions on the use and movements of the merchant ships, including the ss Van Imhoff and ms Boelongan, are taken by commander Helfrich who, in turn, works in close consultation with the Governor General of NEI and the allied forces in the region.

It is Helfrich’s rule of engagement that, at sea, commanding officers should first save the souls of their own crew and bother about enemy lives (German, Japanese) if that is possible and not too dangerous. It is rumored that ship commanders are also expected to actively sabotage the ship that they have to abandon and make it sink as quickly as possible. This will prevent the Japanese from confiscating such floating wreckage and restoring the ship for their own use.

During and after the war, these military instructions are seen as proof that the Dutch authorities have actively waived the Geneva Convention and maritime laws. In their statements, both Captain Hoeksema and Captain Berveling refer to these instructions to explain why they left the drowning and struggling Germans at sea. These decisions may very well have been against their personal and corporate ethics. On the other hand, both captains also feared the possibility of revenge and mutiny if the German victims would be mixed with the Dutch crew and military guards.

Commander Helfrich must have been aware of the Japanese waiver for three KPM ships to transport 3,000 German internees out of the country. However, according to Japanese sources, the Van Imhoff seems to have been the fourth ship leaving the Sibolga harbor and not the third. Rumors have it that the third ship is used for the evacuation of Dutch citizens from Sibolga to Australia.

Despite his obscure decisions, Conrad Helfrich manages to stay out of the Van Imhoff spotlights, even during official investigations and parliamentary questioning. He is untouchable and continues his political career, also after the war. (Profile continued in the Helfrich timeline entry 1947)

The ss Plancius is the second of the three designated KPM ships to deport the German internees. It leaves Sibolga harbor on 3 January 1942, with 938 prisoners on board. It is marked with a red cross, visible from the sky. It arrives safely in India. The conditions on board are appalling.

They arrive in British India around 9 January taking 6 days to get there. The first ship ss Ophir needed 10 days for the same route.

The sick are disembarked and hospitalized in Bombay. The others are put on a train in compartments with blankets food and drinks, with just 2 soldiers per wagon as guards. They are transported to the central war camp in British India: Dehra Dun, 200 km from Delhi at the foot of the Himalayas.

Dehra Dun List of German internees from NEI
In internment camp Dehra Dun in India a list was made of the internees with a German background who arrived from NEI with the ss Ophir and ss Plancius. Perhaps this list was meant to calculate a financial claim for the Dutch authorities based on the number of inmates as unit cost. The original list was machine-typed and includes details on the place of origin, profession and the place in NEI were the arrest took place. The list includes 1234 persons which is considerably lower than the combined number of internees on the ss Ophir (975-995) and ss Plancius (938). The original name list can be consulted in the digital archive of the Institut fur Zeitgeschichte. The retyped version, without the personal details, is in the attached search help (Find Mittel).

After the quick deportation of the first two groups of German prisoners with the ss Ophir and ss Plancius, the authorities need two weeks to mobilize a third ship to deport the third group of prisoners to British India.

As per schedule, the third group timely arrives in Sibolga on 2 January 1942 from the central Lawe Sigala-gala camp with the expectation to soon proceed by sea as the Sibolga transit jail is heavily overcrowded. But there is no ship waiting in the harbor.

This unexpected delay in an otherwise smooth operation is confirmed in several historical studies. Van Heekeren (1967) assumes that suitable KPM ships were suddenly withdrawn and mobilized for the war effort.

Other authors suspect that a large group of mainly Japanese fugitive women and children, who are also waiting in the transition camp in Sibolga, are given priority to leave for Australia. Deportation of Japanese citizens from NEI is indeed ongoing, right from the beginning of the war.

Other authors suggest that Dutch authorities abused the Japanese waiver for three deportation ships by claiming the third ship for themselves to save Dutch nationals, who are quickly brought to safety in Australia.

If that is what happened, a fourth ship must have been mobilized in an improvised manner, putting at risk all people on board, both prisoners and crew.

The ss Van imhoff is on its way with a 1000 ton load of sugar for British India. While in Padang, captain Hermanus Johannes Hoeksema receives the (military) order to load 100 ton of barbed wired and proceed to Sibolga to take extra passengers, without further details.

On arrival in Sibolga, Captain Hoeksema is annoyed to discover that he is to transport more than 400 internees, embark 62 military guards and use 100 tons of barbed wire to secure the prisoners. The Van Imhoff is an old ship, unarmed, fitted with limited life saving equipment and without protective Red Cross marks on top. Captain Hoeksema radios his doubts to Commander in Chief (CZM) Helfrich. The reply is short "Embark them anyway." which he reluctantly does. At that point, Hoeksema still has no sailing instructions on his destination.

On 15 and 16 January, captain Hoeksema accepts his orders and gets busy with the construction of barbed-wire cages and scrounges for extra bamboo rescue rafts.

The prisoners are crammed into the cages with 30 men in one cage of just one meter high. Chaos is everywhere. Despite all the precautions, the crew becomes infected with increasing fear for the Germans and do not take the time to find out how harmless the background of their prisoners really is.

News of the Japanese bombing the nearby cities of Pekanbaru and Medan is trickling in. Around Sumatra, several ships are being torpedoed. Japanese soldiers are landing in several places in the archipelago. The war is closing in.

Captain Hoeksema thinks it safer to leave the harbor where he will be too easy a target for Japanese bombers. He decides to wait at open sea for his final sailing instructions. However, no radio contact is made and in the evening he returns to Sibolga harbour.

Dr. Moritz Kurt Wohl (Kurt) is a medical practitioner with a practice in Bandung. His son Werner is pushed by his father to also migrate from Germany to NEI and escape the rise of Nazi Germany. Werner follows suit and becomes an employee with the Schliepr firm in Surabaya.

Both father and son are interned from May 1940 to January 1942. When boarding the Van Imhoff, father Kurt is called away from the ship in the very last minute. Perhaps to attend to a medical emergency.

This is a very exceptional as the internment and deportations took place with zero tolerance. What type of emergency was so important that this exception is made? How could the authorities have traced dr Wohl in the chaos of Sibolga harbour?

The lives of Kurt Wohl and his wife are depicted in the multimedia project "Boelongan" (See: timeline entry 2013)

Son Werner remains on board of the Van Imhoff when his father is whisked away and he drowns at sea. Kurt is allowed to stay in Bandung till several years after the war.

Back in the harbour of Sibolga it appears that the final instructions for Captain Hoeksema will not be radioed after all but arrive in writing in a closed envelop carried by car, speeding from Padang to Sibolga harbour at three oçlock in the morning. This is how Hoeksema learns that he is to travel to Ceylon and Bombay and, should something happen on the way, he is to save his own crew and guards first.

On top of that, an unscheduled additional group of 111 internees, still waiting nearby, is squeezed into the existing already overcrowded cages. A few extra cages are improvised on deck with wood and barbed wire.

The prisoners protest against the overcrowding, the continuous waiting and the absence of red cross security markings. These protests are ignored.

On 1 January 1942, the ss Van Imhoff leaves the Sibolga harbor at sunset with its lights switched off. The captain maintains a zigzag course to avoid possible torpedo attacks.

Sibolga harbor before WW II (C) KIT, Amsterdam

Around noon, the Van Imhoff crew spots a small Japanese warplane that engages in a series of attacks. The prisoners are ordered to stay low. A first bomb is dropped and misses. Guards start firing with guns and pistols. The pilot realizes that there is hardly any resistance and continues his attacks. Hoeksema orders to change course in an erratic, unpredictable manner. The third bomb is a near-hit, close enough to lift the ship and crack its side.

Water starts to pour in. The engine stops. There is a hissing noise and panic breaks out. Guards and crew are difficult to keep under control. A fourth bomb is dropped and explodes further away from the ship. Then, to the relief of many, the plane disappears.

The captain orders to start pumping out the water that is pouring in between hatch 1 and 2. This doesn't help much though. A tarpaulin (presenning) is spread out under the ship but it does not stop the leakage either.

At 12.30, SOS signals are broadcasted which include the ship’s coordinates. The signals are received at Medan airport and relayed from there to other strategic points such as Padang harbour and the capital Batavia.

13.00 hours - The Van Imhoff is listing and it is clear that the ship will capsize. The captain re-assures the prisoners by shouting that crew, guards and prisoners will leave the sinking ship together.

In response to the SOS signal from the Van Imhoff, a series of search-and-rescue actions are started. These actions are accompanied with ambiguous terms of engagement: to give priority to the saving of crew and guards, both Dutch and indigenous, and to avoid German prisoners from getting on board except if they are considered reliable. The judgement of reliability would be up to the military commander or ship's captain.

The chief executive of the KPM in Batavia (Mr. W M Hens) receives copies of these wired instructions and must have realized the legal and moral implication of the phrasing: "Do not save Germans".

And this is exactly the outcry repeated by German authorities and in the media from 1942 up to the present day: the Dutch let the Germans drown, deliberately. At times this message is even exaggerated with rumors that the Dutch sabotaged the pumps and other vital machinery before abandoning ship, just to make sure that the enemy would not survive, let alone to allow the ship to change hands. At a small scale, during the war, KPM commanders did indeed adopt these tactics, but probably not yet in January 1942.

The following rescue missions are started:

1. Three Catalina seaplanes stationed in Surabaya are called in. They arrive the same day in Padang. Two planes are withdrawn upon arrival for other wartime activities. The third plane leaves the next morning, 20 January at 05.45 in the direction of the disaster area at sea.

2. The Marine Commander in the Padang Harbor (Mr. J Möller) mobilizes tug-boat Pief which leaves the next day with a small crew, light weapons, blankets and first aid materials. In case the Van Imhoff passengers are encountered in life boats, the captain of the Pief is instructed to tug all boats to Telok Dalam at the Nias south coast.

3. The old ms Boelongan is anchored at Sibolga harbour when it is attacked by a Japanese plane at 09.00 in the morning. Captain Berveling quickly sails out and avoids being hit by maintaining a zigzag course. Later he returns to Sibolga harbour where the deputy harbour-master Mr. A.E. Hornung receives a printed telegram, late in the afternoon, on the attack of the Van Imhoff. The Boelongan is ordered to depart in westerly direction to the disaster area.

At sea, while listening to the NIROM (Nederlands-Indische Radio Omroep, Netherlands Indies Radio Corporation) Captain Berveling receives his instructions from CZM (= Commandant der ZeeMacht: Navy Commander). Radioed instructions and information are usually encoded and aired after the news broadcast. The Boelongan does not have a radio sender, only a receiver. In later hearings and interrogations Captain Berveling claims he received the following message:

(Translated quote) "Prioritize the pick-up of European and indigenous Van Imhoff crew and military guards. Then, at the instruction of the military commander save trustworthy elements among the German internees. Avoid other Germans from landing." (unquote)

Around 14.00 hours the captain orders to prepare for abandoning the ship. The six lifeboats are lowered. One gets stuck in its davits and is left behind. Also a motorized work boat is taken. There are enough swim vests for everybody, crew and guards. The bamboo rafts that were taken on board in Sibolga are thrown overboard and disperse on the waves. According to some reports, the redundant oars and sculls are deliberately smashed to pieces and the water pumps sabotaged. Messages like these are frequently heard about sinking ships with prisoners, but not really confirmed for the Van Imhoff.

It is rumored that the captain tries to put the prisoners at ease by telling them that he will mobilize help as soon as he gets ashore. Crew and guards are ordered to abandon ship, with the captain as one of the first to take position in one of the lifeboats. It is made sure that there are at least two armed guards in each of the life boats. There is a constant fear that a few prisoners may get out too soon, swim over and get on board of the life boats.

A chain of five lifeboats pulled by the motor-driven longboat (motor barkas) is already at some distance when gunfire and shouting from the ship reminds the crew that some guards remained with the prisoners and have been forgotten in the panic. The longboat returns. The last guard unlocks a few cages and throws the remaining padlock keys to the other prisoners to open their cages themselves. Some frantic prisoners just stamp openings in the barbed-wire fencing.

The last guards jump overboard and join their mates in the lifeboats. Then the first prisoners are seen running over the deck and waive over the railing, begging to be saved. On command, riffles are raised. One prisoner ignores the warning and climbs overboard: Stephan Walkowiak. He is shot through his hand (or wrist). The crew reaches out to help him. The captain shouts to leave him but Stephan is hoisted out of the waves. He will make history as the only Van Imhoff victim saved by the Dutch.

Some claim that at least 80 prisoners could have been taken along, or: two life boats could have been left behind, leaving it up to the Germans to decide who to save or leave behind. This option is always denied by the Captain who has secret orders not to save any German. In addition, he is also afraid that the saved Germans may cause trouble in the overcrowded lifeboats.

When the last guards leave the Van Imhoff, the first prisoners appear on deck, freed from their cages. Some immediately jump overboard and grasp floating debris. There are enough safety vests for everybody but many are too afraid of the open sea or the sharks that may be around or they cannot swim. Others stay on board in confusion, defeatism or in the expectation that help might be on its way as promised by the crew and captain. Others go for the liquor stock and are drunk within minutes, a few embrace in homo-erotic consolation, some fill their pockets with anything they can grasp and will later drown in the water because of the weight. Some are seen to hang themselves or cut their wrists. A doctor swallows his saved stock of veronal tablets and dies on the spot. Mentally handicapped prisoners, there are eight on board, freak out. One runs around with a raised axe, another dresses up in the captain's uniform and listens to the radio.

While roaming the ship, prisoners with practical experience at sea find out that SOS signals have been sent and are confident that the Van Imhoff will keep floating for at least another three hours. Some continue to search the ship for items that can be helpful to surviving at sea. A small stock of food, water and some maps are secured.

According to several eye witness accounts two groups of survivors are organizing themselves. Each group is equipped with a small boat. They are more or less prepared for survival at sea with water, food, protective clothing, some instruments etc. These two boats had not been left behind by the Dutch to help the prisoners but were considered useless.

201 Survivors are distributed as follows: 53 in a lifeboat, 14 in a flat-bottom maintenance boat (vlet) and 134 people scattered on bamboo rafts that were taken from Sibolga.

Group 1.
A large lifeboat was left behind by the Dutch crew, stuck in its davits. It takes two hours to loosen it and lower it into the water. Officially it can take 42 persons, and the intention is to only accept survivors who helped with loosening the lifeboat. Once in the sea with victims holding on to floating debris and shouting for help, at least 12 more people are squeezed in. This includes ds Weiler who had already gone overboard earlier but went back onto the ship to search for a hat as protection against the tropical sun. Anecdotes like these indicate that the panic was generally under control and many victims focused on their survival. The group in the life boat finally consists of 53 people, including Schweikert, Weiler, Fischer, Kempf and father Aloysius.

They row with their hands, feet and random planks. They pass many comrades in the open sea begging for a lift. The group tries to get out of reach as soon as possible because the life boat has already reached its carrying capacity. According to some accounts, there are 6 additional rafts attached to this boat.

Initially, the group decides to stay close to the spot where the Van Imhoff sunk, hoping for a rapid rescue party to arrive. During the night, 4 rafts become detached, by accident or on purpose.

One floating table-top is seen, reinforced with swimming-belts and with three victims on top: K Seemann and two of his friends. Attached to the table-top is a bamboo raft, also with a few people on it. They manage to get close to the life-boat and attach a rope. It breaks or is detached deliberately from the boat. The three on the table top then start paddling desperately and reach the boat again. Witness accounts differ on how helpful the people in the boat were. According to some, the survivors on the table-top and raft are invited on board. Only two people accept this invite, or are allowed to do so: ir P Danzmann and trader K Seemann. The others remain on their floating devices, petrified and drifting away, beyond reach. A few of these victims are identified and remembered by the survivors: dr E. Nowak, Prof. F.L. Huber (retired Head of the Veterinarian Service), K. Raschdorf and dr Grzywa.

A sail is found in the life boat and attached. They pick up some speed and continue travelling in an easterly direction while the sun sets behind them in the west.

Group 2:
A second group focusses on a small workboat that is seen lying on deck. It is a rowing boat for repairs and maintenance, not motorized, and equipped with four peddles, one of which is lost when the boat is lowered over the railing. The core people in this second group include F. Maack, who takes a role as natural leader in the boat, Dr. K.Heidt, Dr H.P. Heldt, W.E. Gosch, Grimm, E.E. Schroeder, A. Vehring and J. Grasshoff.

Former sailor Albert Vehring is the most knowledgeable at sea and explored the Van Imhoff, hunting for important equipment and provisions. He also finds a compass. In the radio hut he reads a note on the geographical position of the Van Imhoff. Dr Heidt is collecting drugs and medicines and attending to the sick and wounded on board.

The Van Imhoff starts to sink and roll over noticeably The workboat crew waits for dr Heidt to return and decide to go back to the ship and look for him, perhaps spotting other useful things to take along for their sea voyage. Drinking water is the main concern. Maack, Vehring and Grasshoff make a last quick tour on board and enter a surreal world. On the floor of a large room and in the corridors they spot at least 60 men, too drunk to walk. Someone is playing the piano.

January 19

At sundown, between 17.30 and 18.30, the Van Imhoff rolls sideways and inclines foreward, up to the point where it stands upright for a brief moment. Then it slides into the deep, taking along the people who stayed behind accepting their fate.

Tuesday 20 January 1942

In the lifeboat, resting is dangerous. The people with navigation experience know how to steer the boat against the high waves. Every ten minutes, the rowers are changed. The thirst is unbearable. Eventually they cannot resist to at least one gurgle with seawater. Hands are bleeding, skin peeling of. Wet rags are wrapped around the heads to suppress splitting headaches.

In the other boat, the unstable maintenance boat, the situation is worse because one, possibly two rafts are still attached and the people on the raft(s) are not cooperating in any way. They only scream and complain and do not join in the rowing. Frustration in the rowing boat is growing. The only advantage of the raft(s) is that they somewhat break the waves that roll in from behind. In the boat the heaviest people sit in the back to also serve as wave-breakers.

Later in the day, the rainstorm fades and the two groups, who are travelling independently and out of sight of each other, can recover a bit. As yet, there is no coast in sight. Many have given up hope. They face thirst, hunger, fatigue, a merciless sun, bleeding hands and sharks lurking beneath.

This situation continues till the next day.

At 07.35 hours a Dutch Catalina Y63 sea plane circles the disaster area. The plane is seen by the prisoners and by the Boelongan crew who are also searching the area for survivors.

At 09.00 hours the Catalina navy pilot (luitenant-ter-zee Ditmar) and Boelongan captain Berveling spot an overcrowded lifeboat with a.o. Weiler, Fischer, Kempf, Schweikert and Aloysius. They have one raft attached to their boat with 7-11 survivors. Originally, they left the disaster area with 6 rafts attached, full of people.

At 10.00 hours, the Boelongan approaches the life boat up to a distance of 50 meters. The Catalina keeps circling in the air watching out for Japanese submarines. Captain Berveling leans over the railing with a megaphone and asks whether there are any Dutch people among the survivors. The prisoners deny this and explain that the Dutch crew and guards have already rescued themselves the previous day, travelling eastward.

Some survivors lift their buckets requesting water and food. This is ignored. Others prepare to jump and swim to the Boelongan. They are held back by others. Without further explanation, the Boelongan leaves and continues its search, guided by the Catalina airplane. The prisoners fantasize that the Boelongan might return on its way back from the other survivors who are travelling separately and out of sight.

Three minutes later, just after 10.00 hours, the Catalina spots a second boat with survivors, the workboat with paddles, with two rafts attached to it. People can be seen clinging onto the boat and the rafts. The sea plane cannot land because of the high swell. The pilot directs the Boelongan to the same spot which is only a few miles from the place were the Van Imhoff has sunk.

In the boat, the survivors are exhausted. The improvised sail is mainly used as protection against the sun. Water shortage is critical. They also see a thunderstorm approaching on the horizon. The sight of a circling airplane and a boat cheers them up. An extra ration of water is passed around as their rescue seems imminent.

At 10.40 the Boelongan approaches the workboat but keeps a safe distance. From the air, the pilot observes (and later reports) that no survivor is taken on board. One of the victims, Arno Schönmann, a weaver from Surabaya, slips from his raft and swims towards the Boelongan. An Indonesian crew member is seen holding up a line, ready to throw it, to save him. He is held back by one of the ship's officers. Schönmann manages to swim back to his raft. In some accounts of this dramatic incident, Schönmann drowns on his way back to his raft. But this is not confirmed by other eye witnesses.

Again, Captain Berveling asks if there are any Dutch people under the survivors. In communication with the Catalina pilot, the Boelongan is seen raising two signals with three flags. But the message is unclear for the pilot. The pilot requests (in morse code using a lamp) to spell the message. On the Boelongan a new flag message is raised which signifies “no ...” or “none ...” (Dutch: geen ...). A second flag is raised to complete the message but it gets stuck.

At 11.15 hours, the Boelongan suddenly zigzags away and a pillar of water rises from the sea, only 150 meters away at port-side. The Boelongan is being attacked. A Japanese two-engine bomber shoots out from the clouds towards the Boelongan but no further bombs are dropped and the plane disappears.

Both the Boelongan and Catalina successfully hide behind the curtain of rain that is spreading out. The two boats with rafts are tormented by sweeping force 7 winds and torrential rain. Seamanship among the survivors helps to avoid capsizing.

At a distance, they hear at least two bombs exploding near the Boelongan which is vaguely visible in the rain. For a moment the Germans feel relieved they were not taken on board and imagine that the ship had got a direct hit: "That serves the Captain right" they later remember saying. They continue their trek in a northerly direction, towards the Island of Nias.

When the worst of the rain storm is over, captain Berveling assumes that most of the victims have drowned and, considering the prevailing winds, the Dutch crew and guards must have sailed or drifted in a northerly direction. He keeps on searching in the same direction till sunset and then receives orders from the Marine Commander (CZM) to return to Padang. He arrives there the next day.

During post-war enqueries in The Netherlands, it is reported that senior officers and the Indonesian crew on board of the ms Boelongan openly challenged the Captain's decision not to save the people in the little boats and those almost drowning in the water. The Captain then confided in senior officer O. Maaskant showing him the written instructions not to save Germans. Maaskant concluded that the Captain had reluctantly followed orders from higher up.

While the two groups of German survivors struggle at sea in a northerly direction, the Dutch crew and guards reach the Island of Simuk to the east in the late afternoon.

The island is small and has not much to offer in terms of food. The inhabitants take care of the crew and soldiers as well as they can. The next day they decide to use the motor boat for a trip to Pulau Telo where they hope to meet the man in charge: P. W. Winkel. However, Winkel is on a rescue mission himself to save the survivors of the Jalajaran, an Indian-British ship torpedoed by the Japanese near the Batu Islands.

They meet Winkel on his way back at sea and exchange their wartime stories. Winkel does not have the boat capacity yet to guarantee a safe passage for all crew and guards to a harbour in the area.

Wednesday 21 January 1942

The struggle at sea continues. Most survivors give up paddling. One by one they lose consciousness because of the heat, thirst, hunger and fatigue. A weak current carries them to the north in the direction of the island of Nias.

Later in the evening, in the bright moonlight, the lifeboat crew spots the most southern tip of the Nias coast. One can imagine the excitement. However, a tremendous surf is audible due to the extensive coral reefs. The experienced sea travelers propose to stay at sea for the night and pick the most suitable place to land at sunrise. Others disagree. A hostile confrontation starts between those in favor of landing in the dark and those who want to wait till sunrise. Some of the crew are too weak to care, others are unconscious.

It is decided to stay at sea for the night and avoid the life boat from being dragged to the coast and smashed to pieces on the reef.

After a chilly night at sea, the first group of survivors (53 men) start maneuvering parallel to the shore line. At 09.00 hours, they spot a tiny beach, with coral sticking out of the waves in front of it. The plan is to jump out of the boat at the moment when it is in the middle of the breaker waves. Otherwise, the fully loaded boat will never get through.

The plan fails. People in the middle of the boat, exhausted as they are, cannot get out quickly enough. One of them (planter Gleichmann from Bojonegoro) is disabled and only able to crawl overboard. Then, the empty boat is lifted up by the surf and fatally hits Gleichmann. He dies two hours later because of all the bruises and internal injuries. He is the first survivor to be buried at Nias. Many of those who reach the beach fall on their knees, lie down and sink into a deep sleep.

A few start exploring the area and find a small creek with fresh water. No food is found however and the coconuts are too high to reach. The area seems uninhabited. If there is a local population there might be Dutch administrators, police and soldiers as well. The lifeboat passengers feel trapped at the beach.

The SOS signal from the Van Imhoff had already been received by a radio post on Nias, two days before. The approaching Japanese airplane had also been seen. Local administrators, police and mission staff were advised to be on the look-out for survivors. Nobody had any clue as to who the survivors might be.

In the afternoon, a catholic Dominican pastor (Van Stralen), probably warned and guided by local people, appears on the small beach with two bottles of wine. For the moment he cannot help any further, but promises to come back the next day with a doctor and food, and then try to reach the nearest village. This would be a treacherous trek up the coastal cliffs and hills.

The first group of 52 survivors retreat on the beach, helpless and depressed. Later, five local Indonesians appear. Survivor ds Weiler addresses them in Malay, asking them who they are and the name of the island. The locals reply to ds Weiler: "You are on Nias and we are people of Jezus". Weiler is deeply touched. The bonding is immediate and the whole group feels in good hands.

In the 19th century, the Rheinische Mission converted more than half of the Nias population to Christianity. Germans are highly respected because of their missionary work, education and medical services. For the local people, rumors on German warfare and their aggressive attitude are difficult to believe. The survivors had found their allies and are more confident to encounter the Dutch officials on the island.

The night that follows is depressing and again very chilly. The whole situation seems an anti-climax. Retired KNIL soldier H.C.W. Rohde, then 74 years, sneaks away from the sleeping group and hangs himself from a tree at the beach.

The Governor General Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachouwer sends a telegram to inform the Dutch government in exile about the Van Imhoff disaster. He adds the request to inform the German authorities through (neutral) Swedish government channels.

Berveling does not know the travel direction taken by the Dutch crew and guards. Considering the prevailing wind, the Captain concludes that if the lifeboats and barge were under sail, they would be taking a rather northerly route. Berveling decides to do the same. He keeps searching till late in the evening until he is called back by CZM to Padang. He arrives there the next day.

Up to the 24 January, ships and planes who happen to be in the area, are still being instructed to look for survivors off the coast of Sumatra.

Upon his return in the Padang harbor, Berveling debriefs luitenant-ter-zee Mulder who writes in his diary on 21 January:

(translated, quote) "Both the Boelongan and Pief arrived safely. The Pief made no visual contact with anybody at sea. The Boelongan encountered 80 Germans but nobody was taken on board as there were no guards on board" (unquote)

When the grandson of KPM captain Gerrit Booy is exploring his family past, he comes across personal diaries and notebooks of his grandfather which date back to the beginning of World War II. These personal notes form an interesting time witness account.

On Thursday 22 January 1942, after the sinking of the Van Imhoff, Captain Booy notes:

(Quote, translated)
‘Pief’ and ‘Boelongan‘ return without result, because ‘v. Imhoff‘ had already sunk and the crew had already made it to shore in their own boats. They did see some bamboo rafts and a flat bottom boat drifting full of Germans, with people hanging on the outside too.

There was also one cargo boat with 60 people in it. As they approached, the Krauts got ready to jump in the sea. ‘We’re coming on board!’. But they just let them go at sea because they were too scared to be caught off guard by those guys, because there is not much you can do against 200 fanatic Krauts with only six Europeans and one revolver.

Original dairy texts

Friday 23 January 1942
Around 15.00 hours the rowing boat with 14 men on board reaches the coastline off Hilisimaetano. They have to negotiate the enormous coral surf in a similar way as the first group. In the process, they loose most of the tools they had taken in the boat and the stock of potable water is spoiled by seawater. On top of that, the coconuts at the beach that seemed so appealing during the approach are too high to reach.

One of the passengers (Albert Vehring) had spotted an isolated house. A few men go there and the suspicious, terrified owner who does not understand Malay, cuts some coconuts for the group.

A rope is stretched to dry clothes. Useful items in the boat are sorted out. Dr Heldt who has malaria and a serious eye infection is attended to by Grasshoff. Curious local farmers appear. One speaks Malay and the survivors are able to explain their ordeal at sea. There is immediate sympathy and respect. More coconuts are harvested. A fire is made with flint stones and an improvised hut is constructed from branches and leaves.

When the friendly locals leave, Dr Heidt is invited by the village chief to visit him in his village. The others stay behind for a long tropical sleep.

The next day, Saturday 24 January, group 2 starts its march to the capital of Nias: Gunung Sitoli. In a village they spot a local taxi (oplet) which can carry 7 people. The idea is to drive ahead while the others keep walking until the local taxi comes back to pick up the other half of the group. Later, in their reports and letters, the German prisoners are highly grateful towards the local guards and guides for their help.

It is rainy, muddy and slippery. They rest in a small village where Dr Heidt starts to bargain for a pig. That is allowed and it is served the next morning for breakfast.

On Sunday 25 January, the 14 survivors agree to get in touch with the Dutch authorities because they expect to be tracked down anyway. A stretcher is made for Dr Heldt, which he proudly refuses to use. It is a tough uphill trek. Many lose their shoes. The bruises and wounds from the landing on the coral reef become painful.

Grasshoff and Jark keep exploring the area, desperate to find a place with fresh water to wash off the film of sticky seawater.

In a village uphill, the promised pig of 200 kilos is cooked and white rice prepared. After a lengthy meal, just when the party is getting up, Dutch people walk into the village: Van Loon, controller of the local administration (Kontroleur Binnenlands Bestuur), missionary rev Pol, Chief of Police De Braal armed with a pistol and an armed government guard. Van Loon shows a hostile attitude towards the Germans letting them know that they are "the enemy".

They are taken prisoner, but with a rather jovial attitude on both sides. They are not tied up and given to understand that they are "...expected to behave as victims not as Germans". Everybody knows that escape and heroic survival in the jungle is no option in their condition. They march northwards, towards the capital.

Later that day, they cross the path of group I, walking in the same direction. It's an unexpected, happy reunion, after their split up at sea.

On Sunday 25 January, in a village south of the capital, group 2 of the German survivors meets (part of) the lifeboat crew, who are also on their way to Gunung Sitoli.

Here, the assistant local administrator (Assistent-Demang), who escorted group 2, says farewell to Albert Vehring in perfect formal German: "I hoffe Ihnen unter bessere Umstaende wieder begruessen zu koennen" For Vehring and others, this is one of the many signs that Germans have open and hidden supporters all over the world. The Assistant-Demang is related to family of the Sultan of Jogyakarta.

From the opposite direction the prisoners see the Zwaan family approaching, on their way to Hilisimaetano, their new missionary posting. They greet the prisoners but they are not greeted back.

Further north, a truck is waiting which transports the whole group for the last 60 kilometer to the capital. They arrive there at 17.00 and are immediately locked behind barbed wire in the army barracks. Here they also re-unite with the rest of the lifeboat group 2, who traveled separately from the others.

Food, water, blankets, trousers, shirts and other provisions provided by the Dutch are shared by all and received with complaints on shortages and unfair distribution among the Dutch, Indonesians and Germans.

Swedish attaché Graf Rosen in Nazi Berlin, who acts as go-between between the countries at war, is informed by the Dutch government in London that the Van Imhoff was bombed and sunk.

The attaché relays this cable to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs from where the German Embassy in Japan is asked to immediately explore further details.

From now on, The Netherlands (and Japan to a certain extent) do their utmost to avoid being blamed for the disaster whereas Germany systematically points at the Dutch authorities as the main culprits.


Source: Politisches Archiv de Auswaertigen Amts, Germany. Ref R41848

On 25 January KPM ship “Van der Capellen” reaches the Island of Telo (Pulau Telo), still searching for Dutch survivors. The ship is constantly chased by Japanese planes and had to go in hiding. It is too dangerous to sail to Pulau Simuk. The Van Imhoff crew and guards are taken from Pulau Simuk in small groups, using the on board motorboats of the "Van der Capellen". When the party is complete, they proceed to Padang harbour.

In Padang, they face an inferno of burning ships, quays, harbor facilities, freight and panic after a Japanese bombardment. Against this backdrop, Captain Hoeksema is remembered as having stepped ashore in a state of high tension, trembling, confused and agitated. He must have realized how ambiguous his decisions as a captain have been, that he lost a ship under his command and that he abandoned drowning victims at sea.

He was not sure whether some may have survived to become witnesses for the prosecution. He must also have considered which details of the disaster and his decisions he should stress or twist in written, official statements to reduce his level of guilt. And he remembers Walkowiak, the only German saved by the crew. Could he be made useful in reports, out of gratitude?

Hoeksema is updated on the situation in NEI. Near Tarakan, the Japanese killed 200 prisoners. Sandakan in North Kalimantan is occupied. The cities of Medan, Belawan, Sibolga, Padang and Banjarmasin have been bombed. KPM schip Buyskens has been attacked, and war ships in the harbor of Belawan are damaged by Japanese bombs. Under these conditions, the sinking of the Van Imhoff does not yet get a high priority. The whole colony is crumbling and his personal life and career have become big question marks.

At that point of time, Hoeksema is not yet aware of the fact that on the same day 65 German survivors have reached the coral reefs of southern Nias and crawled to the beach.

On 27 January the Dutch survivors and saved prisoner Stephan Walkowiak reach Padang harbor with the ss Van der Capellen, in the middle of a massive Japanese bombing raid.

Dutch authorities realize the possible implications of the decision to leave the German internees at sea. They might also have considered to blame the two captains rather than expose the chain of war command higher up, including the GG and commander Helfferich.

In preparation of difficult questioning and official responses from Germany, Stephan Walkowiak is put under pressure to sign a document stating that the internees on the Van Imhoff were engaged in a mutiny. This had to be suppressed with violence and also resulted in the refusal to take anybody on board during the disaster and rescue missions.

The first person to refute this fake news is Albert Vehring in 1949 (see timeline entry under his name).

Back from his Van Imhoff rescue mission, Captain Berveling moors at jetty IV in the Emmahaven of Padang. Most of the crew is ashore somewhere when an all-out attack takes place by Japanese fighter planes. All the ships in Padang harbour are sitting ducks. There is no defence.

Berveling manages to slowly move away from burning smaller boats and the cargo unloaded at the quay. Around 12.00 hours, the ss Reteh tugs the Boelongan to a safer offshore place in Padang Bay, where she waits for the crew to return.

Berveling gets instructions to proceed to Palembang along the south coast of Sumatra. But he is reluctant to go any further without the full crew and he keeps waiting. At 16.00 hours he sets course to Tarusan Bay, south of Padang to go into hiding.

In the early morning, at 02.00, Captain Berveling receives orders to proceed to the Oosthaven in Palembang but he decides to wait offshore for the remaining crew to return. After waiting, he proceeds to the small harbor of Teluk Dalam to take cover. However, he cannot cast anchor as the ss Van der Capellen is already positioned there, in full camouflage. Apparently, the Japanese have a special interest in discovering and attacking the ss Van der Capellen.

Berveling sails a bit further north and at 06.30 finds an alternative hiding place near Kampong Mandas (Mandeh) exactly opposite the eastern beach of Cubadak Island in the quiet lagoon, between the reefs and close to the mountainous coast where it would be the least visible for Japanese airplanes. The ship is camouflaged with branches from the nearby jungle.

In the morning of the same day at 10.30 hours, eight Japanese fighter planes appear, later followed by another six. Initially, they fly over the Boelongan as they are searching for the ms Van der Capellen. Then, at 12.45, during their retreat, in one of the last dive attacks, the Boelongan is hit by 3 or 4 bombs. The bridge en cutter deck catch fire immediately. The stern sinks first and fast at 13.10 in waters of 24 meters deep. At 14.00 the ship sinks without listing and comes to rest in one piece on the bay’s floor with the front and back tips just sticking out of the water.

All papers and cargo are lost. There are no casualties. At 14.15 the crew disembarks in a lifeboat and row to Tarusan village to report the incident by telephone. At 15.00 they are picked up by the ss Banggai of the Military Marine and are transferred to the ms Van der Capellen which has miraculously escaped the attack because of the camouflage skills of its captain The ship, with the full Boelongan crew on board arrives in Emmahaven at 18.30 on the same day.

In 2009 the ms Boelongan shipwreck is identified and becomes a snorklers' and divers' attraction (see timeline entry of 9 December 2009 for more details)

Friday 30 January 1942.

Captain Berveling and senior crew members of the ms Boelongan have to prepare a formal statement about the bombing and sinking of the ms Boelongan. They do so at the office of Genet Nicolaas, the Harbor Manager (Havenmeester) of Emmahaven in Padang.

The preparation of a so-called "scheepsverklaring" (Ship's Statement) is standard procedure in case of loss or damage, as a legal basis for subsequent insurance claims. The wording, facts and events are carefully chosen to avoid or minimize the responsibility of captain and crew for the damage or sinking of the ship. The bombing by the Japanese is seen as force majeur.

Captain Marius Leendert Berveling is accompanied by the following crew members who serve as witnesses and countersign the document:

A.J. van Ankeren (Enkeren?) - 1st Officer
C. Tjebbes - 2nd Officer. The same Tjebbes will grant an interview to Der Spiegel on the Van Imhoff affair in 1964
C. Maaskant - Chief Engineer (hoofdwerktuigkundige)
R.L. Raak - 3rd Engineer (werktuigkundige)

The document is signed the next day on Saturday 31 January 1942. A copy is mailed to notary public Adriaan Hendrik van Ophuijzen in Batavia to have the document legalised. He does so in February 1942. It is not clear whether Berveling and witnesses were present at this occasion to answer possible questions.

As the sinking of the ms Boelongan and the search for survivors are not linked to the Van Imhoff disaster itself, these events are not referred to in the Ship's Statement.

Photocopy of the original Ship's Statement
Source: National Archives, Den Haag, Netherlands

From classified correspondence, it is learned that in 1942 Governor-General Starkenborgh in Batavia en Foreign Affairs Minister Kleffens in London try to hush up the Van Imhoff affair. They realize that the highest authorities in NEI and London would get in deep trouble when the truth comes to light.

Crew and guards of the Van Imhoff had already been briefed after their arrival in Padang to keep quiet about the affair. On 1 February 1942 GG Tjarda Starkenborgh wired to Eelco Nicolaas van Kleffen: "Considering the rumors spreading among German women that a ship with German internees has sunk and it is no longer advised to withhold an official statement as there is a chance that the news has been broadcasted on foreign radio, a short statement is published on the transport that was subject to Japanese action which has cost a great many victims. Intentionally, the survival of crew and guards is not mentioned to avoid the wrong impression overseas."

Original: “Daar vele geruchten reeds de omloop deden ook onder Duitsche vrouwen dat een schip met geïnterneerden is vergaan en aangezien het voorts ongewenscht is publicatie langer uit te stellen wegens de kans op eerdere berichtgeving via buitenlandsche radio, is heden een korte verklaring uitgegeven dat een transport het voorwerp van Japansche actie is geworden welke een groot aantal slachtoffers heeft geëischt. Over behoud bemanning en bewaking is opzettelijk niets gezegd teneinde verkeerden indruk buitenland te vermijden.”

On Wednesday 4 February 1942, Captain Hoeksema and senior crew members prepare a formal statement about the bombing and sinking of the ss Van Imhoff. They do so at the office of Harbor Manager (Havenmeester) W.H. Morren of Tanjoeng Priok harbor in Batavia.

The preparation of a so-called "scheepsverklaring" (Ship's Statement) is standard procedure in the case of loss or damage, as a legal basis for insurance claims. The wording, facts and events are carefully chosen to imply that the captain and crew are not in any way responsible for the damage or sinking of the ship, and that it was in excellent condition. The bombing by the Japanese is seen as force majeure.

Several people must have carefully measured the words used in this legal document especially where the actions and decisions towards the German internees are described.

Apart from Captain Hermanus Johannes Hoeksema the following crew members also sign the document as witnesses:
J. Van der Ploeg - Chief Engineer (hoofdwerktuigkundige)
M.R.Van der Sluis - 4th Engineer (werktuigkundige)

Copy of original Ship's Statement Van Imhoff
Source: National Archives, The Hague, The Netherlands

February 6
Christmas Island


The origin of the buried corpse remains a question mark among marine specialists and Australian authorities. For tens of years various reports and conclusions were circulating. One report lists all disasters at sea north of Christmas Island in the period end of 1941 - early 1942. In this context the ss Van Imhoff and ms Boelongan are also listed as candidate origins but these are not explored any further as there are more likely candidates that disappeared in the area.

Ref: The gravesite of the unknown sailor on Christmas Island. 4 December 1997 by Rosslyn A Hubart Page. The Van Imhoff story is on page 65-67, the Boelongan on page 69-70.



As early as one month after the disaster, various lists started to circulate over the world with the names and some details of the Van Imhoff victims and survivors. Perhaps the Dutch authorities prepared passenger lists for each of the three deportation ships but these did not surface yet durin our search.

The German Foreign Office initially started with a list of 328 victims. Later, an updated list was issued with an additional 83 names, which adds up to a total of 412 victims. Some lists were "based on recollections" (..."aus dem gedachtnis zusammengestellt"...). Some lists provide dates of birth, others professional details or places of residence. Just after the war (1946) the Red Cross also compiled their own, verified list. In later years, selective lists were made focusing on a particular category of internees: Jews, missionaries, ship's crews.

Lists of victims and survivors were exchanged between related Embassies and German organizations worldwide. In the German network they were keen to illustrate the high number of casualties to feed the international outrage. Or to trace and inform family members who were staying behind in NEI or who travelled to Japan or Germany. Generally, news and rumours about the fate of Van Imhoff were spreading vast in NEI but some families had to wait for years before the news finally reached them.





















During the war, Tjilatjap (Cilacap) is the only ocean port of significance on the south coast of Java. It has a small anchorage, narrow channel and limited facilities.

The port becomes important in February 1942 when the Japanese are closing in on Java. The naval bases in Batavia and Surabaya come within range of Japanese bombers. Allied submarines and light warships retreat to the relative safety of Tjilatjap. The few supplies and reinforcements that still get through to Java are all unloaded in this port.

The ships in the Cilacap harbour are basically trapped. On 7 March 1942 the Japanese start an attack with bomber planes and the 230 Regiment. This marks the end of Allied resistance on Java. The military surrenders the next day.

The Japanese deliberately spared the port of Cilacap in order to tempt Allied naval forces into the area during their anticipated evacuation of troops from Java. Interception and complete destruction was considered by the 1st Japanese air fleet, operating south of Java.

One of the ships that went down (perhaps aided by the crew's sabotage) is the ss Reteh. This happens to be the last ship under the command of Captain Berveling who also experienced the bombing and sinking of the ms Boelongan on 28 January 1942.

Perhaps Berveling and Hoeksema were both taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Cilacap area, as POW. They were then transferred to several camps till the end of the war.

Japanese raid on Cilacap

Despite poor radio connections to and from Nias the latest war news and events do trickle in. These stories spread rapidly and change the mutual perceptions of various groups: who can be trusted and who cannot.

The inhabitants of Nias and a handful of Dutch expatriates witness the round-up of Germans in 1940. They were mainly non-militant missionaries from the Rheinische Mission. The vacant mission positions are hastily taken over by Dutch missionaries. Their is lots of competition between missionary congregations. For the local believers this creates lots of confusion and resentment. The Germans are no strangers on Nias. The missionaries have been active for decades and the Germans are highly respected by the local population.

The attack on the Van Imhoff in 1942 is seen at Nias, from a distance. The arrival of Van Imhoff survivors is no real surprise and leads to a confrontation with the Dutch authorities. When the Germans struggle ashore, the original 80 men strong KNIL detachment on the island has already been withdrawn in December 1941 to fight against the Japanese. They were replaced around 15 January 1942 by a group of 38 grumpy policemen, recruited from their penitentiary posting on the nearby Batu Islands. They are not the easiest troops to be controlled by the two regular police superiors from Tapanuli (Sumatra). The policemen are constantly on the lookout for confrontations with their superiors and the local government. It is this group which socializes with the German prisoners and takes the initiative to start an armed coup d'état. They start the process by scheming the release of the German prisoners and providing them with weapons.

On 17 March the British-Indian ms Chilka is sunk by a Japanese submarine near the Mentawei Islands and a group of 128 survivors reach the South coast of Nias after struggling for 5 days at sea. The Dutch on Nias are then managing subversive policemen, German internees, British crew members and they have to keep an eye on the approaching Japanese army.

The declaration of the Free Republic of Nias on 29 March becomes an inspirational example in the early days of the Indonesian freedom movement: the Dutch can indeed be defeated.

On 16 March the Japanese occupy the city and harbour of Sibolga. This is observed by a Batak courier from Nias who is carrying letters from the local administrator Van der Plas. He also witnesses the public arrests of Dutch nationals by the Japanese. The courier is in doubt whether he should escape but decides to sneak back to Nias to pass on the message of what he had seen.

Early March 1942, Captain Berveling is given the command of the ss Reteh which he knows as the ship that towed the ms Boelongan out of the burning Emmahaven. Soon he is part of the last maritime movement to save the remaining KPM ships from the approaching Japanese. Many ships take refuge in the naturally protected harbor of Cilacap on the South Coast.

Some historians suggest that the movement is mainly meant to lure large Japanese warships to the area with the intention of attacking them. However, it is the Japanese who launch a massive airstrike at the KPM ships that can only wait in the waters as sitting ducks. The ss Reteh sinks, either by a hit or by deliberate sabotage of the Captain to avoid the ship from falling in the hands of the Japanese.

It is likely that Marius Berveling is arrested as POW in Cilacap. From there he starts his 3 years ordeal of internment in various camps including Buitenzorg, Tjimahi, Djakarta and Singapore.

After the war, the British Army and Red Cross take over the Japanese camps to protect the internees and identify the survivors in preparation of their evacuation. For each individual an official registration card is prepared. On this card, Marius is labelled Prisoner of War (POW) and Commander of "various ships" including the ss Reteh. Berveling probably avoided mentioning the ms Boelongan as one of the ships under his command during the Van Imhoff disaster.

Marius wife Janna Braber was probably arrested in Makassar together with their two small children Kees and Mery. Janna's name appears in lists of several camps on Java. Sadly, these lists mention only one child. Perhaps Mery died during or just before captivity.

In the women internment camp Ambarawa in Banyubiru, Janna Braber is listed as Mrs J.J. Berveling-Braber POW #25406 Cel K16 with 1 Child. Small children were imprisoned together with their mother. It is likely that daughter Mery had died earlier and the "1 child" is son Cornelis (Kees)

NIOD archives IC 033.184

(under preparation)

On 28 March 1942, the German prisoners on Nias are freed from their cages by rebellious and armed Batak policemen. For a while, the houses of the Dutch become a target in a chaotic shooting spree but nobody is shot or hurt by bullets.

The senior civil servants on the island (assistent-resident and controleur), the inspector of police, five British prisoners, clergymen and other Dutch citizens are then arrested by the Germans.

The German prisoners briefly enjoy the luxury of food and drinks in the colonial houses and search for the cash-box that allegedly contains 3 months of salary for everybody in government service on Nias. The decision to prepare this buffer cash was made in view of the Japanese occupation and the expected problems in safe money transports. The Batak policemen claim that this advance payment is due to them but was not paid out. This added to their frustration towards their colonial masters. The treasure hunt after an estimated amount of 850.000 Dutch guilders is then open for all.

(Unconfirmed) picture of Germans on Nias, possibly fraternizing with local colonial dissidents who liberated them from the improvised Dutch prisons. Used at various websites, including Likely source:

The Free Republic of Nias (Indonesian: Republik Nias Merdeka, German: Freie Republik Nias) was a short-lived, unrecognized Republic, proclaimed by the freed German prisoners on the Indonesian island of Nias, in the name of Adolf Hitler. It existed for less than a month until the island was fully occupied by Japanese troops on 22 April 1942.

One of the prisoners, Ernst Leo Fischer, became the first prime minister. He appointed Albert Vehring as the foreign minister. The declaration of the Republic was met with joy by local inhabitants. It showed that the Dutch were vulnerable after all and Nias was the first area in the NEI to throw off the colonial rule. The Germans may have considered the initiative as a practical joke.

Learning that the police force (veldpolitie) would revolt if they were not paid their overdue salaries, the Germans saw a chance to secure their loyalty and looted the cash money amounting to ƒ857,000 from the Deputy Resident's house and pawn shops. Nine patrol groups were formed to guard Nias, each consisting of a German and some veldpolitie armed with a carbine. The Germans also took as many weapons as possible and occupied the radio station in order to contact the Japanese who had already taken Sumatra. The coalition attempt between the Germans and Japanese failed, as they faced a serious language barrier.

Oktorino, Nino (2019), Seri Nusantara Membara: Invasi ke Sumatra (in Indonesian), Jakarta: Elex Media Komputindo, ISBN 978-602-04-8798-4

Habsyah, Attashendartini - , Mooriati Trihusodo & Putut, Perjalanan Panjang Anak Bumi, Yayasan Obor Indonesia, 2008, ISBN 978-979-4616-54-3

Oktorino, Nino (2020), Jejak Hitler di Nusantara - Petualangan, Intrik dan Konspirasi Nazi di Indonesia (in Indonesian), Jakarta: Elex Media Komputindo, ISBN 978-623-00-1536-6

Geerken, Horst H. (2017), Hitler's Asian Adventure, Norderstedt: Books on Demand

Anwar, Rosihan (2004), Sejarah kecil "Petite Histoire" Indonesia (in Indonesian), 1, Jakarta: Penerbit Buku Kompas

Government of Dutch East Indies (1941), Regeerings-Almanak voor Nederlandsch-Indie (in Dutch), 2, Batavia: Landsdrukkerij

Information Bureau of North Sumatra (1953), Republik Indonesia: Propinsi Sumatera Utara (in Indonesian), Medan: Ministry of Information

Rare picture of freed German prisoners on Nias. If this picture survived, there might be more in private or public archives.

On 31 March 1942 two KPM ships arrive at the main pier of Gunung Sitoli: the ss Sumatra en ss Salida. Both captains (mr. Bloemers and mr. Flothuis) are unaware of what has happened on the island and cannot believe their eyes when they spot armed Germans on the jetty. Both captains are arrested and escorted to their temporary prisons.

The captains explain that the Japanese on mainland Sumatra contracted their ships for 7,000 guilders to get rice from Nias.

The ships remain confiscated. Grasshof manages to get access to the ship's radio and finds a German military tune which is loudly played over the water, underscoring the role of Germany in World War II and showing off towards their allies: the Japanese.

To demonstrate their loyalty, the Germans decided to transport the Dutch and British citizens on Nias to mainland Sumatra, and surrender them to the Japanese. They confiscated a ship to tow several open boats with the prisoners.

On 6 April, they left Gunungsitoli arriving later that day in the harbor of Sibolga. A small Japanese motorboat arrives. The Germans stand to attention and bring the Hitler salute, which the Japanese did not respond to, as a way to show their authority. The Dutch and British prisoners were whisked away by the Japanese not to be heard of again till after the war.

Communication with the Japanese appears difficult and everybody mistrusts everybody else. Finally, the Germans from Nias are invited pass on to the city of Medan to get new clothes and other necessities. Most accept this offer. One German decides to travel back to Nias to tell his story.

On 12 april a second batch of Dutch prisoners and 22 Germans travel to Sibolga. By that time, there are only 37 Germans left on Nias.

The public display of Japanese masters, German followers and Dutch prisoners shows to the local population how political power is being redistributed. However, the Indonesians do not openly choose sides and keep their options for a free Republic of Indonesia wide open. In Sibolga, triumphal arches are erected with Japanese and Indonesian flags and children learn to sing the brand new national anthem "Indonesia Raya" (Grand Indonesia).

After a long wait with many rumours, growing anxiety and high expectations, the Japanese finally arrive on Nias with 6 ships and 120-200 troops to "conquer" the island on the 17th of April 1942. On the main jetty stands the self-declared government: Fischer, Moeller (MG Mueller?), Schroeder, Vehring and Heidt with, behind them, the other Germans. They bring the Nazi salute when the Japanese pass by and the school children in the back row sing the Indonesian national anthem "Indonesia Raya".

The Japanese take over. They know all the important places from reports prepared by the Germans. They visit a few places to show off and decide who can stay and who should come with them to Sumatra. They indulge in the wartime luxury of insulting the Dutch, plundering the missions and colonial houses, finishing off the strong drinks and dancing in women's clothing. Germans, Indonesians and the Dutch have to adjust their image of the Japanese as superior master race.

The Germans managed to organize an event to celebrate Hitler's birthday. They brought the portrait of Adolf Hitler. The small event ended with a triple banzai and Nazi salute.

On 22 April 1942, the Japanese occupied the southern parts of the island with landings by sea.

On Adolf Hitler's birthday, the Germans on Nias organize a small event and invite 10 officers from the Japanese side. Somehow, even a portrait of Der Fuerer is appearing and is nailed to the wall. The gathering ends with a triple "banzai" and a triple "Sieg Heil".

The combined celebration of the birthdays of the Japanese Emperor and the German Fuerer will be repeated all over Indonesia for several years to come, but only in places where the uneasy relations between the Japanese overlords and the German Allies have changed for the better. In many places Germans are often kept short and treated with suspicion.

With few exceptions, the remaining Germans, Dutch (incl 5 women and 10 children) and 6 British nationals on Nias are all deported to Sumatra.

For the Japanese, it is difficult to distinguish between the various European nationalities and to consider them an ally or enemy. So they took all Europeans to Sumatra to sort them out later.

Only one German, named Dr Heidt, was pressed by te Japanese to stayed behind and take up as practice as a medical doctor. He died on 2 September 1942 after overdosing on sleeping pills.

Based on an eyewitness report from Erich Conrad Kempf, the German Embassy in Tokio briefs the Foreign Office in Berlin with more more details on the Van Imhoff events. Kempf is a Van Imhoff survivor and on his way to Germany via Japan.

Source: Politisches Archiv des Auswaertigen Amts, Germany. Ref R127587



In 1942, passing Yokohama on his way back to Germany, survivor Johannes Grasshoff types a full account of his whereabouts in the period 1940-1942. This includes his experiences on the Van Imhoff and Nias Island. The report is written in a vivid style and very readable, but never published.

The report found its way to the Van Heekeren collection of the Netherlands Institute of War Documentation in Amsterdam (NIOD, Indische Collectie, archive ref 400.01078).

Full text


More than a year after the disaster took place, a reminder article is published in the Warchauer Zeitung.

By now, Van Imhoff reports reach the highest Nazi officials, including Adolf Hitler himself. Seyss-Inquart, the right-wing extremist Reichskommissar in The Netherlands, is ordered to take revenge. He orders the arrest of 29 KPM employees working at the Amsterdam head office of the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij. They are imprisoned in camp "De Ruwenberg" in the town of St.Michielsgestel.

Nazi authorities justify their outrage with the argument that the German victims were abandoned at sea and that the crew and guards had confiscated all rescue equipment for themselves

The KPM prisoners are later added to the already existing group of "Indische gijzelaars" who were imprisoned two years earlier in response to the round-up of Germans in NEI.

In 1944, with the allied forces approaching The Netherlands from the south, the internees are moved to camp Vught more to the north, with the intention of deporting them to Germany. However, at the start of operation Market Garden on 17 September 1944 the guards of camp Vught let all these special prisoners go.

On 30 December 1943 the National Commissioner for Occupied Territories, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, prepares a letter for the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij demanding a penalty of four million Guilders which, he claims, is to compensate the families of Van Imhoff victims.

The letter is signed by SS Obergruppenfuhrer and General of the Police Johann Baptist Albin Rauter. His immediate superiors are the German Head of the SS Heinrich Himmler and the National Commissioner Arthur Seyss-Inquart.

The KPM agrees and pays up. During and after the war the KPM conducts intensive correspondence with Dutch authorities to take over or share the burden of the penalty. The government is reluctant to consider this as it would imply responsibility and guilt for what happened. Even the correspondence with KPM about the subject is declared a state secret. The case drags on till 1949. The Dutch government compromises with a secret deal to remit KPM's corporate taxes with 2 million guilders. (Ref Timeline: 1949)

The blame game started and it will continue till the present day. Who is responsible for the loss of lives: the Japanese, the Dutch Government in London, the NEI administration, the two KPM captains, the allied military war commanders in SouthEast Asia (including Conrad Helfrich)?

Later queries reveal that not a single guilder reached the family of a single German victim. The 4 million guilders disappear directly into the account of the Nazi Party. (Ref Timeline: Gräbner, 2012)

Stephan Walkowiak was born on 6 December 1919 in Essen-Karnap

When the Van Imhoff is sinking, he tries to save himself by jumping overboard, hoping to join the Dutch crew and military guards who are already in the life boats. He is shot at by a guard. The bullet goes straight through his wrist. Against all instructions and despite captain Hoeksema shouting from his lifeboat that he should be left in the water, Stephan is helped into a boat with Dutch crew members and guards.

Stephan is taken along to the Island of Simuk where all survivors are later picked-up by the ss Van der Capellen which anchored near the island of Tanahmasa to seek cover from possible Japanese air strikes. On 27 January all survivors reach Padang in the middle of a massive bombing raid of the harbor.

In the company of the Van Imhoff crew and guards and Dutch authorities in Padang, Stephan is seen by many witnesses and becomes known as the only German who was actually saved by the Dutch. He is described as "a young blond sailor with his wrist in a bandage".

The Dutch authorities force Stephan to sign a document stating that the prisoners on board of the Van Imhoff were engaged in a mutiny which had to be suppressed with violence. This story was invented to prepare for a credible but faked defense in case official queries would start as to why the German prisoners were abandoned at sea.

During the Japanese occupation, Stephan manages to travel back to Germany. He signs up as 'Unteroffizier' at the eastern front. He is killed (or missing in action) on 6 March 1944, North of Abiska, east of Lake Pleskau, on the Russian-Estonian border.

References to Stephan Walkowiak's:

In 1999 there is a reference to Stephan's military service at the eastern front in: Tijdschrift voor Media Geschiedenis #2, 1999, blz 5-21, under the title "De Vara, de oorlog en de doofpot - Waarom de Van Imhoff affaire nooit het beeldscherm heeft gehaald. Author: Chris Vos. (Translated: The VARA, the war and the hush up - why the Van Imhoff affair never made it to the tv screen).

In June 2019 Arie Bos in France mails the following source links to

Wiesentalstraße 10
79115 Freiburg
tel: 00 49 761 478 170

Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt)
Eichborndamm 179, D-13403 Berlin
Tel. +49 (030) 41904-0

In the internment camps in British India, intelligence staff (Dutch, British) tried to ascertain the degree of Nazism among individual prisoners. One such report was submitted to the Consul General in Shimla. He was uneasy about having the report in his possession. Some names in the document apparently linked up to Germans that may still be living and politically active in NEI. But the Consul did not know how to safely transmit the document to NEI authorities that were no longer in charge since 1942. He also wanted to avoid that the details of the report may fall in the hands of the British. Typical for this hush-hush mentality, the author of the document did not inform his superiors about sharing it with the Dutch. The consul decided to (also) forward the document to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dutch government in London.

The document is rather superficial and uses stereotype labelling of Nazis. It is probably based on short interviews and hearsay going round in the camps.

If and when the document was used to chase the related Germans can only have been just after the war, during the Dutch efforts to restore their authority in Indonesia.

Full text.
Source: NIOD - inventory ref NL-HaNA_2.05.80_1118

On 9 januari 2012 the website "Javapost" publishes an interesting summary of the confusion and misfortunes of Germans in NEI just after the war:

The Germans are aware of their image as allies of the Japanese and enemies of the Dutch. They are sometimes mistaken for Dutch nationals, used as camp guards to protect the Dutch internees against the roaming Indonesian militia, some are found in the Onrust internment camp (again) guarded by the Dutch military, others escaped the chaos and go into hiding or team up with the Nationalists as advisors. Large groups, especially women and children, sign up for shipment to Japan or China (during the war) or homeland Germany (after the war). The Van Imhoff survivors from Nias spread out over the country and tell their gruesome stories. The Dutch and British military who came back as colonial peace-keeping force pursued the Germans suspected of war crimes. That included the Germans on Nias who had handed over the Dutch and British military on Nias. In Sarangan (Java) the enclave of Germans who found shelter there during the Japanese occupation, stayed on. Elsewhere, representatives from large German industries started to return and find out with whom they could cooperate to invest in the future. Germany successfully renewed its economic interest in Indonesia. They were more interesting partners than the Dutch.

See also:

Link to Javapost

In the autumn of 2018, the archives of the Red Cross working in NEI become accessible for the public via the National Archives in Den Haag. More details on the whereabouts of the Hoeksema family during the war might become available.

Post-war employee registration card probably prepared by the Red Cross after his Japanese internment.

After the war, the British liberation army and the International Red Cross release and administer all prisoners in Japanese camps and prisons. Most prefer to stay there as they have no place to go and Indonesian militia are roaming the streets with no mercy for white colonials.

The registration chart of Marius Leendert Berveling labels him as Prisoner of War (POW). Apparently he was interned in several camps including Buitenzorg, Tjimahi, Djakarta and Singapore. He is noted as Captain of several ships but the Boelongan is not specifically mentioned. Berveling himself must have deliberately avoided this.

The sailing period from 10 May 1940 till January 1942 agrees with the time Berveling was indeed the captain of the ms Boelongan. After the sinking of the Boelongan, the time span until his imprisonment by the Japanese seems a bit too short to have been in command of three additional KPM ships. On the other hand, encounters with the Japanese at sea would always often result in attacks, destruction of ships and quick repostings of the crew.

Berveling's command of the ss Reteh is interesting as this ship was bombed during the final attack of the Japanese on the remaining KPM ships in the harbor of Tjilatjap (Cilacap) on the south coast of Java, where the whole fleet had gone into hiding.

It is likely that the period from 14 August 1942 until 3 September 1945 refers to the time Berveling was interned by the Japanese. His wife and child (or both children ?) were in other camps.

In the autumn of 2018, the archives of the Red Cross working in NEI become accessible for the public via the National Archives in Den Haag. By that time, more details on the whereabouts of the Berveling family during the war might become traceable.

Source (with thanks to):



After the war, father Marius Berveling, mother Janna and son Cornelis are reunited after imprisonment in different camps. On 19 January 1946, the day of the Van Imhoff disaster, they sail with ms Boissevain from Jakarta harbour Tandjong Priok. The ship arrives in Amsterdam on 16 February. Daughter Mery, born on 3 June 1938, is not mentioned on the passenger list. Perhaps she did not survive the Japanese camp where she had been imprisoned with her mother.

The Berveling family carried back a heavy load of personal memories and could not count on much understanding from the public. Dutch authorities were busy preparing their defense against national and international accusations of war crimes related to the Van Imhoff and Boelongan. Marius Berveling was trapped by the authorities and the media from the moment he set foot in Holland.

His employer KPM does not push him aside but posts him as Captain on the renowned Valentijn in 1947, sailing the world again.

Fragment of passenger list of ms Boissevain, featuring the Berveling family. Source:

After his Japanese internments and re-union with his family, Captain H J Hoeksema travels to Singapore and leaves with the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. He arrives in Rotterdam on 10 April 1946.

On the passenger list are two other passengers with the family name Hoeksema: C.K. and M. Hoeksema. CK could be his wife Catharina Klaastina Boerma and M their (only?) child. On this particular trip there are 3,598 registered passengers.

The Hoeksema family carried back a heavy load of personal memories and could not count on much understanding from the public. Dutch authorities were busy preparing their defense against national and international accusations of war crimes related to the Van Imhoff and Boelongan. Hermanus Hoeksema was trapped by the authorities and the media from the moment he set foot in Holland.

His employer KPM does not push him aside but posts him as Captain on the company's prestigious flagship Tegelberg in 1947, sailing the world again.

He is seen in South Africa on 1 May 1949, a day full of coincidences. Hermanus Hoeksema’s brother Max who is also a captain with the KPM, anchors his ship, ms Ceram, in the Durban harbour in South Africa. There he spots the ms Tegelberg and finds, to his surprise, that its captain is his brother Herman (Hermanus) whom he has not seen for years. On the spot, they celebrate their mother’s 85th birthday. A local newspaper is tipped and considers this chance meeting special enough for a full article with photographs. The two brothers exchange their experiences and wartime stories. Herman confirms that he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and sent to several camps including Birma where he had to work on the infamous railway project.

He dies in 1998 just missing his 100th birthday

See forum entry by Henk Hoeksema, the son of captain Hermanus Hoeksema at
Kombuis forum with above entry on Hoeksema's travel to South Africa as posted by Henk Hoeksema

After the war, the Dutch government continues to expel Germans from its colony, including women and children. Their voyage and arrival in postwar Germany must have been traumatic.

10 July 1946. Men, women and children taking a break at the Oldenzaal railway station on their way to Germany. These passengers arrived the day before in Rotterdam and embarked in Jakarta. The trainwagons are cargo carriages and not meant for passengers' transport. Many have not seen Germany in their lifetime and are unaware of the destruction and chaos they will find in their new homeland.

As part of their arrests, the houses and businesses of internees were confiscated and liquidated. Job contracts were terminated. During captivity in North Sumatra and prior to boarding the ss Van Imhoff internees were also stripped of the smaller property and valuables they managed to carry. These were collected and packed in a sealed chest. It was given in custody in Medan.

In 1946 some surviving German victims approached the Dutch authorities to make arrangements for a proper return of the valuables. Foul play and theft was suspected. The case was complicated because the chest was passed on and taken care of by many people, including the British army captains Burns and Orun, Sister Harder and, of course by Hugo Beck who was appointed by the German ambassador in Tokyo as representative of the Germans living in Sumatra.

Everybody mistrusted anybody else: Dutch, German, English, Japanese. Nobody took or was given the lead to manage the refund. A prosecution procedure was started to sort out what had happened with the chest during the war.

The well-documented interrogation report (attached here) shows that several German survivors and victims' next of kin had found their way to Medan. One can imagine that they were keen to avoid another crime by the Dutch: theft of personal property. The persons keeping a close eye on the proceedings included:

Mr Beck
Mr & Mrs Engel with two kids
Mr Fischer
Mrs Gerstel
Mrs Helm with two kids
Mr & Mrs Moseder
Mr Schuhr
Mr Seemann
Bruder Seitz
Mrs Walter

Full police report

The Netherlands War Graves Foundation registers Dutch victims of war and conflict and seeks to confirm the location where they died or were buried. Researchers of the Foundation usually contact family members of the deceased to verify their fate. A total of 180.000 children, women and men are currently (2020) registered. Worldwide, more than 50,000 graves are known and honoured with maintenance work and ceremonial initiatives.

In principle, the Foundation categorised the drowned internees of the Van Imhoff as war victims with the Indian ocean off the coast of Nias as their seaman’s grave. However, not all victims whose names were confirmed and circulating for many years, were automatically registered as Dutch victim of war. Only 24 names from the official victims’ lists appear in the Foundation’s administration:

This discrepancy could be due to the fact that the Foundation did not receive information from the victims’ family to confirm their fate or place of burial. Or: the Dutch nationality or citizenship of the victim was not officially established. The original correspondence between the Foundation and the victim’s family is copied into the personal biographies on this site.

During its existence, the Koeta Tjane camp (= Lawe-Sigalagala) was regularly monitored by Dutch security and medical authorities, also at the time of the German internments.

In 1946 KNIL medical officer J P Van der Schroeff was charged with an inspection tour. Apart from his offical report, he also wrote an article in the authorative Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde (1947, 91, 283-9 and 760-5). This article was later reprinted in the same magazine (1985, 129, nr 32) under the title: De geschiedenis van Lawe-Sigalagala, een kamp in Atjeh.



In 1947 the Netherlands Government appoints an official commission to review and evaluate Dutch government policy during the period 1940-1945, covering the cabinets of De Geer, Gerbrandy I, II and III, and Schermerhorn. War events in the NEI are one of the 15 themes and even included fact-finding missions in Indonesia.

It was thought that the review would take a year, but the final reports are presented almost ten years later in 1956.

We are still finding out how to obtain digital copies of the Van Imhoff related pages for publication on this site. Perhaps you can help us out ?

For more information on the commission's work:

After the war, Conrad Helfrich becomes a political climber with lots of high level, conservative friends, including Prime Minister Gerbrandy, Chief of Staff General Kruls, Prince Bernhard’s protégé Roelfzema (the "Soldier of Orange") and, perhaps, Prince Bernhard himself.

This old boys network is very much opposed to an independent Indonesia and secretly starts to support anti-nationalist movements in Indonesia including the Islamic Nahdatul Ulama party. For the purpose, they even plot a coup to take over the Dutch government. Tactical assassinations are planned. However, wartime Prime Minister Gerbrandy does not want to go ahead without informing queen Wilhelmina first. He asks her trusted personal assistant Francois Van 't Sant to write a letter about the plans to inform her. In the process, he comes to know how the Dutch population will be informed, how the navy and army will keep control, and how the Queen's favorite general De Waal (and not general Spoor) will be posted in NEI to take control in the colony.

According to the plan a group of former resistance fighters will arrest all cabinet ministers on Thursday 24 April 1947. They will also kill Labour Party politician Vorrink as he is an outspoken supporter of Indonesia's independence. The state of emergency would be declared and important governmental posts taken over. However, Queen Wilhelmina does not agree with the coup and high level targeted persons are warned. The coup d'état is cancelled and Vorrink escapes the attack on his life.

The conspirators are not arrested. It is unthinkable to arrest or question personalities like Gerbrandy, Helfrich, Krul and Roelfzema. Public discussions about postwar colonial politics are avoided and remain taboo for many years to come.

Helfrich becomes Minister in the Naval Ministry until his retirement in 1949. He dies in The Hague on 20 September 1962 which is just before the start of an all-out media offensive to expose the darker side of the Dutch colonial past. This includes the Van Imhoff affair and post-war military war crimes.

In this early post-war period, the investigations into the conduct of Captain Hoeksema and Berveling were probably closely followed by Commander Helfrich cs. He must have realized that the captains' ship statements could have cornered him as the highest marine authority directly responsible for the legally incorrect rules of engagement concerning drowning enemies at sea.

Commander Helfrich remained untouchable during the whole aftermath of the Van Imhoff affair.

Information on Conrad Helfrich

More info on Conrad Helfrich

Further reading on coup

During their post-war military campaigns the Dutch were also keen to search and arrest Germans that had escaped the cleansing in 1940. It was also observed that in cooperation with Indonesian revolutionary forces, Germany (or the Asian Nazi network) played an active role as military advisors. In this position they scanned the archipelago for merchant ships using submarines that were already active during WWII as "wolfpack" under the name of Monsun Gruppe.

The pictures of arrested crew members were taken in the Glodok prison in Jakarta. Military prisoners were usually moved to the Onrust transit camp where they wait for transportation to Germany.

1947 - Arrested German submarine crew Archief Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië Original annotation: De op Nongkodjadjar (Oost-Java) gevangen genomen Duitsers.Deze Duitsers waren van de Kriegsmarine. U-boot bemanningen die vlak na de oorlog ook nog Japanse interneringskampen bewaakt hebben. Ze zijn volgens krantenberichten op 6 september aangehouden en waren 5 of 6 in getal. Berichten noemen verschillende getallen. Datum september 1947 Source:

1947 - Arrested German - Alfred Pschunder Archive Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië Original annotation: Een van de vijf op 1 augustus 1947 te Malang gearresteerde Duitsers: Alfred Pschunder. Geboren 24 December 1918 in Malang, Rijksduitser. He was also employed as dog trainer for the Indonesian police (Polisi Negara) Date: 1 augustus 1947 Alternative name found: Alfred Poschunder.

1947 - Arrested German submarine crew member - Erich Döring Archive: Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië Original annotation: Een van de vijf op 1 augustus 1947 gearresteerde Duitsers: Erich Döring, geboren 29-03-1921 Muehlhausen. In dienst van de Kriegsmarine als Maschinenunteroff. op U-boot 195. Datum 1 augustus 1947 @nationaalarchief

1947 - Arrested German submarine crews - Hans Philipsen Archief: Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië Duitsers H. Philipsen Original annotation: Portret van een gevangen genomen Duitser. Waarschijnlijk gaat het hier om een bemanningslid van een Duitse U-boot van de Kriegsmarine. Enkele van hen hebben meegevochten aan Indonesische kant. @nationaalarchief

1947 - Arrested German submarine crew member - Heinz Ulrich Source: Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Original annotation: Een van de vijf op 1 augustus 1947 gearresteerde Duitsers: Heinz Ulrich, geboren 14-08-1924 te Berlijn. In dienst van de Kriegsmarine als Maschinenobergefreiter op U-boot 195. Datum 1 augustus 1947 @ nationaalarchief

1947 - Arrested German submarine crew - Herbert Weber Source: Archief Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië Original annotation: Een van de vijf op 1 augustus 1947 gearresteerde Duitsers: Herbert Weber, geb. 3-6-'14 te Leutersdorf. In dienst van de Kriegsmarine als Leitender Ingenieur op U-boot 195 Datum 1 augustus 1947 @Nationaal Archief

1947 - Arrested German submarine crews - J. F.W. Rauter Source: Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië J. F.W. Rauter (Rautert?). Original annotation: Waarschijnlijk bemanningslid van een Duitse U-boot van de Kriegsmarine. Enkele van hen hebben meegevochten aan Indonesische kant. Datum augustus 1947 Source:

1947 - Arrested German submarine crew - Fritz Arp Archief Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië Original caption: Een van de vijf op 1 augustus 1947 gearresteerde Duitsers Res. Oberleutnant zur See Fritz Arp, geb. 16-1-'15 te Burg auf Friehmar (Ostsee) In dienst van de Kriegsmarine als 1ste Officier op U-boot 195. Datum 1 augustus 1947 @ nationaalarchief

1947 - Arrested German submarine crew members Source: Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië Original annotation: Enige van de door onze troepen tijdens de politionele actie gearresteerde Duitsers. Zij bevinden zich in de gevangenis Glodok, Batavia Stad. V.l.n.r.: (staande) Hans Philipsen, Frits Arp, Herbert Weber. (Hurkend) Heinz Ulrich, Erich Doring, Alfred Pschunder. Op andere foto's is de man staande links J.F.W. Rauter of Rautert Datum september 1947

1947 - 1949 - German supervisor at submarine construction site in Jogyakarta, Java Source: Fotocollectie Dienst voor Legercontacten Indonesië Original annotation: Staalfabriek in Jogyakarta waar een ex-Duitse matroos aan een eenmanstorpedo werkt. Zijn uitvinding mislukte. Bij de eerste proefneming zonk het ijzeren gevaarte. In Indonesië bevonden zich tijdens de oorlog een aantal Duitse U-boten met bemanning. Na de Japanse capitulatie hebben deze Duitsers nog een tijdje interneringskampen bewaakt. Enkelen van hen vochten mee met de Indonesische Republikeinen Datum januari 1949 c

1947 - Arrested German general in Onrust transit camp Original description: Een Duitse generaal achter prikkeldraad op het eiland "Onrust" bewaakt door een Nederlandse schildwacht.... na de bevrijding (45-46). Source: Wikipedia - Indonesië - Onrust, 1946. @ Spaarnestad

Arrested German submarine crew - U219 in Batavia, 1947

End 1948, the Dutch start a second military campaign in Indonesia in an effort to restore colonial power. At that time there are still many Germans around, mostly women and children, waiting for an opportunity to travel back to their homeland or resume their previous expatriate lives in East Asia, none of which seems an attractive option. During the last years of the war and after the war the German enclave in Sarangan is steadily growing as a last stronghold.

Both Fischer, the ex-president of the Free Republic of Nias and Vehring, the Minister of Foreign Affairs manage to reach Sarangan and spread their first-hand account of the Van Imhoff disaster. Among the audience are wives and children of deported men who reached safety in India and those who drowned with the Van Imhoff. Without passenger lists the confusion is growing.

Vehring and Fischer offer to guide the Sarangan community through the uncertain times yet to come. Indonesia is in complete chaos. The Germans in Sarangan are aware of the approaching Dutch army. Fischer becomes self-appointed mayor of Sarangan. However, he is on a Dutch military blacklist because of his successful coup in Nias and his direct involvement in the capture of Dutch, British and Australian citizens and soldiers who had escaped to Nias. They were extradited to the Japanese who executed the prisoners with a military background.

Then Mayor Fischer of Sarangan and Albert Vehring disappear overnight from Sarangan, probably to join the Indonesian liberation militia offering intelligence and tactical training.

Two years after his arrival in The Netherlands, captain Berveling is summoned by Dutch authorities (which?) to make an official statement about his involvement in the Van Imhoff affair. In this statement, he cites the orders he received on how to act when encountering the Dutch and German survivors:

"First, pick up the crew of the ss Van Imhoff i.e. the European and native crew as well as the military guards. After that, as advised by the military commander, take on board reliable subjects from the German internees. Prevent other Germans from landing."

(Original: „Eerst de bemanning van het s.s. Van Imhoff oppikken, d.i. europeesche en inlandsche scheepsbemanning benevens de militairen die voor bewaking aan boord waren. Daarna op aanwijzing van den militairen commandant betrouwbare elementen onder de Duitsche geinterneerden aan boord nemen. Overige Duitschers beletten te landen.“)

Source: National Archives, Den Haag, document 2.20.35, KPM, Folder 2159.

Notes and questions:
1) This instruction has been copied in most of the Van Imhoff literature and websites and often interpreted as the instruction to: "Let the Germans drown", or worse: "Make the Germans drown"

2) Some historians observed that the military commander would have had a difficult task, in the chaos of a sinking ship with hundreds of internees, to distinguish between reliable and unreliable Germans. He probably did not know the background of the internees.

3) In some studies it is doubted whether the captain could really have recalled this instruction word by word after 6 years. According to some, senior crew members of the ms Boelongan were shocked to see the telegraphed message which he showed to justify his refusal to take Germans on board.

4) Did a similar early questioning of captain Hermanus Hoekstra of the Van Imhoff take place?

Tymstra T. F. – Article in Overtoomse Sluis of 1949. (Precise date unknown).

Example of a twisted presentation of the sinking of the Van Imhoff. The writer was on board the Van Imhoff as military guard and portrays his role as a heroic fight against the Germans. Just after the Second World War, this would fit with the general depiction of Germans as evil and the Dutch as a brave and morally strong people.

(Digital or photocopy of the original article is welcome)

During and after the war, the KPM approaches the Dutch government to take over or share the penalty of 4 million guilders they had paid to the Nazi authorities. For the purpose, the KPM seeks legal assistance from prof Bernard Röling (1906-1985). Röling is a famous legal authority in international law and war crimes. He was involved in the Tokyo war crime trials, active as a judge and a university scholar.

The government is reluctant to consider a financial deal as it would imply admission of responsibility in the Van Imhoff affair. Even the correspondence with KPM about the subject is declared a state secret. The case started during the war and drags on till 1949.

In the end, the Dutch government compromises with a secret deal to exempt KPM's corporate taxes with 2 million guilders. The international stature of mediator Röling must have made the Dutch authorities quite nervous.

In 2004 (see Jens Bappert entry at the timeline) Röling is cited as confirming that the actions of Captain Hoeksema and Berveling are eligible as warcrime.

Prof Bernard Roling Source:

More information on Prof. Bernard Roling at:

Albert Vehring, one of the more prominent and articulate survivors, files his account of the Van Imhoff affair with notary public Bernhard Grünewald in Bielefeld on 20 June 1949.

The original statement is archived in Düsseldorf with the Interessenverband der vertriebenen Hollanddeutschen im Bundesgebiet.

This text with legal validity is widely circulating on internet, among others at It is quoted in most of the reports and studies on the Van Imhoff affair.

The content is basically a vivid account of what happened.

Declaration under Oath - Albert Vehring

The experiences of the merchant navy in wartime make popular reading among marine enthusiasts. Retired KPM director H. TH. Bakker publishes his memoirs of the KPM in wartime under the title "De KPM in oorlogstijd 1939-1945". Amsterdam, KPM, 1950.

In this official memorial book, published by the merchant shipping company itself, the decisions of the captains on the Van Imhoff and Boelongan are covered at page 56 - 61. The bottom line used to explain the high number of German casualties is that in the chaos of survival with limited resources, the principle "gij of ik" (it's you or me) comes to the surface (pg 60). The failed rescue attempts by Berveling are justified by claiming that Japanese air strikes intervened in his effort to "save as many victims possible". The fact that the rules of engagement were issued by the highest Marine Commander (CZM) is not referred to by the author.

Missionary Gottlob Weiler is one of the Van Imhoff survivors escaping in the first boat on his way to Nias.

Back in Germany, he publishes his memoirs under the title: "Der Untergang der Van Imhoff - Ein Augenzeugenbericht. The booklet appears in the series "Auf den Straßen der Welt. Missionshefte der Jungen Gemeinde", Nr. 16, Evangelischer Missionsverlag, Stuttgart, 1952.

It is re-printed at least 5 times. The story is frequently quoted as one of the few primary sources written by a survivor. Interesting statements in the story include the following:

1) After the bombing of the Van Imhoff, Weiler who is locked up in his barbed-wire cage, claims to have heard hammering sounds throughout the ship (page 9). A German shipbuilding engineer (also running around on the sinking Van Imhoff) finds out that the pump installation of the Van Imhoff has been deliberately damaged by the Dutch crew or guards. This war-time practice was to prevent that functioning ships would fall in the hands of the enemy. However this decision is not generally reported for the Van Imhoff. Some researchers suggested that the pump installation of the Van Imhoff got stuck and that the crew was hammering on it to get it working again.

2) In his eyewitness account, Weiler does not comment on the fact that in his boat-group, the string of floating devices that was attached to the boat was set adrift as they were slowing down the pace. For a religiously educated person as Weiler, this incident would have been a moral trauma for the rest of his life.

2) In 1946, on the ship back home to Germany, Weiler claims to have talked with a Dutch naval officer who shared the secret that the Dutch captains were instructed not to save Germans at sea.

For more details on Gottlob Weiler: see Survivors list

Scanned version of the 5th edition 1953

The "Interest Group of Exiled Dutch-Germans in the Bundesgebiet" (Interessenverband der vertriebenen Hollanddeutschen im Bundesgebiet) files a complaint with the United Nations to expose the behavior of Captain Hoekstra and Berveling as human rights abuse.

The statement under oath made by survivor Albert Vehring in 1949 is used as supporting evidence (Ref: timeline entry 1949).

(Both the original complaint and the possible response by the UN are still being traced as documents)

On December 26, 1952 seven Dutch war criminals and former SS members with a life-long conviction, managed to escape from the Koepel prison in Breda. Their escape is well prepared and undertaken with help from outside.

The escaped prisoners are kindly received by the border authorities of Germany and only fined for illegal crossing. The penalty is 10 Deutsche Mark. Adolf Hitler's decree was applied whereby also after the war foreign Waffen SS members automatically became German citizens entitled to full state protection.

Holland requests extradition of the prisoners. This is initially refused by Germany. There are rumours, that Germany offers the Dutch authorities to extradite them in exchange for captain Hoeksema of the ss Van Imhoff. The idea was to have Hoekstra tried for war crimes in Germany. The deal did not go through.

In 1953, one of the German survivors files a murder charge against Captain Hoeksema with the Dutch justice department.

This accusation is processed and delayed until 1955. In 1958 the conclusion is made public that there are no grounds for criminal prosecution.

See timeline entries 1956 and 1958 below.

More details on documents and actors yet to be found.

Ref: Kern, Erich - Weisser Mann, Toter Man? Ostasien im Umbruch - Ein Augenzeugenbericht. Welsermühl Verlag, Wels, Starnberg, 1955.

Erich Kern is an alias for Erich Knud Kernmayr (1906-1991). He is an Austrian right wing extremist. The Deutschen National-Zeitung is his most important publishing channel of anti-Semitic writings.

He depicts the Germans as the most ignored victims of the Second World War and he rewrites history to make his case. The story of the Van Imhoff fits very well in his effort to depict war crimes of the allied forces as more severe than crimes committed on the German side. Even the holocaust is seen as a misleading propaganda by the enemies of Germany.

The Van Imhoff affair is used as case material to expose the attitude of Dutch authorities to position themselves as superior and morally unimpeachable entities.

Erich Kern is still widely read and often quoted in extremist circles and websites.

In 1956 an official request is received by the Dutch government from the Ministry of Justice in Bonn, Germany, to investigate criminal charges against Captain Hoeksema and captain Berveling. It is not clear who or what triggered this initiative: one of the Van Imhoff victims, the publication of Albert Vehring's legal statement or an independent inquiry by the German government.

The case is forwarded to A.A.L.F. (Nout) Van Dullemen who is solicitor/attorney-general in Amsterdam in the period 1949 - 1957. Van Dullemen is later succeeded by mr H.R. de Zaaijer. Their involvement is a territorial matter: Hoeksema moved to the town of Huizen (Nieuwe Bussumerweg 38) in the region of Haarlem.

In Van Heekeren (1967), reference is made (pg 247) to a statement by Hoeksema dated 6 February 1956 and an official report (proces-verbaal) dated 28 May 1956 (pg 196).
An upload of these documents on this site is pending. Currently it is in the Municipal Archives of Haarlem where they can be studied after permission by the institutional director:

The main conclusion in the Van Dullemen/De Zaaijer's reports is that no crimes were committed and that there is no basis for further prosecution.

It is generally thought that relevant details in the captains' statements were twisted in their favour. The main conclusion also irritated German stakeholders who saw the documents as further proof that Dutch authorities were collectively hiding the truth and avoided taking responsibility.

Ten years later, in 1966, when parliamentary discussions on the Van Imhoff affair are re-started, the defending Defence Minister Piet de Jong refers to the Attorney-general's findings saying that there is no basis for another round of criminal investigations and that it would be improper to ignore judicial findings in a political setting.

Mr. A A L F van Dullemen - Attorney-General with the Amsterdam court


In 1953, one of the German survivors filed a murder charge against Captain Hoeksema with the Dutch Justice Department.

This accusation is processed until 1955 and ends in 1958 with the conclusion that there are no grounds for criminal prosecution.

(Supporting documents yet to be found)

Die Welt am Sonntag publishes stories on the Van Imhoff disaster, written by journalist Juergen Dennart.

The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) assisted Dennart to find the right historical materials but considered the resulting story too biased. The NIOD then expressed their intention to publish the proper facts on their own, based on the resources in their archives.

Copies of the Dennart's articles are still being traced for publication on this site. Perhaps you can help us tracing these articles.

Dennert, Jürgen Der Untergang der „Van Imhoff“ Die Welt am Sonntag Dokumentarbericht in 6 Teilen in nrs 34 - 39
dated 25.8. / 1.9. / 8.9. / 15.9. / 22.9. / 29.9.1963

On the anniversary of the Van Imhoff disaster, a tombstone is inaugurated at the cemetery of Ohlsdorf near Hamburg. It commemorates the 411 victims.

The initiative is taken by Emil Helfferich, the grand old man of German interests in NEI and a person worth googling. In his speech, Helfferich states that the Dutch should not be blamed for the misdeeds of both captains. He also observes that the Bundesrepublik Deutschland is willing to trace and punish its war criminals whilst other nations such as The Netherlands are not.

The tomb is financed by German firms that had offices in the NEI whose employees also died on the Van Imhoff: Behn, Meyer & Co, Carl Schlieper and the Straits and Sunda Syndicate

(Quote) ... Der Gedenkstein für die Opfer der Katastrophe ... sollte uns immer daran erinnern, wie unmenschlich diese Tat war. Waren wir doch jahrelang in der holländischen Kolonie zum Aufbau des Landes tätig... (Bielefeld, Albert Vehring)...(unquote)

Inscription: Den 411 deutschen Zivilinternierten der "Van Imhoff", umgekommen im Indischen Ozean im Januar 1942.

Tomb of honor for Van Imhoff casualties at Ohlsdorf cemetary near Hamburg

In his long list of revisionist books, Erich Kern (alias for Erich Knud Kernmayr) publishes his "Verbrechen am deutschen Volk - Eine Dokumentation alliierter Grausamkeiten 1939 - 1949. 6. Auflage. K.W.Schütz-Verlag, Göttingen 1964. In this study he exposes the war crimes committed by the allied forces. The book is widely available as downloadable file on the internet.

Erich Kern’s summary of the Van Imhoff affair (page 60: Hollander ohne Gnade - 411 Deutsche mußten sterben) had a wide impact in the German speaking areas of Europe. It has been copied verbatim on numerous revisionist, right-wing and militaristic websites and forums since the start of internet.

Often, these sites also provide a copy of the legal statement made by survivor Albert Vehring in June 1949.

One of the many sites where Erich Kern's documents can be downloaded. The Van Imhoff affair is discussed on page 60- 68

In 1964 Herman Wigbold, chief editor of the program Achter het Nieuws of the (then) politically critical VARA broadcasting corporation, commissions filmmaker Dick Verkijk to make a documentary on the Van Imhoff affair.

It takes Verkijk 3 months of work. He manages to interview Albert Vehring, ds. G. Weiler, ds. Teutscher, P.W. Winkel and J.A. van den Ende. He also tried to contact the captains and other senior crew members of the Van Imhoff and Boelongan. However, the captains and other key actors keep away from the media as they feel already over-exposed in newspapers, books and in official questioning that went on continuously since their return from NEI in 1946.

The polemic questions raised by Verkijk are painful in 1965. Together with Chief Editor Wigbold, he concludes that the refusal to save the drowning victims at sea was intentional, just because they were Germans.

The then Chief Secretary of the VARA (Jan Willem Rengelink) raised objections against broadcasting the program. According to some, these objections were raised by "higher political levels". This could include Secretary of State for marine affairs Adri van Es. Other political figures with a marine background and involved in the Van Imhoff affair include: Admiral Conrad Helfrich (see timeline entry in 1947) and former submarine captain and Minister/Prime Minister Piet de Jong (see timeline entry Febr. 1966).

Rengelink, active in resistance work during World War II , reasoned that there may be some evidence that both captains were guilty, but the scale of what happened did not by far compare to the crimes committed by the Germans. The admission of guilt would weaken the Dutch position in its efforts to avoid that Germany's war crimes would get barred by statutes of limitation. For journalists Wigbold and Verkijk this is a false argument. For them, the documentary and the censorship that followed are moral and legal issues in their own right.

The master tapes of the documentary disappeared and were probably erased, never to surface again. The written editing script was archived.

These interventions backfired in several ways. First, the VARA broadcasting corporation itself appeared to kneel to government censorship which, since the sixties, is a serious matter. Second, national and international media hold the censorship incident against the Dutch authorities as proof that they have indeed something to hide. Third, Verkijk is furious and publishes his full story on 16 April 1965 in daily newspaper Het Parool. This triggers an avalanche of media publicity, especially from German sides, perhaps even more than would have happened on the basis of a one-time tv broadcast.

Weekly newspaper Vrij Nederland asks historian Van Heekeren to write a response to the censorship incident. He is busy researching the Van Imhoff affair for his own book ("Batavia signals Berlin"). This is published in 1967. In a somewhat patronizing tone, Van Heekeren notes that the film is smartly made but he agrees with the decision of the VARA not to broadcast it. The weakness of Verkijk, according to van Heekeren, is that he always propagates his view and never raises any doubts or questions. The flaring emotions after the refusal to broadcast are just a glimpse of what would have happened if the documentary had indeed been aired. Van Heekeren claims that the accusation that Dutch authorities let the Germans drown on purpose is historically wrong. In his book, Van Heekeren maintains his grayer picture of guilt and responsibility. For Van Heekeren the key question remains: "What would you have done in their situation?

The VARA incident is also analysed from a media history point of view in Tijdschrift voor Media Geschiedenis #2, 1999, blz 5-21 in an article by Chris Vos: De Vara, de oorlog en de doofpot - Waarom de Van Imhoff affaire nooit het beeldscherm heeft gehaald. (The VARA, the war and the hush up - why the Van Imhoff affair never made it to the tv screen).

This article is available (in Dutch) in pdf format, see timeline entry 1999. The author offers a broader perspective on TV censorship in Holland. He observes that after the Van Imhoff intervention the path is cleared for subsequent critical journalism and more transparancy on war crimes in NEI after WWII.

The Van Imhoff affair is not retold on Dutch tv until December 2017, half a century later.

Dick Verkijk, the most outspoken journalist covering the Van Imhoff affair. He stays connected to the case from 1963 - present.

Herman Wigbold, Chief Editor and presenter of VARA news programs. He becomes the main supporter for Dick Verkijk and challenges the conservative angle of his superiors, much to his own personal frustration.

Jan Rengelink, the VARA secretary who personally intervened and stopped the broadcasting of the Van Imhoff documentary. It is likely that he was coerced by government circles to do so.

Newspaper article
VARA censorship of Verkijk documentary

German weekly Der Spiegel starts a series of articles on the Van Imhoff affair. These are based on research, survivors' and reader statements and a few official statements.

The articles' headings and contents focus on Dutch misconduct and war crimes, and highlight the Dutch arrogance in denying all responsibility or guilt. The Spiegel's offensive is further enforced by the simultaneous coverage of Dutch military war crimes in post-war Indonesia, as revealed by Hueting on national TV.

The impact of these articles is enormous. They are quoted in many studies and (later) on websites. They also reach the Dutch media and lead to debates in Dutch parliament.

Der Spiegel refs:
week 52 - 1965
week 7 - 1966
week 9 - 1966
week 11 - 1966
week 13 - 1966

All articles are traceable and available as pdf at:

The Spiegel publications trigger a broad response in the Dutch media.

Journalist Dick Verkijk created an avalanche of Van Imhoff publicity. Initially, he is furious about his documentary film being banned from broadcasting by high-up political intervention. He then decides to publish his findings in a national newspaper (Het Parool). His story is picked up by German magazine Der Spiegel. The dark side of the Van Imhoff affair is enlarged in two editions of Der Spiegel and become a German accusation towards the Dutch authorities. This, in turn, leads to publicity in the Dutch newspapers and questions are asked in Dutch Parliament (the House of Representatives and Senate).

Many sources give exclusive credit to Der Spiegel as the frontrunners opening up the Van Imhoff affair. In reality Der Spiegel adopted the story from Dick Verkijk via newspaper Het Parool. However, Verkijk did not team-up with the German authors. On the contrary, he accused Der Spiegel of plagiarism when he finds out that his original interviews with survivors were just copied. During the preparation of their article Der Spiegel even offered Verkijk Fl 500 if he would share the names of his informants, which he refused.

Original article

Johannes Adrianus van den Ende was only 19 years when he was instructed to guard the German internees in Sibolga and board the ss Van Imhoff with them. Like the rest of the crew and guards he was saved. His memory of the events haunted him for the rest of his life. He saw many internees drowning. He was reluctant to share his story for more than 20 years. There were rumours about high-up officials intimidating such whistleblowers.

Van der Ende's information is accurate and based on an interview with Volkskrant journalist Martin Ruyter. Only one remarkable slip of the pen happens where Van den Ende (or Martin Ruyter?) confuses Walkowiak, who jumped overboard, with Albert Vehring. It is difficult to mix up the two as Vehring directly escaped to Nias and could never have met Van den Ende.

Original article

The Van Imhoff publications in Der Spiegel lead to critical questions in Dutch Parliament in February 1966. On 15 February initial (written) questions are raised by Mr. Lankhorst of the Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP). Most answers are given on 25 February by the Minister of Defence Mr. Piet de Jong who is a former submarine captain and, one might expect, familiar with maritime history and the code of conduct at sea. He often answers on behalf of the Prime Minister Mr. Cals.

Questions included: Was the Cabinet aware of the foreign press coverage of the Van Imhoff affair? If the Cabinet did not agree with the interpretation of events by Der Spiegel, would it then be prepared to investigate and present the truth on what really happened?

In his answer, Minister De Jong waives the need for more fact-finding. He refers to the intervention of the Ministry of Justice back in 1956 to start preliminary investigations against both captains by the Attorney General in Amsterdam. In his conclusion the AG, Mr van Dullemen, advises the Minister that there is no basis for criminal charges.

One month later on the 15 March 1966, there is a second round of questions by Mr. Lankhorst. Minister de Jong notes on 1 April 1966 that, considering the time and circumstances, no wrong decisions were taken in the Van Imhoff affair.

In the Senate ("Eerste Kamer") on 15-16 March 1966 serious doubts are raised: fact-finding is incomplete, the choice of witnesses is one-sided, original documents are filed in too many departments. The Minister also has to refute the impression that the Dutch Government is trying to hush up the whole affair.

Senator Mr. Algra reminds the audience that the national integrity is at stake in dealing with the case. He states that his conscience is uneasy about the gaps and several statements in the story.

When rounding off the debates, Minister De Jong becomes quite outspoken about three major issues: 1) he denies that explicit orders were given NOT to save German victims, 2) there is no basis for criminal charges against the captain(s) and 3) there has been no attempt to hush-up the affair.

The debates gradually focus on the classic way out for unresolved issues: the need for more research and fact-finding. As follow-up action it is decided to bring together all relevant files and dossiers and keep these accessible.

The Minister of Defence promises that all related documentation from the Ministry of Justice, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij will be combined and managed by the State Institute for War Documentation (Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie). In this institute, the Van Imhoff dossier will be handled by a designated qualified person: former Col. Vromans from the NEI Navy.

The Minister also mentions that a senior history researcher from the Utrecht university is working on a publication on the Dutch Merchant fleet in wartime which will include an analysis of the Van Imhoff disaster. The researcher in question is historian K.W.K.L. Bezemer. For whatever reason, Mr. Bezemer finishes his study not earlier than 1987. That is twenty years later which is, even in academic circles, a pretty long time. (See Bezemer timeline entry 1987)

The minutes of the Parliamentary questions and debates are filed in Government archives under Inventory number 3425 (1966) with the title: "Vragen van het Tweede Kamerlid van H.J. Lankhorst betreffende het vergaan van het Nederlandse schip 'Van Imhoff' in 1942 als gevolg van bombardementen door Japanse vliegtuigen"

1st round of written questions and answers

2nd round of written questions and answers

Minutes of debate in Senate 1/2

Minutes of debate in Senate 2/2

PSP member of Parliament Mr. Lankhorst

Minister of Defence Piet de Jong

After a first round of critical questioning in the House of Representatives, many newspapers cover the response of Defence Minister Piet de Jong who played a key role in these discussions.

Generally, the journalists followed the Minister's approach boosting the examples of proper behaviour at sea including the saving of a German victim, the weather conditions and further Japanese attacks which prohibited rescue attempts and the mobilisation of boats and airplanes to search for victims for several days.

Topics like governmental responsibility and the recognition of unnecessary suffering by the victims were not raised. In those days, the relationship with Germany was still uneasy and overshadowed by memories of WWII. Making apologies for a possible war crime seemed the hardest thing to do.





















Heekeren, Cornelis van - Batavia seint: Berlijn. Bert Bakker / Daamen, Den Haag. 1967.

One of the more lively Van Imhoff studies is based on first-hand interviews with survivors, guards and authorities who are still alive at the time of writing.

The author maintains a moderate view on the accountability of the two captains and authorities in charge. His key question is: “What would you have done as a captain in this situation?”.

Van Heekeren lived and worked in the Netherlands East Indies as civil servant in the colonial administration. He was actually involved in the round-up of Germans in a remote area in North Sumatra.

During the research and write-up, Van Heekeren also writes letters to the key actors and survivors. On page 374 he notes that Captain Berveling did not respond at all and Captain Hoeksema wrote back that he could not remember any details. The KPM responds in trivial commonplaces, referring to the Government's Information Desk. Van Heekeren states that he understands these reactions and that both captains remain in hiding.

The publication in 1966/1967 follows just one year after the Van Imhoff debate in Parliament.

In 1984 a reprint of the book is published. The reasons for a reprint are not explained in the preface. The text remains the same, verbatim. The swastika illustration on the cover is removed. The press is rather quiet about the reprint. It does not trigger a (renewed) public discussion. It is equally quiet in 1987 when the long awaited historical study by Bezemer on the Dutch merchant fleet in war time ("De Nederlandse Koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog") appears.

In the 2nd edition of January 1982, Van Heekeren mentions (pg 224) that after the publication of the 1st edition Captain Berveling wrote a letter to the author under conditions of confidentiality. The letter is archived by the NIOD in the Van Heekeren collection. What does this letter say?

1966 and 1984 print of "Batavia seint: Berlijn"

Aloysius Seitz worked as friar in Flores. He appears in Nias survivors group picture. Referred to as H.H.R. Seitz in some lists and sources.

He is the only survivor of the 18 Missionaries of Steyl on the Van Imhoff.

In 1967, Aloysius' publishes his experiences as article in the annual pocket diary of the Steyler Mission in 1968. The original text is difficult to trace. Perhaps our website visitors can help here.

(Quote, translation pending) ... Man hatte uns alle unsere Habseligkeiten abgenommen. Wir besassen nicht mehr als ein Handtuch, ein Stück Seife, und die Kleider, die wir am Leibe trugen. Das Schiff bot kaum Raum für 200 Menschen, daher worden 111 Internierte wieder an Land geschickt. Wir restlichen 366 lagen in den untersten Lagerräumen des Schiffes wie Heringe in einer Tonne. Alle Eingänge und Luken wurden mit starkem Stacheldraht gesichert, hinter denen die Wachtposten standen. Wir konnten nichts sehen, da wir uns tief under der Wasserlinie befanden, und hatten das Gefühl, in einer Rattenfalle zu sitzen. Eine unerträgliche Hitze und ein furchtbarer Gestank füllten die Räume. Wir wussten nicht, wohin die Reise ging. Wir hofften nach Australien, wo wir am meisten Menschlichkeit erwarteten.

Am Spätnachmittag stach das Schiff in See. Einige von uns waren auf dem Hinterdeck in einer Art von Zwinger untergebracht. Sie riefen uns nach der nächtlichen Fahrt am frühen Morgen zu, dass wir umgekehrt seien und wieder den Hafen anliefen. Von den Wacht posten hörten wir, dass der Kapitän einen Funkspruch empfangen habe, dass er alle Internierte wegbringen müsse. So wurden auch noch die an Land gebliebenen 111 Mitgefangenen in das Schiff gestopft, ohne, dass ein weiterer Raum zur Verfügung stand. Nun konnten wir nicht einmal mehr die Beine ausstrecken und uns fast nicht mehr rühren. Gegen Abend fuhr das Schiff erneut aus. Wir bekamen fast nichts zu essen, und was noch schlimmer war, nur unzureichend zu trinken. So schaukelte uns das Schiff mit für uns unbekanntem Ziel zwei Tage durch den Ozean. Am dritten Tag, dem 19. Januar 1942, schreckte uns gegen Mittag eine Explosion auf, die das Schiff erschütterte. Wir wussten nicht, was es war. Ehe wir den Grund erfragen konnten, folgte eine zweite, noch schlimmere Explosion, nach der uns die Kameraden aus ihrem Zwinger aus dem Hinterdeck zuriefen, dass ein japanisches Flugzeug uns mit Bomben angriff. Einen Augenblick hörten wir sein Motorengedrohn und spürten, ohne es sehen zu können, wie es zum Tiefflug und auf uns zukam. Dann fiel wieder eine Bombe, und sie hatte das schiff so getroffen, dass es sich wie ein waidwundes Tier aufbäumte. Danach stoppten dis Maschinen, und unter den Internierten erhob sich ein wildes Geschrei vor Angst. Wir wurden hin- und hergeworfen, hörten zischenden Dampf und fühlten, wie das Schiff sich zur Seite neigte.

Über uns gerieten die Holländer in sichtbare Nervosität und Angst. Da sie wohl fürchteten, wir könnten einen Ausbruchversuch unternehmen, verdoppelten sie die Wachen, die zu uns hinabschreien: "Wer den Stacheldreht berührt, wird ohne Warnung erchossen!" Zugleich merkten wir aber, dass auf Deck grosse Verwirrung entstand. Ein paar Matrosen schossen mit Karabinern auf das nochmals anfliegende Flugzeug. Als das Flugzeug verschwunden war, kam der holländische Wachkommandant an die Tür und versuchte uns zu beruhigen. Er lobte uns, dass wir uns ruhig verhalten hätten und sagte, dem Schiff sei nichts Ernstes geschehen, es würden nur die Maschinen überprüft, dann könnte die Fahrt fortgesetzt werden. Wir sollten uns keine Sorgen machen: für uns würde genauso gesorgt wie für das Wachpersonal und die Schiffsmannschaft. Falls wirklich ein Unglück geschehe, würde der Kapitän als letzter das Schiff verlassen. Seine Worte waren aber nur Lügen, um zu verhindern, dass wir zu meutern anfingen. In Wifklichkeit hatte man das Schiff schon aufgegeben (Unquote)

Ref: Tom Womack - Allied Defense of the Malay Barrier, 1941-1942

In this study on WWII strategy the importance and organization of the maritime defense line against the Japanese invasion in SE Asia is discussed. The merchant navy came under the command of the regional military Commander. Operational decisions on ship movements and the Captains' conduct became military matters. This included the rules of engagement at sea concerning military and civilian war victims.

The Van Imhoff disaster is retold under the heading "The Van Imhoff scandal" on page 126-127

Scheidl, Franz J. Von - Geschichte der Verfemung Deutschlands, Band 6. Das Unrecht an Deutschland, Rachejustiz an Deutschland,

Page 318-328: Auch Holland ist nicht frei von Kriegsverbrechen, 1968, Vienna, Dr.-Scheidl-Verlag

In this revisionist view on Germany's past, the Van Imhoff affair is treated as one of the many war crimes committed by the allied forces towards Germany.

On page 323 Von Scheidl refers to a newspaper article by Peter Ostrum (in NZ No.29, 16 July 1967) under the title "Deutsche ins Meer gestossen" "...über den holländischen Kriegsverbrecherfall des Mordschiffes Van Imhoff der holländischen KPM (...), der in Holland ängstlich vertuscht war..."
Online version of Das Unrecht an Deutschland, by Franz J. Scheidl 1967
Same, for the full PDF version

In 1969 the Netherlands War Graves Foundation started to register Dutch second world war victims and confirm the location where they died or were buried. Researchers of the Foundation usually contacted family members of the deceased to verify their fate.

Internees on the Van Imhoff were, in principle, also considered Dutch war victims and the Indian ocean off the coast of Nias their seaman’s grave. However, not all internees who drowned at sea and whose names were confirmed and circulating for many years, were automatically registered as Dutch victim of war. Only 24 names from the official victims’ lists appear in the Foundation’s administration:

This discrepancy could be due to the fact that the Foundation did not receive information from the victims’ family to confirm their fate or place of burial. Or: the Dutch nationality or citizenship of the victim was not officially established. The original correspondence between the Foundation and the victim’s family is copied into the personal biographies on this site.

In 1969 the Dutch Government acknowledges the possibility of excesses and possible war crimes during the post-war military interventions in Indonesia. The public image of the integrity of "our boys in the tropics" and the fatherly intentions of the government for the future of Indonesia go up in smoke.

German weekly Der Spiegel picks up on these revelations as these are associated with hush-ups similar to the Van Imhoff affair. The link between the two is quickly made. In the article, the tendency of Dutch officials to deny mischief and play the innocent party is illustrated in Der Spiegel by quoting the then prime minister Willem Drees who states in an interview: "I never heard of any war crimes, except in two cases or so.“

Source: Der Spiegel no 7, 1969

On 22 February 1969 (?date to be checked) weekly newspaper Vrij Nederland publishes an extensive article on the ban to broadcast the Van Imhoff documentary. Author Van Heekeren responds to this article by letter, as follows:

[quote, translated from Dutch] ... During the research for my book (...on the Van Imhoff affair...) which included interviews with tens of witnesses, I had the opportunity to see the documentary of Dick Verkijk. Although the film is cleverly made, I could imagine why it was never shown on TV. The weakness of Verkijk to continuously propagate and never "doubt" anything, considerably spoils the film. He transforms the complex affair into a historically contestable picture which can only create the lasting impression among the viewers that the Germans were intentionally killed.

My book convincingly demonstrates that the case is different (...) The mayhem after the viewing made it clear how wise it was not to broadcast the documentary. It would surely have triggered lots of offensiveness. Of course, one does not have to be afraid of this but it should serve a purpose. My book was well received by Dutch and German readers. Only some former NSB members surprised me with their abusive telephone calls, but one doesn't have to take that seriously ... [unquote].

Ref: Heinz Roth - Was geschah nach 1945? Teil 1 Der Zusammenbruch. Auf der Suche nach der Wahrheit. 6301 Odenhausen Lumda, Postfach. Erschienen im Selbstverlag, 1971

In this publication the author extensively borrows from Franz von Scheidl's "Geschichte der Verfemung Deutschlands" Band 6. Das Unrecht an Deutschland, Rachejustiz an Deutschland, Page 318-328: Auch Holland ist nicht frei von Kriegsverbrechen, 1968, Vienna, Dr. Scheidl Verlag

Full text of Wass geschah nach 1945? Van Imhoff quotes on page 125 - 129

Ref: L. L. von Münching: De Nederlandse Koopvaardijvloot in de Tweede Wereldoorlog - De Lotgevallen van Nederlandse koopvaardijschepen en hun bemanning. Deel 1 en Deel 2, Bussum, 1978, De Boer Maritiem / Den Boer ISBN: 9070027917 & 9789070027919

Münching's book can be seen as a prequel to the following book with a similar content:
Bezemer, K.W.L. - Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Elsevier, Amsterdam 1986. History of Dutch merchant shipping in the second world war. Especially page 643-680 are relevant to the subject. Ref timeline entry 1986.

Author Paul von Tucher publishes his study of German missions in British India. In Chapter 10, the fate of missionaries expelled from NEI and their suffering in internment camp Dehra Dun is covered together with an account of the Van Imhoff disaster.

German missions in British India Nationalism: case and crises in Missions. © 1980 Selbstverlag Paul H. von Tucher, 700 pages

De Koninklijke Marine in de Tweede Wereldoorlog deel 1,2 en 3,
Ph M Bosscher, Published by T.Wever bv, Franeker, 1984

Deel. 1: Voorgeschiedenis en de verrichtingen in Nederland, de Europese wateren en het noordelijk deel van de Atlantische Oceaan tot het uitbreken van de oorlog in Azië in december 1941.

Deel. 2: Indië tot en met 8 maart 1942.

Deel. 3: Zonder subtitel.

The volumes are written in Dutch, out of print but still available from secondhand bookshops.

Bosscher is specialized in the world of ships, seafaring and sea heroes. He generally takes a protective stand against anybody who doubts the qualities of the Dutch Navy and its personnel. That includes historian Bezemer who happens to publish his opus magnum on the KPM in the same year. Read the reviews of Bezemer's work where Bosscher also joins in.

The role of the NEI Navy and the KPM in the hasty expulsion of Germans and other politically unwanted civilians is not always clear. Further research is needed here.

Historian Dr Lou de Jong is considered to be the official history writer of The Netherlands in wartime. He was the CEO of the National Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) in Amsterdam. He had easy access to documents and a network of officials and witnesses.

The first part of his multivolume standard work was published in 1969. Eventually the project came up with 14 volumes and a series of amendments and footnotes. The overall title is "The Kingdom of The Netherlands during the Second World War 1939-1945", Leiden, Martinus Nijhoff, 1984

In 1984, the final volumes appeared that contain the war in NEI, including a detailed coverage of the Van Imhoff affair.
All volumes can be downloaded (for free) from the internet.

In terms of timing, De Jong could incorporate the censorship discussions concerning the Verkijk documentary (1965), the study of C. van Heekeren for his "Batavia seint Berlijn" (1966), the debates in Dutch Parliament (1966) and the concept scripts of L. Bezemer for his "Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, which was published two years later (Amsterdam/Brussel, 1986).


According to the author Dr L. De Jong, his Van Imhoff report is mainly based on the studies by C. van Heekeren, Batavia seint 'Berlijn’ (1966) and W. L. Bezemer, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog (Amsterdam/Brussel, 1986), page 643-680 De Jong was allowed to use concept scripts of Bezemer’s study which was published two years later.

Dr L de Jong with the final volume of his opus magnum

Painter Trees Ruijs (1925 - 2016) is an IndoEuropean artist who fled wartime Indonesia. In the Netherlands, she continues her artistic career and tries to come to terms with the horrors of Japanese occupation and imprisonment. The Van Imhoff disaster is part of her recollections which she visualized in a triptych with the title "The Van Imhoff Affair" using paper, spray and acrylic paint.

The paintings are incorporated in a biography of Trees Ruijs (Terugblik op de Jappentijd) prepared by Maaike Vonk (editor), Erik Somers and Irene Linssenwhich. The book was published in August 2015 (ISBN 9789462581142).

The re-print of Van Heekeren's detailed account of the Van Imhoff affair was issued without additions or omissions. Van Heekeren confidently states that there was no need for alterations as he pretty well covered everything there is to tell about the affair.

On the last page of the second edition he notes that both captains were approached for their comments on de book but they firmly kept away from all media, writers and journalists. Only a personal letter from Captain Berveling to Van Heekeren slipped through but its contents are still sealed with confidentiality restrictions.

Two editions with twenty years in between.

Last page in first print 1966

Bezemer, K.W.L. - Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Elsevier, Amsterdam 1986. (History of Dutch merchant shipping in the second world war.)

On 15 February 1966 Dutch parliament faced questioning on the Van Imhoff affair by the Pacifist Socialist Party. This was debate was triggered by articles in Der Spiegel (1965-1966) which, in turn, originated from Dutch journalist Dick Verkijk. Minister of Defense Piet de Jong (once himself a submarine captain) negotiated his way out in April 1966 by promising to compile and make accessible all relevant documents in the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij and the Institute of War Documentation (NIOD).
It was also announced that a senior researcher at the Utrecht University was busy with an authoritative publication on the wartime history of the KPM, offering conclusive answers to pending Van Imhoff questions.

The designated researcher appeared to be Mr K W L Bezemer who managed to publish his study in 1986. After 20 years the political and public interest in the Van Imhoff affair had faded away. Bezemer did not add new research findings or historic interpretations. Early draft text for his study were shared with Dr. Lou de Jong for his historic review of WWII, which also included ample attention for the Van Imhoff affair

Bezemer's study did not remind post-war politicians in The Hague to officially re-open plenary debates. On the other hand, the seasoned insiders of the affair did wake up and had their say in the media.

Below are excerpts from Bezemer's study that relate to the Van Imhoff affair and a few responses from the press.

K W L Bezemer - source: NRC newspaper 14 November 1986

Review - Trouw - 13 November 1986

Review NRC - 14 November 1986

Review - Het Vrije Volk - 14 November 1986

Review - De Volkskrant - 14 November 1986

Review - Algemeen Dagblad - 22 November 1986

Review - De Volkskrant - 27 December 1986

Basel Mission Archives

Package title and search aid: "Die Internierung der Deutschen in Niederländischindien und Brit. Indien. 1940-46"



In newspaper NRC Handelsblad, journalist Peter Schumacher rediscovers how the German invasion of The Netherlands in May 1940 and the bombing of Rotterdam resulted in an immediate public hatred of the Germans and anything German in the NEI.

Further reading

In its public relations, the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij often positions itself with an image of adventure and romance. Artist Walter Spies, the most famous victim of the Van Imhoff was often approached for the design of posters and printwork for the KPM and he often used images of romantic travelling.

Lindeboom's photobook fits in this nostalgic tradition and contains no confrontational references to the past glory of the Van Imhoff and Boelongan.

Lindeboom, Lucas - Oude K.P.M.-Schepen van ‘Tempo Doeloe.’ (Old K.P.M.-Ships from the past). Several volumes. The books still circulate in secondhand bookshops.

This German language magazine is published 2 - 3 times per year. It is an outlet and forum for memories and experiences of Germans who lived in East Asia. The internment of Germans in various Asian countries is part and parcel of their Asian history. The personal stories have definitely contributed to the identity building and self-esteem of this rather special category of German citizens. The imprisonment in the Dutch East Indies and the Van Imhoff tragedy form a shared trauma in several personal stories. It is worth having a look at their website Or:

Das Studienwerk Deutsches Leben in Ostasien e.V. (StuDeO) ist ein gemeinnütziger Verein, der 1992 von einem Kreis von Ostasiendeutschen, in dessen Mittelpunkt Pfarrer Wolfgang Müller stand, mit dem Ziel gegründet wurde, zurückblickend auf die eigenen Erinnerungen und Erfahrungen in Ostasien, das Wissen um das Wirken der Deutschen in Ostasien wachzuhalten.

Wir sammeln, bewahren und erschließen Zeitzeugnisse Deutscher, die in China, in der Mongolei, in Japan, Korea und in Niederländisch-Ostindien gelebt haben, sowohl für die deutschsprachige Öffentlichkeit als auch für Interessenten aus diesen Regionen.

Zum Zwecke des Erhalts und der Erschließung dieser Quellen für die Forschung unterhalten wir ein umfangreiches Archiv, eine Fotothek und Bibliothek. Darüber hinaus publizieren wir im Selbstverlag regelmäßig StuDeO-INFO und unregelmäßig Sonderbände.

StuDeO ist in München eingetragen und wird aus Mitgliedsbeträgen und aus Spenden finanziert.

Grobben, Gerrit - De Van Imhoff. Published by Chris van Houts, Amsterdam, 1997.

Gerrit Grobben is a Dutch historian and fiction writer born in Amsterdam, 1950. His novel "De Van Imhoff" follows two befriended doctors in the Netherlands East-Indies, one with a German background, the other Dutch, at the start of the second world war. They live the happy colonial life until the German friend is arrested and deported with the Van Imhoff. The Dutch doctor is mobilized to oversee the well-being of the prisoners.

The book is well researched concerning the details of the Van Imhoff events. The medical care and health inspections in internment camps are also based on facts.

The author Gerrit Grobben Photo: © Chris van Houts, Amsterdam


Grobben's novel "De Van Imhoff" book receives a positive review from Joop van den Berg in newspaper Trouw of 21 November 1997. Van den Berg uses his review to recall "the cruel story" of the Van Imhoff and he concludes that in confusing times only personal courage can help to make the right decisions.

It is an interesting proposition to consider the conduct of Captain Hoeksema and Captain Berveling as the lack of personal courage to go against the military instruction to leave the German victims drowning at sea. There are indeed examples of Dutch (and even Japanese) Captains who picked up their drowning enemies from the sea, probably against the will of their superiors.

With the launch of the internet, the Van Imhoff affair also becomes accessible in the public domain. Visits to archives and libraries are less and less required. However, in 2017, the digitization and uploading of primary documents often stays behind and would still require a personal visit to specialist institutions.That is why on this website the uploading of additional information and documents is an ongoing process

Through internet, the Van Imhoff affair is re-discovered by new generations of curious stakeholders, interested researchers and, of course, descendants of the victims, survivors and actors involved. Most of these internet users add new information themselves: casually copied, deliberately twisted or carefully reviewed and analysed.

This website includes links and references to these new sources. It is noted that such links regularly get broken or lead to obsolete sites. New sites with Van Imhoff information also emerge. So, regular browsing is required.

Gradually, it is no longer clear which sites provide primary, secondary, tertiary etc information. Original, primary information mostly remains in archives and is still being digitized for access through internet.

Just missing his 100th birthday

Source: Barbara Bieling in: StuDeO-INFO 12/1998, Studienwerk deutsches Leben in Ostasien e.V., Bonn/Munchen



The VARA initiative to block broadcasting of the Van Imhoff documentary is analysed by Chris Vos from a media history point of view in Tijdschrift voor Media Geschiedenis #2, 1999, blz 5-21, under the title "De Vara, de oorlog en de doofpot - Waarom de Van Imhoff affaire nooit het beeldscherm heeft gehaald. (The VARA, the war and the hush up - why the Van Imhoff affair never made it to the tv screen).

The author offers a broad perspective of censorship examples on Dutch tv with one positive result: after the intervention and the media uproar about it, the path is cleared for critical journalism without censorship, exposing war crimes in the NEI during post-colonial military interventions.

The Van Imhoff affair was never re-told on Dutch tv.
(Addition: In 2017 a new docudrama is in the making also featuring Dick Verkijk. See this timeline 2017).

When Jan Willem Rengelink dies in 1999, Renso H. van Bergen writes an In Memoriam summarizing the milestones in Dutch broadcasting:

... Die overtuiging hield hij ook als het ging om de Van Imhoff-affaire in 1965, het jaar waarin hij was teruggekeerd in zijn eigenlijke functie van secretaris van de Vara. De Van Imhoff was het schip waarmee vijfhonderd Duitsers naar elders werden getransporteerd na de Japanse inval in Indië. Het schip werd getorpedeerd en Duitse geïnterneerden kwamen hierbij om het leven. Rengelink vond de hierover gemaakte documentaire niet in alle opzichten objectief en blokkeerde de uitzending. Daarnaast had bij nog een argument: ook als in deze tragische zaak fouten waren gemaakt dan kon dit niet worden los gezien van de alles veroorzakende nazi-ideologie. Wat dat laatste betekende had hij zelf in de oorlogsjaren ondervonden. Hij had gevangen gezeten in Scheveningen en in het Duitse Coesfeld. Na de oorlog werd hem het Verzetskruis toegekend (...)

Full text of article: The VARA, the war and the hush-up
Copy from Tijdschrift voor Media Geschiedenis #2, 1999, blz 5-21. Chris Vos (1999): De Vara, de oorlog en de doofpot - Waarom de Van Imhoff affaire nooit het beeldscherm heeft gehaald. With thanks to Tom Slootweg, PhD candidate, junior lecturer, University of Groningen, Faculty of Arts, Dept. of Arts, Culture and Media & Dept. of Journalism and Media Studies

Full text of In Memoriam Jan Willem Rengelink (1912-1999)

Kerstin Hug: PhD „Die medizinische Fakultät des Internierungslagers Dehra Dun/ Britisch-Indien, Mai
1945 bis September 1946 - Studium in der Gefangenschaft-".
Medical Faculty, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, 1999.
203 pages.

In this PhD study, the Van Imhoff disaster is one of the many imprisonment examples that are analysed from a medical perspective.

The study can be ordered directly from the author: Dr Kerstin Hug, Innere Margarethen Strasze 24 A, CH - 4051 Basel, Switzerland.

A review of this PhD is published by Friedrich von Raumer in Studienwerk Deutsches Leben in Ostasien e.V - magazine StuDeO - INFO, April 2002, Bonn / München.

Ernst Reiner in: Studienwerk Deutsches Leben in Ostasien e.V - magazine StuDeO-INFO, April & September 1999, Bonn/ München





In 2001, Herwig Zahorka writes an essay on Arca Domas a German military graveyard in Java. The subtitle reflects the romance that is attached to the place: "Eine Geschichte von einem verschwundenen Königreich, von heiligen Bäumen, von brutalen Kriegen, von gesunkenen Schiffen, von verlorenen Seemannsseelen und von stillen Gräbern am Hang eines tropischen Vulkans" (...a story of a vanished kingdom, of sacred trees, brutal wars, sunken ships, lost mariners' souls and silent graves at the slope of a tropical vulcano...)

The essay became very popular and has been reprinted and copied in many magazines and websites, including:

- Schaltung Küste, Jan./Febr. 44/Nr.186: 15-25. Verband deutscher U-Bootfahrer e.V.

- KAMERADEN, Nr. 4, April 2001: 5-6 (1. Teil) und Nr. 5, Mai 2001: 6-7 (2. Teil). Stuttgart.

- Soldat im Volk; Nr. 5, Mai 2001: 105-107. Verband deutscher Soldaten. Bonn-Bad Godesberg.

- KITA; 1.01: 70-78 Magazin der Deutsch-Indonesischen Gesellschaft e.V., Köln.

- Kriegsmarine Magazine; nr. 4-2001: 78-85

- MarineForum; 11/01: Gelbe Seiten 78-80. E.S.Mittler&Sohn, Hamburg.

- Köhlers Flotten-Kalender, 2004: 130-139; Hamburg

Full article

Wikipedia was launched on January 15, 2001, by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Sanger coined its name as a blending of "wiki" and "encyclopedia".

The Van Imhoff affair was eventually covered in various languages: Dutch, German, Japanese and Bahasa Indonesia. The website was used as reference.,_1914)

A brief article by Martin Elands in the magazine CheckPoint discusses the KPM position during World War II. The fate of the Van Imhoff is not mentioned.

Siebert, Rüdiger - Deutsche Spuren in Indonesien – Zehn Lebensläufe in bewegten Zeiten. Horlemann-Verlag, Unkel/Rhein, 2002.

The book includes extensive bibliographies of outstanding Germans in the Dutch colonies. In several lives, the deportation of Germans and the Van Imhoff affair re-appear as ominous, life-shattering events.

A summary of this study is available on internet under the heading "Herausforderung Indonesien Macht, Kritik, Befreiung – Niederländische Kolonialgeschichte im Spiegel deutscher Lebensläufe". Published by the Deutsch-Indonesischer Gesellschaft.

A summary is available here:
Full address:

From 9 - 11 May 2003 a reunion was organised for the families and descendants of German missionaries in Africa and Asia. It was an opportunity to share memories and unavoidable to make a special references to the Van Imhoff disaster which was traumatic for so many families.

Studienwerk Deutsches Leben in Ostasien e.V - magazine StuDeO - INFO, , Bonn / München

Rolf Kosiek, Olaf Rose & Heinrich Wendig: "Der Große Wendig – Richtigstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte". Veröffentlichungen des Institutes für Deutsche Nachkriegsgeschichte" 5 Volumes: 36, 37, 41, 49, 52. Grabert-Verlag, Tübingen 2006–2010

The Van Imhoff affair is covered in Volume (Band) 1, page 827-829

Both Albert Vehring and his wife Hilde wrote an autobiography of their adventurous live and published these in-house in a limited amount of copies. Daughter Luise preserved some and offered these rare documents to the library of StuDeO in May 2004

The autobiography of Albert Vehring (1885-1966) which covers his life up to his return to Germany in 1946 is now accessible as StuDeO Archiv-Nr. 1466. Hilde Vehring's „ Unter der Äquatorsonne" is registered as StuDeO Archiv-Nr. 1349. It tells the story of her life abroad from 1933 to 1946 in letters, messages and photos.

Original message
Studienwerk Deutsches Leben in Ostasien e.V - StuDeO-INFO 04/2004, Bonn/München

Bappert, Jens - Der Untergang der Van Imhoff, ein Kriegsverbrechen? Darstellung und Bewertung eines in den Niederlanden und Deutschland umstrittenen Schiffsuntergangs im Zweiten Weltkrieg. 2004. Unpublished thesis (No. HIS 2004/2)

The key question in the title is answered affirmatively. The study is based on a thorough analysis of archived documents and consultations with legal experts. This includes Prof Bert Röling a world famous expert on war crimes.

In fact, prof. Röling was already familiar with the Van Imhoff case as he was asked by the KPM in 1949 to advise on the way to recover the 4 million guilders of compensation money for the victims paid to Nazi authorities (Timeline ref: 1949, Röling)


Jens Bappert was so kind to make available an early draft of his thesis. The final version may differ from the current one

On 23 July 2004, an extensive series of postings appear at

The Van Imhoff affair is included as prominent example of a Dutch warcrime.

Logo of axishistory site

Harald Fühner - Nachspiel: Die niederländische Politik und die Verfolgung von Kollaborateuren und NS-Verbrechern, 1945-1989. Münster, Waxmann Verlag, 2005.

(Van Imhoff refs pending)

The location of the Van Imhoff memorial stones is now described as

„Van Imhoff“-Katastrophe, AA 19, zwei große Gedenkplatten, nahe der Waldstraße


Friar Heinrich Seitz (Aloysius) SVD is one of the few survivors who wrote a personal eyewitness account of his survival. The earliest versions were published in 1957 and 1967 (see this timeline). The story of Alois Seitz together with his portrait were frequently copied in later Van Imhoff studies.

In September 2006 the story was re-published in the StuDeO - Info magazine of the Deutsches Leben in Ostasien Verein.

Full text

Janna lived her last years in Vlaardingen and deceased on 7 March 2007. She took with her the family memories of her husband's short career in the KPM, the collapse of the NEI colony, the Van Imhoff disaster, Japanese war camps, the very early death of her little daughter Mary and the repetitive inclosure of the tormented, silent Marius by authorities, scholars and journalists.

Son Cornelis is then all alone.

Death announcement of Janna Braber, the wife of Marius Leendert Berveling Source:

Petrik Matanasi runs a blogsite on the Island of Nias. It is full of small histories, loose facts and social chitchat. On Monday 8 October 2007 a history is posted on the proclamation of the Free Republic of Nias by the German survivors of the Van Imhoff.

Matanasi feels attracted to the story. He cherishes the idea of an unique identity of Nias, perhaps as basis for a (future) special administrative status (daerah istimewa) in the country.

In this context, the short, small-scale struggle for independence by the Van Imhoff survivors, is an inspirational example for the larger Indonesian movement for independence. After the war, the remaining Germans in Indonesia, including a few Van Imhoff survivors, actually assisted the freedom fighters with tactical advice and information against the Dutch and the approaching British army.

Petrik Matanasi

Full article

Watch Indonesia is a German, Berlin-based political NGO, active in Indonesia. They critically promote human rights, democracy and the environment in Indonesia and East Timor.

They also re-tell the Van Imhoff story, based on an earlier publication in Indonesian magazine Suara Nr. 1/2008: In den Wogen der Zeitgeschichte - Der Untergang der Van Imhoff, by Alex Flor

The purpose of publishing the affair on their site is not made clear. Perhaps the webmaster feels that the depiction of the Dutch as evil in this matter and the Germans as victims helps to sympathize with the German NGO.

More information on Alex Flor

Full article

With the death of son Cornelis (Kees) Berveling the last possibility to give a voice to Captain Marius Leendert Berveling's personal memories and feelings is gone.

At the request of the webmasters, niece Beate Berveling, explored whether the Van Imhoff affair and the role of Marius Berveling was known at all in larger family circles. This appeared not to be the case. (ref timeline dated 23 January 2010)

Someone took the initiative to put up a joint family grave at the Emmaus cemetery in Vlaardingen. Perhaps Cornelis himseelf organized this.


Looking ahead to the month of May, when the Dutch commemorate their liberation and WWII victims, a critical article on the Van Imhoff affair is published in De Pers op Zaterdag.

In the article, the words "cruelty" and "murder" are no longer taboo in retelling the Van Imhoff story. Historians and journalists no longer shy away from the Dutch hypocrisy towards WWII crimes that may have been committed in their own ranks.

Full article (in Dutch)

Posting of Van Imhoff affair at website.

Geerken, Horst Henry - Der Ruf des Geckos: 18 erlebnisreiche Jahre in Indonesien. BukitCinta Books, Bonn, 2009. Also translated in English (The gecko's call) and Bahasa Indonesia (Panggilan Tokek).

The author looks back at his 18 years' stay in Indonesia and reflects on the German heritage in the country. This includes the Van Imhoff affair.

(further review pending)

(more details and context pending)

Arsip untuk November, 2009
Nias-Jerman – a very special relationship
Posted in Informasi, Sejarah on November 17, 2009 by Klaus Sturm

(translation pending)

De NPS start een nieuw samengestelde serie over de tweede wereldoorlog in negen delen van 50 minuten. De serie wordt gepresenteerd door Rob Trip, de eindredactie is in handen van Ad van Liempt met historische adviezen van prof.dr. Hans Blom, oud-directeur van het NIOD. De eerste uitzending van De Oorlog is op zondag 25 oktober 2009 en deel 9 op zondag 20 december 2009. Bij de tv-serie horen een boek (De Oorlog, Ad van Liempt, Uitgeverij Balans), een dvd-box en een website.

Deel 9 is gewijd aan de oorlog in Nederlands Indie. Op de website wordt dit onderdeel ondersteund met een kort achtergrond verhaal over het lot van de Duitse geinterneerden en de ondergang van de Van Imhoff.

In December 2009, the holiday resort of Cubadak Island off the west coast of Sumatra is managed by Marc and Dominique Aubry, the perfect hosts for this small tropical paradise. Marc is keen on guiding interested guests to the ship wreck just in front of the island in Tarusan Bay, a 5 minutes boat trip. He questioned the local people to find out the name, the history and the possible valuable cargo of the wreck. The only hint he managed to get was the fact that it was a Dutch ship bombed by the Japanese in 1942, perhaps with the name "Wilhelmina".

As visitors of Cubadak, Hendrik and Joris Wittenberg (the producers of this website) became interested in this forgotten story and realized that the answer could be found in Dutch archives. With a few clues, they delve deeper into the National Archives in The Hague and find the Ship Statements that best match with the ship wreck's position. One Ship's Statement (scheepsverklaring, see timeline entry 1942) confirms that the wreck is indeed the ms Boelongan, the ship that became involved in the socalled rescue action to save Van Imhoff survivors and whose captain refused to pick up any German survivor struggling in the open sea.

Today, Cubadak offers organized diving and snorkling trips to Tarusan Bay where the wreck is still visible. The Wittenberg report is available in the resort's library. Tourists' underwater movies of the Boelongan wreckage are frequently posted on YouTube. Search for: Boelongan + Cubadak + diving.

Teluk Carocok, Tarusan (Mandeh) Bay) seen from Cubadak hill top, facing west coast of Sumatra. Photo: Hendrik Wittenberg

In 2010, Adolf Heuken publishes his historical study "... dahin wo der Pfeffer wächst – Vierhundert Jahre Deutsche auf den Inseln Indonesiens ". This study compares to Siebert Rüdiger's "Deutsche Spuren in Indonesien" (see timeline entry 2002) but is visually more appealing to browse through.

The fate of German internees and the Van Imhoff disaster are part and parcel of Heuken's book. He confirms that the Dutch authorities got permission through diplomatic channels from Japanese authorities to use three ships for the deportation of internees each with red-cross markings. Three marked ships were used in rapid succession. The third ship was boarded with Dutch civilians and sailed to Australia. The Van Imhoff was a fourth, improvised ship, unprotected, and destined to become a sitting duck at open sea.

To support this claim of foul play, author Adolf Heuken refers to a personal friend (page 236-237) Alex Papadimitriou who worked as translator for the Japanese Secret Service during the war. In this capacity he came in contact with the Chief of the Japanese Secret Service from whom he came to know the Japanese view on the Van Imhoff affair. Allegedly, a high-ranking Japanese officer remembered the request of Dutch authorities to transport wartime internees to Australia which was a common destination for war-time prisoners. This request was approved by the Japanese authorities and three ships were prepared to depart from Sibolga harbour in the last weeks of December 1941. These ships were perhaps even spotted by Japanese planes but the pilots were under orders not to attack.

The use of the third protected ship for other purposes must have been highly secretive move and not to be shared with lower ranking personnel in the army or the Sibolga harbour authorities. The mobilisation of the ss Van Imhoff is indeed on record as highly improvised, delayed, with no Red Cross markings and with captain Hoeksema steaming with anger about the lack of rescue equipment, the denial of a safety escort at sea and no specific sailing instructions for several days. Such was in contrast with the smooth proceedings of the two preceding two ships that already left for Sri lanka and India.

The Japanese officer quoted in Heuken's book could have invented this story in order to exclusively hold the Dutch authorities responsible for the erroneous Japanese bombing of the Van Imhoff and the death of so many German allies.

In the period late 1941 to early 1942, last minute emergency escapes from NEI with KPM ships and airplanes to Australia were not uncommon. It is likely that the secretive third ship from Sibolga left for Australia. If so, there could still be witnesses and archived passenger lists and shipping documents to further explore this twist in the Van Imhoff story.

It is noted that mr Heuken is a credible and highly respected scholar. He is born on 17 July 1929 in Coesfeld, Germany, and a catholic priest by education. He lived and worked in Indonesia since 1963. He started German language courses at High Schools level in Jakarta und Yogyakarta. He founded German language based communities in Jakarta (1971), Singapore (1981) und Kuala Lumpur (1988). For his contributions to the post-war German-Indonesian Friendship activities he received the Bundesverdienstkreuz in 2008. He died 25 July 2019.

From left to right: author Adolf Heuken, Geoffrey Bennett (author of The Pepper Trader, i.e. Emil Helfferich) and Alex Papadimitriou (1924) who worked for German and Japanese diplomatic and intelligence circles in Indonesia during and after WW II. Source: Heuken, 2010, page 236. The photo was taken in 1998.
Several authors have picked up on the possible manipulation of shipment approvals, for instance at this Gaebler site


In 1952, not all Van Imhoff related documents may have been accessible to the public. Most accounts mention that three ships were allowed to evacuate German internees from Sibolga. Except the Leeuwarder Courant of 14 May 1952 where 4 ships are mentioned.

In 2010 Beate Berveling started a family tree project, sharing the results on her blog at

During her searches she hears about an otherwise unknown family member: Captain Marius Berveling who is a nephew of her grandfather. Curious about this "war-time Berveling" she anticipates finding a war-time hero.

For more information, Beate contacts an active seamen's and sailors' forum (Kombuispraat) whose experts alert her to search for the Van Imhoff affair in which the ms Boelongan also took part. Rather than telling Beate the sobering truth directly they also suggest to study some history books, incl Bezemer's History of the KPM. All this takes place on 23 January 2010, which would have been the 68th birthday of Captain Berveling.

Reading these postings on, the webmaster of contacted Beate Berveling to ask her if her family still remember Marius in any way. She was so kind to ask around and wrote back that nobody did.
Read all postings
Includes family tree results

In the German Marine Archives forum, the Van Imhoff affair is re-discovered, retold in detail and commented upon with indignation for several weeks.

Read all postings and debates:

(Review and context pending)

Claire Hake - Mein geteiltes Herz: Eine große Liebe zwischen Sumatra, Shanghai und Deutschland, 27 April 2010

The author Claire Hake was also active at the Neutral Ocean Forum. Ref: Timeline entry Jacob Steinlein, March 2011.

In 2010, mrs M A Mayer, daughter of victim Alfons Ernst Mayer, spots an article on the Van Imhoff disaster and the rise of a "Nazi Republic" on Nias island. The article is written by Willem Oosterbeek in Dutch daily NRC dated 1 June 2010.

Irritated by the limited scope of the article, Mrs Mayer writes a readers' letter to the NRC which is then published on 3 July 2010, under the title: "Nederland zwijgt te vaak over eigen misdragingen" (Too often the Dutch keep quiet about their own mischief).

Original NRC article

Response by mrs Mayer

Blogger Muhammad Zarkasy is an historian and admirer of the Bulongan Sultanate in Kalimantan. He suggests that the freighter ms Boelongan is named after the river Bulongan and the Bulongan Sultanate in Kalimantan.

Allegedly, the ship was designated for official visits by colonial authorities to Sultan Maulana Mohamat Djalaloeddin in the former capital of Tanjung Selor. This claim is not yet verified. The ms Boelongan is usually referred to as cargo ship, mainly for coal, with limited passenger accommodation.

In his description of the ms Boelongan, blogger Muhammad Zarkasy comes across the Van Imhoff story and retells it without a clear conclusion. In his narrative, the Captain's name "Hoeksema" is misspelled as "Bongvani" which is a rather odd slip of the pen. The same mistake is made by Albert Vehring which is even more odd as he knows Hoekstra's name very well. Apparently, Muhammad Zarkasyby copied his story from the Vehring statement made in 1949 which is widely distributed on internet.

The legitimacy of the Sultanate was discontinued in 1964 and the Sultan's heirs disappeared from public life.


High-level colonial administrators disembark from the ms Boelongan in ceremonial dress to pay respect to the Sultan of Boelongan.

In honour of special guests, traditional canoe races (rumba biduk) were performed. The ms Boelongan might be visible in the background. Picture taken 1925-1935. Source: collection Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.

(editing and translation pending)
(Is the blog site is discontinued ?)

29 november 2010 -
Een uitgebreide reeks postings verschijnt op De geschiedenis wordt op eigen wijze wordt verwoord en lijkt vooral gebaseerd op de details en persoonlijke getuigenissen die Van Heekeren heeft verzameld.

Lionel Sluiter,
7 Augustus 1948 – 16 Februari 2011. Londoh is een “Indische” site met veel geschiedenissen, herinneringen etc.

Eindigt met de oproep: Ik heb het boek Batavia seint: Berlijn! hier uitgebreid besproken om deze geschiedenis aan de vergetelheid te ontrukken.

Max Sopacua schreef:
goed verhaal, lekker lang.
08 december 2010 22:06:08

Bert schreef: Bert Immerzeel
Belangrijk om door te geven, deze geschiedenis.
De uitnodiging in de slotregels neem ik graag aan. Binnenkort schrijf ik er een stukje over!
19 december 2010 14:13:46
Londoh schreef:
Hi Bert,

Een goed boek om over deze gebeurtenissen te lezen is �Een kwestie van macht� door Anthony van Kampen. Het bewogen leven van de arts dr. L.J.A. Schoonheyt. Bevat o.a. uitvoerige beschrijving van de gruwelijke overtocht van 146 Nederlandse gevangenen vanuit Ned.- Indi� naar Suriname met het m.s."Tjisadane" jan./ febr. 1942.

19 december 2010 15:59:43
Ed Vos schreef:
Ik heb dit boek "Batavia seint Berlijn", ook in mijn bezit, maar kan het nergens vinden. Wat ik wel gevonden heb, ik was het boekje al lang vergeten, is "Kamptoestanden in Nederlands-oostindie en suriname 1940-1946 van J.E. Stulemeijer, met als subtitel Een doorgaans onbekende historie die toch ons allen gaat.

Uitgeversbedrijf De Pauwe cv, Amsterdam 1978, ca 62 pagina's.

Zoals veel boeken die ik heb, heb ik ook dit niet gelezen, maar je bent er al bladerend zo doorheen Het is een welkome aanvulling op het boek Batavia seint Berlijn. Het gaat dus niet over de toestanden in de Japanse kampen, maar over de gebeurtenissen die plaatsvonden na het geven van het codewoord "Berlijn"

p.s. wie op de titel van het boek zoekt in google zal een paar leuke artikelen vinden

en Tessel Polman's �Men is fascist of men is het niet� De Indische NSB, de imperiale droom en Musserts koloniale melkkoe
19 december 2010 16:21:09
buitenzorg schreef:
Beloofd is beloofd:

31 mei 2011 10:40:00

Ook verschijnt:

Ton Wientjen runs a website offering guided tours related to WW II. In his blog he also publishes WW II stories and anecdotes. The Van Imhoff affair is one of these war stories.

Direct link to Van Imhoff story

Journalist (?) Jochen Buchsteiner writes a detailed overview of the Van Imhoff disaster and its historical context. It was published on 17 December 2011 on website

This site contains several references to the Van Imhoff disaster and personal memories of descendants of missionaries of the Rheinlandische congregation.

All content is freely available in printable and PDF formats.

In the forum discussion at, film producer Fokke de Koe invites the site visitors to share their family stories and memories of the Van Imhoff drama.

It will take the producers up to 2017 to finalize the documentary (Ref timeline 2017).

Anonymous - March 25, 2011
Als programmamaker ben ik mij momenteel aan het voorbereiden op een docu over de Imhoff affaire. Ik zou graag in contact met je willen komen, benieuwd naar de verhalen over deze affaire in je familie. Bereikbaar via

As part of the preparations storyboards are made @ Joscha van Deijk Storyboards

On 14 April 2011, Jaclyn (graphic designer, Hampton Roads, VA, USA, then in her early twenties) reports on her internet discovery that Jacob Steinlein is the father of her grandfather. Fascinated by this family history, she delves deeper in historical records and publishes the findings on her own website:

Jaclyn explains:
“...Two weekends ago was my Opa & Oma's 55th anniversary. The family threw them a really nice surprise party. It's always fun to have the whole (well, most of them) family together, and it seems as if that doesn't happen often anymore. When all of us "kids" were young it seemed like we were all together all the time.

For their anniversary present I painted a portrait of my Opa's father, Jacob Steinlein. I think this was the hardest project I've ever worked on, because I really wanted it to be just right. I researched about uniforms and this is what I came up with, since I was working with a black and white photo. What was also difficult for me were the emotions brought up by staring at the old photo, because there's always a story. Jacob Steinlein was German, but a Dutch citizen. Well, during WWII the Dutch imprisoned all of the Germans and shipped them from the location. Jacob was on the Van Imhoff. I've researched this a lot, because it was kind of a big cover up, since the Van Imhoff was bombed and sunk, and somehow everyone on the ship survived except for the majority of German prisoners, including my great grandfather. When I was painting this portrait I couldn't help but think about his horrible death..."

On her website multimedia artist Jaclyn presents the sensitive painting she made, based on scarce materials, together with the detailed results of her historical research which include the names and short biographies of many victims. Jaclyn's site is well-worth exploring, including the responses on the forum page, where several descendants of Van Imhoff victims post their messages.

Selection of comments on Neutral Ocean site:

Anonymous - February 11, 2010
Hello, My Opa was on the Mv Van Imhoff. I understand now how he must have felt during the last moments of his life. Reply by Neutral Ocean: I'm sorry that your Opa went through such a tragic experience, as did my great grandpa. I'm glad, though, that my research gave you some additional knowledge.

Anonymous - February 26, 2010
Hello again, Your project is without a doubt one of the most complete I have ever found on this subject and it gave me the answers to several questions. Thank you for all the efforts, it's a GREAT JOB for a 'kid' !!!

Anonymous - March 25, 2011
Als programmamaker ben ik mij momenteel aan het voorbereiden op een docu over de Imhoff affaire. Ik zou graag in contact met je willen komen, benieuwd naar de verhalen over deze affaire in je familie. Bereikbaar via

Linda T - April 5, 2011
Thank you, Jackie, for your excellent research. I'm feeling such a great sadness knowing what my Opa went through. It was always just a story that I told my friends. It never took me more than ten seconds to tell: "I never knew my grandfather because he died on a ship during the war." Since my Oma died when Dad was six years old, Opa's tragic death orphaned him and his brothers. My Dad was only nine at the time. How did Captain Hoeksema ever sleep at night after knowing that his heartless decision created literally hundreds of unnecessary widows and orphans? Well, I guess I'll never know the answer to that one. Reply by Neutral Ocean: I know, it is a pretty crazy story! :( April 17, 2011
I lived for many years on Nias Island I never new about the story of the incident off the Van Imhoff until, It was 1981 I was camping on the point of Sorake south Nias a old guy originally from Hilnawalau, who spoke very limited Indonesian (Ama Ganafe) told a story about when he was a kid and from the hills saw Japanese planes bomb a ship well offshore (there was apparently a airbase in the south of Nias)? he said that the boat did not immediately sink but there was smoke or fire on board and drifting,the survivors came ashore in the bay "Fohilli" next to Teluk Lagundri Nias Island

Jackie - April 17, 2011
Thank you very much for relaying this eye witness account.

Anonymous - July 18, 2011
Does your Opa speak German? I wrote a book about my grandparents who lived in Sumatra from 1920 to begin of 2. Worldwar. My Oma went to Shanghai after 6 months of prison camp. My Opa had been on the first ship that brought the german prisoners to India. So he had good luck..... The title of my book is: "Mein geteiltes Herz" from Claire Hake and Nicoline Hake (that's me). Rowohlt Verlag/Reinbek 2010 and 2011. It will be very interesting for your grandparents I presume. Many greetings from Nicoline Hake.
Reply by Neutral Ocean Reply to Nicole Hake: My Opa doesn't speak German, but your book sounds very interesting. They went through such trials back then.

Fried Thieme - March 9, 2011
To Nicoline Hake, Glad I came across your story. Am now waiting for your book to arrive which I already ordered yesterday. My parents also lived in Java and Sumatra since the 1920's My father was on the 'Ophir' and thus survived the war in Dhera Dun. No doubt he knew your grandfather. My mother was Dutch and also was interned in Taroetung with her four children (of which I was the third eldest). We all were then subsequently transported to Japan (in the Asama Maru) and later Shanghai, where we stayed till 1947 before being shipped to Europe. My mother suffered greatly during the war, as she was despised by the Dutch (her countrymen), and later did also not feel at home with the Germans in Taroetung and Shanghai, although us children were there very well looked after by foster parents. My father had started writing a book about our time in Sumatra and Shanghai titled "Between two nations", but the publisher told him to rewrite it at a later time when my father would be less bitter (about my mother's treatment during the war). Earlier in the 1950's he wrote a book about his life. In it he describes his time in the Dutch East Indies, and also about Dhera Dun. It is a very readable book and was very popular at the time. It is titled "Weiss Gibt Auf". By the way one of the most earlier detailed books about the 'van Imhoff' was written by C. van Hekeren in 1967 and is only slightly biased. It is in Dutch and I don't know if it was ever translated into English. Looking forward to reading your book.

Nicoline Hake - May 31, 2011
Dear Fried Thieme, I guess you speak German, because your father must have been German? Your father and my grandfather and your mother and my grandmother must have known each other, because Claire, my grandmother had been in Taroetung as well. I tried to find out about the book of your father, but didn't success. "Weiss gibt auf" is just a criminal-film in Germany..... If you would like to mail to me, please tell me.... Greetings from Nicoline Hake

Paul Boehmer - October 8, 2011
Thank you for this. My Opa was Alwin Bohmer, my father spoke very little about the sinking of the Van Imhoff. I happen to stumble upon you blogg and being able to read the eye witness account about this has touched me.
Reply by Neutral Ocean: My Opa didn't speak much of what happened to his father but more of his own horrible experiences in the orphanages. All I knew of this history was the name of the ship, van Imhoff. I'm so glad this research was able to bring things to light for you. I just wish I had more access to publications and not be limited to the Web.

Anonymous - May 31, 2012
The Sergeant at Arms on this ship argued with Captain Hoeksema to allow as many German internees onto the lifeboats with the Dutch as possible. Captain Hoeksema refused and ordered him off the ship. He opened the cages and gave the keys to the internees. He was then captured by the Japanese and spent 3 years building the Thai/Burma railway and was one of only 9 men to survive the camp he was in. I had the great pleasure of attending this great man's funeral yesterday.

Membaca Indonesia - November 5, 2012
The story of the ship Inhoff very important to read the position of Indonesia towards the end of World War 2. This year, is commemorating 70 years of the ship was sunk at sea Sibolga, North Sumatra, Indonesia ... There is a memorial on the island of Nias, located across the harbor Sibolga.
On her website multimedia artist Jaclyn presents the sensitive painting she made, based on scarce materials, and the detailed results of her historical research which includes name lists and short biographies of the victims.

Jacob Steinlein: portrait for my Opa and Oma


I lived for many years on Nias Island. I never knew about the story of the incident off the Van Imhoff until now. It was 1981, I was camping on the point of Sorake south Nias. An old guy originally from Hilnawalau, who spoke very limited Indonesian (Ama Ganafe) told a story about when he was a kid and from the hills saw Japanese planes bomb a ship well offshore (there was apparently a airbase in the south of Nias)? he said that the boat did not immediately sink but there was smoke or fire on board and drifting survivors came ashore in the "Fohilli" bay next to Teluk Lagundri, Nias Island.
Posted by on April 17, 2011.

Jochen Buchsteiner publishes article - Tod vor Sumatra in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Nr 294, 17 December 2011, page S. 3.

1942 sank de "Van Imhoff" im Indischen Ozean - das ende des deutschen Anteils am Kolonialsystem "Niederlaendisch- Indien"

The full article is for sale at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - archives.

After the death of his mother Janna in 2007, son Cornelis (Kees) was the last of the Berveling family. He lived in Vlaardingen, probably in his parents' house.

He deceased in 2012 taking with him the family memories of the collapse of the NEI, the Van Imhoff disaster, Japanese war camps, the very early death of his little sister Mary and the repetitive inclosure by authorities, scholars and journalists.

An initiative was launched to reunite the family in an oustanding grave in Vlaardingen.

The Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung highlights the 70th anniversary of the Van Imhoff disaster under the heading:
Kriegsverbrechen im Indischen Ozean

Quote: Vor 70 Jahren wurde die »Van Imhoff« versenkt – Niederländische Marinedienststellen gaben unmenschliche Weisung.

The author not only refers to Captain Hoeksema's decision to leave German victims behind at sea but also to maritime authorities who gave the instructions to do so. Commander Conrad Helfrich comes under scrutiny.



On 18 January 2012 DomRadio features a special programme on the anniversary day of the disaster.

It is linked to the newspaper coverage on the same day by Markus Frädrich - "Todeskampf im Indischen Ozean. Vor 70 Jahren sank vor der Küste Indonesiens die Van Imhoff".

The Steyl missionaries in NEI mainly worked on the Island of Flores. In 1940, all of them were arrested. Most were transported on the Van Imhoff and drowned during the disaster, except for Aloysius (Heinrich) Seitz who witnessed the ordeal and managed to reach Nias.

On their website, the Steyl congregation keeps the memory of Aloysius alive and use his story to promote Christian reflections on forgiveness and standing tall amidst chaos and mischief.

The ordeal of Aloysius Seitz is summarized in a short movie posted on Youtube on 10 January 2012: "Todeskampf im Indischen Ozean". The film is produced by Markus Frädrich and his confrater Helmut Thometzki. They stress the clemency expressed by Aloysius towards the Dutch.

In the same year 2012, the portrait of Aloysius appears on the cover of Dieter Graebner’s, “Die Van Imhoff, das Totenschiff – Geschichte und Mythos einer Weltkriegtragoedie”.

Watch the movie here

Same movie narrated in Bahasa Indonesia

Read the full story at Steyler website.

On 25 February 2012. Jürgen Schmidt announces his book Liebe, Krieg und Mettwurst (Love, War and German sausage) at

Jürgen Schmidt (adventurer/sailor/writer) also explains the background of this Van Imhoff story: In 1986 he has
a chance meeting with a Van Imhoff survivor in Palma. The survivor is a sausage manufacturer in Hamburg and the son of a tea trader in Hamburg. He was sent by his father to NEI to escape the war and is 20 years when he is interned and evacuated on the Van Imhoff. He survives and plays a role in the founding of the Free German Republic of Nias. He travels back to Batavia (Jakarta) to his fiancee Kalina and finds a job in the German submarine support unit unit there. In 1946 he travels back to Germany and starts a sausage factory.

Jürgen Schmidt feels inspired to re-tell the love story and adventures of the main character. In his posting, he announces that the book is titled “Liebe, Krieg und Mettwurst“ (Love, war and bologne sausage) and will be published by the Lulu-Verlag.

Webmaster Klaus Sturm himself responds: Vielen Dank für den Beitrag. Und auf den Roman bin ich schon sehr gespannt. “Liebe, Krieg und Mettwurst” machen richtig Appetit.
Online excerpt from the book

Dieter Gräbner - "Die Van Imhoff - das Totenschiff. Geschichte und Mythos einer Weltkriegstragödie". Conte-Verlag, 2012.

Gräbner consults extensively with Jens Bappert (ref: timeline entry 2004) to understand the Van Imhoff affair from a legal perspective. With Bappert's assistance, he also follows the trail of 2 million Dutch Guilders compensation money paid by KPM in 1942 to the Nazi authorities in Holland. The money was not used to compensate the victims’ families but disappeared into the account of the Nazi Party.

The writer also traces the four children of Hermann Reiter (one of the Van Imhoff victims) who were still alive in 2011 and confirms that no compensation money was received by the descendants.

Dieter Gräbner, journalist © Dieter Gräbner

Location: Hoechen, Saarland, Germany © Dieter Gräbner

More info on Dieter Gräbner

On 3 September 2012 Hans Maarthen Stüber posts his family drama on the Klaus Sturm website :

...Ich weiss zeit zwei wochen das mein opa W.C.J. Stüber auf Van Imhoff ist gestorben. Mijn oma erzahlte immer diese geschichte und ich bin auf der suche gegangen und (...hab ihm...) gefunden. Mein opa war besuurs assistent für Holland. Sein sohn Heinrich Stüber und familie ist im jahre 1962 nach der Niederland gegangen.

Jürgen Schmidt (Ref timeline entries 2012 and 2014) reacts on 4 September 2012 as follows:

Hallo Hans Maarthen, was ist ein besuurs assistent? Dann ist dein Opa damals auch eingesperrt worden und sollte nach Indien gebracht werden, damit die Japaner ihn nicht befreien! Nur deshalb ist er gestorben! Auch die Deutschen, die für die Holländer gearbeitet haben, wurden nicht verschont. Ein Krieg entwurzelt die Menschen! Dazu passt auch die Entscheidung, die der Kapitän der „Van Imhoff“ damals getroffen hat. Ich habe es in meinem Buch so verarbeitet, wie ich es 1986 von einem Überlebendem erfahren habe. Gruß aus Wilhelmshaven, Jürgen Schmidt

Hans Maarthen Stüber on 11 September 2012
... Ein bestuurs assistent ist ein bezirkleiter. Mein opa war eingesteld durch Resident Lulofs und später durch resident Haga. Stüber pacificierte das gebied Waris ...

2013 is a right-wing revisionist website with an extensive collection of examples of how the Germans were also suffering during and after the war. This includes the Van Imhoff affair:

Wir Deutsche sind alle Opfer. Wir werden total belogen, betrogen, verfemt, vergewaltigt, und beraubt. 15 Millionen deutsche Zivilisten wurden ermordet.

Posted on the forum (June 19, 2013) by Eyes Wide Open:
Hollandische Ungeheuer – Hollandische Nachkriegsverbrechen – Hollander ohne Gnade – Riessige Verbrechen gegen die Deutschen Frauen, Maedchen, Kinder und Maenner
Full on-line article
Excerpts from “Geschichte der Verfehmung Deutschlands” by Franz Scheidl

Posting by Dick Verkijk on

"In 1963/64 I made a documentary for the Dutch television (VARA) about the Van Imhoff case which implied that war crimes had been committed. The leadership of the VARA prohibited the sending of it. Then I published the text in the Dutch daily “Het Parool”. After that the VARA leadership banned me from future work for the VARA. The quotes mentioned in the review (Vehring, Tjebbes) are for the majority quotes from that Parool article which were of course quotes from that documentary. The documentary has disappeared and nobody knows what happened to the material".
Retired but still pretty much alive"

The imprisonment of NEI citizens with a German background was not specifically targeting Jews. However, for Werner Stauder, the Van Imhoff affair is an example of how the Dutch took part in the mistreatment of Jews in NEI who had often found refuge there when escaping persecution in Europe.

Stauder states that the NEI authorities could have taken more time to explore the background of the German prisoners and make an exception for Jews who had recently migrated.

To download the PDF version of Stauder's article, Google for: Duitse Joden achter Indische Kawat.pdf

The article was also published on 08 February 2014 on the website of "Werkgroep caraibische letteren" in six small parts as follows:

Part 1 – 4

Part 5:

Part 6:
Original article by Werner Stauder in newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad 2013-09-16 - "Verzwegen drama" Digital version of Verzwegen Drama at 16 September 2013 Kenniscentrum Gereformeerde Gezindte:
Site with more information on the author Werner Stauder who is a specialist in Messianic-Jewish studies.

(text and pictures under preparation)

This study includes an in-depth analysis of the ban to broadcast the documentary on the Van Imhoff affair made by journalist Dick Verkijk. By itself, this ban became further evidence that Dutch authorities were covering up their responsibility for the disaster. The publicity surrounding the ban was covered in the Dutch and German press (with facts taken from the documentary) and stirred perhaps more public interest than the documentary would probably have done. Internally, in the VARA broadcasting corporation, the events marked the start of more critical journalism, including the coverage of Dutch war crimes during the military campaigns after the war.

Author: M.A.E. Prenger
Title: ‘Achter het nieuws’ en de geboorte van de actualiteitenrubriek: Televisiejournalistiek in de jaren vijftig en zestig

Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA), 7 November 2014, 430 pgs, PhD thesis, Faculty of Humanities

(Extract) Van imhoff case

The complete PhD text is available here. Please observe copyrights

Herman Wigbold: key actor in critical journalism and pusher of the Van Imhoff story on TV

Heading in Dutch: Gezocht - Indo’s met Duitse achternaam.

...I am preparing a book on internment camps in NEI at the beginning of WW II. On 10 May 1940 all citizens in the archipelago with a German background were arrested and interned. Among them were many Indonesians with a German surname who could not speak a single word of German and whose fathers or even grandfathers had lived in Indonesia for tens of years and who were fully integrated in society. Many were employed in the military or public service and should not have been considered as hostile citizens in any way

HW 1: For responses to Werner Tenzer's call pls refer to the original website:

HW 2: It is not clear yet whether Werner Tenzer is a descendant of the Tenzer family (father and two sons) who were victims on the Van Imhoff. Another Tenzer descendant (Tenny Tenzer) also stepped in the internet publicity in 2016 in search of eye witnesses of the Van Imhoff disaster. Do these two Tenzers know each other?

Instagram member Tama Schütze (“officialtamsq”) poses in would-be Nazi outfit in front of the ARCAS DOMAS monument near Bogor.

This action triggers a series of amazed and furious postings wherein Tama Schütze is blamed for his naïve historical confusion and his fascination with the Nazi doctrine.

The annual memorial service at the site of the ARCAS DOMAS monument is officially attended by German embassy representatives. For more details on the ARCAS DOMAS monument which is devoted to German casualties among the (sub-)marine crews navigating in Indonesian waters, pls consult Google and Wikipedia.

Tama Schütze seen on Instagram commemorating D-Day (6 June 1944) wearing look-alike Nazi uniform in front of the ARCAS DOMAS monument in Bogor on 6 June 6 2014. For public responses, see his Instagram site.

On political website "Politikforen" a fierce discussion of several weeks starts on the Van Imhoff affair. Right wing nationalist sentiments revive and war crimes by the Dutch are retold.

Hadrian Hess publishes his memoirs:
Ihr müsst wissen, meine Freunde ... Erlebnisse eines Missionars auf der Insel Nias: Die goldene Perlenkette und der Untergang der Van Imhoff. ISBN 10: 3830676697 / ISBN 13: 9783830676690. Published by Eos Verlag U. Druck, 2014

(Summary pending)

„Ihr müsst wissen, meine Freunde.“ So begannen zahlreiche Rundbriefe des Indonesien-Missionars Pater Hadrian Hess. In diesem Lebensrückblick werden fast vier Jahrzehnte in der malayischen Kultur des nördlichen Sumatra dokumentiert. Die missionarische Pionierarbeit führte zu zahlreichen faszinierenden Begegnungen und Erfahrungen im ehemaligen Reich der Kopfjäger und Sklavenhändler auf der Insel Nias. Im Anhang eine Dokumentation des Untergangs der Dampfers Van Imhoff und der goldenen Perlenkette der Antonia Meyers.



Jürgen Schmidt launches his Van Imhoff inspired novel "Liebe, Krieg und Mettwurst. Autobiografischer Roman". Brighton Verlag. ISBN-10: 3958760031. ISBN-13: 978-3958760035

The author balances between fact and fiction to protect the identity of the real persons. He claims on Facebook that he picked up the Van Imhoff story in 1986 from a survivor whom he met by coincidence on a terrace somewhere in Italy.

The names of several characters are hardly disguised. Albert Vehring appears as Albert Vetting. The commander of the German submarine base in Batavia Captain Hermann Kandeler appears as Hermann Kanzler.

The main character is named Maximilian (Max) Köhler who is sent to Indonesia by his father in Germany to protect him from the rise of Nazi Germany. Like his father, he is expected to learn how to cultivate tea.

The novel is autobiographic, as suggested on the cover, but the author himself was not part of the event nor related to a victim or survivor.

So who is the real Maximilian Kohler? Reports from Nias hint at the fact that one of the survivors was indeed able to slaughter local pigs and prepare sausages...

Publisher's summary in German:
1939: Ein Hamburger Teehändler möchte seinen Sohn noch vor dem Ausbruch des II. Weltkrieges in Sicherheit bringen. Er schickt Max nach Java, damit er dort offiziell den Teeanbau studieren soll. Keiner aber konnte ahnen, dass gerade dies für Max der Weg durch die Hölle sein würde. Zwar verliebt er sich bereits auf der Hinfahrt unsterblich in das Mischlingsmädchen Kalina und schmiedet mit ihr auf Batavia wunderbare Zukunftspläne. Als jedoch 1942 alle von den Holländern auf Java internierten deutschen Zivilisten nach Indien gebracht werden, wird auch Max auf eines der Schiffe mit dem Namen „Van Imhoff “ verfrachtet und von Kalina getrennt. Die Invasion der Japaner steht bevor und die Holländer befürchten die Befreiung aller Deutschen. Nun aber wird das Heck des Schiffes noch vor den Küsten durch japanische Bomben getroffen. Das Schicksal der deutschen Gefangenen besiegelt ein zusätzlich grausamer Plan des holländischen Kapitäns. Von 474 Menschen erreichen nur 66 die Insel Nias. Unter ihnen Max. Wird er, nachdem er einem Inferno aus Bomben, Wassermassen und Haiangriffen entkam und ein weiteres Mal von den Holländern verhaftet wurde, seine geliebte Kalina jemals wiederfinden? Kann sein Traum, gemeinsam mit ihr etwas Großes zu verwirklichen, trotz aller Schranken Wirklichkeit werden? Alle Mühe scheint aussichtslos, aber Max gibt nicht auf und die indonesischen Wachen wechseln ihre politische Gesinnung...

The novel "Liebe, Krieg und Mettwurst" was republished in 2021 with the title "Maximilian und die Fressorgie der Haie: der Untergang der "Van Imhoff" Taschenbuch, 30 April 2021, ‎ Neopubli GmbH; 1. Edition, 224 pgs, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 3754114514
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-3754114513

Book cover

Short excerpt

Facebook notes

Amazon reference

Amazon book review

Geerken, Horst Henry - Hitlers Griff nach Asien. Includes Volume 1- Das Dritte Reich und Niederländisch-Indien & Volume 2- Der Anfang vom Ende der Kolonialzeit. BukitCinta Books, Bonn, 2015.

These books offer an overview of lesser known episodes in the colonial history of Indonesia: the presence of Germans in NEI, their growing importance and influence, and the emergence of the Nazi movement.

In the 20th century the German economic and military expansion in the Netherlands East Indies is substantial. The Dutch territory is neutral during the 1st World War and harbours in the archipelago are a refuge for German warships up to the 2nd World War.

Geerken summarizes the imprisonment and deportation of Germans in NEI based on the usual documents, without additional facts. In 1940 the crew members of the German warships in various harbours are also arrested and eventually deported. This explains why small groups of Van Imhoff survivors apply navigation and boating skills which help them to reach the Island of Nias under very difficult circumstances.

The author is quite clear about his interpretation of the decisions of both captains: ".. H. J. Hoeksema and M. L. Berveling should have been prosecuted for breach of the Geneva Convention and the international Search & Rescue Convention, but neither of them was brought to justice in the Netherlands."

Geerken also describes the short opportunistic revival of the Nazi movement during the Japanese occupation and the re-defined relationship between Indonesia and Germany after the war.

Interesting stories are told about the main characters from the survivor group including Vehring and Fischer. Coming from Nias, they apparently manage to travel extensively through NEI. They establish tactical contacts with the Japanese and share intelligence on the Dutch and their allies. They also visit the German enclave near Sarangan, offering them their leadership. And they advise the loosely organized Indonesian freedom fighters.

For their role in Nias and their collaboration with the Japanese and Indonesians both Vehring and Fischer are high on the list of wanted persons when the Dutch and the British start their military campaigns after the war.

(see: timeline entry 1948)


Ben Wirawan is an enthusiast free-time webmaster who posts personal selections of news snippets and stories on his website. He has no particular link with the Van Imhoff affair but is intrigued by the fact that German would-be Nazis and dissident KNIL soldiers are the founders of the short-lived Free Republic of Nias and the forerunners of the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence. For Ben Wirawan, these events demonstrate that history is not black or white.

(Small correction by the webmaster: when the Van Imhoff survivors reached Nias, the KNIL soldiers stationed there had already left the island to join the fight against the the Japanese. The liberators of colonial power, as meant by Wirawan, are actually dissatisfied Indonesians in Dutch police service posted on Nias. This small historical error does not change the point Mr Wirawan is making.)

Ben Wirawan uses the Petite Histoire Indonesia blog by Rosihan Anwar, as his main source of information on the Van Imhoff affair and focuses on the role of survivor Dr Heidt. Historical coincidence: the grandson of Dr Heidt (Thomas Heindl in Vienna) is preparing his biography. This grandson appears in the Dutch Van Imhoff documentary of December 2017 where he is seen searching for the grave of his grandfather on Nias.

Summary of the founding of the Free Republic of Nias in Indonesian.

The multi-media theatre "Boelongan" by Hartmut Zänder is special in many ways. The key story is a family history of Hartmut's great-aunt Cläre Zänder, emphatically re-told in monologues, poems, gamelan, contemporary music, self-made shadow puppets (wayang kulit), projected pictures and a hand-out paper folding kit to build a model of the ms Boelongan. On this page there are several links to videorecordings which give a good impression of the performance.

The storyline: Before the war, aunt Cläre falls in love with Kurt Wohl, a medical specialist. Kurt has one son (Werner) from his first marriage. Werner escapes from the rise of Nazi Germany and leaves for NEI where he finds a job with the Remscheider export company in Batavia and later in Surabaya.

Because of the Jewish background of the Wohl family, Kurt is made stateless and comes under pressure to go into exile. He manages to escape to NEI. Back in Germany his fiancé Cläre is then arrested by the Gestapo because of her relationship with Kurt which was labelled a "racial compromise" (Rassenschande). She ends up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. After the war in 1947 she travels to NEI where she reunites and marries with her Kurt. They settle in Bandung where Kurt established a general medical practice.

Upon their arrest in 1940, father and son Wohl end up in the so-called traitors' block of the the Koetatjane internment camp in Sumatra. They were considered traitors in the sense that they did not express their loyalty to Nazi Germany. And they were Nazi enemies because of their Jewish roots. They were grouped together with homosexuals, scientists, artists, missionaries and explicit political opponents who would have been prosecuted in Germany as well. As "the least dangerous" Germans this group becomes the third and last group to be shipped to India.

On 18 January 1942, during the chaotic transport to Sibolga harbor and the embarkation of prisoners, crew and guards, father Kurt Wohl gets a last minute order to disembark and attend to a medical emergency. His son Werner has to stay on board and later drowns at sea during the sinking.

It is worthwhile to buy and download the documentation brochure which supports this multimedia project as it contains detailed background information and atmospheric visuals. Possible link for procurement:

There are several interesting leads in this documentation with respect to the Van Imhoff affair including the statement that the Dutch authorities managed to arrange for three red cross flags and the permission to sail out with three ships to safely deport all interned Germans. The third flag was apparently used on another ship to evacuate Dutch citizens to Australia whereas the Van Imhoff was mobilized in a very improvised manner and traveling without protective red cross flag.

Also, the release of Dr Wohl from the Van Imhoff, which was ready to leave, is exceptional. Generally, the whole internment campaign and deportations took place with zero tolerance. No exceptions were made, even for people who were useful for society as most of the prisoners were. What type of emergency was so important that this exception is made? How could the authorities have traced dr Wohl in the chaos of Sibolga?

Full newspaper article

Text materials

Richly illustrated Boelongan brochure
A better quality version is available on the internet.

Part 1 of the Boelongan project: Entschuldigen Sie bitte
Premiere in the winter of 2015 in the Rautenstrauch Joest Museum, Cologne. Die Texte der ersten fünf Lieder sind Gestapo Protokollen entnommen, die 1939 bei Verhören meiner Großtante Cläre Zänder anfielen und die zu ihrer Inhaftierung im Kz Ravensbrück geführt haben. Mit der Denunziation einer schlesischen Bäuerin begann alles.

Part 2 of the Boelongan project: Pentagan

Part 3 of the Boelongan project: Cheruskia
Cheruskia ist eine Burschenschaft aus Freiburg, die Dr. Kurt Wohl nach seinem Studium in Breslau um die Jahrhundertwende mitgegründet hat. Sein Freund Sulpiz Traine muss vor der Gestapo aussagen.

Part 4 of the Boelongan project: Multostat

Part 5 of the Boelongan project: Saling Asuh
Den Liedtext hat die berühmte balinesische Sängerin I Nyoman Candri 2002 während einer Europatournee beigesteuert.

Part 6 of the Boelongan project: Kisses and trumpets
Die Teile 6 - 8 beziehen sich auf die Zeit von Kurt Wohl und seinem Sohn im Gefangenen Kamp Allas Vallei auf Sumatra sowie den Schiffsabschuss der van Imhoff, die das Geschick der Wohls mit dem von Walter Spies verknüpfte. Teile dessen Nachlasses lagern im Rautenstrauch Joest Museum in Köln. Aus seiner Korrespondenz und aus Fotoalben sind die entsprechenden Zeichnungen und Liedertexte entstanden.

Part 7 of the Boelongan project: Berliner Schlüchten
Based on German texts from photos and postcards of Walter Spies

Part 8 of the Boelongan project: Boeloganjur
German narration about the bombing of the ship "Van Imhoff" (...), where the son of Dr Wohl and Walter Spies drowned and the "Boelongan" refused to help survivors at sea.

In 1965 the Dutch VARA tv/radio broadcasting corporation commissions the production of a documentary film on the Van Imhoff affair to journalist Dick Verkijk. It was never broadcasted, but his research gives Verkijk the chance to open the case in the newspapers. See timeline entry 1965 above.

In 2016, half a century later, the same (BNN)VARA commissions a similar documentary to the production company "Episode One" which combines, according to their website, serious content with journalistic flair in their storytelling. Dick Verkijk will play a key role in the film as expert witness on the Van Imhoff affair. At last some recognition for Verkijk on public television!

Foeke de Koe is the journalist/director/producer in cooperation with Kees Schaap.

Broadcasting is scheduled for December 2017 in three weekly episodes.

It will be interesting to see if the producers manage to go beyond the usual portrayal of the Van Imhoff affair as the exclusive responsibility of two evil merchant navy captains.

More details and a short trailer on:

Summary of the Van Imhoff disaster as part of the history of Nias Island.

Author: Doni Kristian Dachi, Nias specialist and promotor. Personal site

Full article

NIASSATU, GUNUNGSITOLI – Merayakan ulang tahunnya ke-21 pada 10 November 2016, Museum Pusaka Nias (MPN) akan dibuka secara gratis bagi masyarakat yang hendak berkunjung.
Kepada Nias Satu, Direktur MPN Nata’alui Duha
Sebagai kegiatan penutup, MPN akan menggelar Pembukaan Pameran tematis bertema “Bergumul Maut di atas KM Van Imhoff.”
“Pameran tersebut dilakukan guna mengenang pengorbanan dan perjuangan para misionaris Kristen yang tewas akibat kapal Van Imhoff oleh tentara Jepang pada 19 Januari 1942. Pameran ini akan dibuka pada tanggal 25 November 2016,” ucap dia.

Full story

Tenny Tenzer, descendant of the Tenzer family (father and two sons) intends to study the Van Imhoff disaster and makes an internet appearance to call for eye witnesses who may still be alive.

In 2014, a person called Werner Tenzer enters the internet publicity to search for IndoEuropeans with a German name (see timeline). Is this a coincidence? Do Tenny and Werner Tenzer know each other as family members?



Publisher Georg Steinberg announced he is compiling eye witness accounts and other original documents on the Van Imhoff affair. The publication date is pending, probably 2018.

The title might be: Die Versenkung der „Van Imhoff“ am 19. Januar 1942 - Augenzeugenberichte deutscher Überlebender. ISBN 978-3-8316-4668-5. € 49,00

Tel. 089-27 77 91-00
Fax: 089-27 77 91-01

March 6

Journalist Petrik Matanasi re-tells the story of the German survivors on Nias as early example for Indonesian freedom fighters. Historical bonding between Indonesia and Nazi Germany takes place.

In 2016 Katharina Döbler the granddaughter of victim Georg Schneider publishes a biographic article on her grandfather in the maritime magazine "Mare" of October / November, 2016.

The same article is re-published in 2017 in the magazine issued by the association of Germans who lived and worked in East Asia: Studienwerk Deutsches Leben in Ostasien e.V.: StuDeO INFO, June 2017, pg 27-31, ref timeline entry 2018 below.

The StuDeO editors added a footnote in Katharina's article hinting at the secretive use of the well-prepared third ship from Sibolga for the evacuation of high-up foreign nationals from NEI to Australia. This move caused a delay in the deportation of the German internees. A fourth ship (= ss Van Imhoff) was required which had to sail without the protective Red Cross markings and other safety provisions making it a sitting duck at sea.

Incriminating footnote

Internet Blogger Doni Kristian Dachi presents himself as spokesperson of Nias Island (Pulau Nias) and compiles information on its history, arts, culture and traditions. When discussing the Van Imhoff affair and the survival of some German victims mr Dachi delves deep into the archives.

The tone of his analysis and the choice of source materials illustrates how the Van Imhoff disaster is used to proof that the Dutch are basically evil and Germany is victimized through historical injustices.


Blog site

Historian Fidel Satrio Hadiyanto (Fidel) describes the Van Imhoff case in his own words, as part of a longer list of wrongdoings by the Indonesian and Dutch colonial authorities.

Full story

In the build up for the broadcasting of a three-episodes documentary on the Van Imhoff affair, a series of related articles appear in Dutch newspapers, TV-guides and various magazines.

Internet links were started to tell the story and inform the viewer on "the making-of":

"De ondergang van de Van Imhoff" (title) is broadcasted on 10, 17 and 24 December 1917 and remained available for viewing on the website of the Netherlands Public Broadcasting Corporation (NPO). Producers/directors: Kees Schaap & Foeke de Koe.

In most of the spin-off articles and sites, and in the documentary itself, the main emphasis is on Dutch authorities concealing the truth about the Van Imhoff affair. To keep the audience's attention, the documentary's narrative refers to "hidden secrets" that will finally be exposed.

Example of an effort to understand the decisions of Captain Hoeksema

Source: ?
Translation pending

Bij de afvaart had Kapitein Hoeksema geen keuze. CZM had bepaald dat de Van Imhoff met de ge-interneerden moest uitvaren , dienstweigering zou alleen tot gevolg hebben dat de van Imhoff uit zou varen met een ander dan haar eigen Kapitein, en Hoeksema zou als dienstweigeraar de gevolgen hiervan onder vinden . Onder protest voer hij uit zonder afweergeschut, zonder escort, zonder non combattant kleuren en zonder voldoende reddingmiddelen. Bovendien was zijn bemanning niet gelukkig met deze gang van zaken, maar wilde hem ook niet in de steek laten.
Toen het schip aangevallen werd door het Japanse vliegtuig heeft Hoeksema door kundig manoeuvreren voltreffers weten te voorkomen. Een of meerdere voltreffers zou voor allen einde verhaal betekenen. Toen hij (waarschijnlijk door de combinatie met mitrailleurvuur) de laatste bom niet geheel kon ontwijken, en deze dicht bij het schip aan SB, in het water terechtkwam, werd de boeg beschadigd en maakte het schip water. Een presenning onder de boeg door trekken kon het binnenstromen van water niet stoppen. Door slagzij werd het nu tijd om het ‘schip verlaten plan ‘ in werk te stellen. Motorboot en reddingboten gingen te water, bemanning en bewakingsdetachement scheepten in en de ge-interneerden werden uit de ruimen gelaten. De (volgens de documentaire) hierop volgende chaos kan nauwelijks aan hem worden toegeschreven. Wat niet duidelijk vermeld wordt in de documentaire is dat er onder de ge-interneerden zich de complete bemanningen van drie Duitse koopvaardij schepen bevonden, dus ook kapiteins en officieren, er werd slechts gewag gemaakt van dominee’s en kunstenaars. Nu wordt hier van achter een computer of uit een luie leunstoel beweerd: hij had wel een reddingboot achter kunnen laten. De gedachten van Hoeksema werden echter door het volgende bepaald : Negatieve berichten uit Europa, de naderende Japanners, de recente bombardementen, de omstandigheden van de afvaart, dus niets positiefs richting de Duitsers, en wilde geen risico’s lopen voor de Nederlanders. De beschreven chaos was echter voor de kijkers sterk beeldvormend. In 1943 was het hele gebeuren bekend bij de bezetter; deze maakte echter geen aanstalten om de zaak wereldkundig te maken, (hoezo doofpot?) m.i. hield dit verband met hun eigen wandel en handel in Europa, en met de vier miljoen gulden die, onder dwang van gijzeling van personeel, van de KPM geeist werd en die nooit de nabestaanden bereikt heeft . Over de ondergang/documentaire zou ik nog pagina’s kunnen vullen met onterechte aannames en discrepanties, doch het voorgaande lijkt me voldoende om u er van te overtuigen dat de documentaire geen steun biedt voor mw. Van Sonnenburg bij haar beschuldiging van massamoord. Volgens mij is het enige levende slachtoffer mw. Hoeksema, die door eenzijdige informatie in de veronderstelling wordt gebracht dat haar grootvader een oorlogs misdadiger is. Dit laatste zou ik graag gerectificeerd zien.


Revolusi, David van Reybrouck
ISBN 9789403183404
Number of pages: 656
World rights: De Bezige Bij
Price: €39,99
English sample available

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, the Netherlands declared war on Japan. With that, it once again showed itself to be the keenest student in the classroom: the U.S. and Great Britain would do so only a few hours later. Governor-General Van Starkenborgh of the Dutch Indies felt this early declaration of war was “good for our prestige with the rest”, the Dutch government and the queen followed his example. But what was that “prestige” actually worth, when one could fall back at best on a hastily slapped-together army? Even Japan was puzzled. The Dutch diplomat charged with presenting the declaration of war in Tokyo was actually handed back his dossier, in what must have a primeur in diplomatic history: did the Netherlands, the Japanese asked, realize what this meant? Did it understand the consequences? Japan did not consider itself to be at war with Holland, and wanted only to make an arrangement for the Dutch Indies much like the one it had for Indochina. But if the Dutch insisted on making it a show of force, well then… The overconfidence of the Netherlands, with its feeble troop strength, was based on its assumptions about regional allies. In late December, a military alliance was actually set up in the form of ABDACOM, the American – British – Dutch – Australian Command. Although the four armed forces had never trained together, and even though the British and Americans had already suffered grievous losses, the four would now try jointly to throw back the advancing Japanese in an area that stretched from Burma to Australia. The British general Wavell was appointed supreme commander.

Domestic security posed a problem too. What to do with the Japanese who had settled in the Dutch Indies? Most Japanese shopkeepers, fishermen and traders had already gone back in the last few months, but what about those who had stayed? Wouldn’t they form a fifth column for the advancing Japanese troops? There were about two thousand of them; they were all rounded up and sent to a camp in Australia.

And what about the couple of hundred detainees still in exile at the camp in Boven-Digoel? Nothing changed for them for the time being. They were to be sent to Australia only in 1943. The three most important political prisoners of the Dutch remained in detention too, but received more privileges. That all three of them were very critical of Japanese fascism undoubtedly helped a great deal. Sukarno was moved from Flores to a more comfortable place of exile on Sumatra; Hatta and Sjahrir were transferred from Banda Neira to West Java.

And then you had the National Socialists and the Germans who had been imprisoned since 1940. What if the Japanese let them go? For safety’s sake, the worst of the NSB members were sent two oceans over, to Suriname, Holland’s most important Latin American colony. Their transport ship carried explosive charges, so that in the event of danger the captain could send the whole ship to the bottom. The actual German detainees, however, were sent to British India. The first two prison ships brought the most dangerous individuals to Bombay; with the third transport, however, things went terribly wrong. The SS Van Imhoff was to carry the last 473 Germans, none of them high-risk detainees: retired civil servants of the colonial government, former KNIL soldiers with a German background, elderly Protestant and Catholic missionaries, a few anti-fascist and Jewish refugees, a number of stranded German merchant sailors, a few mental patients and the painter Walter Spies. They were placed in cages on the lower and rear decks, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by 62 soldiers. The Van Imhoff itself had a merchant crew of 84 men. As the ship was about to set sail, it became clear that there were enough safety vests on board, but not enough lifeboats. The captain reported the problem, but was ordered by the highest naval officer, Admiral Helfrich, to put to sea anyway. The decks of the prison ship were also not marked with any red cross or other sign to indicate its special status. For the Japanese bomber that caught sight of them off the coast of West Sumatra, it was a ship like any other. The Van Imhoff was hit. At first the damage seemed slight, there was no panic on board, but a few hours later the prisoners watched from behind their barbed-wire fences as the Dutch lowered the lifeboats and sailed off. That could only mean that the ship was doomed. To their dismay, they also saw that the lifeboats were not nearly full. As it took on water, the steamship started listing. A group of prisoners succeeded in freeing themselves and jumped into the sea, taking advantage of a few rafts and one lifeboat that had been overlooked, but two hundred others drowned. The next day, two Dutch ships appeared. The first one took no castaways on board, the second asked them whether there were Dutchmen in the group. Admiral Helfrich, our old friend, had radioed secret instructions in which he said to take only “reliable elements” on board and “prevent the remaining Germans from reaching land”. A Jewish jeweler who had escaped from the Nazis in his own country tried desperately to climb on board, but disappeared into the waves. Of the 473 prisoners, 66 succeeded in reaching the island of Nias in a sloop. They were the only survivors. Upon arrival one of them committed suicide: a former KNIL soldiers who could not believe that the Dutch Indies, the territory he had served for years, was doing this to him.

The Van Imhoff disaster was like a fire that went on smoldering for years. During the war itself, the Netherlands was required to pay the German occupiers some four million guilders in compensation, but in 1956 an Amsterdam court ruled that the captain need not be prosecuted. Yet the highest commissioning principal himself, Admiral Helfrich, never stood trial; his confidential missive came to light only later. A 1965 documentary about the whole affair, by the Dutch VARA broadcasting organization, was not allowed to be shown on TV. Holland was a victim, and the question of whether it had taken part in war crimes was not to be dealt with.

Erich Klappert (1935-1982) wrote a detailed overview of the internment and movements of the Rheinischen Mission missionaries who were in Indonesia when WWII broke out. Many missionaries ended up on the Van Imhoff.

Klappert's narrative was published in 2018 on the website
under the title "Im Paradies und Wunderland"

The Gaebler site contains several references to the Van Imhoff disaster and personal memories of descendants of missionaries of the Rheinlandische congregation.

All content is freely available in PDF format.

Cornelius Okko Hindriks became interested in the Van Imhoff affair when he was exploring the misfortunes of his father during WW-II. Hindriks senior was 1st officer on the ss Van Rees (a sister-ship of the ss Van Imhoff) and torpedoed on 8 January 1942 a day's journey from Tjilatjap, south of Java, were all KPM ships were seeking refuge from the approaching Japanese army.

Eight crew members died and Cornelius' father was imprisoned by the Japanese. Back in Holland he did not say a single word about his war experiences.

Cornelius (sr? jr?) published his findings in January 2018 at the website of the KPM.

He agrees with some other authors that both captains could have shown more courage by disobeying some of the rules of engagement towards the prisoners. They could have shared rescue equipment, food, water and some space on board. In his view, captain Berveling of the Boelongan got closer to committing war crimes than captain Hoeksema of the Van Imhoff.

For Cornelius Hindriks the main actor in the whole affair is admiral Helfrich. As the highest in command, he ignored the most basic human rights at sea. Not only in the handling of German prisoners but also in similar transports of political prisoners to the Dutch colonies in the West. However, he was never questioned by the authorities, not even in the witness stand. Instead, he was busy networking in the highest political and royal circles in post-war Holland and preparing for a coup to cleanse the Government of leftish elements and planning to re-conquer Indonesia as a Dutch colony. Helfrich was untouchable

Original artical copied from KPM website:



Admiral Helfrich

On 11 April 2018, Patricia Sonnenburg, granddaughter of Helmut Otto Sonnenburg, approaches newspaper "Het Parool" in The Netherlands. She re-tells the history of her grandparents who were from German origin and lived and worked in the NEI. Her grandfather became a victim on the Van Imhoff. After the war her grandmother never talked about the incident and wanted others to be silent about it too. The whole affair became a family secret.

However, Patricia found the courage to come out in the open after the Van Imhoff documentary shown on Dutch TV in December 2017.

She also made contact with international humanitarian law expert Liesbeth Zegveld. On behalf of Patricia Sonnenburg mrs Zegveld wrote a letter to the Ministry of Defense requesting an apology by the Dutch Government and recognition of the suffering caused to the Sonnenburg family.

(See follow-up under timeline entry dated 10 June 2019)

Web links to public media

Following his earlier announcement in 2017 (see Timeline), Georg Steinberg publishes his collection of original eyewitness accounts and official documents concerning the Van Imhoff affair. Steinberg is himself a publisher and personally interested.

To stay close to the original reports and letters, the book shows mainly photocopies and scans of archived, often typewritten primary sources. Generally these are not classified but would require tedious archival work to get access to.

Ref: "Die Versenkung der Van Imhoff am 19. Januar 1942 -
Augenzeugenberichte deutscher Überlebender" Herbert Utz Verlag, München 2018.

Ebook version (PDF)-Ausgabe:
ISBN 978-3-8316-7382-7 Version: 1 vom 25.06.2018
Copyright© Herbert Utz Verlag 2018

Alternative Hardcover
ISBN 978-3-8316-4668-5
Copyright © Herbert Utz Verlag 2018, 165 pages



The Dutch documentary on the Van Imhoff disaster which was broadcasted in December 2017 is repeated on 21 May, 28 May and 4 June 2019 (3 parts of 50 minutes each)


(follow-up from timeline entry dated 11 April 2018)

Liesbeth Zegveld, a Dutch lawyer specialized in human rights violations, represents descendants of Van Imhoff victims in their search for justice. In 2018 she assisted Patricia Sonnenburg who is a granddaughter of victim Helmut Sonnenburg to seek rehabilitation for her grandfather by demanding the Dutch Government to admit responsibility for the Van Imhoff disaster. An official letter was written in April 2018 to the Ministry of Defence. See: timeline entry April 2018.

A full year later, in April 2019, a response was received. It was signed by the Director of Legal Affairs for the Ministry rather than the politically responsible Minister of Defence, mrs Ank Bijleveld‎. This way the responsibility for the Van Imhoff disaster was downgraded to an administrative matter, rather than treating the affair as a pending political issue.

The letter also referred to an agreement made in 1960 between The Netherlands and Germany whereby the German Government would financially compensate the Van Imhoff victims, using the 4 million guilders that were already paid by the KPM in 1944. (see timeline entry December 1943). This compensation money disappeared in the Nazi war administration.

In the same letter the legal spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence “recognized” the Van Imhoff affair and “regretted” what happened but no apologies were made and responsibility was waived. It was further implied that the Dutch Government would not play an intermediary role between the German Government and the descendants van Van Imhoff victims to facilitate the process of compensation.

Both Mrs Sonnenburg and Mrs Zegveld feel uncomfortable with this outcome and are exploring alternative steps in their search for justice. The first step was to publicly expose their disappointment on the Dutch TV channel AVRO/TROS in the news program EenVandaag of 10 June 2019.


For Mrs Zegveld: - click: "Who are we?"

For Mrs Sonnenburg:

"De Volkskrant" daily of 22 November 2019:

Based on interviews with (ao) Patricia Sonnenburg, journalist Sander van Walsum summarizes the main features of the Van Imhoff affair up to its present day implications.


Source: De Volkskrant 22 November 2019 page 18