In September 2013, I visited the house of Antonius Pudji Rahardjo in Surabaya with a friend, Djuir Muhammad. Djuir took me on his motorbike there, because he said even if he gave me his address, it would be really hard to find his house. He was right. We had to go via countless alleys, before we arrived at a house with many plants outside. We had not told Antonius Pudji Rahardjo that we came. We just knocked on his door, hoping that he was home.
Pudji turned up in his sarong and greeted us very warmly. I introduced myself, told him about my father a bit, and my intention of writing his memoir. Immediately, he started talking about his imprisonment in 1965. We met three times, and he showed me his small library behind his house. The library was full of rare books, as well as his writings and newspaper clippings. A small, yet very impressive library. This is Pudji’s story:
I was actually born on 7 September 1929 but on my documents, it was written 7 September 1932. Before Gestok, I used to be a teacher at Pondok Takeran in Madiun (East Java). The school belonged to Sarekat Islam1. Then I went to study at a financial academy in Surabaya. Before graduating, a company in Denpasar (Bali) asked me to work there. So I moved to Bali, but I did not like it. The house where I lived was filthy. In Bali, men usually worked in the fields or looked after cattle, while women worked as porters. The women also went around without wearing bras. This made me feel uncomfortable.
In the house, pigs and chickens could get in and do whatever they wanted there, including pooing. The smell was unbearable. When one of my friends came from Java, he could not believe that I lived like that and asked me to go back to Java. Then, I found a job at BAT (the British American Tobacco) in Surabaya. BAT was a huge corporation which ran several cigarette and insurance companies, and had plantations everywhere. First, I became an assistant-accountant, and later, I was appointed as head of accountanting. After getting this post, I also became a trade union activist.
Moments before Gestok ‘65
The nationalisation of foreign companies in Indonesia was still going on then. In 1964, I was given a mandate by Oei Tjoe Tat (the then State Minister), to nationalise BAT with the help of the military and labour-representatives.
On 27 September 1965, I left for Jakarta to attend a national meeting of union leaders, to discuss the problem of the workers’ social security. The meeting started on 28 September. So, on 30 September, I was still in Jakarta. At approximately 11:30 pm, I walked passed Menteng and I saw some armoured vehicles. At that time, I thought that was for the preparation for the Armed Forces Day on 5 October.
Around midnight, a few friends and I arrived at the hotel and turned on the radio. There was no important or unusual news – we just listened to the songs and had a chat. But in the morning, at about 7 am, suddenly there was an announcement about the Revolutionary Council. This is what the radio said:
The Revolutionary Council had saved Indonesia from an attempted coup by the Council of Generals. The cabinet was declared non-functional, and the governmental affairs were administered by Lt. Col. Untung. The personnel of the armed forces above the rank of Colonel would be lowered by two ranks; whereas all soldiers who had participated in thwarting the coup-attempt by the Council of Generals would be promoted by 2 ranks. The radio emphasised that this was an internal army matter.
The next morning, we went around the town and walked passed the RRI (Radio Republic Indonesia). There were much army personnel in green barets. Then at 3 pm, we walked passed the RRI again, and there were no green barets, but there was much army personnel in red barrets (These were Special Forces, known as RPKAD).
The next day, on 2 October 1965, behind the Hotel Indonesia, we saw boys dressed in white with their thumbs tied together. They were all dragged into a truck, and according to those around, those arrested were members of Pemuda Rakyat, the leftist youth club2. I headed straight away for the BAT office. There, I found Colonel Suwondo, who wore his camouflage uniform and a cowboy hat, and had guns hanging on his left and right. He looked so fierce, I couldn’t ask any questions. But I knew I had to leave Jakarta as soon as possible.
On 3 October 1965, Kardono (my colleague) and I went to the office of the national council SOBSI (The Central Organization of Indonesian Workers), but I didn’t find anyone. The next day, I tried to meet with another officer Lt. Col. Mamesa, and fortunately he was willing to meet us. I begged him to give us consent letters to travel from Jakarta to our hometowns, to guarantee our safety. After obtaining this letter, we immediately bought train-tickets. Two days after, early in the morning, Kardono and I arrived at the train station. Throughout the trip, we saw the Army with guns, as well as paramilitary personnel on roadsides and rice fields, especially in the borders of every city. There was a rigorous examination of the vehicles. At Cirebon station, the train stopped a little longer, because there was a military operation in the carriage. Some people were ordered to get off the train by the army, including a woman who was sitting not far from me. The army were really interested in the green shirt in her backpack. Was it because of that green shirt that she was ordered to get off? We did not dare asking anything. We were also being examined, but after showing the letter from Lt. Col. Mamesa, they immediately left us alone.
Back to Surabaya
At 10 pm, we arrived at the station Turi, back home in Surabaya. When I got to my house, my wife and my four children had gone to bed. But my wife woke up and greeted me affectionately. I was happy that everything was fine.
In the morning, I went to work as usual. In the office, there had been a lot of changes. I was questioned and from then on, my activities were always monitored very closely by the corporate leaders. I had to report to them what I did, where and when I went.
On 9 October in the evening, a friend told me that a journalist of the newspaper
Terompet Masyarakat, Nyoo Ham Joe, was imprisoned. After that, the activities of SOBSI, the trade union federation, were halted. Soon after, the labourers at a company in Ngagel were imprisoned. Two days later, when I was going to my office, a soldier stopped me on the way. He said: “The army has surrounded your company. So, it’s better if you give in and follow me. Otherwise, you will be detained there.” So I followed him. I didn’t think much: I thought they just wanted to interrogate me.
I was taken to the local police station, and then to the military Corps at jl Ngemplak – Surabaya. There were other six people there, and some of them were my friends: Kardono, Suparman, Munasrip and Sukarto (all of them were labour activists). Four days later, I was sent to Koblen (a military prison) in Surabaya. At Koblen, our possessions were confiscated. I had just received my salary then, and they confiscated it, together with my pens and papers. I was imprisoned in cell no. IX with Munasrip. The total of the prisoners at Koblen was 76 then. The first day, our food was OK. Sometimes, we got sweet food, like kolak pisang3. But every day, there were more people and we got fed less. We also couldn’t sleep properly, because the room was getting crowded. We had to lie down like canned fish, on the floor. The room that was supposed to be for 15-20 people only, was filled in with more than 60 people, so we could hardly breathe. Our rice was later mixed with sand, and the only vegetables we got was boiled kangkong with roots attached (which were really hard).
Every time a new person arrived, there was new information too about the sadistic torture and murder the army afflicted; and it made us more aware of what happened and why we were here.
Musi 21 – Surabaya
I was later sent to 21 Musi Street, which used to be the office of the labour unions of the sugar factory. It had been transformed then into a prison. At the top was the interrogation room. They asked me many things about the labour and trade unions, also about the nationalisation of BAT. Everything was just like a theatre. I am sure everything had been scripted. Before the interrogation, I had to sign a statement without being allowed to read the content. The writings were covered by a piece of paper.
Here, after we’d been beaten up, we had to hear the screaming of others who were tortured, or the sound of heavy blunt objects banging on human bodies, at times accompanied with the sound of the radio. Then, the officers would call other prisoners who gathered at the back to carry their friends who had just been beaten up and could no longer stand.
One day, in the morning, a guard summoned me. I was nervous, until I saw my wife was there. She looked very pale, carrying our youngest child. When I was sent to jail, my wife was 3-months pregnant. Now, we could only talk for 5 minutes, before I had to go back to my cell. Later, I was transferred to Kalisosok prison, then to another prison. I can’t remember which prison I was moved to then. Later, I was back in Kalisosok.
To reduce the number of prisoners at Koblen, some were sent to Kalisosok. Here, at 9 am, we had the opportunity to take a bath, and get drinking water. The bath was about five minutes, sometimes when washing underwear and clothes, there was no time to shower. If the whistle sounded, we had to finish. If not, there would be a punch. The ones who guarded us in the showers were criminal prisoners. Some of these criminal prisoners were really mean and loved hearing us scream. One of them used to count us by hitting us with a bat.
Eventually, my family could contact me, but we could not yet meet. The delivery of food from the family was only allowed once a week. But most of the deliveries were not passed on to us. Mainly those with money could get their deliveries in because they bribed the guards.
At some point, deliveries from families were no longer allowed, although prison food was very minimal and many people suffered from starvation. Many of them could hardly stand, sit or even move. Eventually, they could hardly breathe. But as long as they could swallow water mixed with sugar, they were still OK. When they were no longer able to swallow anything, then we knew that death was waiting for them.
When families’ deliveries were allowed again, sugar was usually the most wanted. We kept the sugar and would not consume it if it was not really necessary. Only when we felt that our bodies got much weaker, then we mixed the sugar with water. Any unnecessary movements that took energy had to be eliminated. So, we often tried to stay still, keep quiet and close our eyes, to save energy.
People who came from Koblen, would sometimes only last for about a month, before they died. We were required to report to the guard when anyone died. But often, we did not say anything, because we wanted to eat their food rations. Only if a corpse started smelling badly, then we reported it. Meanwhile, I kept a list, where I wrote down the names of the dead.
After being at Kalisosok for 3 months, I was moved back to Koblen. Before the move, we were being searched. Knowing that, I put that long note in my mouth and swallowed it, while pretending to cough. With that, the list of all the people who had died at Kalisosok, disappeared.
At Koblen, I knew a painter named Masri. His wife was very beautiful. When she sent him some food, she was often invited into the office by the guards. After a while, one of them asked her to “serve” him. However, she fought fiercely against him. But what was the officer’s revenge? They tortured Masri severely, until he was mentally ill. Then he was taken away. No one knew or heard about him ever again.
When I returned to Kalisosok, a new man got in. I have forgotten his name now, but he was a former village head at Wringinanom-Gresik. I knew he had been imprisoned before and had been released. But why he was jailed again now? He then told me that when he got out of prison, he found that the soldier who had arrested and beaten him up, married his wife. Obviously, he was upset and furious. So, he decided to kill that man, and because of this, he was sent back to prison. But he said he did not regret it, he even felt relieved. “At the very least, I have got rid of that bastard now”, he said.
August 1969 was the first stage of the prisoners’ departure to Buru island. We were told that the prisoners would have the freedom to manage the land and harvest the crops on the island. I was going to be sent on the second transport. One month prior to the departure to Buru, the prisoners were first sent to Nusakambangan island. In late June 1970 was our departure to Buru. Two days before I was sent, I was allowed to meet with my wife and five children. But they could not all meet me at the same time because of the limited space. During this meeting, my first child was crying incessantly. While the other kids just went quiet. My wife brought mosquito nets, new clothes, underwear and pyjamas.
Here, we heard that the students, scholars and intellectuals would be dispatched to the island of Buru last. So we had to wait. Every morning we had to exercise in the morning, then we were herded to the river to bathe. While bathing, we usually had an opportunity to find more food. When the officer who escorted us was a bit slack, we might take some cassava and eat it. One day, I managed to take quite a lot of cassava after having had a bath.
I hid the cassava in my underwear and a few I tucked under the fold of my hat. When we got in at the front of the prison and had to report to the guards, I forgot to take off my hat. The officer quickly snatched my hat off and threw it against my face. Because the hat was much heavier than normal, of course he was suspicious, and after he found the cassava in it, he beat up and kicked me like crazy.
Yet, he was still not satisfied. I was taken to a special cell. It was so narrow that I could hardly move. All day I was not fed. At night, it was pitch-dark and the guard was at the checkpoint. I took that opportunity to take out the cassava in my underwear. I ate all of it quickly, so the guard wouldn’t find any!
Almost every day, we had to take turns working outside the prison, to clean the road. That was a good opportunity for us to get additional food. If we found lizards, mice, grasshoppers, we just swallowed them whole. But our favourite was snails – tasty and nutritious.
After three and a half months on Nusakambangan island, we were sailed to Buru island. Lots of friends got seasick, so the healthy ones had to clean up their vomit. As a “reward”, the healthy people could eat the food rations of the sick. So, the healthy ones got healthier and the sick got sicker. On the seventh day, we arrived at the dock in Namlea, which is located at the tip of Buru island.
When we got off the ship, we had to gather in a barrack, and the guards immediately searched us. If they liked any of our belonging, they would just snatch them. If we did not give them, they would punch us. Everything my wife gave me was taken away. The only things left were the clothes and underwear that I had hidden inside my pillow.
From the barracks, we walked to unit 4 of Sanleko (later, we called this place Savanajaya). There had been four prisoner shipments to this island. The first had had it most difficult, because they had to open up the forest and make rice fields, roads, houses, and build many other things. I was in the second shipment. The last, which happened around 1971, had it best, as on the island, there were roads then and even shops.
Each unit was like a village. When I just arrived, there were 29 units. The distance between units 4 to 29 was approximately 44 km. We were prohibited to go between units. Pramoedya Ananta Toer had been tortured, just because he wanted to meet his friend in another unit.
When we arrived in Sanleko, the unit commander appointed Hasan Susanto, to be our project leader. We were grouped based on the division of work: agriculture, warehouse, marine, office and carpentry. We usually started working at 7:00 am, carrying our plates. They would give us bulgur rice with rotten salted fish. All work had to be done very quickly. If the work did not meet the target, we often had to work in the evening, sometimes until midnight, using kerosene lamps.
One time, we had to work really hard to build a dam: with hardly any meals and hardly any rest. If anyone was caught resting, the officers would punish him severely: often by doing push-ups or any acrobatic movements they asked and several punches if the person no longer had the energy to do any of the other punishments. A friend of ours, Salim, suddenly fell over and vomited blood when he was carrying heavy soil. His body was trembling and pale, and we decided to hide him in a safe and dark place to rest.
We also had to assemble boards to be sold by the unit commander. But some of us could smuggle and sell them directly to the purchasers. With that money, we could buy underwear. If the army needed women, we were told to make a bed for them both. The Japanese also used to send some women to Buru island during the war, by telling these women that they would be educated, but then they were made sex-slaves on the island. Well, some of those women were still there. Some had been awarded to the tribal chiefs.
Some Funny but Painful Moments
In January 1972, there was a heavy rain on Buru. Later that night the rain had subsided, but it was still drizzling. I was in the barracks and the barrack-head at that time was Setyohadi (a former employee at a cement factory in Gresik). Coming home from the field, Setyohadi’s clothes were all wet. Maybe because of fatigue, after changing, he put his wet clothes under the bed in the corner. After work, we were required to leave our dirty clothes in the kitchen. When we were about to go to work, we also had to pick up the clothes from there. In the field, we usually wore an old cement sack.
Approximately at 8:30 pm, the bell rang and we had to stand still in a row for a roll call. Two guards got in to our barracks and after counting us, they checked all corners of our barracks with torches and found Setyohadi’s wet clothes. Actually, the guards were only looking for sharp weapons or tools kept in the barracks, such as machetes, hoes or spades. But they also liked to find fault with us.
Those wet clothes gave the guards an opportunity. They asked Setyohadi to take the clothes in his mouth, while the others had to shout: “Setyohadi is a dog”. But we shouted: “Setyohadi is not a dog”. The guards snapped, but still my friends said “Setyohadi is not a dog” many times. Eventually we all got punished. We had to crawl on the wet ground outside for a long time, in the rain. Then we had to say “Setyohadi is a dog”.
After we were allowed to get back to our barracks, we washed our muddy hands and feet. Some of us couldn’t help laughing. We were giggling with our hands over our mouths, so the guards couldn’t hear us.
The Giant Galiuk in Savanajaya
The commander of Savanajaya was a Lieutenant we called Galiuk, because of his large stature: like the giant in puppet stories or comic books. Galiuk is a playful character, he is fat, short and has a large belly. He is also a womaniser. Just like this Galiuk, who happened to be a First Lieutenant. I have forgotten his real name.
First Lieutenant Galiuk had a “courtier” called Willy S. He was one of our inmates too, and his special duty was following Galiuk everywhere, finding and bringing him anything he wanted, including women. One time, Willy found a woman who was originally from Central Java. She was about 35 years old and lived with her husband, named Gondo, a retired Armed Forces officer with the rank of corporal. This couple had two children. The health of Gondo was very alarming because he suffered from chronic tuberculosis, while their financial situation was inadequate because of the low rank he had before he retired. He had to go for a routine check-up in Namlea, and of course, the cost of each check-up was a fortune for them. Mrs. Gondo was quite beautiful; she had long hair, tanned skin and was curvy and sexy.
After Galiuk and Mrs Gondo were introduced to each other, they made a deal. The requirements from Mrs Gondo were: looking after the Gondo’s family needs (including food, clothing and housing), as well as paying for the treatment of her husband. Galiuk agreed, and of course that meant extra work for us prisoners. First we had to renovate Mrs Gondo’s house. Then, we had to make furniture for her family, such as tables, chairs and beds.
Almost every day (at least 3 or 4 times a week), Willy was summoned to Galiuk’s office and we heard some dialogue like this:
G : Willy, come here quickly!
W : Yes, sir. Do you need anything?
G : You have to go to the Queen consort’s, see whether she is home or not, and if she is, tell her that the Commander will come.
W : Yes, Commander!
Willy had to report to the commander as soon as possible after this duty. Because if he returned a bit later than the time Galiuk had set, Galiuk would hit him. If Mrs. Gondo was home, Galiuk would depart from his office to Mrs. Gondo’s with Willy following behind while carrying the Commander’s bag. On the way from our unit to Mrs. Gondo’s, there was the river Waibuni. When there was no flood, the river reached above the knee. During dry season, the river was usually under the knee. But Galiuk did not want his pants or feet to get wet at all. So, immediately he would order:
G : Come on, Semarang horse. Are you ready? [Willy originally came from Semarang].
W : I’m ready, Commander, please get on.
Then Galiuk got on Willy’s back to cross the river. When they arrived at Mrs. Gondo’s, the Commander would say:
G : Willy, wait outside. Do not let any human get in here.
W : Ready, Commander !
According to Willy, when the Commander arrived, Mr. Gondo would go away with their two children. He would grab his stick, and lead out the children, 10 and 6 years old, for a walk around the cassava farm. There, Mr. Gondo with his kids would sit and chat for a long time until Galiuk was finished with his wife.
Each time the Commander wanted to cross the river or wanted to inspect the field or any muddy place, he would call his Semarang horse. He would get on Willy’s back, and keep his feet clean.
13 March 1972
One day, I was cutting wood to make a dam. Not long after, came Surento, a Sergeant in unit IV.
Surento: Make a double bed for me, please.
Me: I am very sorry sir, I am really busy at the moment, because I have to finish this wood as soon as possible for the flood gate, which must be installed in that channel.
Surento: I don’t care [he hit me so hard that I fell off my stool].
Me: OK, sir. I’ll make one for you. But please give me a month.
Surento: All right, but be careful if it is late. I’ll give you clothes after you finish it.
Me: Sorry sir, I have four friends here. So, I ‘d rather have something else that can be used for 4 people.
Surento: Well, then I’ll give you sugar.
I finished sergeant Surento’s bed in about three weeks. I hid it in a cassava plantation. Two days later, Surento asked about his order and I took him to the plantation and showed him the bed. He gave us a packet of sugar (approximately 5 kg). Then, he ordered me to deliver the bed to the home of a tribal Butonese woman named Waambe.
I carried the bed with a friend, during our lunch break. On the way back, we passed Waibini river, not far from the home of Mrs. Gondo. I walked in front and my friend followed behind me. Unfortunately, when we were about to cross the river, Commander Galiuk appeared from the opposite direction. My friend had disappeared. Apparently he saw Galiuk first and had a chance to hide. I was beaten up and he ordered me to see him at his office.
Approximately at 5.30 pm, I stood in front of his office. Immediately, punches started landing on my body as he fired questions:
Galiuk: Where were you this afternoon?
I: I was fixing the bridge, because a board there was broken, sir.
Galiuk: Why did you have to go through the village?
Me: I did not go through the village, sir; I just had to cross over the edge of the river.
He asked me to go back to the hut and made me stand still, naked, for two hours, while mosquitoes feasted on my body. Of course, he would come and see me every now and then, to “award” me with hard punches. After he was satisfied with my punishment , he asked me to go to his office and thank him. As usual, while hitting prisoners, he asked another prisoner to watch and asked how his punches were. The prisoner had to give the desired answer: assuring him how badly he had hurt his victim.
In general, every inmate had to say “thank you” after being beaten up. We sometimes laughed and called ourselves insane. Then one said, we said thank you because we felt fortunate that we were only beaten up, not trampled or strangled. Even if we were strangled but we didn’t die, we were still lucky in a way. So, we said thank you because we could still speak, and dead people could no longer speak.
People from Overseas
At the beginning of 1970s, visitors from abroad wanted to visit us, some of whom were from the Red Cross. Immediately, the government set up a clinic, but it was just cosmetic. There was no one even working there. Just before the visitors arrived, the government sent some people from Jakarta to the island. They filled up the library with books, the shops offered many things, and the clinic also had some nurses. They totally revamped our prison. But this was just a trick to make the visitors think that our conditions were good. When the visitors left, all of the stuff was transferred to the next place where the visitors were about to arrive.
We tried to outsmart them by speaking English with the guests. The military did not understand English. We did this, when we were not being watched so stringently. But when these international delegates were around, usually the guards did not keep an eye on us very strictly, anyway. We asked these foreign guests not to go to the prison offices first, but directly visit other places, and we asked them to arrive there ahead of their scheduled visits, so they could see what it was really like here. Thus, a few of them indeed saw empty hospitals, empty health-care centres and empty shops.
General Sumitro’s Visit
Before a certain General Sumitro and his entourage came to visit Savanajaya, they called Prof. Dr. Suprapto SH, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and several other intellectuals to the office. I believe that these officials just wanted to take advantage of the thoughts and ideas of our friends, to be used as a barometer, in order to find out what they had to do next. Because despite their long and severe imprisonment, these intellectuals were still sharp and their minds were able to sail much further than this island.
The General gave a long speech concerning our imprisonment on the Buru island. He said that it was to direct and salvage us from the abyss of our previous misguided life. He asked us to recognise our sins and repent. Only by doing this, we could forget the past and obey the law and be good citizens. But how did he know our mistakes, if none of us had had any due process or trial in a court of law, at all?
One of our friends, Edy Suparno SH, was questioned by General Sumitro:
Sumitro: Do you know why all of you were brought here?
Edy: I know, sir. I think we were just the victims of power struggles.
Sumitro: What? Struggle for power? You are being really ridiculous. Come on, who had struggled for power?
Edy was speechless after that. He knew it was useless to express his opinion at all.
Some friends who happened to sit close to Edy, urged him to remain silent. No matter what they said, we were only political prisoners, we no longer had any right to express our opinions, let alone to argue and disagree. In order to keep safe, the only way was to be silent and stay silent. Especially after Sumitro had emphasised that our freedom depended on our attitude and behaviour, and asked us to obey the law.
The Arrival of Families
At the end of 1970s, the guards told us that some of our families would be summoned to the island . They asked us to build a small dock, for when these families arrived.
The prisoners whose wives would come, were gathered in unit IV Savanajaya, while many unit IV inhabitants were transferred to other units. According to the information from the authorities, they were transferred to other units that still required the expansion of paddy fields. I was transferred to the unit Giripura XIII, the most distant unit (the top), approximately 33 km from Savanajaya. I had to work with the dams and water channels, replacing doors etc..
Not long before we were due to be released, two of our friends committed suicide. One of them was a vet. He was really sick and tired, but the guards accused him of being lazy and not wanting to work. He was taken to a special cell to be tortured, but he hung himself there. The other was a writer. The officers asked his wife to come to the island, but he was so ashamed of his life that he did not want to see her.
When the wives and children of the political prisoners arrived at Sanleko, the men pick them up by carrying transport equipment such as carts or pemikul [baskets on a yoke]. Journalists also arrived to record that moment. But the foreign press were kept out, and local journalists had very limited access.
We helped the newcomers by making kitchen appliances and household items such as tables, chairs and beds. There was a building for a primary school, but there were no teachers yet. Fortunately, some of the wives were former teachers, so they took on those jobs. The junior or senior high-school students had to go to Namlea. When the parents had no money to pay for their boarding house, the kids had to go to Namlea and come home on a boat. When they were a bit established, the children could often rent a room in Namlea. They usually paid a little bit of money plus rice and vegetables, for the room.
The wives and children of the political prisoners on Buru were looked down upon by the locals. They were considered political prisoners as well: they were not free, and the guards ordered them around and treated them badly. Often they became an entertaining spectacle for the officers and the indigenous people of Namlea. On holidays, the guards and the people of Namlea often gathered around to watch them, just like visiting a zoo. The guards would tease and jeer at these women, so the others could laugh more at them. At times, they even touched or pinched the women, especially the young ones. Eventually, they sexually harassed them in front of the public. They treated the women as their possessions, and beat up the husbands in front of the families. Several of them were raped.
On 30 August 1979, I was freed. We gathered at Gelora Pancasila – Surabaya. The families who picked up the political prisoners had to wait outside. I looked for familiar faces from the window. There were so many people, that it was difficult to see. I had to search for a long time, and I heard a voice: “Bapak . . . bapak . . . ”. The girl was crying hard: “Bapak . . .”. Then, I realised she must be my daughter, who had been separated from me for 14 years. I didn’t recognise her. I thought she was my fourth child. I called her name, but she corrected me. She was actually my eldest. She told me that her mother and sister were waiting outside.
The next day, accompanied by my brother, I went to the secretary of the RT4 to get my papers. The Secretary said that my name could not be found, so he could only record my name as a visitor. But, after my brother paid him Rp 500, everything was settled. Of course, I had the stamp “ET” [eks political prisoner]. I did make myself three years younger on paper. I had wasted my life in prison, so I did not want to retire early.
When I was arrested, my wife was also put under house arrest. Most of our possessions were seized by the army. Fortunately, we had hidden the documents of our house at a friend’s, so they could not confiscate my house. Later, my wife had to quit her job as a high school teacher. To find work again, my wife decided to get rid of all her certificates and start all over again. She went back to school and after she graduated, she became an elementary school teacher. She also replaced all of her papers, so she could claim her pension. But my wife always stayed faithful to me, even though many soldiers courted her. One of them almost raped her. After my release, my wife and I decided to convert from Islam to Catholicism, because it was the only religion that welcomed us. My wife changed her name from Supiah to Maria.
In 1999, some friends and I founded an organisation for the victims of ’65 called YPKP (Yayasan Penelitian Korban Peristiwa ’65)5. With the other ex-political prisoners, we demanded the Parliament rehabilitate our names. We demonstrated in front of the parliament building once a month, but we were always ignored. Therefore, I am very supportive of your project, so that our history is not forgotten. I still love to read, to do research, but unfortunately my memory is really weak now. But I will never let go of our cause.
I have written a lot about the corruption and manipulation of Suharto. All of those writings on the shelf there are about Suharto alone. Hopefully, they can all be published one day.
A final story for you. One of my son’s brothers-in-law was a sea captain during the 1965 massacre. He said many were killed in the sea, and the bodies were thrown overboard. On paper, they wrote that the prisoners “ran into the forest”. The training for this mass-murder, he claims, was done in Australia.
Many of those deaths were never recorded or reported. They were forgotten just like that.
Before I went home, Puji showed me his small library, and said to me to tell anyone who wants to know about the history of 1965 to come and read his collections any time.
1 Sarekat Islam (formerly Sarekat Dagang Islam or Union of Islamic Traders) was established in 1911, and its mission is to empower indigenous entrepreneurs and merchants.
2 Pemuda Rakyat means The People’s Youth, an organization linked to the Indonesian Communist Party.
3 Kolak Pisang is a dessert made from banana, sweet potato, and cassava, boiled in water, sugar and coconut milk.
4 RT or Rukun Tetangga literary means harmonious citizens. An RT usually consists of around 40 – 50 households. So, the head of the RT usually knows everyone, and this was used as a means of keeping an eye on the citizens by the Dutch, which was continued by the New Order government. This system persists even now.
5 YPKP is the Foundation for the Study of the 1965 Massacre victims.
by Soe Tjen Marching