Within the Independence, Decolonisation, Violence and War in Indonesia, 1945-1950-research programme, the Witnesses & Contemporaries-project focuses on collecting the experiences of individuals in the Netherlands, Indonesia and other countries who witnessed or went through the events being studied. One of the aims of the Witnesses & Contemporaries project is to build a bridge between individuals who experienced the period 1945-1950 in Indonesia and the researchers. The personal stories shared with the researchers can help in forming a more complete picture of the period 1945-1950.

Since the middle of 2017, we have received a considerable amount of material, such as correspondence, diaries, memoirs, photographs and footage, from witnesses. This material is now available for research. Experiences dating to this period of violence and war in Indonesia are also shared in the form of a letter or an interview.

We have, for example, received letters that were exchanged between Dutch soldiers and their parents, brothers and sisters, and diaries in which young contemporaries recorded what they felt, thought and experienced in that period. We have also received photo albums containing photographs of family members, landscapes, expeditions and scenes of violence. We have conducted interviews in Indonesia with, among other individuals, independence fighters and organised witness seminars in the Netherlands at which the witnesses were individuals who experienced the period in question as young children or teenagers.

Regarding the collection of personal documents, we depend on what people wrote or made, what they kept and their willingness to share the items referred to. The Witnesses & Contemporaries project collects everything that people wish to make known to the research programme. A collection of this kind is never entirely in balance. Some witnesses recorded and kept more than others, and some witnesses share their material more readily than others. Many of the letters exchanged that have been kept, for example, were written by Dutch soldiers to their families in the Netherlands. The material that we receive reveals lacunae and indicates the missing voices that we must still find, with scope for different traditions regarding the recording and passing on of stories.

As a whole, this material constitutes a collection of stories that is available to the researchers and that will remain available for research and education projects in the future. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have a story that you believe should be part of this growing collection. See also the call to share stories on this page. Questions, suggestions and comments are most welcome.

We regularly publish blog posts of witnesses or the children or grandchildren of witnesses who have used letters, photographs, diaries and other family material to learn more about this part of their history. Researchers also share their experiences with us regarding the importance of personal stories to their work.

Members of the Witnesses & Contemporaries project team regularly attend various meetings, such as reunions, seminars, commemoration events and night markets.

Through blog posts and meetings, we look forward to giving you an impression of the material and the stories, and of their value to current and future research.

This project is being implemented by Eveline Buchheim, Fridus Steijlen and Stephanie Welvaart.

Image: Peter Bouman, Rita Young, Fridus Steijlen and Ad Jansen during the kick-off of witnesses and contemporaries at the Tong Tong Fair. Beeld: Tong Tong Fair/Henriette Guest