With the signing of the peace treaty in August 1945, the war in the Pacific was officially over. Not only did troops think about returning home, the actual transition to civilian life began as soldiers, sailors, and airmen (and some women) began to be “mustered out.” For those who lived in the areas directly impacted by the long years of fighting, the end of the war did not mean an immediate return to “normalcy.” For our sisters in the East Indies who had suffered all the uncertainties, indignities, and terrors of life in the camps, there would be much left to endure.
As S. Elisa Ackermans describes in her work, Our Sisters in Indonesia in the years 1940-1945 . . .
As soon as the camp gates had been opened, arrangements were made to get everybody “home.” Sr. Xaverio, who had taken the place of the deceased Mother Hortense, took some firm decisions. East-Indian people could go to their families outside the camp at once. The Belandas [Dutch] were not allowed to leave, or only at their own risk—this was actually determined by the Red Cross, which carried the final responsibility. The sisters could go straight to the Maria School in Ambarawa, where Mother Gerardis and the East-Indian sisters resided: it was just half an hour’s walk. Every day little groups went there until orders were given that no Belanda could leave the camp any longer, not even at their own risk.
It was too dangerous for the Dutch to be seen “out and about.” However, the Red Cross did transfer the sick to hospitals, one of which was St. Elisabeth in Tjandi [Semarang]. Many of the sisters were, of course, very ill and so were brought there which was a good thing. Meantime, the other Dutch sisters were still in Camp 7, Ambarawa. The tides of nationalism were sweeping Java and many groups known as “pemudas” were taking to the streets and venting their fury against the Dutch colonisers. They searched anyone walking in the streets. They planted bombs in larger buildings and also set fire bombs. “At every entry to the city people had to be searched, for even old women would have hidden munitions in their clothes and children had munition in their lunch boxes.” The resistance developed into a full-fledged war and it took the British troops several months to restore some semblance of peace and order. It was not until December 1945 that all the sisters were released from Ambarawa and returned to Tjandi.
In addition to the physical dangers and deprivations, there was also the uncertainty regarding the future. They had survived so far, but what was to come? Would the Dutch sisters be allowed to stay in the East Indies or would they be forced to return to the Netherlands? Once again they were called to wait, for there was no quick or sure solution to the post war problems.
In the next column, we will hear from S. Elisa as she summarizes her impressions after reading first-hand the camp accounts written by the survivors.