Dutch East Indies Hostages and the Death Candidates

Between 1816 and 1949, the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, was a Dutch colony. Between 1941 and 1945 it was occupied by Japan.

On 19 and 20 July 1940, 231 people who were on leave from the Dutch East Indies in the Netherlands were arrested by the Germans. They were called ‘Indian hostages’. It was in retaliation for the arrest of nearly 2,400 Germans by the Dutch governor-general in the Dutch East Indies in May 1940. The 15 female hostages went to Ravensbrück, the men to Camp Buchenwald. On October 7, 116 Indian hostages arrived in Buchenwald, but they did not come from the Dutch East Indies. The women were released again in early November 1940, and the men who survived were released more than 4 years later.

On October 7, another 116 men arrive in Buchenwald, who have been taken prisoner as ‘Indian hostages’. They do not originate from the Dutch East Indies and all hold prominent positions, including in the academic world. The women are released in early November 1940. In November 1941, after a difficult year in Camp Buchenwald, the men go to Camp Haaren. From there they are merged with the ‘notable hostages’ in Beekvliet in May 1942. There are frictions between the 2 groups. Because they have been held hostage for over a year longer, the Indian hostages feel a bit elevated, a bit more ‘hostage’.

Moreover, the food packages, which the Indian hostages received and the other hostages did not, created division. At their request, the Indian hostages were transferred in July 1943 to the boarding school De Ruwenberg, located further away.

Due to several deaths in Camp Buchenwald and some releases, about 150 hostages remain. Among them also, four Jews. They are transferred to Camp Westerbork at the end of July 1943.

The men were under the protection of the International Red Cross. The Germans agreed to this so that the German hostages in the Dutch East Indies would also receive decent treatment. In practice, this meant that the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross provided them with food packages as much as possible.

This group of hostages was treated very differently in Buchenwald from the other prisoners, their designation, ‘Das goldene Block’, says enough. They were the goldcrests in the camp, but they had a rough time nonetheless. Goldcrests in various respects: they did not have to work, were not mistreated and were allowed to receive parcels. So there was very limited contact with the outside world: they were allowed to write a letter once a month, in German! During the day they were free to do as they pleased.

The hygiene left much to be desired. In the winter of 1940-1941, twelve (or fourteen) hostages died of malnutrition and pneumonia, despite the food parcels and protection of the Red Cross.

Yet camp life was a heavy psychological burden, there was a constant fear, the sword of Damocles, of which they were constantly aware. The protection of the Red Cross didn’t mean much either, the Germans were masters at circumventing the controls!

Arthur Seyss-Inquart was the Reich commissioner for the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. In the latter capacity, Seyss-Inquart shared responsibility for the deportation of Dutch Jews and the shooting of hostages.

On 9 September 1940 he issued the following statement:

The Hague, September 9, 1940

In the foreign possessions of the Netherlands, a large number of Reich Germans resident there were arrested by the Dutch authorities and interned under undignified and extremely unhealthy conditions.
These measures by the Dutch authorities are in stark contrast to the loyal and generous treatment accorded to the Dutch people by the occupying powers.

To my regret, I feel compelled to leave several Dutch nationals—including you—in custody until this situation, which is intolerable for the German sense of honour, is remedied.

The Reich Commissioner for the Occupied Dutch Territories
signed Dr Seyss-Inquart”

In the context of these hostage internments, lists were also drawn up for hostage-taking on occasion; these concerned more or less well-known Dutch people who had played an opinion-forming, political or economic role. Incidentally, Seyss-Inquart exercised the necessary caution in this respect, as he did not wish to thwart his strategy of gradual Nazification.

On May 4, 1942, 460 persons on these lists were forcibly taken from their homes. These included some top people of the Dutch Union and former MPs; in addition, professors, journalists and various well-known ministers such as Willem Banning and Rev. Gravemeijer. There was no direct reason for this action. However, German repression was noticeably hardening during this period: shortly before, 72 members of the Ordedienst had been executed; 2,000 professional officers had also been called up and taken prisoner of war. Not much later, the first Jewish deportations would begin.

In a second wave of hostages in mid-July 1942, 600 people were arrested. These groups were imprisoned resp. in the minor seminary in Sint-Michielsgestel and the major seminary in Haaren, both in Brabant.

The express intention was to have these hostages serve as “guarantors” against acts of sabotage and resistance; in some cases, therefore, hostages would be put to death; they served as Todeskandidat, death candidates.

In order to crush the resistance, in 1942 Sint-Michielsgestel the minor seminary Beekvliet, as well as the major seminary Haarendael in Haaren, was requisitioned to house prominent Dutchmen as hostages as Todeskandidaten, Death Candidates. One or more of them could be designated as reprisal for any act of resistance to be executed. The first of these executions took place on 15 August 1942, in the woods of Gorp and Rovert, Goirle, where five Todeskandidaten were shot: Willem Ruys (director of the Rotterdamsche Lloyd), Mr Robert Baelde (social worker), Otto Ernst Gelder, Count of Limburg-Stirum (judge and public prosecutor), and Christoffel Bennekers (superintendent of police) and Alexander baron Schimmelpenninck van der Oye (landowner).

On 11 September 1944, a Niedermachungsbefehl [put down order] was issued in the Netherlands by Karl Eberhard Schöngarth. From then on, persons found at a meeting of a resistance group could be shot. In addition, resistance fighters were arrested for interrogation. The female persons were sent to camps, the male persons were placed on a death list. The number of those executed in retaliation was determined per attack by the national leader of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD—Security Service) and Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo—Security Police). The Todeskandidaten [death row inmates] were initially supplied by the regional SD, possibly supplemented by prisoners from other districts.

After the war, many execution sites were provided with a resistance monument where the victims are commemorated on National Remembrance Day.





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