Bersiap is Malay for “Be ready” or “Pay attention!”. It is the battle cry of Indonesian (para)military organizations and gangs which, almost immediately after the capitulation of Japan, sowed death and destruction among initially mainly non-Indonesians in the former Dutch East Indies.

During the height of this extremely violent period, which ran in the cities from September 1945 to early 1946, thousands of (Indo-)Dutch people were brutally tortured, raped and murdered by Indonesians, because of their Dutch and/or European ethnicity.

The violence against and the massacres of the civilian population did not stop after 1946, but continued until the late 1940s. Mid-1947 there was another explosion of violence, also referred to as the Second Bersiap.

The exact number of Dutch (civilian) victims that fell during the Bersiap is still unclear. Estimates vary between 5,000 and 30,000 dead and 15,000 missing. Chinese, Moluccans and other population groups were also victims, although it is unclear how many.

The violence did not cease after 1946. It was against this background that the government in 1947 decided to deploy the military on a large scale in the former Dutch East Indies – also euphemistically known as the Police Actions (Politionele Acties) – in order to “restore peace and order”.

In total, more than 200,000 soldiers were deployed, including 120,000 conscripts and 20,000 war volunteers from The Netherlands and 60,000 soldiers from the Royal Dutch East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Indisch Leger, KNIL). Between 1945 and 1962, a total of 6,300 soldiers were killed.

Unlike the Netherlands, Indonesia has never critically reflected on the crimes committed by its subjects against defenceless citizens. To this day, Indonesia refuses to acknowledge the atrocities and to apologize for it.

See also: Bersiap denial.

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