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Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

A valuable lesson

Our informant in this section is not a direct victim of the relevant authorities in the 1965 tragedy. Even so, he suffered deeply because of it. Ongko Widjaja, which is his pseudonym, comes from Solo, Central Java, Indonesia. He is of mixed Chinese and Javanese blood, even though he feels strong attachment to his ‘male Chinese’ ancestry. His father was a salt and produce trader in Karanganyar, near Solo. When the 1965 tragedy happened, Ongko Widjaja had only recently graduated from high school.
In November 1965, with no reason that Ongko Widjaja could understand, his father was arrested and taken to a military camp in Karanganyar.

The interview with Ongko Widjaja was carried out by Chandra Halim, a member of the History Commission of PUSdEP, an alumnus of the Department of History at Sanata Dharma University and the masters program in history at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

My name is Ongko Widjaja, and I live in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia. I am head of the neighbourhood [Ketua RT, Rukun Tetangga]. When I was a child, I attended primary school to class 6. I spent my childhood as the son of a salt and produce seller from Karanganyar, not far from Solo. Then I moved into the city of Solo for my junior high school at SMP Negeri I, and went on to senior high school at SMAN Negeri 5. In 1963 I graduated from senior high school.

Fighting for the people

I am an Indonesian-born Chinese, what is called Baba or Peranakan.64 My father was a Chinese born in China, what is called Totok, and my mother was Javanese. My father liked to wear Chinese style shirts, whereas my mother liked to wear traditional Javanese dress, wrapped batik and kebaya. I was the first of five children. I am dark skinned because I take after my Javanese mother. That is why when I went to junior and senior high school, where the students were mainly Javanese, I did not feel uneasy. My father, as a salt and produce seller from Karanganyar, did not take much notice of his children’s schooling needs.

My relations with friends at school or around my home were perfectly normal. There was nothing to worry about. I often played with them, and we chatted very familiarly. I didn’t mix much with children from ‘pure Chinese’ families. My father’s only younger brother also married a Javanese, so I hardly ever mixed with ‘pure Chinese’.

I spoke in a mixture of Javanese and Indonesian. From my father’s side, I only knew how to observe Chinese rituals like Chinese New Year (Sincia), Cap Go Meh, prayers to the ancestors, or ‘Sembahyang wedang ronde’.65 Sometimes Papa would teach me his native tongue, namely Hokkien, but because I was basically stubborn, I never wanted to learn from my Papa. In 1970 I married a Javanese.

In Karanganyar, Baperki [Badan Permusyawaratan Kewarganegaraan Indonesia, the Council for Deliberations on Indonesian Citizenship] attracted a large number of Chinese members or sympathizers. This organization was rather leftist in its orientation. It was very close to the Communist Party. At that time, the Communist Party was also very big in Karanganyar. It had a lot of influence. At that time there were lots of Chinese families living in Karanganyar. Jalan Lawu in the town of Karanganyar was lined with Chinese families, including my father’s family. My father’s name was LST. The only thing he could do was trade. He followed Baperki, but this was not his own idea. A friend of his from Solo invited him to go along to their meetings.

Back then, my father was merely a Baperki sympathizer, not a member. After all, Papa was so busy with his work as a salt and produce that he had no time to become a member, let alone work on the organizational side. Of course he had no time for that. The other reason Papa was a Baperki follower was because he thought Baperki would fight for the cause of the Chinese in Karanganyar and Solo. Usually, if there was any Baperki event, Papa was always invited. Papa was close to a number of people in the organization but I can’t remember their names.

Arrested with no cause

As I said, my father was not a Baperki member, just a sympathizer. But he was often invited to Baperki events and he went. The reason was because he thought Baperki could help give the Chinese what they wanted. In my father’s eyes, Baperki was an organization that could fight for the cause or the voice of the Chinese, so that they would be more easily accepted by society in general.

In 1963 I finished senior high school in Solo and returned to Karanganyar. I was working helping my Papa, selling salt, cooking spices and other produce. Back then there was a horse cart that came once a day from Solo to Karanganyar to bring things bought wholesale. Papa always used a horse cart to bring the things he bought in Solo to sell in Karanganyar. So we kept in touch with people in Solo. In early September 1965, I got dysentery. I was in the hospital near Kandang Sapi [Dr. Oen hospital, ed] for about three and a half months. I had lots of things wrong with me, including typhoid. So I had to stay in hospital. Usually it was my mother who stayed with me in hospital, but if not, it was my uncle.

Around late November 1965 my uncle told me that Papa had been arrested by people from the Regional Military Command (Kodim) in Karanganyar. He was being held at the Kodim detention centre. This used to be behind what is now the Bank BNI-46 building in Karanganyar, in front of the Fuji photo shop ‘Nirwana’. My uncle said that Papa had been arrested with no clear cause. Suddenly he was detained at Kodim. After 3 months had gone by, and I was still at Kandang Sapi [in hospital in Solo], Papa was moved to a base camp detention centre near the Tasikmadu sugar factory. That is now the office of the Tasikmadu Police. Papa was tortured there and not given any food along with dozens of other detainees from Karanganyar. Early in his detention he was not allowed family visits, not even by my mother.

Around early December, I got out of hospital. On the way home to Karanganyar from Solo, when we went over the Bengawan river, I saw lots of people who were bound, and then lined up on the banks of the Bengawan Solo river. I thought to myself, what’s going on here … I was confused. Then, after some discussion between prisoners and the army there – KOSTRAD if I’m not wrong, because they were wearing army camouflage fatigues – suddenly those prisoners were shot. As they were shot, their bodies fell directly – plonk – into the Bengawan Solo. The location was just under the railway bridge. When I got home, I talked about what I had seen with Mama and other members of the family.

After I got out of hospital, I was taken along on visits to my father. This was not allowed every day. It depended on how much we bribed. Papa was held at Tasikmadu camp for about one year plus one and a half months. Papa was listed as ‘C’ category. Actually, Papa wanted to be sent to Buru island. At that time I didn’t know why he was released. Only later did I find out that there was some ‘backing’ from a high ranking army person, a distant relative of my mother’s.

Refusing to budge

According to me, the 1965 incident was a salutory lesson for the Chinese. Even if sometimes we – Chinese – never take part in political affairs either domestically or internationally, we are often victims of policies of the regime in power. We can take part in politics, we can have a high spirit of nationalism, and we can build up great wealth, but we have to constantly remember that in this life we must be part of society, we have to be humble and always prepared to help one another, whoever that is, whatever group they come from.

What is done is done. Now we must try to have a better attitude from that of the past. Of course that incident was a dreadful blow to us, but it should not become a source of our resentment towards those in power or anyone who hates us.

Even though I am sometimes sad when remembering those events, I remain resolute, and am always careful in what I say and do. I do not want those events to recur, because the effect is huge. To this day, my family and I are stamped as children of former political prisoners, and ostracized where we live. Even though we were merely victims of the high level political games going on back then. In Solo, back then, there were many teachers, technicians and people in private business from the Chinese community who were arrested and accused of being communists. What is that, if not high-level political manoevering that sacrifices the weak?

64 In Indonesia, Chinese are divided into Totok (born in China) and Peranakan or Baba (this latter term usually for males) meaning Chinese born in Indonesia, and those who are intermarried with local people.

65 Cap Go Meh: 15 days after New Year (Cap Go means 15); Sembahyang Wedang Ronde (ronde drink prayers) is usually held on 22 December.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ