Aside from the Nazi U-boat presence, in 1943 a Gestapo team arrived in Indonesia to coordinate their activities with the Japanese and against whatever Dutch resistance there was in the archipelago. The Netherlands had been invaded in 1940, and the Dutch in Indonesia were cut off and without any support or resources from their homeland. The Japanese had promised Indonesians their independence from Holland if they would support Japan in its project of wiping out Dutch resistance, and future Indonesian leaders like Sukarno were cooperating with the Japanese for that oldest of reasons: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
The Gestapo then began rounding up whatever Jews they could find, for arrest and imprisonment. This is an important part of the historical record, for it shows that the zeal with which the Nazis persecuted the Jews was not confined to a European or even a Western context but extended to the Jews wherever in the world they could be found. They were hardly a threat to the Third Reich in Japanese occupied Indonesia, but nevertheless the Gestapo felt it necessary to conduct their own Holocaust in that tropical, Asian country thousands of miles from the concentration camps of Poland. The Japanese themselves did not understand this attitude towards the Jews— saying that they were at war with countries and not with races85—but tried to cooperate the best way they could, essentially humoring their German colleagues. Jewish men were separated from Jewish women and put into separate camps for the duration of the war. This occurred most notably in Surabaya, which had a large Jewish population86 as well as a Nazi Party branch.
Thus, we have a documented Nazi presence in Indonesia going back to the 1920s (long before Hitler came to power in Germany) and which does not disappear until the end of the war in the Pacific, for the Nazi U-boats that were stranded in Indonesia after the German surrender were commandeered by the Japanese for their own use. That meant that U-boat crews were also stranded in Indonesia and many found themselves unable
—or unwilling—to return to Germany.
Many U-boat crewmen discovered Indonesia to be a relatively congenial berth after the rigors of submarine warfare on the losing side. Although they were taken prisoner by the Allies once Japan surrendered,
some managed to escape and others were charged with guarding the Dutch against the Indonesian rebels. Some became active in the Indonesian revolt against the Dutch, who returned to Indonesia in force after the Japanese surrender. Several died in Indonesia and are buried in what has to be one of the strangest cemeteries in the world, Eight Hundred Statues.
Known as Arca Domas, which translated from the Sanskrit means “eight hundred statues”, this cemetery is located south of Jakarta in the region of Bogor, near the village of Cikopo. It had been part of a tea plantation owned by two German brothers, Emil and Theodor Helfferich…and therein lies a tale.
Emil Helfferich (1878-1972) was a Nazi Party member and an intimate of high-ranking Nazi officials, including Heinrich Himmler. Emil had spent decades in Java as a pepper trader in the first years of the twentieth century, from 1899 to 1928. He returned to Germany at the age of 51 to take up important positions in the Weimar Republic, including becoming chairman of the Hamburg-Amerika shipping company (which became HAPAG and then HAPAG-Lloyd) as well as chairman of Esso Oil (of which 94% at that time was owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey). In November of 1932, he was one of the co-sponsors of the Industrialists Petition to President Paul von Hindenburg insisting that Adolf Hitler be made Chancellor of Germany. Much against Hindenburg’s wishes, Hitler was made Chancellor in January of 1933, only two months later, with the all-important backing of German bankers and industrialists like Helfferich.
He was one of the members of the Freundeskreis Himmler (or “the Friendship Circle of Himmler”) along with Oswald Pohl (the SS general in charge of the concentration camps and also of Himmler’s mystical castle, Wewelsburg; hanged at Nuremberg), Hjalmar Shacht, Ernst Schafer (of the SS-Ahnenerbe and the leader of the SS-Tibet Expedition), Otto Ohlendorf (mass murderer of Jews in the Ukraine, who was hanged at Nuremberg), Wolfram Sievers (chief of the SS-Ahnenerbe who was hanged at Nuremberg), and many others.87 As one can see, it was an organization composed of wealthy industrialists as well as high-ranking SS officers… and men later accused of some of the worst crimes of the war.
Hjalmar Schacht (1877-1970) for instance, was the main organizer of the Industrialists Petition to Hindenburg to name Hitler as Chancellor. He was also President of the Reichsbank and chief economist for the Third
Reich. He grew disillusioned with Hitler in the late 1930s, and repudiated anti-Semitism, The Fuhrer eventually dismissed him in 1943 and, after he was believed to have been involved in the assassination plot against Hitler in July, 1944, he was imprisoned at Flossenberg Concentration Camp and then at Dachau. Eventually de-nazified by the Nuremberg tribunal, he went on to form his own bank and became an economic advisor to…the Government of Indonesia.
For his own part, Helfferich managed to convince the Allies that he was not a war criminal, even though he was one of those who helped put Hitler in power and who maintained a long relationship with Himmler. His brother, Theodor (1872-1924), was Vice Chancellor of Germany and Secretary of the Interior during World War I, and was responsible for the development and construction of the first German submarines. He was killed in a train wreck in Switzerland in 1924 at the age of 52.
Thus, the two Helfferich brothers were important figures in German politics, industry and finance with Emil Helfferich, an intimate of Himmler, Schacht, and Hitler as well as a chairman of Esso Oil and the Hamburg- Amerika shipping company. These were the brothers that owned the tea plantation at Bogor that was turned into a cemetery for the Nazi U-boat crew. It was Emil Helfferich who built the monument at the cemetery to the famed Admiral Graf von Spee, who died in the Battle of the Falkland Islands on December 8, 1914 and who dedicated the cemetery:
DEM TAPFEREN DEUTSCH-OSTASIATISCHEN GESCH-WADER 1914
(“To the Brave German East-Asian Squadron 1914”)
ERICHTED VON EMIL UND THEODOR HELFFERICH 1926
(“Erected by Emil and Theodor Helferrich 1926”)
The German East-Asian Squadron was the armada commanded by Admiral Graf von Spee in a battle with the British Navy, in which he lost his life and those of thousands of his fellow sailors. Although the monument says Emil and his brother Theodor erected it, Theodor was already dead by this time. The monument is designed in a Javanese style, and boasts a statue of Ganesha on one side and of Buddha on the other.
During World War II, the tea plantation—then under the ownership of one Albert Vehring—became a logistics support area for the U-boats, supplying food and other materials for the more than forty German submarines that were operating in the area. Once Germany surrendered, some of the crew members—notably under the command of U-219 commander Walter Burghagen—fled to the plantation and became civilians…at least until they were captured by the British and then placed in prison camps run by the Dutch. Some escaped, and others died of disease or from attacks by Indonesian guerrillas who mistook the Germans for their Dutch opponents.
Later, the monument and its surrounding grounds became the Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof or German Soldiers Cemetery. Ten U-boat crew members are buried there, with headstones in the shape of Iron Crosses. To this day, the German government quietly finances the maintenance of the cemetery is and occasionally, surviving crew members make the pilgrimmage to Arca Domas to visit the graves of their old comrades. In fact, one of these “old comrades”—Hans-Joachim Krug, first officer of U-219 under Walter Burghagen—was the technical advisor to the film Das Boot (1981).
The reason for taking so much time with these seemingly disparate personalities and events is to demonstrate the extent to which Indonesia and Nazi Germany were linked…at the highest political and military levels. While much attention has been paid to the role South America and the Middle East played in the escape of Nazi war criminals known as the Ratline, this aspect of the project—the Asian theater—has been largely, if not completely, ignored. But we have clear and unequivocal evidence that
(a) the passage to Southeast Asia by U-boat was not only possible, but an integral part of the Nazi effort to source important war materiel, (b) that those closest to Hitler’s inner circle—men like Walther Hewel, Hjalmar Schacht and Emil Helfferich—had close connections to Indonesia, in some cases lasting for a decade or more, and (c) since so many war criminals did manage to escape, it stands to reason that some would have made it as far as the former Dutch colony whose raw materials were so vital to continuing the war, and where European and Asian armed forces met both in combat and cooperation.
With the end of Dutch hegemony in the region, it would be seen that Indonesian revolutionaries like future president Sukarno had demonstrable pro-Nazi sympathies. But was Indonesia an environment conducive to the
type of anti-Semitism so typical of the devoted Nazi? Had there ever been any Jews in Indonesia? Was Indonesia a fertile ground for anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, such as the Jewish-Masonic global conspiracy to rule the world made famous by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the legendary turn-of-the-century hoax that so influenced Hitler and the Nazis?
Would Indonesia have offered a congenial sanctuary for a rabid Nazi war criminal?
To understand how Indonesia might have become a haven for a Nazi war criminal, it is helpful to see how another country (far removed from the conflict of World War II) became identified as a “safe house” for evil men. One of the reasons Argentina became so famous as a sanctuary for Nazis after the war was the attitude of the Argentine government towards immigration. Argentina had long considered itself more European than Latin American, and looked across the Atlantic for its cultural roots. A visit to Buenos Aires in the 1990s, for instance, made one think of Paris or Vienna in the 1930s. Surnames were often Italian, French or German, and it is a fact of history that future president Juan Domingo Peron had trained with Italian fascists during the Mussolini era and had developed a fondness for fascist ideology. Peron was a populist leader, in many ways like both Mussolini and Hitler, who had an obsession for military dress and the machismo of the career soldier. The Perónist regime also railed against foreign influences, particularly from North America, and saw itself as a bulwark against Communism. In the native Catholicism of Argentina there was a political rapport with the Vatican as well: and the dream of some Argentines was to create a kind of fascist-Catholic nation, purged of “other elements” and a safe haven for anti-Communist fighters and sympathizers. There was a strong anti-Semitic movement in Argentina which came into its own once Peron was elected; prior to that time there had been Jewish migration to Argentina from Europe, but by the mid-1940s this had slowed to a trickle as Nazis and former SS officers found themselves in control of the Immigration Department and the immigration policies of Argentina, with Peron’s blessing and support.
A further comparison could be had with Croatia which also combined ardent Catholicism with a hatred of Communism and Jews. As Croatia fell to the Communists under Tito, Argentina became the de facto leader of the
Catholic anti-Communist alliance…aided and abetted by a large contingent of Croatian Ustashe refugees.
We have some parallels, then, with Indonesia during the same period. While Indonesians as a rule never identified with Europe the way Argentina did, they had a similar political position vis-à-vis capitalism and the superpowers, especially the United States. There was also a nascent fascist movement in Indonesia that sought to recover the ancient glory of the Majapahit empire.88 The Japanese, however, enraged them with their insistence that Muslims face Tokyo when they prayed instead of Mecca,89 thereby alienating the religious leaders whose support was necessary in order to bring the population in line with Japanese military and economic goals.
As World War II came to an end in the Pacific with the surrender of the Japanese in August of 1945, the Dutch attempted to retake their colony in the East Indies. The Japanese had quickly given the Indonesians their independence on their way out of Indonesia, but the Dutch did not accept this development. A revolutionary struggle began between the Indonesians and their former Dutch colonizers that went on for nearly five years (with the Dutch constantly breaking treaties and truces and ignoring international agreements to which they had been signatories) before Indonesia formally won its independence.
One of the leaders of the revolt against the Dutch became the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno (1901-1970). As with many revolutionary leaders of the twentieth century, Sukarno was basically a populist. He strove to unite the many disparate peoples living on the thousands of islands in the archipelago into a single nation with a single language, flag, and central government.
Sukarno, however, also had a pragmatic approach to politics. While he had been actively pro-Japanese (and moderately pro-Nazi) during the war, as his administration progressed he was seen to identify more and more with Communism—particularly Chinese Communism but also accepting military and other aid from the Soviet Union—a position that made the West nervous especially as the French were being defeated by Communist forces in Indochina, and India, Malaya and Singapore had won their independence from Great Britain. By 1948 China had become a Communist nation under Mao, and the Korean War had started in 1950, which would split that country into a Communist North and a capitalist South. The
colonial powers were losing their territories in Asia, and it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before the entire continent—with the possible exception of Japan— became Communist.
But Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation. While the Chinese presence in that country was blamed, often unfairly, for being pro- Communist and contributing to the development of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), and while Sukarno was blamed for conspiring with the Communists during the famous “Year of Living Dangerously” in 1965, the idea that Indonesian Muslims would embrace completely the atheistic ideology of Communism was unrealistic. Sukarno wanted Indonesia to become a secular state, however, and was more afraid of the colonial powers returning to invade and subjugate Indonesia than he was of any implications of atheism. To Sukarno—as well as to many populist leaders of the post-World War II era—Communist revolution meant resistance to what they perceived to be the excesses and basic unfairness of capitalism, especially as capitalism had been visited upon the developing nations as a form of repression and enslavement and not as a means of development.