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Indonesia's military re-enactments

Blast from the past

Military reenactments are sweeping Indonesia, where enthusiasts recreate battles from World War Two to the country’s fight for independence

Hosea Aryo Bimo W.N.
January 29, 2016
Blast from the past
Colonial throwback: Indonesian men dressed as Dutch soldiers. Photo: Hosea Aryo Bimo W.N.

Aits peak, Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS military force numbered almost one million members. Existing alongside the German army, the Waffen-SS drew on foreign volunteers and conscripts from across Europe and further afield, not all of whom were part of Hitler’s ‘Aryan’ race.

Among the diverse ranks was a soldier believed to be from Indonesia, a member of the 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland, who was drawn into the fighting while living in the Netherlands after Germany attacked Indonesia’s former colonial power.

military reenactment, indonesia, java, ww2, wwII
Pull the trigger: a man fires a shot while crowds look on during a reenactment of the Battle of Surabaya. Photo: Hosea Aryo Bimo W.N.
military reenactment, indonesia, java, ww2, wwII
Fascist fashion: a Nazi badge with the infamous swastika is visible on a Waffen-SS uniform. Photo: Aryo Bimo W.N.

Whether he was Indonesian by blood or marriage, or was simply born in what was then known as the Dutch East Indies, this connection to WWII history caught the imagination of a Jakarta-based military reenactment group who began reenacting German military battles. They christened themselves ‘Indonesia Das Reich’, a moniker with sinister connotations that was later traded in for the more neutral ‘Indonesia Reenactor Jakarta’ after attracting negative attention.

Primarily made up of history buffs and military enthusiasts, the group says it is focused not on politics but on learning about the past. While recognising that some Indonesians were held in Nazi concentration camps, they also acknowledge that one of their countrymen was in the Waffen-SS.

Indonesia Reenactor Jakarta is not the only military reenactment group in the country: there are others dotted across the archipelago. Many recreate key battles in Indonesia’s fight for independence, such as the Battle of Surabaya, against British troops, and the General Offensive of March 1, 1949, which took on the Dutch colonial power. Annual commemorations of these clashes usually attract about ten reenactment groups apiece.

military reenactments, indonesia, java, ww2, wwII
Major effort: the participants ensure their military gear looks authentic. Photo: Hosea Aryo Bimo W.N.
military reenactment, indonesia, java, ww2, wwII
War games: Indonesia Reenactor Jakarta members in a forest outside the capital. Photo: Hosea Aryo Bimo W.N.
military reenactment, indonesia, java, ww2, wwII
Ferocious fight: British troops took on Indonesian independence fighters in the Battle of Surabaya in 1945. Photo: Hosea Aryo Bimo W.N.

military reenactment, indonesia, java, ww2, wwII
Important : the General Offensive of March 1 reenactment is well-attended by both military groups and spectators. Photo: Hosea Aryo Bimo W.N.

Some of the groups, including the Bandung-based ‘Historia van Bandoeng’ and the Yogyakarta-based ‘Djogjakarta 1945’, even depict the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, which was infamous among Indonesians for its ruthlessness during the Indonesian National Revolution that lasted for four years until 1949.

Most of the reenactment community either has a military background or comes from a military family, while the rest simply have an interest in military history. They are now turning their attentions to other facets of 20th-Century history, with research underway on the colonial period and the 1950s with a view to recreating civilian life during these times.

military reenactments, indonesia, java, ww2, wwII
Replay: the Battle of Surabaya became a defining moment for the independence movement. Photo: Hosea Aryo Bimo W.N.

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