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Memorial stone points to turbulent history of Indonesian students

A new memorial stone on the facade of a student house in the Hugo de Grootstraat is a reminder of the dozens of Indonesian students who studied in Leiden before and during the Second World War. Some of them were active in the Resistance, which cost a number of them their lives.

The historic premises at Hugo de Grootstraat 12 in Leiden has been lived in by students for a number of years. Many students and other Leideners are unaware that the Indonesia Club House was located here from March 1937 to November 1941. In the 1930s several dozens of Indonesians studied at Leiden University, and the Club House was their meeting place.  

Source of inspiration

The memorial stone was unveiled on 5 March by the Indonesian Ambassador I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja and Mikhael Dito Manurung, chair of the Indonesian student association in Leiden. Manurung referred to the plaque as a source of inspiration. ‘In the midst of deadlines and exams, we, the current generation of students, could easily forget that there is more to life than just studying. Students can be the driving force for reforming our native country. I hope that this monument will serve as a permanent reminder of the power of students.’  

Mikhael Dito Manurung, the Indonesian Ambassador I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja and Professor Gert Oostindie.

Indonesian awareness

The Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) took the initiative for the plaque. ‘The Indonesia Club House was important for developing these students’ awareness of Indonesia. They agreed among themselves to speak only Indonesian there; failure to do so meant a fine – of 25 cents,’ Gert Oostindie explained. He is director of the KITLV and Professor of Post-Colonial History in Leiden.

A dance evening at the Indonesia Club House (1939). Photo: KITLV/UBL

More freedom of movement

The users of the Club House were a diverse group: some of the students who came there were mainly interested in culture but there were others who had what were for that time radical ideas about nationalism and communism. Members of Perhimpoenan Indonesia, an association that promoted Indonesian independence discussed the future of their country. Oostindie: ‘These students had more freedom of movement here than in their own country, where critics were more likely to be arrested.’ 

In the garden of the club house (1940). Photo: KITLV/UBL

Refuge in War years

The Indonesia Club House was an important place of safety, particularly in the first two years of the War. Because of the War, the Indonesian students were unable to return to their own country and they no longer received the money they needed to survive. The Leiden University Fund supported them with meal vouchers so that they could eat at the Club House. Things became more difficult for the students when the German occupying forces closed the university at the end of 1940. A year later they were given permission to continue their studies elsewhere, and many of them left for Amsterdam. This spelled the end of the Indonesia Club House in Leiden.

Active in the Resistance

A number of Indonesian students were active in the Resistance, in Leiden and in other towns. Oostindie: ‘That’s quite remarkable if you consider that they were risking their lives for the colonial power that controlled their own country.’ Some Indonesian members of the Resistance were picked up during raids or arrested while carrying out resistance activities, and many of them did not survive the War. The best known is Leiden sociology student Irwan Soejono. He was shot dead in January 1945 during a raid in Leiden because he had in his possession a stencil machine that was used for printing the Resistance newspaper.  

Memorial stone connects and inspires

The unveiling of the memorial stone on 5 March was attended by a broad public: residents of the student house, the Indonesian Ambassador  I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja, members of Perhimpunan Pelajar Indonesia (the current Indonesian student association), alderman Paul Dirkse and, of course, the initiators of the project from KITLV. ‘This stone will hopefully have a connecting function and will make a piece of Leiden-Indonesia history more visible.’  


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