Indonesian resistance hero and Leiden student Irawan Soejono is given a face
To mark its 75th anniversary, the Netherlands War Graves Foundation is publishing a portrait of a war victim every week this year. On 24 January the drawing of Irawan Soejono, a Leiden student and Indonesian resistance member, was unveiled at the Groenesteeg cemetery in Leiden, the place where Soejono was briefly buried after his death.
On Soejono’s 102nd birthday, 24 January, composite artist Annet Ardech presented Soejono’s portrait to University historian Pieter Slaman. The Netherlands War Graves Foundation had asked Ardesch to draw his face. This was a unusual assignment because there are only two known photos of Irawan Soejono: a family photo when he was ten and a photo after his death, in the coffin. Neither gives a clear picture of Soejono’s appearance, but Ardesch has made a portrait of what he must have looked like on the basis of these two photos.
At the unveiling Hélène Briaire from the Netherlands War Graves Foundation emphasised the importance of the portrait: ‘Even after contacting his family in Indonesia, we were unable to find a good photo of Soejono. For the portrait we made to mark the anniversary, we thought it important to give him a face. We managed to do so on the basis of family photos and the photo in the coffin.’
Slaman was keen to receive the portrait on behalf of the University. He thinks it is important to commemorate Soejono: ‘The University has various war heroes that we still remember, such as Cleveringa or Telders. But the Indonesian students have been forgotten. They had a really hard time during the war because they often had no money and no safety net of family nearby. And they were fighting not only for the liberation of the Netherlands but also for the independence of Indonesia, with Perhimpoenan Indonesia. This was an unpopular stance at the time. Resistance fighters who made and distributed pamphlets such as De Bevrijding did incredibly important and difficult work. So it’s good that we remember them too.’
Irawan Soejono was born in East Java in 1920, into a prominent family: his father was a member of the People’s Council of the Dutch East Indies. After the family moved to the Netherlands, Soejono began his studies in Leiden in 1940. During the war he joined the resistance in Leiden, together with other Indonesian students. His codename was ‘Henk van de Bevrijding’ (Henk of the Liberation) and he was active for De Bevrijding, the resistance paper of Perhimpoenan Indonesia, the Indonesian student organisation in the Netherlands. Their motto was ‘First liberate the Netherlands, then Indonesia.’ For these resistance fighters the war would not end with the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945; they went on to fight for Indonesian independence.
Soejono never lived to see this battle. On 13 January 1945, while on his bicycle with parts for a mimeograph, he came across a raid on Breestraat. He tried to escape, but was seen by a German Wehrmacht soldier. He was shot dead on Boommarkt. The members of his group changed their name to ‘Groep Irawan’ afterwards.
Text: Lisanne Bos
Photos: Monique Shaw