Rotary club flag survives ravages of war in the Dutch East Indies

The club banner for the former Rotary Club of Batavia.

The club banner for the former Rotary Club of Batavia.

By Frans Erik Kramer, Jr., Phd

The ingenuity and courage of one woman, my mother, is responsible for preserving a relic from the pre-World War II Rotary Club of Batavia (Jakarta), Indonesia. It is in memory of her selfless devotion that I share this story.

In March of 1942, three months after the attack at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese took possession of the Dutch East Indies, now named Indonesia. We were living in Batavia (re-named Jakarta in 1945) at the time. My father, chairman of the semi-private government Agricultural Trade Union Association, was president of the Rotary Club of Batavia. During the occupation, he became the head of a resistance group in West Java. 

The toy dog Franz Kramer's mother used to conceal the club banner.

The toy dog Franz Kramer’s mother used to conceal the club banner.

My father died in captivity shortly after his arrest. By then, my mother, sister, and I (then six-years-old) already had been transported to a concentration camp. We took with us only those few personal items that we could carry. I had in my possession only a single item: a small stuffed squeeze-and-bark toy dog. But inside, that dog concealed forbidden cargo.

Knowing my dad’s dedication to Rotary, my mother wanted to preserve the little orange-colored silk Rotary flag that he always displayed on his desk in his office. She knew that the Japanese would not permit any “national” symbol to be transported into camp, such as an orange Rotary flag representing the official color of the Dutch Royal House. But at great risk to her own life, she came up with an ingenious solution of removing the sounding device from the belly of the toy, tightly folding the flag into a small pack inside the device, and sewing it back inside.

The guards searched prisoners frequently for jewelry and valuables, but the flag went undetected for four years, inside the belly of my toy dog, thanks to the cleverness of my mother.

After the war, I moved to the Netherlands where I lived for 24 years, and relocated several other times before eventually moving to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen.

Now 77, I proudly display the flag which my mother risked her life to preserve, and the stuffed toy dog, when I make presentations to Rotary clubs and other organizations.

Source: Rotary Voices

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