Snapshots with Stories

8 – Chinese students in Leiden during the NAZI years

It was 1941 and the Netherlands were occupied by Nazi Germany. The occupiers had shut down the University of Leiden as a response to the protests which arose at the discharge of Jewish employees. Later that year, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

The photo was taken by my father, Yap Tjok King (born 1916, in Semarang). He was in Leiden from 1936 to study pharmacy, far away from family and home. In Leiden, he found students of similar background at the Chung Hwa Hui, an association which served as a base for the Chinese from the Netherlands East Indies to evade feelings of loneliness and develop close friendships. These friendships even deepened during the German occupation, when communication with family in the Netherlands Indies became impossible. No more letters from home, no allowance and no possibility to return home.

The 9 friends on the picture had their own stories. However, they also had one story in common. Their families followed the same path. Their ancestors left China to settle down in the Netherlands Indies. Their fathers saw to it that they could follow higher education and created an opportunity for them to study at a university in the Netherlands.

Trying to survive in the middle of the war, they raised their glass, not knowing what life had in store for them. Would they be able to finish their studies? When would they be able to go home? Would the Netherlands Indies still be there when the war ended?

On the photo from left to right: Go Lam San, Yap Tjok King, Oey Tjeng Sit, Tan Tek Seng, Lie Oen An and sitting: Pauline The, Tan Tek Oen, Lena The, Kwee Hong Kiem.

Yap Kioe Bing, October 2012