The Decaying Monument to Lt.-Generaal Johannes Benedictus van Heutsz (1851-1924)

L. and I found it on one of our nightly walks and were spooked, though we had no idea why. The van Heutsz Monument sits in the Olympiaplein, part of a complex built for the 1928 Olympics. The layout, structure and sculptures conform to the blunt style of the then-current Amsterdamse School style, making the monument already uninviting. When we saw it, the place was positively desolate.

Van Heutsz was appointed civil and military governor of Aceh (Atjeh) in the Dutch East Indies, in 1899. He smashed a 25-year long rebellion by committing more atrocities than the Achinese did. Organized into 20-man hunter-killer squads, the Dutch colonial troops burned villages and butchered civilians. One "long march" resulted in 3500 dead Achenese, including 850 women and children. "Sla ze de kop af!" summed up the Dutch policy. By 1903, the insurgents were wiped out.

Two years after Van Heutsz's death, a grateful nation (except for the Social Democrats) began planning his monument on what later became the Olympiaplein. Queen Wilhelmina unveiled it on 15 June, 1935. The memorial consisted of a tomb with an allegorical female statue atop it, the general's name and a large medallion showing him in profile on the front, and friezes all about. A slim double pillar topped by gilded stylized solar rays stands behind, a reflecting pool is in front, and arched walls spreading out to the side.

The city archive contains photos of the monument, from the design phase (1926) to its decline in the 1970s and 1980s. Generations of children played on the monument lawn and sailed boats in the pool, since a middle school sits at the northern edge of the square. During the wartime ooccupation, the Nazis gathered Jews here before sending them to concentration camps in the east. A photo from 1950 shows a wreath hung on the wall as a tribute from the "van Heutsz" regiment of the Royal Dutch Indies Army (KNIL). In the 1960s, the Dutch began to re-examine their history and van Heutsz's star dimmed. In a photo dated 11 September 1984, two policemen are climbing the tomb to investigate a report of a bomb planted on the top of the tomb. This was one of two bomb threats at the monument. One policeman stands in the pool while another climbs a ladder on the side of the tomb. The name VAN HEUTSZ is visible, but the medallion is gone. Someone had illegally removed it. The climbing policeman's pants are dry, suggesting the pool has been drained. When we happened by in the spring of 1999, the name was gone. Last December there was a discussion over what to do about the place but as of April 2001, the monument remains semi-abandoned.