I was born in 1934 in Jakarta, Indonesia, at that time a Dutch colony. Together with my parents, my sister and little brother I lived a comfortable life with many Indonesian servants. Like any child I looked at the world as something that was just there: the white Dutchmen on top, the Indonesians at the bottom and the Chinese shop owners in between.
From one day to the next my view of the world turned upside down when I was seven. Following the Japanese occupation of Indonesia from 1942 to 1945, all whites were interned in camps. Escaping was almost impossible because outside the camps in the midst of the coloured Indonesians, Eurasians, Chinese and Japanese, whites would be conspicuous. Moreover Indonesians probably would not be willing to take much risk to conceal their former rulers.
Half way through the war the Japanese, who were allies of Nazi Germany, separated the Dutch Jews from the other prisoners. My father, who was at an internment camp for men, was Jewish, but my mother, who was with me and my sister and brother at the women’s camp, wasn’t. So we three children were half-Jewish and the Japanese threatened to separate us by force from our mother. To keep that from happening, my mother decided to register as Jewish herself and so all four of us went to the Jewish camp together. After the war we learned how in Europe almost the entire Jewish family of my father had been killed. My Jewish grandparents had committed suicide on the day the Netherlands capitulated to the German army.
It were all these confrontations with forced ‘racial’ options, secrecy, threatening and violence that forms the base of my later research on the nature of racism.
School time, study and first work
Back in the Netherlands I visited Amsterdam Montessori High School and studied Biology at Amsterdam University. I married, moved to Wageningen and gave birth to my first two daughters: Kathelijne van Kammen and Dorothee van Kammen. My third daughter, Jessika van Kammen, was born in Berkeley, USA. Here I participated, together with Kathelijne in a Parent Cooperative Nursery School Programm. Impressed by the new methods of education they taught me there, after my return to Wageningen in 1965, I founded together with other parents the first part-time crèche in The Netherlands for infants 18 months - 4 years. Infants could develop and play together in an activating atmosphere; while their parents could participate in part time paid labour or take other roads to emancipation.
From 1967 to 1984 I teached biology at Wageningen High School. Together with my colleague teachers I searched for alternatives for the rigid, one direction kind of education in which pupils mainly learn to compete with each other and unlearn to work together and investigate the world. We innovated a kind of education named Open Project Education, which turned out to be also valuable in other school types. Pupils learn how to investigate in a self-reliant way subjects of their choice, cooperating in self-chosen groups both inside and outside school and at the same time work together in equal ways in worth and value.
From 1984 to halfway the nineties I continued in several associations for both youngsters and adults my efforts to develop methods of education that relate the ‘rational’ to the ‘emotional’, focusing on global education, peace education, and anti-racism.
Research on the nature of Racism
In the years that followed my daughters had left the house, I had moved to Amsterdam with my new companion in life Rudi Künzel and I continued my research on the nature of racism. That research had started with the lessons of my father, the sociologist of Southeast Asia Wim F. Wertheim (1907-1998). He distinguished two kinds of racism: exploitation/colonial racism (based on contempt or condescension) and competition/cultural racism (based on jalousie, distrust and fear). The last one concerns for example trading minorities - and has many features in common with anti-Semitism.
During my work in education I observed how these two kinds of racism often go side by side, as a remarkable mixture. This made me curious about the characteristics of each of these types of racism: where they occur, characteristics of prejudices and last but not least what kind of violence goes along with it. I noticed that in Europe and thus in the Netherlands in the course of the last few decades a shift occurred in the composition of the mixture: a steady decline in expressions of colonial racism, and a rise of cultural racism, including the ever increasing likelihood of people resorting to collective violence. With the increasing ability of the children and grandchildren of the immigrants to compete for jobs, disdain for both people from the former colonies and for the first labour immigrants is steadily replaced by a growing distrust and fear of Muslims and actually all non-Western immigrants. I foresee that this shift will continue with the further emancipation of the immigrants. Which means that there is every reason to continue my work as an independent researcher, journalist and activist.
Some other activities
When I was already over sixty years old, I realized a dream of my youth and started sculpturing in hard stone.
Writing diaries about grandchildren
Rudi Künzel and I have nine grandchildren, three are his and six mine. From the oldest six I kept detailed diaries of what I shared with them, especially from our dialogues, all those days my daughters and sons in law were working and shaping their own emancipation. We also loved to have them overnight in different combinations of brothers, sisters and cousins. Meanwhile we are thus digitalized that we capture our experiences with the younger ones on small movies.