The 1965 Tragedy: Killings & Video Testimonials

The 1965 Tragedy: Killings & Video Testimonials

In 1965, based on rumours of members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI/Partai Komunis Indonesia) kidnapping and killing army generals, and the party’s Indonesian Women’s Movement (Gerwani/Gerakan Wanita Indonesia) erotically dancing around their dead bodies, a concerted campaign was carried out by the New Order government to increase social and political tension and to provoke people to take revenge against PKI’s members and supporters. Some believed in the rumours without any alternative channels of information and were ready to attack the PKI physically and psychologically.

Roughly three weeks after the death of the generals in Jakarta, a wave of mass killings began to take place all across Indonesia. In the third week of October 1965, massacres started occurring in Central Java, followed by similar incidents in East Java in November, and on the island of Bali in December. Sporadic killings also happened in other parts of the country, such as in North Sumatra and East Nusa Tenggara.

Armed soldiers stand guard in Sarawak in 1965 as a group of Chinese villagers take a communal bath. The authorities aim to protect the area from Indonesian raiders and to eliminate Communist influence.
Armed soldiers stand guard in Sarawak in 1965 as a group of Chinese villagers take a communal bath. The authorities aim to protect the area from Indonesian raiders and to eliminate Communist influence. Image via Wikipedia. Public Domain.

A few months into 1966, at least one million Indonesians were killed, with scores more being imprisoned and tortured. The victims included members of the PKI, ethnic Chinese, as well as trade unionists, teachers, civil society activists, leftist artists and others who certainly did not have any connection with the September 30 Movement or the PKI.

A documentary film with narratives derived from the public, the victims or even the perpetrators is increasingly being used for advocacy. After the collapse of the New Order, several documentary films on the tragedy of 1965 have been produced for use in advocacy. These films feature narratives derived from the public, the victims, or even the perpetrators, and the narrative history produced through them is a multi-dimensional and multi-narrative one, as the writing of history requires not only written sources but also oral sources.

Below is a selection of some films on the 1965 tragedy from the victims’ point of view. ‘Jembatan Bacem‘, ‘Jagal‘, and ‘Mass Grave‘ highlight the testimonies of victims’ family members who were either directly involved or who witnessed the trauma and its social impact.

Jembatan Bacem

Jagal - The Act of Killing, the award-winning film by Joshua Oppenheimer.

Mass Grave

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