A Modern Holocaust

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

Countless books, documentaries, and museums recount the story of the Jewish Holocaust. Comparatively few people, however, have heard of the modern holocaust that took place in Indonesia twelve years ago in my hometown of Jakarta. One particular night sticks out in my memory. My mom and I were just pulling into our driveway when she turned around to look out the rear window of our van. I’ll never forget the look on her face at that moment. She began to scream and cry hysterically, tears streaming down her cheeks while watching the horror unfolding behind us. I often wish that I had never turned around. When I did, I saw the grocery store owned by a family of Chinese-Indonesians across the street being burned to the ground. People were running out screaming. I watched in shock as a group of so-called “dark Indonesians” grabbed a Chinese-Indonesian man and lit him on fire. The sight was bad enough, but the man’s piercing screams as he burned to death were even worse.I was five years old when the mounting social and political tensions in Indonesia culminated in the May 1998 Riots. The country was in absolute chaos, especially in the capital. Mass unemployment, inflation, and food shortages led to rioting in the streets. There was constant tension between the Muslims and the Christians, the rich and the poor, and the “light Indonesians” (of Chinese or European descent) and the “dark Indonesians” (native Indonesians). Much like the Jews in Nazi Germany, Chinese-Indonesians were made into scapegoats for the poor economic conditions. Shops and houses owned by Chinese-Indonesians were burned down and Chinese-Indonesian women were brutally raped. It was not uncommon to see ethnic Chinese burned alive in the streets. Their mutilated bodies were hard to miss. At the height of the riots, my family and I did not even dare to step foot outside. My parents locked and bolted all of the doors and windows in the house. We stayed inside crying and praying for God to protect our family. We lived in constant fear that our house would be bombed or set on fire just because we were Christian and ethnically Chinese. We kneeled together on the floor and prayed for hours on end because that was all we could do: pray, cry, and wait. Eventually, my parents made the difficult decision to flee to America. When I boarded the plane, I promised myself that one day I would come back to help those who did not get the chance to escape. At the time I did not know how I could possibly help. Eleven years later, however, I think I have finally found the answer: I want to become a doctor so that I can go back and care for those who cannot afford healthcare. I want to treat the sick, care for orphans, and love those who do not have the luxuries and privileges that I do. I have been blessed with so much more than what I need or deserve. Because of my good fortune, my dream has always been to return to Indonesia and serve my people. That dream is the reason behind all my hard work. It motivates me to persist whenever I question my faithfulness to the promise I made to myself eleven years ago. Maybe that is the reason why God saved me and allowed me to escape. Maybe that is why I had to endure the Indonesian holocaust of May 1998.

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