Unmarked Graves: Death and Survival in the Anti-Communist Violence in East Java, Indonesia

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by Vannessa Hearman

Winner - 2020 Early Career Book Prize, ASAA (Asian Studies Association of Australia)

The anti-communist violence that swept across Indonesia in 1965–66 produced a particularly high death toll in East Java. It also transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of survivors, who faced decades of persecution, imprisonment and violence. In this book, Vannessa Hearman examines the human cost and community impact of the violence on people from different sides of the political divide.

Her major contribution is an examination of the experiences of people on the political Left. Drawing on interviews, archival records, and government and military reports, she traces the lives of a number of individuals, following their efforts to build a base for resistance in the South Blitar area of East Java, and their subsequent journeys into prisons and detention centres, or into hiding and a shadowy underground existence. She also provides a new understanding of relations between the army and its civilian supporters, many of whom belonged to Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama.

In recent times, the Indonesian killings have received increased attention, but researchers have struggled to overcome a dearth of available records and the stigma associated with communist party membership. By studying events in a single province and focusing on the experiences of individuals, Hearman has taken a large step toward a better understanding of a fraught period in Indonesia’s recent past.


”she shows the persecuted not just as faceless victims or representatives of abstract ideologies but living, breathing human beings. We learn what motivated them to join the movement, how they developed survival strategies — and how they tried to fight back.”
- Alex de Jong, Jacobin

“Unmarked Graves is an essential text for academic and general readers alike. It belongs both in university libraries and the shelves of more mainstream bookshops, as the accessible writing and critical topic should appeal to a wide range of audiences...will no doubt stand for many years as required reading for anyone wishing to learn about one of the darkest periods in Modern Indonesian history.”
- Annie Pohlmann, Contemporary Southeast Asia


“This extraordinary book documents with care, not only the horror of living through the 1965 killings, but also the political lives of members of the Indonesian Left. Through oral history Hearman brings to life the struggles of these historical actors and offers a new history of the Indonesian Left.”
 Katharine McGregor, Melbourne University

"Unmarked Graves tells the harrowing story of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in East Java. The party’s prominence in the anticolonial struggle gave it especially deep roots in the region. When the Indonesian Army’s extermination of communism spread across the country after 1965, East Java became the last and most tenacious holdout region. Hearman’s moving account of resistance, survival and loss reveals the deep engagement of the PKI with political life in East Java and the transformation wrought by military suppression."  Robert Cribb, Australian National University

Vannessa Hearman holds a PhD in History from the University of Melbourne. She lectures in Indonesian Studies at Charles Darwin University in Australia.

Publication Year: 2018
288 pages, 
229 X 152mm 

1 map, 8 b/w images

NUS Press