Memories of a Young Boy
Give Us This Day Our Daily Rations
Each day we were fed three meals. Well, meals…the vegetables were the leftovers of the Japs; sometimes we only got the green carrot tops. We got meat…mostly it was only the bowels and the stomachs; we had to go and clean them before cooking. We volunteered our services in the camp kitchen in order to be in line for scraps. We had to deliver the cooking pots to the various camp sections in order for distribution by the elders. Actually, that was done by older personnel. The older boys were gone so it was the girls that had to carry the drums of food on a pole between them (pikolan). You had to make sure you stepped in line, otherwise the drum bounced with each step to a certain cadence because it was too heavy.
The older women had to work in the park. Formerly a sport park, but it now had to be spaded by hand in order to grow sweet potatoes (ubi) for the Japs. When harvested and kept out too long, these potatoes became bongkreng (rotten) and then they were fed to us. To this day I hate them.
The normal daily food intake was 80 grams of uncooked rice, some vegetables in “bowel” soup with Spanish peppers, 100 grams of tapioca or cassava gruel, and every five days a five centimeter long piece of tapioca bread, which was very hard and rubber-like. In order to eat it you had to soak it in water and every day you ate a slice. Children got half of that ration. Children under five and people over 60 were the best candidates to not survive. Normally, you need about 2000 to 2500 calories a day doing light work; for children, about 2500 to 4000 calories. During this period we only got 800 calories for adults and half of that for children. At the end of the war the adults were weighing under 44 kg.
Note that this camp was quite big—more than 10,000 people were in there. A one-family home in peace time now housed 50 people. It was not easy to keep the peace among each other. There was a “person in charge” (kepalla) in each household, selected by the occupants. This was quite an honor that had to be earned. However, when the Japs came into the house, this was the person they addressed, and when everything was not satisfactory, this person would get the beating. This person was also in charge of the counting. Twice a day, we had to gather on the street in front of the house and stand at attention in rows and count down: ichi, ni, san, si, go, ruku, etc.
No Work, No Food
Remember that Tojo (40th Prime Minister of Japan and General of the Imperial Japanese Army) said, “NO WORK, NO FOOD.” So everybody was working. We had to dig out some big holes and build toilets over these. These were placed everywhere in the camp. They were called the “palaces”. There was a lady in charge of the palace—the palace watch. The more the war progressed, the more there was malnutrition. One of the symptoms is a chronic diarrhea. It was therefore very necessary to have these palaces close by, otherwise it would run down your legs. The pits behind these palaces were vastly filled up, and were open. You can imagine the smell. Sometimes, if you wanted to go from A to B and make a shortcut in the dark, you would pass behind one of those toilets and fall into the pit. Fortunately, the sun was shining during the day so that it could kill the bacteria. Some of the stuff was also used as fertilizer.
Behind our camp was a dike with a railway over it. Once there was some commotion and we saw a Jap with some male prisoners on the dike. Suddenly there was a burst of fire and these prisoners were executed. It affected the morale of the whole prison camp.
There were continuing razzias. People still had too much stuff (barang), so all the stamp collections had to be brought on to the field where the Japs burned them. There were still dogs in the camp. A truck covered with planking was brought in and we had to collect every dog. These dogs we had to kill. To that end we grabbed them, strung them up with rope and beat them with a baseball bat, till they were dead. This was all for the entertainment of the Japs. This happened just a week before we were transported away to Tjimahi (August 22, 1944).
Our camp commander was Sonei. During full moon he would go nuts. He would enter the camp at night and would slash with his sword. Anything in its way would be cut down. Days before he was already unbearable; even the Jap guards were afraid. Every Jap entering the camp would beat up anybody. It sounds crazy, but I then understood the expression, “when you want to beat the dog, there is always a stick to be found”. Well, we were lower than dogs, therefore we were fair game. As soon as we saw a Jap, we had to call out loud, “Kiotski!” (attention), and, “Kirei!” (bow down) as if he was the Emperor himself. All Japs had nicknames. Almost every prison camp had a Jan de mepper (John the Beater).
To be continued.
Please leave your comments. Does anyone have memories like this?
Until next time,