Fear, Anguish, Death And Survival – The Asian Holocaust – Part 4

Memories of a Young Boy

Walter Hobé

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,


Fear, Anguish, Death And Survival – The Asian Holocaust – Part 3

Memories of a Young Boy

Walter Hobé

Tjideng Prison Camp

On Aug 29th, 1942, on a moment’s notice, we (2,500 people) were told to pack our belongings and stand ready at the gate for transportation to somewhere. That was the Jap’s favorite pastime. With a bamboo stick in his hands he herded us on: hurry, hurry, hurry! Whatever was left of the furniture was left behind. Only our mattresses and our trunks could we take.

Why did the Japanese make these moves? I believe that it was a nice way to relieve us of our belongings. Later on in Tjideng, we got a moment’s notice to get everything out on the street (this was Tjilamaja Road). We had to stand at attention, ready for inspection. Again we had to stand in the hot sun for hours. There came a uniformed guy on a motorcycle wearing a black topi (hat) like the Indonesians do. It was Sukarno as head of the police, working for the Japs. He stopped and looked at our stuff. Various things were taken away, as we had to move on and leave things behind. We had to go to the other side of the camp (to Batanghari Road) and move in with other people—and on and on this went.

Then we had to be counted. We would kiotski (stand at attention) in three rows of 10, facing towards Japan and the Emperor, and count: ichi, ni, san, si, go, etc. There was one person in charge and he had to report to the Jap that all was well (ijo arimassen, everything in order). We had to bow down (keirei) and stay that way till the Jap was satisfied we did it well enough and then dismissed us (naore). Of course, it was under the blazing sun! Sometimes it took minutes and sometimes hours, depending on their mood.

When you hear Japanese speak to each other, the language is stunted and rough. It is like a grunt. And when they raised their voices, to us it sounded like animals. We were scared of them! We never talked back, because it always had consequences. When we spoke to them, it had to be done in Malay. If they found out that you understood Japanese, then you were automatically considered to be the go-between, and when anything went wrong you would get the first beating.

Tjideng was just on the other side of town. My mother had to work in the hospital, so it was our task to move. To this end, we obtained the under side of a baby carriage. We fastened a plank to it and thus we were ambulant with our trunks and mattresses. We also did some work. Some gardens still had grass and this had to be cut. Since it was very hot, we only walked around in shorts. We conserved our energy and our resources by washing as little as we could. Washing was done with a little water and soap, if there was any, and then we left it on the lawn to be bleached by the sun.

School was not allowed. However, we had a little place on the side of the house shielded from the front by a wall, where a lady volunteered to teach us something. We had a slate board, as there was no paper. Needless to say, these were not accredited courses, so that after the war, I was missing four years of primary schooling.

These were scary times, because the outside population was being manipulated by the Japs and by their own leaders like Sukarno, and were having more difficulties than we had inside the prison camps. The Indonesian pemudas (hooligans) made it a point to jump over the walls into our prison camp and rush in and steal the clothing off the wash line, or whatever they could gather. Our boys and girls had to stand watch at night.

To that end, they were armed with bamboo sticks. They could not catch these rampokkers because they were in the nude and had covered themselves with soft soap. However, someone was tinkering with electric wire; he had wires running through the yard at 220V. We heard some screaming from his yard one night because soft soap is a beautiful conductor! One chap caught a thief by throwing his stick between the legs of the thief while running after him. This was a very unfortunate incident. The thief was put on display at the camp’s entrance tied to a wooden contraption with barbed wire. He was in the nude and standing barefoot on asphalt. Every now and then, a Jap would come with a bucket of water and throw it on the ground in front of him. It did not take more than one day to have him succumb to this torture. After that incident it was decided never to catch another thief, as the punishment did not fit the crime.

In the prison camps there were no Bibles permitted, unless they were approved by the Japanese. My father’s Bible still has the stamp of approval from Adek. My mother had taken along to the Far East a whole set of handwritten sermons from her father. When there were no more church services permitted, these sermons were circulated until they fell apart. If my grandfather only had known that his sermons would serve a dual purpose!

To be continued.

Please leave your comments. Does anyone have memories like these?

Until next time,


Fear, Anguish, Death And Survival – The Asian Holocaust – Part 2

Memories of a Young Boy

Walter Hobé

At the beginning of the war, when my father was out of work, he started a little business. He went to the market on a bicycle and bought bags of flour and peanuts. Since life had sort of stopped—stores were still open but you could not get to them—my father undertook to bake bread for the neighbors. The metal basins that we used to do the washing in were standing in the yard, covered with tea towels. Underneath, the dough was rising in the sun. We had little forms made so that, from the scraps of dough we could make little breads on the side. Quite exciting for us kids! He also made peanut butter. Or rather, we did. The meat grinder was modified with a special blade and we would grind the peanuts to pulp. After putting it in a jar, we had to stamp it with the palm of our hand to make it go down. Well, when you fill a Mason jar with peanut butter, after stamping it you will find only half the jar is peanut butter and the other half is oil. The oil was siphoned off and used for baking, and the jars were topped off with more peanut butter. Sometimes we also put sambal oelek (hot chili paste) in the peanut butter—very good tasting! This we sold. It was such a success that, after my father was taken prisoner, we continued the business with the help of our djongos (male servant), Timan.

On 14 Jun 1942 my father got arrested. He was taken away by truck. We followed on our bikes but could not keep up. Later we heard that he was brought to Adek. The next day the Japs came and stole our car, which was hidden in the garage. Somebody in the neighborhood had been talking…

Kramat Prison Camp

On October 2nd, 1942, we were transported to the Kramat Prison camp. Kramat was a busy thoroughfare through Batavia with big, statuesque properties. The house that was assigned to us had a very big veranda with four big pillars, and a huge garden in front and back. On the side was another building which formerly housed the staff. We had a big room on the side of the staff building with a door to the outside. The three of us were very comfortable. Our big armoire divided the room into two so that my mother had some privacy. My brother and I were sleeping behind it. Just outside the garden to the front was the wall, built of bamboo matting and barbed wire, to prevent us from going out, and also to prevent people from coming in, because the poor Indonesians would have liked to walk away with most of our possessions.

In March 1943, the prison camp was closed. We could not get out anymore to do business with Timan. However, HE KEPT WATCH. There was a guard at the entrance to the camp, a Japanese soldier with rifle and bayonet. The Japs taught us that we were very low people and that we had to bow down even to the common soldier. We soon found out what that meant—when we did not bow down deep enough we were in for a beating. I once saw a very tall, good-looking, proud Dutch lady passing a guard and nodding in his direction. She was called back and had to stand at attention. An officer was summoned, the situation was explained, and he went at her. But since Japanese men are usually of small stature, this officer had to jump in order to hit her in the face. He saw the silliness of the situation and grabbed his sword from the sheath and started to beat her over the head. It did not take long for this lady to fall on her knees, all bloodied and bruised. He was satisfied and let her go. I was only 9 years old—my first experience with brutality.

Two streets further there was a 9-year-old boy who got meningitis and died. That made quite an impression on me. Little did I know that I would also get that disease at age 22. Once there was a lot of commotion outside the camp on Kramat. We peaked over the wall and saw the kampong (native village) across from our camp on fire. This was a big disaster as the houses were made of bilik (bamboo) with atap (palm leaf) roofs. There was no fire brigade as we know it; there was no water to douse the flames. So everybody ran in all directions to save their lives.

To be continued.

I welcome your comments. Does anyone have similar memories?

Until next time,


Fear, Anguish, Death and Survival – The Asian Holocaust

This month’s guest on my Blog is a gentleman in Canada, another survivor of the World War Two Japanese concentration camps, whom I met on the USS Missouri during the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Japanese Surrender and the end of the War in the Pacific.

Walter Hobé was incarcerated by the Japanese on the island of Java, like me, and in his unpublished Memoir he tells about his childhood memories and the cruelties, diseases and hunger he experienced as a young boy under Japanese oppression.

War: 1942 – 1945

By Walter Hobé

I was born in April 1933 in Yogyakarta and later moved to Batavia. My time in Japanese prison camps had tremendous impacts on me, physically, emotionally and spiritually, which I have had to live with the rest of my life. Those memories, coupled with Japan’s on-going insistence on ignoring this period in history, have kept the issue of restitution a constant undercurrent in my life.

The period in my life up to 1941.

Those were marvelous times. We were healthy and happy. Those were the years I remember as being heaven on earth. Beautiful, lush country; wonderful people of a variety you will not find anywhere else in the world. It is a country that can be considered one of the most densely populated in the world.  We were not aware of the dark clouds hanging above our heads. Of course our parents knew what was going on in the world.The Germans had invaded the Netherlands on the 10th of May, 1940, and we were very worried for our families.

The Japanese had already invaded Korea and the Chinese mainland on July 7th, 1937, of which we children were blissfully unaware. Sunday, December 7th, 1941 stands out in my memory.  We were not going to church that Sunday morning because of the world news.  We had an old Philips radio 42 that stood in the corner of the dining room. My parents were listening to the radio broadcast from Honolulu and crying their eyes out. Pearl Harbor was being attacked. My father said, “How long will it be before they come here?” Little did we know that at the same time they had attacked Hong Kong and Malaya.

The Dutch government declared war on Japan the next day. However, there were Japanese “sleepers” living in Indonesia who had immigrated there years before. They were highly trained officers in the Japanese Imperial Army and everything was already betrayed. Even the organization of government was already set up, so that when the Japanese forces came in, the new government took over the next day. Our bicycle repairman turned out to be a Japanese officer and our barber was seen riding a white stallion wearing his officer’s uniform, giving instructions in Dutch to his prisoners.

I remember the day the Dutch Government decided to destroy all their holdings so that they did not fall into the wrong hands. I was sitting in the cherry tree in the garden, looking out over the horizon. There was no sun. It was very eerie. Thick black clouds were hanging over the city with a terrible stench of sulfur in the air. All the oil installations in the harbor had been set ablaze. The day had turned into night. The perpetrators were later hanged by the Japanese.

To be continued.

I welcome your comments and additions. Please let me know your thoughts.

Until next time,