Fear, Anguish, Death and Survival – The Asian Holocaust – Conclusion

Memories of a Young Boy

Walter Hobé

Reunited With Mother

There were already transports of POWs going to Batavia. An acquaintance was going, and my father asked him to take a pair of wooden sandals he had made for my mother. We had engraved them by burning her name on it with a magnifying glass. To this day I have these slippers as a memento. My mother did not wear them out.

My father had the opportunity to have himself declared unfit for work by a doctor, who recommended us to recuperate in Australia. The Red Cross saw to it that we would meet our mother at the departure point. We were put on a train transport to Batavia under heavy Gurka guard. We now had some protection from the British Gurkas. The Indonesians had a holy awe for these Gurkas as they were bald with one little string of hair. They were slit-eyed and fiery. With a sten gun in their right hand and a sword of a curved kind in their left, they were unbeatable.  We arrived safe and sound in Batavia where trucks were waiting to take us to a hotel. Well, the hotel was completely sandbagged and we slept on the floor. Again, we were arguing which was the softest tile. This was necessary, as it does not feel nice to have your bones sticking out making contact with something hard. At night, however, we could not sleep. We came from the mountains and were used to cool weather. Here, the air was so thick and hot that you could cut it. Outside, there was a pitched battle being fought with machine guns and hand grenades.

The next morning, we were put in trucks and driven to Tandjong Priok. On arrival at the quayside, we saw a crowd of women standing there, eagerly staring into the trucks. My brother cried suddenly, “I see her!” The truck had not come to a standstill yet, but we jumped out. We did not need to worry about luggage— we did not have anything, not even a toothbrush. (We brushed our teeth with crushed brick and our fingers. ) My mother was very thin and wearing our slippers. After our embraces and crying, we looked at each other and felt that we were all strangers to each other. My father had not seen my mother for three and a half years. For us it was a little shorter, but it seemed like a lifetime. I was now 12 years old and completely independent. After all I had been through, I was like an adult. I had not been sick one day, except for some ulcerated wounds. If you punctured your skin, infections would start and they became big, round, open festering wounds. There was no medication, so we tried drying them in the sun. But the most difficult thing was to keep the flies off. The best thing to do was to put your leg into the river where little fishes would eat away the pus—very painful, though! These ulcers would eat away the skin. My brother was less fortunate. He had no more skin on most of his lower leg. It was now all bandaged. After the war, we got medicine, a yellow powder, that was freely sprinkled on the wounds and the skin came back. Unfortunately, on part of his shinbone the flesh was completely gone (this eventually would cause his demise). No skin could grow there, and he always wore a bandage over it.

At Tandjong Priok we boarded a Japanese freighter, a miserable looking ship which took us outside the harbor to a big ocean liner, the MS Oranje, a hospital ship, on which we sailed to Australia and a new adventure.

This concludes the memories of the Japanese concentration camps as experienced by a young boy, Walter Hobé. Still haunted by the memories, Walter is 80 years old, lives in Canada and has been happily married for over fifty years.

I would appreciate your comments.

Until next time,




Fear, Anguish, Death and Survival – The Asian Holocaust – Part 8

Memories of a Young Boy

Walter Hobé

We had made friends with the guys that were working in the kitchen. These were enormous, tall and strong guys. I was very small. Anyway, one day one said, “Come and visit me and play with my cat.” He had finished the night shift and had heard a cat’s meow outside the camp. Well, he made a hole in the wall and caught this animal with a basket. It was ugly, with pus in his eye, and he had no tail. The next day we came again and wanted to play with this cat. “He is in the bathroom,” he said. In the bathroom was no cat but only a pail. “No, look above and behind the door!” There hung a naked cat behind the door, and his pelt was in the pail. We cooked it—they had the meat and we had the soup.

Manna from Heaven

One day, a huge Liberator bomber flew over the camp. I climbed on top of the roof as it was circling the camp. Suddenly, the bomb bays opened and boxes were thrown out hanging on parachutes. They appeared to be Red Cross parcels. These parcels contained, among other things, cans with sweet milk, chocolate, cigarettes, etc. We could not eat the chocolate—the bars were too hard. The instructions were to scrape off little pieces and put them in boiling water. Thus we had chocolate milk. Otherwise, it was too rich for our bowels and we could die. But it was a beautiful experience to see these airplanes drop these goodies. It reminded everyone of the manna from heaven. Years later I was waiting on the ferry to go from Truro to Prince Edward Island. I got to talking to the guy in front of me and he asked me where I was from. I told him Indonesia. He knew it well, he said, as he was flying as a navigator in Liberator bombers, dropping parcels in the camps. Needless to say, there were no dry eyes there.

As was the custom, we had to congregate three times a day to be counted. This one time I remember as if it was yesterday. After all the formalities, the Japanese camp commander gave a speech. He told us the war was over. This was about September 22nd, 1945. Everybody started to sing the National Anthem “Wilhelmus”. To this day, I get tears in my eyes when I hear it, reminding me of this day. I climbed on the back of one of the kitchen helpers and cried, “Now I can go back to my Mamma!” The adults had already known what was coming. It appeared that there was a radio in the camp all these years. It had not been betrayed.

Reunited with Father

Then came the day that somebody warned me there was a strange guy waiting for me at home. I rushed home and met this guy, who claimed to be my father. He had come from Bandung to pick me up. “Well, I am sorry, but I do not know you and I am not going with you.” He said that he had already gone to the 4th Battalion Prison camp and picked up my brother who was waiting outside behind a tree. We took my belongings, which were not much anymore, and I had to get dressed. The clothes still fitted me somewhat. Now we had to report to the front office. My father identified himself to our Dutch camp commander and I was released into his custody. Outside the camp, my brother appeared from behind the tree. The three of us now started walking, but we had no strength to carry the stuff and go any distance. My father had no money to hire a native’s transportation. Fortunately, we heard a Japanese truck coming our way. We stopped it and hitched a ride to Bandung. We were now partly reunited, and a new chapter in our lives had begun.

Back in Bandung

When we arrived in Bandung, we settled in into a big hangar type building. My father had occupied a corner and had built two additional beds of bamboo for us. That was the only building material we had. The bamboo is hollow. It can hide all kinds of creepy crawlers…so we were bitten at night. There was a sweet smell around the bed—bedbugs. Well, out with the bed, into the sunshine, and stamp the legs and beat the bedding! One night, I slept with my mouth open and when I woke up I closed it, crushing a bed bug which had settled on a molar. It smells like cilantro, which I cannot eat to this day.

This 10th Battalion camp was huge. It housed many people from all kinds of backgrounds. There were a lot of inventions done in the camp. Like a lighter. Mostly it was made of a piece of steel against a flint rock with some dried moss. This one was made by an engineer, of course. It was a copper cylinder with a wooden head. You took the cylinder apart and put dry moss into it, then closed it and hit it hard with your hand. Due to the compression, the moss would burn and you could light a cigarette or a paper with it. Another invention was the water pump. It was made with all kinds of scrap material, but with hardly any tools. They were able to sink a pipe, with a filter at the end, some 100 meters down. We had very clean drinking water there. Talking about cigarettes, my first smoke was a rolled up dried leaf of the corn husk and my tobacco was the hair. Well, this was a coughing ceremony if you ever saw one. And with my history of bronchitis, this was my lesson never to try to inhale anything but clean air.

Now that “peace” had come, we were all upbeat, with lots of expectations for the future. That is a feeling that is hard to describe. We were going to rebuild, learn from our mistakes and make a better world.  The first thing to do was to regain our strength. My father had some money and we went outside the camp to the local market. We bought a little chick and a big chicken. The big one was for immediate consumption, the small one was to play with. We let that little one roam around our beds eating the bed bugs. In no time, this became a big chicken and…

This was the only time we went outside to market. We were told that things had changed and it was too dangerous. We could now no more trust the Indonesians. A boy, slightly older than I, was caught at that same market in view of the camp. He was tied to a tree and chinchang-ed (killed with knives). We could not do a thing. The Japs did not do a thing, although Mountbatten had told them that they were responsible for our well being. These soldiers were short of cash and were selling their weapons to the pemudas. A couple of days later a bunch of these pemudas were trying to shoot their way into the camp. We had to hide into all kinds of corners as the bullets were flying around us. They did not succeed.

To be continued

I would appreciate your comments. Does anyone have other camp experiences?

Fear, Anguish, Death and Survival – The Asian Holocaust – Part 7

Memories of a Young Boy

Walter Hobé

Like Ships in the Night

One day there was a transport of sick people from the other camps to our hospital. Walking there among the carriers we could ask them questions, whether they knew of this one or that one. So I found somebody that was looking for me—it was my brother! It appeared that we had passed each other a couple of times without knowing each other. He had grown tall, was dressed and wearing glasses. I had stayed small and was naked and bald. Anyway, from him I learned that my other Uncle Jan was also in that camp and that my father was in the 10th Battalion in Bandung. That was the only time we saw each other during that period—just for half an hour! The next time some people were sent on transport to Bandung, we made sure that they had messages for family. That way my father also knew where I was.

Daily Diet

Our mornings started with toebroek (black coffee). It was still dark then, and cold. We would be sitting there shivering in our blanket, djongkok (hunched), sipping the coffee. Breakfast came, and if you did not eat it right away, it separated into water and sludge. It was made of tapioca starch. Lunch was a bun of bread, made in my brother’s camp. The yeast was a Dutch invention. There was a chemist who found out that urine had a good source of Vitamin-B. To that end, there were big drums set up in the prison camp into which everybody had to pee. These drums were brought to the kitchen and boiled. The rotten stuff got separated and the yeast remained. The bread was made. The buns were hard.

Dinner consisted of a cupped hand of boiled rice. Sometimes there was little “meat” in it, usually of bowels and tripe. Vegetables were usually greens (now, we would call them inedible). Since the Japs had the habit of punishing us for whatever, we had to prepare ourselves for eventualities. From the bread, I sliced off one slice and dried that in the sun. The next day, I ate it as if it was toasted, and sliced off two slices. In a week, I had saved myself another bun. The same I did with the rice. Every day I saved a spoon of rice and dried it in the sun. The next day I would add water and eat it, saving two spoons. Boy, did that come in handy when our camp was punished and we did not get food for two days! The first day, I said, “Ah ha, I am smart.” But the second day, I was smarting. I never have had so much pain in my life from an empty stomach. At this time I was so thin, that when I inhaled and held my tummy in, I could feel my spine from the inside. I could completely cover my shoulder blade with my hand. When I went to move my bowels, I moved them all right—at least 15 cm of bowel was hanging outside, which I had to pull in before finishing. At this stage of the war, the natives were maybe even worse off than us.  There was a gutter through which we could creep and get close to the natives. It was agreed that, at a certain time, we would be there with clothing and they had to provide food (gedekken it was called—smuggled). I bartered most of the clothing that I still had for bananas. A  sisir (comb) of little milky pisang soesoe (bananas) caused my diarrhea to stop immediately for ever.


Our house was situated next to the exit to the hospital side. We heard a commotion outside one day and we went across to the hospital to check it out. What had happened? A native farm laborer with a spade on his shoulder had sauntered passed the Jap guard. When the Jap guard did not pay him any attention, he hit the guard over the head with his spade. The guard went down and the native ran away. However, the sentry at the main entrance had watched the proceeding and sounded the alarm. Well, the native was caught and brought to the main entrance. There he was tied up with a rope slung over a beam, his hands tied behind his back, lifting him up so that he was tippy-toed. As soon as he got comfortable, the rope was pulled up. In the end, his arms were stretched out above him but they were wrong side into the socket. The Jap wanted to interrogate him, and hit him over the head with the same spade. The handle eventually stuck in his skull and he was dead. We were watching this from afar.

One time, the Japs came in unexpectedly and forced some chaps to bring their table outside. They were just having lunch, so it was the hottest part of the day. They were forced to run around the table in the sun, until they collapsed. Another time, there were some guys rounded up. They had to stand opposite each other and had to slap each other in the face. At first, they figured out that when the one’s hand “hit” the other’s face, the other would clap with his free hands—as long as it made the sound. But then the Jap got his sword and started to participate. Well, that stopped that in a hurry! However, in no time at all, two best friends were now hitting each other as hard as could be, and it was a matter of survival.

When I went to a reunion in Holland after the war, I met a colleague of mine from KLM. I found out that he had been in the same prison camp as I. When I reminded him of this incident the said, “Why do you think my eye is crooked?”

To be continued

I would appreciate your comments. Does anyone have similar or different memories?

Until next time,


Fear, Anguish, Death and Survival – The Asian Holocaust – Part 6

Memories of a Young Boy

Walter Hobé

In front of the house was a slokan (gutter) with running water from a spring somewhere. To my surprise, there were little fishes in it. I built a little dam and started to catch them. Afterwards, I dried them in the sun and had a little extra with my rice. The bathroom had a big mandibak (water tank). It was standard in all Indonesian houses. Standing on the side, I could look from the bathroom window over the fence and see the sawahs beyond. In my mind, this is the picture of freedom, and I vowed that one day I would walk in these sawahs towards that mountain in the distance (Leuwigadja), barefoot, so that I could feel the mud in between my toes. I did not realize that behind the mountain Leuwigadja was the cemetery where all my compatriots were buried.

It was not long that we stayed there. We had to cross over the highway to the other side of the camp. House 37b was assigned to me with 27 other boys. Now we could sleep on wooden benches made in the room, on either side of the wall. So in every room there were two benches, sleeping about ten kids each. We had a back yard which was walled in. We dug up the yard and planted tomatoes and salad. This was quite secure, as nobody but the occupants of the house could get there. Still, you had to guard your tomatoes, as sometimes it happened that one day they were green and the next day they were gone! This way we could get a little extra vitamins. I was not sick a single day, so maybe it was good for something. We did have chronic diarrhea, though.

We all were dressed the same. The clothing that I took along I never wore. The only thing I wore was a tjawet (loincloth) provided by the Japs. This was very handy going to the bathroom. We had no toilet connected in the house. Fortunately, because we were in the mountains, a mountain stream ran through the camp. We sat on the embankment and did our business. There always were a bunch of us together. We made it a habit to observe each other’s stool. As soon as blood was detected in the stool, we had to go to the doctor. I had to report the boy sitting next to me to the doctor, as he would not go himself. A week later, he was dead of dysentery. It was always necessary to observe the strictest hygiene, so washing hands was done often. One time we were sitting on the side of the stream when somebody noticed a water snake coming towards him. En masse, we fell backwards into the water, grabbed it, skinned and cooked it, and ate it. We sometimes had fun, too. This water ran further into the camp, and at one point they had made toilets over the water (mostly for the older ones, so they had a little privacy). They squatted over a slit in the floor. We were outside, upstream in the water. We waited till all the cubicles were filled and people were at rest…then we put a piece of paper on the water and lighted it with a match. When it floated underneath them, they all got burned and sprung up, holding their privates. This all to the great merriment of us kids!

The older people had to work outside the camp on a farm. On this farm, there were animals like cows and pigs. They were for the Kempei Tai. Next to the farm was the cemetery Leuwigadja, I was told. I never went there. Every morning a whole bunch of bodies were carried outside to join the bodies from the other prison camps. Sometimes the chain was more than 100 a day. We carried them in bamboo crates. These were not too well constructed and sometimes, in transport, would fall apart. Because of the conditions the bodies were in, and because of the tropics, the bodies would sometimes fall apart as well. A leg or arm would fall off. It was a somber sight every morning. The military hospital close to the station was now moved to our prison camp across the street, in the houses that we first occupied in Willemstreet. That is where I found my uncle Piet, suffering from beriberi.

Smuggling Money for Food

We had to do work as well. All hands were needed. We had to haul wood for the kitchen fires. Therefore, we joined the elders pulling wagons to the train station, loaded the wood and came back. Next to the station was a park. When we needed to relieve ourselves we had to ask the Jap soldier. But behind the bushes there were natives waiting, as it was prearranged, with foodstuff. We were naked except for a loincloth, and we were wearing klètek (wooden slippers). We had gotten money, which we put in Aspirin tubes up our rectums. When we “relieved” ourselves we retrieved the money and obtained pieces of meat cut in strips. These were put in a little bag that we carried between our legs. Upon returning to the camp we had to go through inspection. They never grabbed us between the legs, so we passed. The wagons were offloaded under scrutiny, so we could not hide anything in the wood. The meat was not for our consumption, though. It was cooked and fed to the sick in the hospital. One little cube of meat a week would cause the beriberi to slink. My uncle did not make it. He died the last day of the war. We all suffered from lice. To that end, we were shaved bald so that the sun would kill them.

To be continued

Please leave a comment. Does anyone have similar or other memories?

Until next time



Fear, Anguish, Death and Survival – The Asian Holocaust – Part 5

Memories of a Young Boy

Walter Hobé

Fruit and Animals

In the yard behind the fence there were mango trees, but these fruits were guarded extensively by their owners. We invented a contraption: a long bamboo pole with a little bag on the end, and scissors with a spring on a rope. Over the fence, without anybody noticing it, we gathered fruit. Of course we could not wait till it was ripe…stomach ache galore! But that did not deter us, as long as we had something in our stomach. Then there was the jambu tree, with jambu ayer. Everything in season, naturally. There was this lady who had a rooster and asked us to kill it for her. Yes, we needed a knife. Two guys held the rooster while one cut his neck. Well, he started running and we could not hold him. There was this one stone brick wall in his way and he made a crack in it. Little did we know that the rooster was used for cockfights—he was very big and very strong. We were also experts in killing pigeons. We were not allowed to have them any more, because they might be used for communication outside the camp. In the end, there were no more animals to be slaughtered as we ate them all. Except for the forbidden fruit…the two monkeys in the cage belonging to the Japs! This was done, I think, on purpose to entice us, because there would be quite a price to pay for insubordination, like a couple of days without food. And nobody wanted to be the cause of such a punishment.

All Alone Now

All this time we did not know where my father was. On August 29, 1944, my brother was taken away to wherever, and the time came that I also had to leave. The Japs feared that when boys were big enough they could cause trouble with the girls. Yeah right! Through malnutrition our hormones were not working, although our minds were going and we talked a lot, like “he is going with her” (smirk, smirk). I was dressed in my best packiejan (suit) and brought to the gateway. After saying our good byes, we had to line up outside the camp, where we were counted, and then jump into a truck.

This was February 25th, 1945. The last thing I saw was my mother crying at the camp entrance. Five hundred boys were put on that transport. As it turned out we were driven to Mangarai train station, where we had to hop over the tracks to a passenger train standing far off. Now it was almost dark; the windows were closed so that we could not see out. Was this done for our protection? This train was always used for the natives, and we called it class kambing (goat class). There were three rows of benches, two on the sides and one in the middle. Natives always traveled with their animals to market, whether it were chickens, ducks, geese or goats. Anyway, the trip lasted the whole night. Stop and go, stop and go. No water, no food. It was getting colder, so we knew we were going into the mountains. In the morning we arrived at our destination, Tjimahi.

Tjimahi Prison Camp

After getting off the train we had to assemble in order to be counted. We were actually in the middle of nowhere it seemed. To our right, we saw a big building that turned out to be the military hospital. We were marched up the highway towards our right. If we had gone left we would have been going towards Bandung and to the 4th Battalion prison camp where my uncle and my brother were, but I did not know this at the time.

We passed an arch that said Baros 5, another prison camp. On our right, we passed a police station, headquarters of the Kempe Tai, the Japanese version of the KGB or the FBI. Finally, to our right, we entered an arched gate and we saw all kinds of houses. Actually, it was one street with houses on both sides. It was part of a pre-war military camp with a smithy and horse stalls. We marched to the end of the street and were assigned a house. It was totally empty. We were introduced to two adults. They were to be our kepalas (housefathers). “Where do we sleep?” “On the floor.” I had my little suitcase and could use some clothing as a pillow. I had my flannel black-and-white striped army blanket. So now we had to find the softest spot on the floor. We felt each tile, and in the corner the tiles were “softer” so that is where I found my spot.

No Sickness but Homesickness

Now I really got a problem—I cowered in this corner with homesickness. I could not eat or drink. The housefather was watching me and talking to me, to no avail. I was brought to the doctor after about a week. Now I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to grow up fast, take hold of myself, otherwise he would give me another week to die. It took me another couple of days to get around and leave the house.

To be continued

I welcome your comments. Does anyone have other memories?

Until next time