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

Ronny

 

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

Ronny

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,

Ronny

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,

Ronny

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,

Ronny

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,

Ronny

In Japanese Captivity: Story of a Teenager in Wartime Java – Conclusion

Vera Radó:

It’s a miracle we survived – not only the years of imprisonment but the aftermath of the Japanese occupation. There was a full-scale revolution going on in Java, where the Japanese had for years brain-washed the younger generations of Indonesians to throw off the colonial yoke. The rampaging Indonesian youths (pemudas) imprisoned the Japanese, whom they had come to view as detested occupiers, then turned on us, hated colonials. They murdered a sizable number of former civilian prisoners, including women and children, before the British troops finally landed on Java and evacuated us to Singapore. Not too many people know about our plight during this political vacuum, yet it is part of World War II history.

My mother and I were eventually reunited with my father and Ivan in Surabaya. By then the city had become a cauldron of seething fanaticism and hatred. We barely escaped being attacked and butchered as we were taken to the harbor in a convoy of trucks with a Ghurka soldier positioned on the roof of each one, machine-gun ready. We traveled between thick rows of angry natives, hissing at us and looking very threatening. It was a great relief to embark on a British landing craft and watch Surabaya disappear in the distance.

We had been totally at the mercy of the Japanese occupiers, then again at the mercy of the rioting Indonesians. It was a wonderful relief to arrive in Singapore, even though we landed in another camp. But this was very different. We were free, we were well-fed, and – above all – we were safe!

We learned later that the atomic bombs had ended the war. It killed many Japanese civilians, men, women and Children, but it also wsaved hundreds of thousands oflives of prisoners of the Japanese, like us. Violence, death and destruction are inevitable in wars, but we have to take a balanced view, because all sides suffer casualties. In the end, nobody wins.

 

This concludes the memoir of  Vera Radó, who survived to tell her story, lest we forget. Vera currently lives in Australia.

Next week you will find excerpts from the memoir of camp survivor on Java, who currently lives in Canada.

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

Until next time,

Ronny

 

 

In Japanese Captivity: Story of a Teenager in Wartime Java – part 8

Vera Radó:

One year after our arrival at Tangerang, we were put on a transport again, this time to Camp Adek in Batavia, where we joined about 4500 other women and children from that region. Although this concentration camp was larger than Tangerang, room was at a premium. We were packed into the wards like sardines; each individual got 55 cm of space. By this time we had all been whittled down in size by poor nutrition and sickness, but 55 cm is a tiny space for living, sleeping and eating. There was, of course, never a lack of border disputes – sometimes very loud ones. Tempers were easily aroused, as everyone was under stress, hungry and irritable. Women  who were responsible for small children, in particular, were under almost unbearable pressure to keep themselves and their offspring alive.

Rumors kept flying around of great successes by the Allies and of impending liberation, but nobody had a radio. The regular house searches had seen to that, so we did not know what was really happening. In fact, we were completely cut off and isolated from the outside world. The rumors actually kept us going, because by this time – mid-1945 – we were nearing the end of our endurance. Many of the very old and the very young had died, and even young girls of my age group were getting ill and dying with increasing frequency.

There was a small team of women in our camp, detailed to build coffins – made of woven and split bamboo – for burying the dead, and they were kept increasingly busy. By this time the death rate had risen go four to five persons per day. Most of us had lapsed into a state of apathy, consistent with long-term starvation. I myself found that I no longer very much cared whether I was going to die in this wretched camp or be liberated. We were all dreaming of food. It became a major preoccupation with many, even an obsession, resulting in the incessant exchange of recipes for one or the other divine dish.

We were also beginning to disbelieve the rumors of Allied victories. So far they had been proven false. Maybe the Japanese were winning, and maybe we would all soon be dead. I certainly felt that I would not last another six months. At nineteen, I was minus energy, suffering from chronic diarrhea, the beginning of beri-beri, and incapable of any great physical effort such as digging gardens and growing vegetables, which had been my previous task. I was given permission to resign and rest in the garden under trees, adjacent to the tenko field.

Then, suddenly, in mid-August, we were getting more food – an extra leg of beef, more vegetables from the markets, even a small fish each. Oh, the smell of it! We couldn’t believe it at first, then started to suspect that something important had happened. It was not until mid-September 1945 that we received orders to assemble at the tenko field, and were told that the war was over. Just that, no explanation, no further information, except that we were also told we could leave the camp ‘at our own risk’. We soon found out why. Two women who left for their home in the city were ambushed by rioting young Indonesians and murdered.

©1995

To be continued…

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

Until next time,

Ronny

 

 

In Japanese Captivity: Story of a Teenager in Wartime Java – part 7

Vera Radó:

Tangerang Camp consisted of large wards built around two courtyards with a central kitchen, flanked by four rows of single cells (meant for the worst offenders?). The wards had wooden boards two meters wide, running along both sides in two tiers, one at a height of one meter, the other above that at about two meters from the floor, with a ladder in each corner to climb to the ‘top floor’. My mother and I found room at the top; the climb up the ladder was definitely worth the airier aspect of the upper story.

Here we lived for a year on hard work and diminishing food rations. Our daily meal consisted of one ladleful of glutinous sago porridge in the morning and a 5 cm wide piece of bread made of unleavened cornflour. Half of this piece was meant for our evening meal. At midday we received one cup of boiled rice and one scoop of watery vegetables, in which our ‘meat’ ration was also cooked. With a bit of luck we at times found one or two small cubes of meat – mostly tripe – floating in the brew on our individual plates. The Japanese got incensed if we complained about the small rations, and told us we should be grateful for what we got, as food was in short supply. They themselves looked well-fed.

Soon, every second person contracted malaria, and all of us had at least one bout of dysentery. I got both diseases, but – thanks to my mother’s foresight in packing quinine – at least the malaria could be controlled. The dysentery kept recurring all through my imprisonment, and to this day I am suffering from the damage to my digestive system. My mother had an extremely painful episode with a kidney stone, for which there was no painkiller strong enough in her medicine kit. Fortunately, she passed the stone after a few days and was put on light kitchen duties, cleaning the vegetables grown by our “garden team” of which I was a part.

The worst experiences in this camp were the periodic visits by the supreme commander over all camps in Western Java, Captain Sonei. This individual was a lunatic – in the true sense of the word. He was reputed to go out of his mind at full moon. We were notified of his visits the day before, and ordered to have everything looking neat and tidy.

On the day (of his arrival) we had to line up on the tenko field where daily roll call was held. As Sonei entered with his interpreter, we received a command “Kiutske!” (stand at attention), while he climbed the dais. At the command “Kèrèh!” we bowed deeply to acknowledge his supremacy over us, miserable wretches, then came “Norèh!” (at ease), after which he would shout, rant and rave at us for about an hour, pausing at times for the interpreter to translate in Malay. His speech was always the same – we owed deep gratitude to his divine emperor’s great bounty in providing us with food and a roof over our heads. Any complaints or breaches of the rules would be severely punished.

Then came the moment we were all dreading. Sonei would pause, sweep us with a malevolent glare, and pick out someone at random from our ranks, gesturing for the woman to come forward and stand in front of him. This poor, defenseless victim would then be beaten senseless with open hands and fists, until she fell to the ground, when she was given a few hefty kicks with his boots. “And this,” Sonei would say with a nasty smirk, pointing to the bleeding body at his feet, “is your example. This is what happens to those who disobey the rules.”

One of his victims died of internal injuries. (After the war) Sonei was tried by the Dutch for war crimes and hanged. He professed not to understand why he received such harsh punishment, since he was only doing his duty for his emperor.

© 1995

To be continued…

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

Until next time,

Ronny

In Japanese Captivity: Story of a Teenager in Wartime Java – part 6

Vera Radó:

In March 1944 we were ordered to pack, loaded onto a long train the following morning and moved to the other end of Java, to a small town called Tangerang, 20 km west of Batavia (Jakarta). The train journey, which normally would have taken twelve hours, took three days in a train with all windows and doors locked and all blinds down, and with no provision for food or water.

On the second day, at our request, as all of us, but especially the children, were limp with thirst, we stopped for water from a railway siding pump (for filling up the steam trains) and promptly got the runs. Our carriage was packed with bodies; we sat on the floors and in the aisles. The seats were for the elderly. The single toilet soon overflowed, and thereafter became a disaster area, defying all description.

On the third night we arrived at a dismal looking dimly lit station, and had to walk for almost an hour to our destination. The smaller children had to be carried, as they were too exhausted to walk. We finally reached a large building behind a massive bamboo-and-wire fence with four watchtowers, one on each corner. Although there was some food ready for us to eat, all most of us were capable of doing was to find a place to stretch out and sleep. I have never slept so soundly on a hard wooden board!

We found out later that our new ‘home’ was a former corrective institution for delinquent youths. We also discovered that we had been traveling with about 1500 other women and children from the “Darmo Camp” in Surabaya plus the contingent of about 100 Iraqi women and children from whom we had been separated earlier in Werfstraat Jail.

© 1995

To be continued…

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

Until next time,

Ronny