Memories of a Young Boy
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
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Until next time