Memories of a Young Boy
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