Memories of a Young Boy
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.
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,