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?

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