Memories of a Young Boy
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,