Tangerang Camp consisted of large wards built around two courtyards with a central kitchen, flanked by four rows of single cells (meant for the worst offenders?). The wards had wooden boards two meters wide, running along both sides in two tiers, one at a height of one meter, the other above that at about two meters from the floor, with a ladder in each corner to climb to the ‘top floor’. My mother and I found room at the top; the climb up the ladder was definitely worth the airier aspect of the upper story.
Here we lived for a year on hard work and diminishing food rations. Our daily meal consisted of one ladleful of glutinous sago porridge in the morning and a 5 cm wide piece of bread made of unleavened cornflour. Half of this piece was meant for our evening meal. At midday we received one cup of boiled rice and one scoop of watery vegetables, in which our ‘meat’ ration was also cooked. With a bit of luck we at times found one or two small cubes of meat – mostly tripe – floating in the brew on our individual plates. The Japanese got incensed if we complained about the small rations, and told us we should be grateful for what we got, as food was in short supply. They themselves looked well-fed.
Soon, every second person contracted malaria, and all of us had at least one bout of dysentery. I got both diseases, but – thanks to my mother’s foresight in packing quinine – at least the malaria could be controlled. The dysentery kept recurring all through my imprisonment, and to this day I am suffering from the damage to my digestive system. My mother had an extremely painful episode with a kidney stone, for which there was no painkiller strong enough in her medicine kit. Fortunately, she passed the stone after a few days and was put on light kitchen duties, cleaning the vegetables grown by our “garden team” of which I was a part.
The worst experiences in this camp were the periodic visits by the supreme commander over all camps in Western Java, Captain Sonei. This individual was a lunatic – in the true sense of the word. He was reputed to go out of his mind at full moon. We were notified of his visits the day before, and ordered to have everything looking neat and tidy.
On the day (of his arrival) we had to line up on the tenko field where daily roll call was held. As Sonei entered with his interpreter, we received a command “Kiutske!” (stand at attention), while he climbed the dais. At the command “Kèrèh!” we bowed deeply to acknowledge his supremacy over us, miserable wretches, then came “Norèh!” (at ease), after which he would shout, rant and rave at us for about an hour, pausing at times for the interpreter to translate in Malay. His speech was always the same – we owed deep gratitude to his divine emperor’s great bounty in providing us with food and a roof over our heads. Any complaints or breaches of the rules would be severely punished.
Then came the moment we were all dreading. Sonei would pause, sweep us with a malevolent glare, and pick out someone at random from our ranks, gesturing for the woman to come forward and stand in front of him. This poor, defenseless victim would then be beaten senseless with open hands and fists, until she fell to the ground, when she was given a few hefty kicks with his boots. “And this,” Sonei would say with a nasty smirk, pointing to the bleeding body at his feet, “is your example. This is what happens to those who disobey the rules.”
One of his victims died of internal injuries. (After the war) Sonei was tried by the Dutch for war crimes and hanged. He professed not to understand why he received such harsh punishment, since he was only doing his duty for his emperor.
To be continued…
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