One year after our arrival at Tangerang, we were put on a transport again, this time to Camp Adek in Batavia, where we joined about 4500 other women and children from that region. Although this concentration camp was larger than Tangerang, room was at a premium. We were packed into the wards like sardines; each individual got 55 cm of space. By this time we had all been whittled down in size by poor nutrition and sickness, but 55 cm is a tiny space for living, sleeping and eating. There was, of course, never a lack of border disputes – sometimes very loud ones. Tempers were easily aroused, as everyone was under stress, hungry and irritable. Women who were responsible for small children, in particular, were under almost unbearable pressure to keep themselves and their offspring alive.
Rumors kept flying around of great successes by the Allies and of impending liberation, but nobody had a radio. The regular house searches had seen to that, so we did not know what was really happening. In fact, we were completely cut off and isolated from the outside world. The rumors actually kept us going, because by this time – mid-1945 – we were nearing the end of our endurance. Many of the very old and the very young had died, and even young girls of my age group were getting ill and dying with increasing frequency.
There was a small team of women in our camp, detailed to build coffins – made of woven and split bamboo – for burying the dead, and they were kept increasingly busy. By this time the death rate had risen go four to five persons per day. Most of us had lapsed into a state of apathy, consistent with long-term starvation. I myself found that I no longer very much cared whether I was going to die in this wretched camp or be liberated. We were all dreaming of food. It became a major preoccupation with many, even an obsession, resulting in the incessant exchange of recipes for one or the other divine dish.
We were also beginning to disbelieve the rumors of Allied victories. So far they had been proven false. Maybe the Japanese were winning, and maybe we would all soon be dead. I certainly felt that I would not last another six months. At nineteen, I was minus energy, suffering from chronic diarrhea, the beginning of beri-beri, and incapable of any great physical effort such as digging gardens and growing vegetables, which had been my previous task. I was given permission to resign and rest in the garden under trees, adjacent to the tenko field.
Then, suddenly, in mid-August, we were getting more food – an extra leg of beef, more vegetables from the markets, even a small fish each. Oh, the smell of it! We couldn’t believe it at first, then started to suspect that something important had happened. It was not until mid-September 1945 that we received orders to assemble at the tenko field, and were told that the war was over. Just that, no explanation, no further information, except that we were also told we could leave the camp ‘at our own risk’. We soon found out why. Two women who left for their home in the city were ambushed by rioting young Indonesians and murdered.
To be continued…
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