Held by the Kempeitai – Part Two
One day all those who were between the ages of fourteen and sixteen (that is how young we were at the time of this story) were summoned to report to the Japanese commandant on the alan-alan (city square) to be sent to what we were told were training camps. Ordered to climb onto open trucks and standing shoulder to shoulder, we bounced up mountain roads to what had been a plantation named Telogosari. Here we did forced labor, making arang (charcoal) by stoking wood in large earth mounds. We also planted jarak (caster oil bushes), the oil of which was to lubricate machinery. We were harassed, not so much by the Japanese, but by one of our own who had been appointed by the Japanese to be responsible for production.
We spent the nights sleeping on the floor of a large wooden structure previously used for drying out plantation products. One night a great commotion woke me. Shouting came from a far corner, “kolo jenking, kolo jenking!” (scorpions). The sound of boots and shoes crashing down came from everywhere; there were no lights. No one went back to sleep that night. Early morning revealed two dead scorpions. Everyone took a good look in his shoes and sure enough, there was another purplish-black scorpion, its tail menacingly arched forward. It did not last long, crunched under a boot.
One night a few weeks later, we heard trucks coming down the gravel road into the camp. Voices from the square became louder. Sounds of boots crunching on the gravel came toward the quiet barracks. Lights shone. Names were called out, interspersed with many bakaeros (stupid bastard). Rudi, Wim, Jim Brandligt, then,,,Rob Schultz – me! There were about twenty of us. “Ayo, keluar, jalan – lekas, lekas.”(Come on, get out, walk, quickly, quickly). In the square the commandant talked to us but all we could understand was the bakaeros and buruk (bad). Into the trucks we went, then up the road out of the camp. The wind felt cold as we stood in the back.
We arrived in the dark at a gate set in a stone wall. Herded inside, we had to dump all our belongings and empty our pockets. We were then led down a corridor, through an iron gate, into a chamber where many men were slumped down on long concrete surfaces. Hushed voices. This was the Lowokwaru Prison on the outskirts of Malang.
I could not sleep. When morning came, tin plates clattered down at the gate. Kanji (laundry starch) was our breakfast, and not much of even that. Afternoon came, bringing tin plates with watery corn. My stomach ached: Hunger! This went on for several days. We learned to chew each kernel for half a minute, making the meal last an hour. It took an enormous amount of self-discipline.
In the evening the Amboinese men among us began to sing. Anyone who has heard Amboinese songs knows how heart-rending they can be. When sung n harmony in that desolate place, many of us felt tears well up.
After what seemed an eternity, names were called. Two at a time were to go, but none came back. My turn came. Two minutes later I was in another place, alone. It was a very small, solid concrete cell with a tall iron gate. My bed was a cement slab. The toilet was a round hole in the floor; cockroaches scurried at the rim.
What was that? A voice? From down there? I bent over the hole but could not make out the sound. Then I stuck my head part way down it. “What’s your name? I am Johnnie.” My neighbor was communicating with me – through the sewer connecting pipes! He gave me some information: Rooie lap (red rug) means the guard is coming. He then told me that Nono had just come back, and that his hands were swollen and red and he was unable to hold anything. He had been hung by his wrists from the wall for half an hour while the Jap had asked him questions. Then I heard an ominous warning, “You may be next!”
Excerpt by Robert Schultz, published earlier in Four Years till Tomorrow
To be continued
Listen to the sounds of Japanese soldiers marching into town, the droning sounds of enemy aircraft, the Bomb on Nagasaki:
As always, I welcome your comments.
Until next time