Held by the Kempeitai – Conclusion
We worked daily on large wooden weaving machines, shooting a shuttle from one end to the other. We were forced to produce a daily quota of the meters of gunisack material (jute). If we fell short, the guard would single one person out and give him a beating with a teak wood bar. We were now all wearing light brown colored clothing with the letters RPSH written on the back: that stood for rumah penjaraseumor hidap (life imprisonment). Rations were very meager and we had to line up in long rows, squatting on the sand to collect them. Filing by, everyone received a tin plate which contained a thin layer of watery rice and a single drab vegetable leaf. This we gulped down in less than a minute, while guards ran up and down the line shouting “Ayo cepat.” (Quickly, quickly.) Breakfast was a small amount of kanji (laundry starch). We experienced hallucinations about food. That we hung on to existence was largely due to our young age. Beri-beri and dysentery were rampant. Had this gone on for another year, many would not have survived.
End of the War
In mid-August of 1945 the walking skeletons had once again assembled in the square, silently waiting for the usual taiso (morning exercises) to begin. This time, though, there was to be no taiso. Instead we saw the commanding Indonesian prison guard appear. From a raised cement platform he began to speak. There was to be no more work. No more taiso. We would be allowed to move freely, but first we were to go to a place by the gate where we were to remove our brown prison clothes and receive some of our own confiscated clothes back. What was this? Our numb ears heard but did not absorb. The voice continued. This morning the gates would be opened and we could go into town, but we had to wear our own clothing. Also, we were to come back before dusk.
As we listened in disbelief, we heard the distant sound of an approaching plane, the sound swelling in intensity. Suddenly there it was, over the east wall, as though out of the morning sun. Objects crashed into the prison yard, rolling to a stop against the cement walls. Now a subdued roar came from the assembly in the square as we suddenly understood. We broke helter skelter across the yard, running towards the objects that had red crosses visible on the sides. A mass of skinny hands tore them apart. Jubilant cries went up. There were chocolate bars, cans containing long-forgotten foods and pamphlets saying the Japanese had capitulated – the war was over! Prison garb was dumped. Some found their old clothes, but many did not and tried to borrow from friends. The gates were open. The first ones walked out – eager, barefoot and only wearing shorts. I was one of those.
My cousin Jim and I ignored the command to return to the prison at dusk but instead hightailed out of there. This may have been the most important decision of our lives, we learned later. Just a week later, the route we had taken to go home was to prove fatal for many of our friends who left Semarang after us. The infamous Bersiap period had begun in a mad frenzy of killing.
How we arrived in Malang and how Jim and I went to our respective homes I don’t remember. But the emotions as I walked up the long lane towards the house my mother lived in, and the sight of her dear brown eyes in a pool of tears as she saw me, will stay with me forever.
Excerpt by Robert Schultz, published earlier in Four Years till Tomorrow
Listen to the sounds of War: the Japanese marching in, the airplanes approaching, the sound of the Bomb on Nagasaki:
As always, I welcome your comments.
Until next time