Hannie Blaauw (pronounce as: Honey)
I have a friend, a very special friend. I met him about ten years ago when I moved to Arizona. Born and raised on Java, he is eleven years older than I, so he was a teenager during the years of Japanese oppression. He survived the camps, as did I, but he personally remembers the cruelties he witnessed. He was always hungry. He had camp sores and tropical diseases like all of us, but he survived thanks to his sense of humor and his guardian angel who protected him many times in harrowing situations. Following, with his permission, is part of his story.
Born in Tegal, Hannie had three brothers; the oldest one died before the war as did his dad. When the Japanese occupied the island, the family was separated; his mother was sent to a women’s camp, one of his brothers, who had an education as a nurse with the Red Cross, was put to work in a camp hospital in Bandung. Hannie and his younger brother were put in camp Tjimahi together.
Food was scarce. Breakfast consisted of a ball of starch with brown sugar. Lunch consisted of bread made with the yeast of human urine and dinner was a soupy mixture of 100 grams of rice mixed with water and chopped white radish. Hannie was so malnourished that he could hardly walk. Deaths were common at the camp; an average of six people would die every day from numerous diseases, dysentery and malnutrition.
The day before Christmas in 1944, one of his friends came up to him. “Hannie,” he said excitedly, “Look what I have here, a cat!” Hannie followed him and behind the little house he saw that, indeed, his friend had caught a cat. They knew immediately where the cat came from. On the other side of the bamboo fence was the house of the Japanese camp commander and his concubine. The concubine’s cat must have sneaked out of the house, crawled through the slokan (gutter), and ducked underneath the fence, where Hannie’s friend grabbed it.
Without thinking twice, Hannie wrung its neck and skinned it with the help of a piece of barbed wire. Hannie and his brother came up with a brilliant idea. Because of Christmas, all prisoners had received a double portion of rice. Everybody pitched in and the news spread like wildfire through the camp: the Blaauw brothers have made nasi goreng (fried rice)! What a very special Christmas dinner it was.
For days thereafter, they could hear the camp commander’s concubine call her cat – to no avail. Had they found out what happened to it, they would have killed the boys; the war would last another seven months. The cat never came back.
To be continued.
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Until next time,