Other than civilian concentration camps for women and children, numerous men’s camps existed as well. Men were also used as slave laborers, not only in the Dutch East Indies, but as far away as Japan. The following story was written by John Franken, an amazing Canadian-Dutch man, whom I met on deck of the USS Missouri, moored in the harbor of Bellingham, WA, for the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995. Part of his story runs parallel with that of my father, ten years his senior. My father was a pilot with the Dutch Naval Air Force in Soerabaja since 1937. John Franken joined in 1941. In February 1942 both men were ordered to evacuate to Tjilatjap and board a ship with unknown destination. From thereon out, their lives continued in different directions. Both survived! Read excerpts of John Franken’s story in my upcoming Blog posts.\
Slave Labourer in Nagasaki
I was born on April 10, 1922, in Semarang, capital of the middle part of the island of Java. I was the fourth of five sons. My father was a traveling salesman for an insurance company while my mother tended a small store. When that became too much for her, my father closed the shop and rebuilt it into a hotel, since there was a big demand for accommodation for salesmen passing through, selling imports from Holland. I learned a lot about my Jewish background during this period because many of the salesmen were Jewish. My mother ran the hotel with a firm hand. She was fair to everybody and was always there when needed. She had many friends among the natives and was very much loved. My father passed away on May 3, 1941. Before he died, he called my brother and me to his bedside and told us to learn a trade.
In July 1941, when I was nineteen, I was mobilized and went into the Naval Air Force in Surabaya, the capital of East Java, and signed a contract for ten years. At the end of January the order came that we had to evacuate to Tjilatjap, a harbor city on the south coast of Middle Java.
We were to be shipped to an unknown destination. Fourteen of us were assigned to an airport transport bus with an Indonesian driver. Each of us was given an antiquated gun (model 95) with ammunition, in case we would meet Japanese soldiers. What a joke! While we were loading the bus with food and drinks, the air raid sirens went off again. We took shelter under the bus and when the air raid was over, the driver had disappeared. Only one of us, Theo Snellen van Vollenhoven, could drive the bus. When we passed through Djogjakarta (now Yogyakarta) I said goodbye to my mother. That was the last time I saw her and it remains engraved in my mind. She died on November 2, 1944, in the Japanese concentration camp of Ambarawa.
When we arrived in Tjilatjap there was a great deal of commotion and disarray. The harbor was crowded with ships from the Dutch Merchant Marine. Meanwhile, there were many air raids because the Japanese knew that an evacuation was in progress. Many ships left but we had to stay another day without explanation. All fourteen of us boarded the Tjisarua and left for an unknown destination, with one seven-cm gun on board. We heard that some ships which had left ahead of us had been torpedoed while trying to get out of this mousetrap on the south coast. It was one big chaos; the world was collapsing around us.
We kept close to the coastline to escape any waiting submarines. The next day we came to the end of the south coast of Java, and we changed direction to southeast. Then we understood that we were heading for Australia. We were apparently escaping the ring of submarines and were starting to feel safe. The sea was calm, the night sky full of stars. The atmosphere was more relaxed – but not for long!
Excerpt by John Franken. Published earlier in Four Years till Tomorrow
To be continued.
As always: I welcome your comments.
Until next time,