Slave Labourer in Nagasaki – Part Three
Whenever we passed a guard we had to make a proper bow. If we did not do this properly we were called by the soldier. While standing at full attention, we would receive blows to the sides of our heads with the inside of his fist. With our eyes closed we would not know when the fist would strike. The idea was to fall immediately to the ground, otherwise the guard would call another prisoner and command him to hit us as hard as he was able. If this was not done to the guard’s liking, he demonstrated for us until we got it right. We practiced how to hit and make a bad fall. If the guard laughed loudly, it meant he was satisfied.
We were divided into work groups to clean up the debris from the bombing. Many buildings, stores and harbour-storage places had been destroyed. The cleaning of the storage buildings proved especially fruitful as there were still supplies of clothing and canned food under the rubble. Much of the food had been spoiled either by fire or weather conditions, but some were still in good condition. We ate it on the spot, as it was too risky to bring into the camp.
One day we found a burned-out wine cellar in the basement of a store. There were three wine barrels and many bottles. Some of us kept vigil and kept the guard busy to distract him. One by one we went to the cellar and tasted some of the wine, but of course some could not stop themselves and overindulged. They became quite drunk and on the way back to camp were the happiest prisoners ever. One prisoner who had a bottle of wine was caught. He was severely beaten with the famous water-soaked rope, followed by a lot of screaming and yelling from the Japanese. When the man became unconscious they revived him by throwing several buckets of water on him. Then they tied him to a pole so he could not fall over and beat him again. The man was too drunk to react as he was completely numb, and he started singing at the top of his voice. Tied by a rope to a bicycle, he was then dragged with his face to the ground. Our own commander, Gortmans, now walked slowly to Yoshida, the Japanese bully, and snapped at him in Malayan “tjukup” ( this is enough). The man was unconscious and Yoshida acted surprised. He got off his bicycle and released the navy man to us.
Who was this Gortmans? Nicknamed Jan Oorlog (John War), he and a small group of soldiers had continued fighting a guerilla warfare in the mountains even after the official capitulation. He had taunted the Japanese army by broadcasting through his own radio that the Dutch East Indies had not yet surrendered and that the Dutch flag was still flying. Weakened by war and exhaustion, the group had become smaller and smaller. The Japanese had let them know that if they did not stop fighting, action would be taken to destroy the fighting men’s families. The Japanese were infuriated, however, when they realized that Jan Oorlog had only a handful of men and a few bits and pieces of armour. They had been fooled into believing they were dealing with a much larger force.
Due to Gortman’s heroism, he automatically became the POW camp leader and everybody, including Yoshida, had the highest respect for him. After we left for Nagasaki, however, he was decapitated. Was it possible that the Japanese at last took revenge on this man who had humiliated them with his mock surrender?
One day Yoshida saw an English prisoner not bowing properly. As a result he was tied to a pole of the barbed wire fence near the guard house, facing the street so that the city inhabitants could see him. Soon there was a small crowd. Yoshida began whacking the Englishman with a billiard queue. He kept hitting and hitting till his own pants were wet with semen. The prisoner’s hands, which were tied to his back, were also hit, breaking his wrists. When the ordeal was over and the Englishman was untied, he looked Yoshida straight in the eyes and with sheer willpower walked away.
When I witnessed this I asked myself how people could inflict pain on their fellow men, sometimes in the name of their gods. This man Yoshida must have parents and a family at home. I do not know how all this fits together.
The smuggling became bolder, and we sometimes had eggs for breakfast. There was one good Japanese who risked his life by giving us a day’s advance notice if there was to be an inspection. We would usually tie the food to the tree branches out of sight.
One day we ran out of wood and had to find something to make a fire. We decided to take a piano apart and use the wood. This piano was standing in a little cabin near the guard house; when we were done only the strings were left. When they found out, all hell broke loose. Our barrack, which was closest to the cabin, was suspected, but when nobody came forward we all had to stand in line. Each of us received four lashes on our behind with the famous rope. I was black and blue.
Yoshida was a specialist in torture. Sometimes we had to kneel for long periods of time with a stick behind our knees. This cut off the circulation so that standing up became impossible and the pain excruciating. Moustaches were pulled off, sometimes with the skin. If we were caught with the tiniest piece of newspaper, the punishment was very severe, like putting iodine in our noses or being put in a push-up position with hot coals under our bellies.
One day when returning to camp after a day’s work, I carried a small bag of fine-ground dried hot peppers, the hottest you could find, the Lombok rawit. I had the bag in one of my shoes which I carried over my shoulder. I had used this method many times before, but this time the guard called me back and stuck his hand into my shoe, finding the peppers. As punishment he ordered me to eat the contents of the bag while he stood by and watched. I began to experience severe burning sensations in my mouth and stomach, but I was not eating it fast enough to his linking, so he pushed it down my throat. For weeks I was very sick and could not eat. My esophagus was totally damaged. I still suffer from the damage done and continue to take medication because of the scar tissue which can bleed at any time.
Excerpt by John Franken. Published earlier in Four Years till Tomorrow
To be continued.
As always: I welcome your comments right here on this page.
Until next time,