World War Two in the Pacific: 1942 – 1945

Survivors’ Stories

Hannie Blaauw – Part Three

Very early in the morning, when the sun just rose above the horizon, Hannie left Camp Tjimahi, walking west in the direction of Bandung.

His brother Adriaan was a military nurse in charge of treating patients in the small camp hospital in camp Tjikudapateuh. Working with very limited supplies during the war, he had witnessed the deaths of many fellow prisoners who could have been helped with better medication. But the supplies sent to the camps by the Red Cross were never distributed by the Japanese, and they bluntly refused actual visits by the international committee of the Red Cross to inspect the camps or limited them to a brief conversation with the camp commander – they allowed absolutely no contact with the prisoners.

On August 15 the war was over, the gates of the camps were opened and the prisoners  were free to leave. Many remained temporarily because they didn’t know where to go or were waiting to reconnect with family members and relatives in other camps. Adriaan, Hannie’s brother, had to stay in his camp to treat sick Japanese in the hospital.

Through the sawahs (rice fields) Hannie walked, passing kampungs (small villages) along the way, as the sun burned down on his head and bare arms. His kleteks (wooden slippers with a goat-leather or rubber band across the toes and pieces of car tires under the heels) made a happy sound on the pavement: kletek, kletek, and his heart sang, ‘I’m going to see Adriaan, I’m going to see my brother!’ It was a long walk, but after about three hours he finally reached his destination and walked through the gates of the camp. Without too much trouble Hannie found the hospital, walked in and asked for Adriaan. With a broad smile on his face he embraced his brother when he walked in, totally surprised.

It was a tearful reunion – the four years of hardship, hunger and horrors had left indelible marks on the young men and after Adriaan had asked permission to take the rest of the day off they went outside, and talked for hours in the shade of a waringin (banyan tree). Time went by very quickly and they went to the camp kitchen to get something to eat. It wasn’t much, a bowl of rice and a ladle of soup, but the soup had meat in it, and vegetables, and it was plenty after the camp ration the brothers were used to: the war was over!

Before they knew it, the sun was setting and they realized it was too late for Hannie to return to Tjimahi in time for curfew. “You can stay here,” urged Adriaan, “come with me.” Together they walked through the hospital to the operating room; Adriaan took a key from his pocket and opened the door. “You can sleep right here, on the floor underneath the operating table. Sleep well, I will come and get you in the morning.”

Hannie fell into a deep sleep, exhausted from the long walk and the happy reunion with his brother. He awoke with a shock when bright lights went on and a booming voice said, “I’ll be damned! What have we here? Who are you? What are you doing here? Get out, get up!”
“I’m Hannie, Adriaan’s brother,” Hannie said. “I walked here yesterday from camp Tjimahi to see my brother, and then it was too late to return to my camp before curfew, so Adriaan let me sleep here.”
“All right then, but you gave me the scare of my life,” said the surgeon, and Hannie walked out of the room and went in search of his brother.

In the early afternoon they said good bye and Hannie left after they promised each other that soon they would find their mother in camp Kramat and leave Java together in search of a better future in Holland.

To be continued

I welcome your comments. Perhaps you have camp stories of your own you want to tell me? I will be happy to host you on my blog.

Until next time,

Ronny

 

 

 

Leave a Comment