Camp of the men

Internment and the life of men in the camps.
From the memoirs of A.H. Wicherts, campfellow of Pierre Schrijnen, Soekaboemi-Kedoeng Badak and Tjimahi from 1941 onwards.
At Sunday 8 March 1942, we listened to the radio and heard that the Dutch East Indies had surrendered. They ended the broadcast with the Wilhelmus (i.e. the national anthem of the Netherlands), which cost the lives of the people who were responsible for this broadcast, namely J. Kusters and his assistant of the Hoogte (from Soekaboemi). Japanese officers used the Selabatoe hotel as their residence. Shortly after this, the Japanese murdered the inspector B.B. Jongbloed in the Selabatoe hotel and placed him on the Vogel road, on the side of the hotel, as a horrible example for those who did not obey their orders. It was not allowed to remove his body. People say that mister Jongbloed did not want to provide the Japanese with women. We had to take our hat off for every Japanese, which did not happen with a lot of enthusiasm. Whenever I forgot to greet the Japanese, they left me with several black eyes and no hat within a couple of weeks. They levied taxes. At 13 August 1942, I had to report for internment with a suitcase filled with some clothes and toiletries. At first, I had to report to the Ursulinen monastery in Buitenzorg and after a couple of weeks to the camp Kedoeng Badak, which was situated at the verge of Buitenzorg. We were accommodated in barracks. In 1944, we moved from Kedoeng Badak to the barrack in Tjimahi. We were packed like sardines in a train with the windows closed, because we were not allowed to know where the train would bring us. When we arrived, we all got 60 centimeters breadth on the floor. Later, we were allowed at a baleh-baleh. 10.000 men were accommodated here, mostly in barracks with some 100 men together. I was the commander of one of those barracks. We had a well-organized message service, which was led by Ir. Van Soest. The Japanese had the keys of the rice goedang, but nonetheless they succeeded in smuggling a radio in there. One person stayed behind during the foraging, whom eavesdropped the foreign radio stations and joined the following group the next day. Consequently, we were correctly informed about the current events in the world. Van Soest usually told me the events first, so that I could pass it on to a certain person, make a couple of copies or let others make copies in order to distribute them.
Even though teaching was strongly forbidden, a lot of youngsters still enjoyed their high school education. There were plenty teachers. Pencils and paper were forbidden as well, but there was always a way to get them nonetheless. Some of the people from the camp worked on the countryside or at a farm everyday under the leadership of a Japanese. These people were sometimes able to contact the natives, which resulted in news, native newspapers or some extra food. They were not able to bring back a lot, because the Japanese always checked the group upon their return in the camp. You were also subjected to different punishments. When the Japanese lost a battle at sea for example, we did not receive any food that day. This also applied to other, unknown reasons.
Every barrack commander had to line up at a certain day, so that the Japanese could stroke them with sticks, which consisted of 2 meters long bamboo. I was number 100 so I hoped that the Japanese would be tired when it was my turn. Unfortunately, the strikes were painful nonetheless.
At a certain day, a Japanese ran through our room while screaming, which predicted nothing good. I had the opportunity to take off my glasses just before he started hitting me. If you got down on your knees quickly and asked for forgiveness, the strikes would stop very quickly. But I did not want to do that. I was able to stand still while he hit me and did not scream, while I told my roommates to stay calm. They wanted to fly at the Japanese. I also looked the Japanese in the eyes. This was very bad, because the Japanese demanded that you bat your eyes. It cost me some extra strikes, but I refused to do that. It was of course very important to smuggle some money into the camp. An employee of a bank in Bandoeng wrote, together with my friend Ir. Tersteeg, the executive of Anien, a letter to a Chinese acquaintance in Bandoeng. Two Indische youngsters, who looked just like natives, would deliver this letter and bring back the money upon their return. The operation failed and the youngsters were never seen again. Tersteeg, among others, was hanged by his hands with 0,5 meter between his feet and the ground. I know that Tersteeg was not able to use his arms and hands for weeks.
My friend Pierre Schrijnen, who was my friend during those camp years, started to trade gold. Before the war, he was the administrator of a tea plantation. He sold, against a small provision of his fellow camp mates, golden wedding rings, teeth, molars and bridges to the Japanese. This trade was not without its risks. Sometimes he did not receive any money but was subjected to strikes. One time, I went instead of Schrijnen to his appointment with the Japanese and was very relieved when I returned to the barrack without any strikes but with the correct amount of money. Never again!
When it was almost the Christmas of 1944, the food became even worse and the amount of people suffering from hunger edema increased significantly. Schrijnen told me: “Dad, I have been lucky, I have earned 25 guilder”. During those days, that amount of money was a lot. The highest wage that the Japanese paid was ten cents a day and sometimes a crust of inedible bread. “Divide this money between the people at the barrack who are in the worst condition and promise me, that you will never tell anyone”. The joy of those people who received some money was heart warming. I kept that promise until 8 June … when I told his children and grandchildren at his 75th birthday.
Sometimes the Japanese provided some tobacco or goela djawa against payment. But a wage of 10 cents a day did not help much and the Japanese did not settle for a low price. He had to make a profit as well. The food became worse and worse. People ate the meat of a dog as a treat when a kampong dog ended up in the camp by mistake. In addition, we also ate snails (when they are roasted, they taste like old leather), frogs and sometimes-even toads, which were poisonous. There were no rats and mice in the camp; there was nothing there for them. In the spring of 1945, the Japanese came up with a new idea. They wanted to make a railroad near Sindanglaja. A hundred people a day had to be transported to Sindanglaja by train everyday. The Japanese promised them a lot, more and better food! In order to accomplish this, they had to stay together in a barrack. Consequently, barracks were cleared out and the people who had to build the railroad moved to these empty barracks. The previous residents were put somewhere else in the camp and placed in the empty spots.
It was decided that the commander of the barracks and the distributer of the food had to stay. And that is how I received a barrack full of new people and better and more food as well, just like the Japanese had promised. In the beginning, you received some more rice and a different kind of soup of a different kind of ditch water, but it was not that much. Fortunately, the war news became more beneficial to us. When the war in Europe ended, which we obviously knew from the radio, everyone understood that the end was near. It was time for the most of us. A dozen funerals a day was no exception. The Japanese did not provide them with coffins anymore, only with mats of cane. When the time came and the Japanese officially announced that the Nippon had lost the war, our Japanese guard was crying at the gate and forgot to commit hari-kiri. The suffering was over; we had to keep quiet for a while, because you never knew what the Japanese were still capable of. There were no flags allowed and we had to stay in the camp until the British permission to leave. This permission never came. One after one left the camp, until it was empty and eventually closed.

What I heard about my father myself as well, is that he organized courses for the boys in the camps so that they would not fall behind. This was perhaps in another camp than the one described in the above. There were plenty of men who could teach several courses. It had to happen in secret and out of Japanese sight, however. There were even exams. These boys were very grateful later on. One of them was Joop Tersteeg. Pierre wrote in his memoires how he discussed with other camp mates how they could do better after the war. They did not realize that there would no longer be a life for them in the Dutch East Indies. Father Pierre even tried to get Louis and Olav Movig to his camp in order to take care of them. Louis did not want to do that, they were indeed better off in their own camp. As researched much later, their camp was the second best camp to reside in.

Een foto van kampgenoten ( “De Gedoeng Badakkers”) tijdens een reünie genomen, jaren later in Nederland, mei 1963

Een foto van kampgenoten
( “De Gedoeng Badakkers”) tijdens een reünie genomen, jaren later in Nederland, mei 1963