Camp of men

Internment and camp life of men.
From the memoirs of A.H. Wicherts,

companion of Pierre Schrijnen, Soekaboemi-Kedoeng Badak and Tjimahi from 1941.

On Sunday, March 8, 1942, we heard through the radio that the Dutch East Indies had surrendered. The broadcast ended with the national anthem, which cost the lives of the responsible persons for this broadcast, Mr. J. Kusters and his assistant from the Hoogte (from Soekaboemi). Japanese officers took up residence in the Selabatoe hotel. Shortly thereafter, the controller, BB Jongbloed, was murdered by them in the Selabatoe hotel and laid on the Vogelweg as a deterrent example (in case one did not follow the orders of the Japanese!). He was not allowed to be removed. It is said that Mr. Jongbloed refused to provide women to the Japanese.

We had to take off our hats for every Japanese, which generally did not happen very enthusiastically, and when I forgot to greet, I had a couple of black eyes within a few weeks and no hat anymore.

Tax was levied. On August 13, 1942, I had to report with a suitcase containing some clothes and toiletries to be interned, first in the Ursuline convent in Buitenzorg and after a few weeks to the Kedoeng Badak camp, located on the outskirts of Buitenzorg, where we were accommodated in barracks. In 1944, we moved from Kedoeng Badak to the barracks in Tjimahi. Like sardines in a can, we were packed into a train, windows closed, we were especially not allowed to know where we were going.

Upon arrival, we each received 60 cm of floor space. Later, we were allowed to rest on a baleh-baleh. Here, 10,000 men were accommodated, mostly in barracks of about 100 men each. I was the commander of one of these barracks. We had a well-organized messaging service, led by Mr. Van Soest.

In the rice warehouse, of which the Japanese themselves held the keys, a radio had been smuggled in. During the foraging trips, one person would often stay behind to listen to foreign stations at night and then rejoin the next shift the following day. This way, we were fairly well informed about global events. I usually received the news firsthand from Van Soest, with requests to pass them on to a specific person, or to make copies for distribution.

Although giving education was strictly forbidden, many young people received secondary education. There were plenty of teachers. Paper and pencils were also prohibited, but there was always a way to obtain them. A group of camp residents, under the leadership of a Japanese person, went out to work on the land or at a farm every day. These people often had contact with locals and would return with news, local newspapers, or extra food. They couldn't bring much back, as the Japanese checked the group upon their return to the camp. We were also subjected to various punishments, such as being deprived of food for a day if the Japanese had lost a naval battle or for other reasons unknown to us.

One day, all barrack commanders were called to line up, and a Japanese person gave each of us two strokes with a bamboo stick about 2 meters long on the buttocks. I was about number 100 in line and hoped that the Japanese person would be tired by the time he reached me. But the strokes still came down quite hard.

One day, all barracks commanders had to line up, and a Japanese officer gave each of them 2 strokes with a bamboo stick, about 2 meters long, on the buttocks. I was about number 100 and hoped that the Japanese officer would be tired by the time he got to me. But the strokes hit quite hard.

On a certain day, a Japanese officer came running into our hall, roaring, which did not bode well. I had just had the opportunity to take off my glasses when he started hitting. If you immediately got on your knees and asked for forgiveness, it would usually be over quickly. But I refused to do that. I managed to stand while being hit, didn't make a sound, and urged my roommates, who wanted to attack the Japanese officer, to remain calm. I also looked the Japanese officer right in the eyes. The latter was very daring because the Japanese demanded that you lower your eyes. It cost me some extra strokes, but I refused to do it.

Of course, it was important to get money within the camp. An employee of a bank in Bandung, together with my friend Mr. Tersteeg, director of Anien, wrote a letter to a Chinese contact in Bandung. This letter was to be delivered to the camp by 2 Indo youths, indistinguishable from natives, at night, and they were supposed to bring back the money upon their return. The operation failed, and the youths were never seen again. And some others, including Tersteeg, were hung by their hands, with their feet half a meter above the ground. I know that Tersteeg couldn't use his arms and hands for weeks.

My friend Pierre Schrijnen, with whom I spent all those years in the camp, was an administrator of a tea plantation before the war and went into trading, specifically gold trading. He sold gold wedding rings, gold teeth, and bridges belonging to his fellow camp residents to the Japanese for a small commission. This business was quite dangerous. Sometimes he didn't get any money but instead got a beating. Once when Schrijnen was unable to make it due to circumstances and had an appointment with the Japanese officer, I went in his place and was relieved to be back in the barracks without any beatings and with the agreed amount of money. Never again!

It was approaching Christmas 1944 (the food was getting worse and worse) and the number of people suffering from hunger edema was rising alarmingly, Schrijnen said to me: "Pa, I've been lucky, I earned 25 guilders". In those days, that was a fortune, considering that the highest wage the Jap gave was a dime a day and sometimes a crust of almost inedible bread. "Divide this money among those people in the barracks who are in the worst condition and promise me that you will never tell anyone." The joy of the people who received some money was deeply moving.

I kept the promise not to tell until June 8th... when I told his children and grandchildren during the celebration of his 75th birthday.

Occasionally, the Jap provided tobacco or goela djawa (palm sugar) for a fee. But with a salary of a dime a day, you couldn't get far and the Jap was not exactly cheap. He had to make a profit as well. The food was getting scarcer and scarcer. People ate dog meat as a delicacy when a village dog accidentally ended up in the camp. They also ate snails (roasted they taste like old leather), frogs, and sometimes even poisonous toads. Rats and mice were not found in the camp. There was nothing for them to find.

In the spring of 1945, the Jap came up with something new. Construction of a railway line near Sindanglaja. Hundreds of people had to travel to Sindanglaja by train every day. The Jap had promised them mountains of gold, more and better food! To achieve this, they had to stay together in a barracks. So, barracks were evacuated, the railway workers moved to the empty barracks, the former residents were distributed throughout the camp and took their place.

It was decided that the barracks commander and the food distributor had to stay. And so I got a barrack full of new people and also better and more food, as the Jap had promised. At first, we got a little more rice and a different kind of soup made from a different kind of ditch water, but all in all it wasn't much.

Fortunately, the war news for us was getting more and more favorable. When the war in Europe ended, which we of course knew from the radio, everyone understood that the end was near. It was high time for many. A dozen funerals a day were not uncommon. The Jap didn't even provide coffins anymore, you just went in a woven mat.


What I have heard about my father is that he organized courses for the boys in his camp, possibly in a different camp than the one described above, so that they would not fall too far behind in their development. There were plenty of men who could provide education in various subjects. However, this had to be done in secret and out of sight of the Japanese. They even took exams. These boys were very grateful to him later. One of them was Joop Tersteeg.

In his memoirs, Pierre wrote about how he discussed with other internees how they could "improve" after the war, not realizing that there would be no life for them in the Dutch East Indies.

Father Pierre also tried to bring Louis and Olav Movig into his camp to take care of them. Louis did not want that, as they were indeed better off in their camp, as later research showed that their camp was the second best.

Een foto van kampgenoten ( “De Gedoeng Badakkers”) tijdens een reünie genomen
Een foto van kampgenoten ( “De Gedoeng Badakkers”) tijdens een reünie genomen

A photo of campmates ("The Gedoeng Badakkers") taken during a reunion, years later in the Netherlands, May 1963