Tjideng Camp - 1942 to 1945 

(a women and children's internment camp in Batavia)

 

 

Hetty's Story

 

"Much sickness was caused by poor sewerage and the women had to ladle the overflow of the cesspits into open drains which became a source of constant infection. Many women and children had open sores on their ankles and legs from infected cuts and the bacteria caused skin ulcers."

 

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We were living at Billitonweg 26, Batavia, at the time of the Pearl Harbour attack. Following the surrender to the Japanese in March 1942 we lived under house arrest.

The Japanese rounded up all the men and boys over 12. My father who had been a member of the Stadswacht/Civil Defence was separated from his family and sent to Struiswijk, an old prison on the outskirts of Batavia.  Although we had limited contact we never saw him again. He died on September 18th,1944 when the Japanese transport ship Junyo Maru torpedoed off the coast of Sumatra.

We, my mother, brother and I, were transferred to Camp Kramat in November 1942. I was 6 years old.

In August 1943, we heard that we were moving to another camp and would have to leave everything behind except our bedding and clothes. At the thought of moving I became physically ill and had a temperature. We went by betjaks (tricycle taxis) to our new camp – Tjideng - in a working class suburb of Batavia.

Here the administration of the camps changed from civil to military and this is when the horrors began.

We were put into a large house in Laan Trivelli with many other families. It was a double storey house and I believe that there were about 35 – 40 people living there. We had our own little pad, curtained off by some material (maybe sheets hung from a cupboard to the wall). I remember the cupboard had a hole in the back panel and every time my mother or I changed I saw the eye of a peeping tom, a boy who later on left the camp when he was 12.

I had whooping cough there.

Education was totally forbidden by the Japanese but there were many teachers in the camp who gave lessons in return for bread. This had to be done in secret and someone had to stand guard and whistle when a Japanese guard came near the place where we had ‘school’. We learned the three ‘Rs’ and used slates or tiles with little pieces of lead from the roofs of houses as pencils.

The women in the house, realising they had to live together in very cramped quarters with the children, immediately made up a set of rules regarding the washing of clothes, general cleanliness and behaviour towards each other. Cooking was done in the central kitchen and food was fetched in turn by two women for the whole house. No cooking was allowed in the houses. When my mother became so very ill in the last year and a half of our imprisonment I did all her chores: e.g. washing clothes (no soap), collecting the food for the house with another person. On one occasion I stumbled and fell and the hot soupy ‘meal’ burnt one arm very badly. It was a very serious burn.

The toilets ceased to work because of the overcrowding and ‘chamber pots’ (old tins) had to be emptied daily. Water, after a while, was no longer available from the household taps and had to be fetched daily from a central point.

Talking about water reminds me of the rain storm we had one day. It poured and poured down and because of the blocked drains it had nowhere to go but into the houses and streets until the water was so high, a banjir/flood, that the children began to swim in it. My mother gave in after I nagged her to allow me to also go into the water. Trees had fallen down and I climbed up one of them and sat high up in the branches overlooking the scene.

Towards the end of the first year in Tjideng the houses of the camp were isolated from the rest of the world by means of a high fence of barbed wire and platted bamboo -  ‘gedek’ - to keep us from looking out and making contact with the outside world. There was no more official trading after the first year. This did not stop us children from sliding somehow under the gedek and getting out of the camp to do some trading. An old blouse or pair of shoes for bananas, papaya, and sometimes a few eggs even a chicken now and then. The penalties for discovery were very severe!

We moved house another 4 times after Laan Trivelli:  Ampasiet B, Ampasiet D, Tjioedjoeng Weg and Ampasiet A. With each move conditions became more cramped. The reason for the constant moving was because whole streets would be cut off from the camp area, making the camp smaller and smaller and the houses more and more crowded. Our mattresses had to be reduced in size and were eventually about 30 cms. wide. I was known to sleep with one arm up in the air. 

In our second house my mother was chosen as the head of the house the “Kapala”. This meant being in charge of delegating all the jobs that had to be done as well as being responsible for the behaviour of the women and children towards the Japanese officers. She also had to sort out strife between the women. she was good at that. She also had to organise the work shifts. I felt very proud of her I remember.

We had to grow vegetables, dig and plant – I also remember doing that, as young as I was.  My mother loved a ‘cigarette’ now and then but since there were no matches to be had she we would send me to find a light somewhere. In order to keep her cigarette burning I used to take a draw on the way back. Sometimes I came back with half a cigarette the rest I had smoked myself.

I had to knit socks for the Japanese soldiers for which we were rewarded with a piece of sugar. It was the only sweet I ever tasted in the 3 ˝ years. This put me off knitting for the rest of my life.

Twice a day we got ‘bread’ which was hard and transparent. Each person got 5 cms. The mothers made soups out of tea with spices in it.

Every day there was roll-call or ‘tenko’. This meant standing to attention any time of the day in the hot sun or at night for long periods of time while counts were made of those present. The soldiers often made a mess of this and hence we had to endure lengthy periods of waiting till they got it right. The camp commander also used these occasions to carry out house inspections and to search for illegal goods or anything they fancied for themselves.

I had a teddy bear in camp and my mother hid a few pieces of  jewellery and some money in its tummy. I had to carry that teddy bear with me whenever we had ‘tenkos’ or house inspections. I do remember often being afraid.

By now we had no more outside contact and got just 2 ‘meals’ a day.

Much sickness was caused by poor sewerage and the women had to ladle the overflow of the cesspits into open drains which became a source of constant infection. Many women and children had open sores on their ankles and legs from infected cuts and the bacteria caused skin ulcers. I was one of them and had to have my sores washed out and bandaged regularly. There was very little medication left in the end. I also needed dentistry. My teeth would be drilled without anaesthetic with blunt drills and then filled – with what ? When we were back in Holland I had to go on endless trips to the dentist to get the proper fillings for my teeth.

There was much more overcrowding and maltreatment during the last year of the war when it was under the brutal regime of Lieutenant Kenichi Sonei. If women refused to bow to the Japanese they were hit to the ground and often had their hair shaven off. The worst punishment was to be bound to a chair outside at the camp entrance gate and have to sit for 48 hours in the sun and through the night without food and drink. At full moon Sonei would order the whole camp – including the sick – to attend roll call or tenko where he made everyone stand in attention for him. He would then make the women and children bow down to him time upon time again. If he was not satisfied he would cut the food rations. He was a sadist and after the war ended he was executed as a war criminal.

Mother became very ill during the final year suffering from dysentery and beriberi. Her legs were so swollen from oedema that she could no longer walk. She lay on her bed and every few hours I had to turn her over by holding her by her hip bone – there was only bone to hold like a hand grip - and pull her over to lie on the other side to prevent bed sores. Many mothers died in the camps because they gave much of their rations to their children who were always hungry. My mother did not go along with this saying that she needed to stay alive for her children so my brother and I gave part of our rations to our mother. However she weighed a mere 41 kilograms when liberated!!

The war ended in August l945 following the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the women and children had to wait in Tjideng camp till December for transport back to Holland. This was due in part to having nowhere else to go but also for safety reasons as the Indonesian nationalists resisting the Dutch efforts to reassert their colonial rule were threatening the former prisoners. The irony was that this protection was sometimes provided by the same Japanese soldiers who had previously been prison guards and were now under Allied Command.

Click here to go to the TJIDENG CAMP main page to read more about this camp.