Tjideng Camp - 1942 to 1945 

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

 

 

Michel's Musings

 

"“One day one of our play mates - a girl - died. This had a big impact on me. She actually died of malnutrition but we had no idea at the time and could not comprehend this.”

 

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I was just seven years old, in my first year at school, when the Japanese arrived in Indonesia.  I first noticed them when we were at Soekaboemi. Some planes flew overhead and machine-gunned the place. Many people were killed, all civilians. A few days later the Japanese were in Indonesia.

 

Then things started to change. First of all the European soldiers were put into camps and a little later all other European men were rounded up. 

Not long after that all European women and children were also put into prison camps. My mother and us four children lived in our old house in Batavia. All this was soon to stop because we were transported to a camp and could only take the bare minimum.

 

Our camp was Tjideng. It was just a section of the town that was fenced off. Our new house was not in a very nice part of the town. The houses made of sugarcane matting and plastered with cement. Ampasiet it was called. The roofs were baked clay tiles and the floors were cement. They were all of the same in design.

 

I remember not enjoying school very much but as soon as the Japanese arrived school was finished for the next 5 years!

In the beginning we were allowed to go in and out of the camp. Then one day the camp was closed and a pass was needed to go out. The fence was enclosed with bamboo matting so that you could not see out and another fence was erected so you had a double fence with a gap in the middle.

 

The pass to get out of camp became harder and harder to get and only for emergencies till the time came when it was closed for good.  Even for emergencies like operations or accidents no one was allowed outside to see a doctor.  I was very lucky. I fell against a low brick wall and my shinbone became inflamed needing an operation.  I was about one of the last to be allowed to go to hospital for an operation. If I had not had been operated on I would have died.

 

In camp I kept myself busy playing and collecting toys by swapping and bartering and soon I had a lot of toys.  My mother persuaded me to exchange them for food as every time a kid had a birthday his mother wanted a toy so she exchanged it for food.  The only set back was that the food was eaten and my supply of toys was dwindling so the bartering was even harder for me.

 

I also made my own lead soldiers. I had a mould and pinched the lead from the roofs which leaked terribly in the rainy season afterwards.  Soldiers were toys and food so bad luck for the roof. 

 

I never seemed to have a dull time because I was always doing or making things out of nothing. There were lots of other kids in camp so we just played. The most daring thing to do was to skip compulsory line up which was twice a day and try to knock some green mangoes off the tree in camp with a flat stone. If there was line up, or kumpul, all the people were at the assembly so you had a clear go to steal mangoes. The point was if the Japanese found out that you were not at kumpul you were history.

 

Kumpul - standing to attention - was held twice a day and could last until late in the afternoon if we had to be punished.  Everyone had to stand in rows of ten for hours; all the women and children in the afternoon sun. .

 

I also made a veggie garden and planted a sort of spinach that grew very fast .It was not very nice, a bit slimy but it was food. I also managed to get some corn seeds.

 

I  hardly needed supervision  and was pretty free to do whatever I wanted as, after all, we could not go anywhere but within camp and  there were no cars or strangers.  One day one of our play mates - a girl – died. This had a big impact on me. She actually died of malnutrition but we had no idea at the time and could not comprehend this.

 

As time went by food was getting more horrible and harder to get so we ate anything we could lay our hands on till I got dysentery. The cramps in my stomach were so terrible as there was nothing in it. My mother made some very strong tea from the dried leaves. It tasted horrible. The tannin was so bitter but it fixed the diarrhea. I lost a lot of condition and if the war had lasted much longer I most certainly would have died. It is funny but as a kid you adapt a lot better than if you are a grown up. It would have been horrible if my mother had died – the four of us would have been on our own.

 

I also had to do a lot of jobs for my mother like catching water or standing in queues till she came to take over.  Also if we were lucky I had to boil eggs at the kitchen steam overflow pipe. There was at the back of the kitchen a pipe where the excess steam was expelled and we found this a very good way of boiling eggs or other things. I found this out but soon everybody was doing it so you had to queue again. 

 

My mother had a job in the kitchen for a short time.  She noticed that there was a open drain for the floor water to run to the outside. She quickly told me, one day, that I had to go to the back of the kitchen and watch the drain.  I did what I was told and soon there were potatoes rolling down the drain which I picked up and put in my pockets. This was o.k. for a short time till my mother got found out and was reported. She got a severe belting and lost her job in the kitchen.

 

Suddenly one day to our great astonishment we did not have to bow anymore. The Japanese soldiers were completely different - it was as if they were shell shocked.  Only later on did we find out that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan and that Japan had surrendered.  We were still in camp until the English, Scots and Ghurkha soldiers took over from the Japanese.

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