Tjideng - A Prison Camp for Woman
Exactly on my 21st birthday, my mother one brother and I, together with all the Dutch women and children from all over the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), were put behind barbed wire and bamboo fences by the Japanese. My father, who was in the Army reserve, and another brother who was then 17 years old, had already been taken prisoner.
We were living in Batavia (now Jakarta), and the detention camp was established in a suburb on the outskirts of the City. We were accommodated in the houses that existed - as many as could possibly be crammed into a house - we slept usually on mattresses on the floor - even in the kitchen. We were "fortunate" that as we already lived in Batavia, we were allowed to bring as much luggage as could be stored underneath our beds, which we were also allowed to take with us. One way of having more space to store things under our beds was to raise our beds on blocks, which we did.
The first year was not too had as we were under an economic administration and the camp commandant was a kind man - even interceding and defending us against bad rulings. He loved music and even encouraged musical entertainment choirs and even Church services. We were also allowed visitors at this time. We had at this time, other privileges; including being allowed to cook for ourselves, to buy essentials from a local shop, and meat and vegetables from the market. The Commandant was also lenient with regard to attending roll-call twice daily - one could miss roll-call if not well.
Unfortunately, all too soon the administration changed to a military one arid all our privileges were lost. Food was rationed and we had to hand in our money. Roll-call became compulsory and was called at any time of the day or night and we often stood for hours in the dark while the soldiers searched our belongings for money, weapons and anything else decreed to be "forbidden". Large communal kitchens were built and the quality of food deteriorated and we were always hungry. Breakfast was a gluey, had sago with very little nutritional value. Lunch and dinner was a handful of rice and vegetables that were the left-overs from the markets and were often more water than vegetables. When there were no left-overs; we were given water lillies, sometimes with the flowers still on the stalks, which the women in the kitchen made edible with the use of herbs. The only "meat" we had was a sort of pate made from animal intestines and most of us were really happy when that was on the menu! We used to search for snails to give to the sick in place of egg whies. We also had 4 slices of "bread" and as I was in a working party I would receive and extra slice a day which I shared with my mother, and 2 other women who shared our room. One job that had to be done weekly was emptying the cesspit which we did by using a small tin on the end of a long stick. One woman asked me to do her "duty" and she gave me her bread ration in exchange. Water was obtained from a slowly dripping tap and was caught in a bucket - a long and tedious job and lack of water added to our difficulties in the hot climate.
At first the military commandant sent all males 15 years old and over to the men's camp, and later he dropped the age to 11. At the first the very old men who were in our camp were cared for by nuns - later they were placed outside the compound and left to their fate.
All the women over 16 years of age were in the labour force - repairing the fences, collecting the garbage and dig the holes to bury it. One girl would stand in the cart drawn by a horse, 2 girls 'assisted' the horse and another pushed the cart. We didn't have a horse at all! We had to draw the cart ourselves.
When new internees arrived we had to search their belongings, and if we had missed anything and it was found by the soldiers in their search, we would be beaten - not just one searcher, but all.
Fencing included digging holes in the asphalt for the posts and stringing and restringing the barbed wire. We al also unloaded trucks that brought the foodstuffs – two girls would stand on the truck and load the bags onto our shoulders to he carried to the storeroom, also the fire wood had to be carried to the kitchens. Of course we also had to bow to the soldiers and even to the trucks if they passed us – not doing so resulted in a savage beating and kicking. On one occasion when a woman did not bow, the commandant I made us dig a hole and bury the bread and he kicked over the food in the kitchen and made us go without any food for 3 days. The death rate was 6 - 10 women and children a day. No hats were to be worn on roll-call, nor sunglasses. One woman who forgot to take off the latter received severe concussion from the beating she got.
With no church services allowed, sermons were circulated. However, this was found out and all nuns, minister's wives and other "guilty" had to stand in the sun for hours and were then sent to another camp. On September 8, 1944 all the Jewish women and children were removed. We never found out what happened to them.
Once we were betrayed by Indonesian soldiers in Japanese employ - we had asked them how things were outside - and it was only the intercession of our group leader that stopped about 20 of us having our beads shaved - a punishment that befell many others.
That and other memories I cannot forget.