Friday, January 25, 2013

Journey Towards Fields of Gold

“Children and adults may not come near the gedek[bamboo fence].
Mothers will be held responsible......
Do not make holes in the gedek in order to seek contact with the outside world.....
Infractions of these rules will result in beatings or worse”. 
(Posted on the camp noticeboard. Source:  Tjideng Reunion by Boudewyn Van Oort)

The young Hei Ho [Indonesian guard] lowered his rifle as Tikus stumbled, her hand cradling the side of her face as if in further protection from the continued shouting that followed the rifle’s blow.   A piece of spittle landed gratuitously onto the back of her hand, like the twisting of a knife that has already punctured the soul.   Yet she straightened herself and stood, steady, on her two feet.   She looked calmly into the face of the guard, her big eyes reflecting back to him his own sudden recognition:    the bullied had become the bully.

 “In March 1944 the regime in Indonesia changed from civilian to military.  From that point on, civilian internees were registered as Prisoners of War (POWs)”.   The Red Cross has finally replied, and has sent me scanned images of three camp registration cards.      
“Internees were assigned camp numbers.  In March 1944 your family was registered in Bunsho 2 (Bandung region) in the camp Kareës in Bandung.  We know this from the numbers that they were assigned”:
Lowest number
Highest number
Total issued
Camp of issue
Preceding camp, city or Bunsho
March 1, 1944

(Data source: ) 


According to the diary of Anak Bandung’s mother (from the BBC People’s War website forum), Karees was only gedecked in march 1943: “The Japs enclosed our district, Kare-es. We were now really imprisoned. The date was 8 March 1943”.  It is likely to have been after the “operation” (and one month “sick release” from Kamp Tjihapit) in April 1943 that a place was found for my family in Kamp Karees.  
Almost one year later, with the implementation of Military control, came the introduction of the thrice-daily TENKO, or APPEL (Roll call): 
“When on Appel..... everyone has to bow.”
“The bow must be made to 30 degrees from vertical.  The arms should be held straight at the sides”.
(Source:  Tjideng Reunion)
“Kerei!”  the instruction was shouted for everyone to bow forwards.  Mothers quickly guided their children, pushing down on their upper backs, for fear that should they not bow correctly - either at the correct degree or at the right time - they themselves would certainly be punished.  Henny and Lottie tried their best to perform the bow as perfectly as possible for Tikus.

By internee Robson-Augustinian Tineke, from

“Naore!”   and everyone stood upright again, facing forward.  Tikus prayed that her desperate attempts to minimise the swelling on her face earlier that day had been enough. Anything that could be found that was cold or made of metal, she had pushed up against her cheek.  She could not run the risk that these guards, the Japanese soldiers, now snaking slowly amongst them counting their numbers, might see that she had been punished for some kind of transgression, for geddecking, trading for food through the bamboo fence with the indigenous population on the outside.
Michiel Schwartzenberg from the Red Cross continues:  “Around November 29, 1944, they were transferred to Bunsho 1 (Batavia and Buitenzorg region), where they remained until their liberation”. 
“Only one number per Bunsho (region) would have been issued.  If a person was transferred to/from another camp within the same Bunsho, they would have kept the same number.  So we cannot be sure whether they went from Karees to Kamp Makassar directly or first to another camp in Bunsho 1.   But we know from the list of internees that they were in Kamp Makassar on 4th September 1945,  almost three weeks after the end of the war.”
My Oma’s name appears on a list of internees at Kamp Makassar, 4th sept 1945, her Bunsho 1  camp number not completely legible:              14?31
It is almost certain that they were first transported to Kota Paris camp.  From the records of inter-camp transports that exist, there are no direct transports from Karees to Kamp Makassar around this time.  Whilst these lists cannot be presumed to be 100% accurate, they are a useful guide.  Further, Hendy (Henny) has always maintained that they were indeed in Kota Paris at some point. 


Lowest number

Highest number


Camp of issue of POW number

Preceding camp

Nov. 26, 1944





Bandoeng: Tjihapit

Nov. 27, 1944





Bandoeng: Tjihapit

Nov. 28, 1944




Kota Paris

Bandoeng: Kareës






Bandoeng: Kareës






Bandoeng: Kareës
Bunsho I     14831? 14931?  


Arrived to Kota Paris from

Transferred from Kota Paris to






Nov. 28, 1944

Band: Kareës



Sick children, sick women

 Mar. 16, 1945


Bat: Kampong Makassar


KOTA PARIS (taken from full list of transports from 1943 to 1945 - edited)
 (Source: Atlas Japanse Kampen)
Why are we leaving? Are we being punished?  Where will we be taken? For how long? These were the questions left unanswered during the long wait: First watching others leave before them, women and children about which no further word would come;  Then, during the long hours in cramped, stifling and foul conditions in the darkened train carriages  - the windows shuttered closed with bamboo sheeting;  And still the same questions during the final journey to the Camp itself.   Fear of the unknown led to the invention of rumours that they were to be sent to the jungles of Borneo to die or suffer some other gruesome fate.
Cut off from the outside world, they could not have known that they were being used as part of a strategy devised by the weakened Japanese Army to ward off, or minimise the effectiveness of, a potential Allied attack:  They would position the civilian men in the interior (around Bandung and Tjimahi) in order to prevent contact, and possible coordination, with Allied forces.  The women were to be transported to the exterior, to the positions where Allied forces were likely to focus their attack.  Such an operation required increased centralisation of control and that in turn necessitated the concentration of thousands of prisoners of war in fewer, larger camps.     
If my family’s route was Karees – Kota Paris – Kamp Makassar, why then do Henny and Lottie only remember having endured one of these transports? The answer could simply be that a child’s mind had grouped the memory of two equally harrowing experiences together, two experiences shared by Anak Bandung and her mother, Nel:
Life in the camp, however, went on until one day we too received the order to leave. We were told that, the very next day, we must gather on the ‘tenko’ field.......! [Tenko is the gathering of prisoners forming files in order to be counted]........... After an endless wait we had to walk to the station. We were stowed into goods wagons, whereto we had no idea. It was unbelievably hot in the wagons and very dirty, for we had no toilets and no water. Imagine the rest!”....“Thank God we no longer menstruated, a whim of Nature. We could at least leave that stuff behind”.  “Days later we arrived in Buitenzorg, now called Bogor. We then were forced to walk for miles, which was an exhausting journey......... We arrived in camp Kota Paris on 30 November 1944”.  On a journey that, in ordinary times, would have taken just a few hours, due to lack of proper fuel and maintenance, these trains lumbered on for days.
Regarding the second transport four months later, Nel continues “First that long walk to the station, then those stinking cattle wagons again, half standing, half hanging. When we finally arrived in Batavia [Jakarta] we had to walk all the way to the camp Kampong Makassar. It was 17 March 1945”.
What they found there was a working camp - an “Eden” with field upon field of fruit and vegetables.
Women working in the fields.  Drawing by Steensma AM  from
Henny describes the torturous and twisted injustice of being forced, time and again, wide-eyed with hunger, to carry that golden fruit and place it on the graves of those that had died within the camp, in accordance with Japanese custom.  She once concealed some of the fruit to take back to Tikus and Lottie.  “Tikus got walloped for what I did”.  For the dead, that fruit was to feed them on their journey to the next world.  For those still barely living, in this world, it was forbidden.
One of the two journeys might have left a particularly deep impression on Henny and Lottie because of an incident that they both relate independently:
“One woman went completely nuts!  It was very scary for us.  We had never seen anyone like that before. She was totally out of her mind.”
“They just left her, writhing and wailing.......fighting. That sound!”
Some others, however, quietly gave up their fight on those journeys.
At that time, my Oma had no idea that her husband, Hans, a Military POW, had as early as October 1942 already been transported to Jakarta (Batavia) before being sent by ship to the now-notorious Changi prison in Singapore. Those journeys by ship were even more harrowing due to the threat of attack by allied forces, unaware that these POWs were aboard.  At Changi, more than 50,000 Allied (mainly British and Australian) POWs were interned, many of them destined to die working on the infamous Burma Railway or the Sandakan airfield ................ Had she known that then, would she have been able to hold on to enough hope to carry her through? 
My own imminent journey to Jakarta and then on to HK will of course be an altogether different experience.  Whilst I cannot say that I know exactly what lies ahead for me, in the self-indulgent spirit of our times, I have the luxury of fearing potentialities born only out of opportunity and choice, such as digressing from a pre-conceived path or falling short of my own perfectionist ideals.      
 I will also be leaving a motley collection of good friends behind. 
“I can’t believe you are about to leave Bloody Bandung.”  pouts Anya
“I like bloody Bandung..... I’m not so sure I want to go now!”
“Lele, my cat-pisssss, you are not leaving Bandung, you are just going to live somewhere else.” Says Luki
It should have been both of us moving on.  There has been no word regarding the new job in Jakarta and Luki is no longer “waiting”.
“It’s nevermind.....everything always will changing and moving.. same as day change to night, so dark change to light........ “
“What the bloody hell are you on about?”  Mr Jeff laughs but turns to give Anya a knowing look all the same, his hand resting on her swollen belly.
“...... Keep moving and digging and always smile till finding its own fields of gold.....In the end, happiness waiting”.       
“Where DO you get these corny phrases from?!”  I mock despair
“I read on the internet but I change it a bit, for fit the life.”
“Well, I hope you’re right...  I lose my job and we get pregnant.  Things move quickly alright!” says Jeff
 “Do you think it’s going to be a girl or a boy?”    
“A boy!”  I decide summarily... “and he will be so cute..."
“ We have to watch out.  Lele is always threatening to steal little Indonesian babies.   She’s getting right clucky these days!” Jeff teases
“Nah, Lele, she don’t want kids... she always thinking about her career, how she can balance a baby in one hand and her laptop in the other?!”   says Ina.   Luki turns to look at me. He is the only one that sees the words going through my mind as I let out a shallow laugh:   “Cause or effect?”
Apart from Henny who is very talented, most of the people gathered in the Karaoke room on this, my last weekend in Bandung, are a little bit good (but not a lot).  Luki sways to the endless drivel of another Indonesian love song, hand on heart and pained expression focused in my general direction.  “You know, Lili, it good you don’t understand what he singing.  I think, he really love you”  says Anya.  “Come on Luki, enough of this Indonesian, soppy bollocks!” Jeff shouts as he quickly punches in a series of codes and prepares for a second bout of Linkin Park and feigned constipation.   Luki continues, swaying exaggeratedly and smiling stubbornly.      
Chris, meanwhile, is sitting to one side, quietly contemplative.  Her boyish physique, tattoos and baseball cap are somehow not incongruous with her dental braces, sweet smile and gentle nature.  She has “broken heart “ with yet another girlfriend.  “She too nice – and she always finding the beautiful, bitchy ones, the ones who also flirting with the men – to get something more, like prostitute.”  Now, sporting a new tattoo, she is living once again with her old roommate, Henny.  “When you come back from Hong Kong, bring back a nice girl for Chris!  She always want find a Bule [foreign] girlfriend!”
With a little encouragement -  and a large helping of self-mockery -  I finally put in my own brief and hesitant performance.  Come on Lele, No one will blame you if you are only a little bit good”.
Here, in this room, with these friends, I am reminded of a poem that someone once gifted to me:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
 (WILD GEESE by Mary Oliver)
Before I head “home” again, there is one more curiosity that I have to satisfy.    Poryana, my colleague from work, has organised for me to receive a visit at my flat from the Orang Pintar ....the “Clever one”...... a so-called white Dukun...................


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