- Contributed by
- People in story:
- inhabitants of the camp
- Location of story:
- Women's work camp Kampong Makassar, Java, Indonesia
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 August 2004
In the third part of Nel’s story where she talks about her experiences in the women’s work camp Kampong Makassar, she only touches upon the horror of the hunger days proclaimed as punishment by the Jap camp head. Rose-of-Java has given us her tongue-in-cheek story in ‘Deadly Manna’ how the exchange between the women’s protest and the Japanese commandant may have taken place. I would like to hook on to this but in a more serious note. Rose can still vividly remember what happened in the camp and may find it more difficult to talk about it. As I was too small to remember and have to rely on my mother’s memories and those of others, it will be a bit easier for me to go a bit deeper .
A good insight of what actually took place and what kind of punishments amused the Japs, can be read below. It is part of my unofficial translation of an extremely moving book by Ko Luijckx called ‘Het Verbluffende Kamp’ (The Baffling Camp) and was originally published in Dutch by AD. M. C. Stok, Zuid-Hollandsche Uitgevers Mij. — Den Haag — year of publication unknown, but assumed to be soon after the end of the war.
Nel, my mother, can verify what has been written in ‘Het Verbluffende Kamp’ and the Hut 14 which is mentioned here was the hut we ‘lived’ in and she was one of the sixteen women concerned.
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“Explosions of punishment (taken from ‘Het Verbluffende Kamp’)
In the evening of 27 April  it was announced that the following morning, at ten o’clock, the residents of the upper huts — also those who were bedridden — would have to fall into line on the field, together with all their luggage, amongst which the cabin-trunks, all neatly packed. The general opinion was that we were going on transport again.
On the 28th the Japs arrived at eleven with the order: ‘only one suitcase per family!’
In that suitcase the most necessary items had to be packed. As many did not possess a
case, one of the Japs gave the permission to pack one cabin-trunk per large family. Another Jap hastened to countermand that, so re-packing once more.
At twelve o’clock some food was handed out, on a field without any shadow in the burning sun. Finally at three o’clock the gents started their inspection of the cases and at seven hut 14 was dismissed, together with what they could carry in one go. Nobody was allowed to help. The remainder of the luggage stayed behind on the field and would be taken to the ‘gudangs’ (storage barracks) the following day.
Hut 14 was forbidden any contact with the rest of the camp. Mattresses and tubs, which also had been dragged outside, were allowed inside again for the night.
The following day bits of bamboo were missing from hut 14, where the building squad was at work. The building Jap was furious. It also turned out that some cases from other huts had been smuggled inside hut 14. The order followed: ‘within ten minutes the hut had to be emptied’. Hei-hos (native guards) came to chase the women and children out with sticks; they had to file in front of hut 13. By then many women were too tired and nervous to bring their possessions and had left them.
After standing in the sun for several hours, the ladies were allowed to enter hut 13. As punishment all the cases and small luggage that had been left behind had to stand for days in the rain. After that everything was stored wet inside the gudangs.
Mind! This unlucky hut counted now at least 500 (five hundred!) women and children of whom a great number suffered from dysentery. The long stay in the sun, the dragging of trunks and cases, the packing and re-packing, the fear and the scandalous treatment had shaken many for a long time.
Many women took part in the ‘gedek’ trade, that’s to say, they bought rations through holes in the enclosure, especially eggs and fat and sold those at a great profit in the camp. The Japs often aided the women, for part of the profit or other payment (!?). If a newcomer arrived or if one of the Japs wanted to cross another, a ‘discovery’ followed. That was how around 25 June 1945 two women in Kampong Makassar were caught trading at night. The punishment was very business-like and matter-of-fact:
1. They were put into a detention cell of 1 by 2 meter.
2. They had to lie on the red earth without cover and ‘klambu’ (mosquito net).
This was a severe punishment for Kampong Makassar for, at night and in the morning it would be extremely cold and damp
3. With a Jap, they had to walk past the women kepping ‘tenko’ (roll-call)
(a) dressed in a bra and briefs and with
(b) traces of heavy maltreatment to be seen on their bodies
(c) and they were shorn.
4. Carrying a notice announcing their misdeeds, they had to stand next to the hei-hos at the entrance of the gardens when the women were going or leaving.
5. They were neither permitted to wash nor change.
6. Their rations were curtailed.
7. The punishment took 7 days.
8. For the remainder of their stay in the camp they and all their family members were forbidden to work in any of the duties with the consequences that they no longer could earn any extra rations.
Our own camp leadership did all they could under the difficult circumstances. They organised coats and blankets and ensured they received the normal amount of rations.
It was at this occasion that the Japs staged the witty game of ‘shaving’. They had heard about this punishment from their girlfriends, some of whom were from the camp Tjihapit. The first time they wielded the scissors themselves without any egard,
making sure that their victims were not fit to be seen.
On the 2nd and 3rd July the camp faced two dreadful hunger days. On 1st July the corvee rations were so small and so bad, that sixteen women from hut 14 boldly decided to ‘talk’ to the Jap. [note: these small bread rolls were supposed to weigh 110 grams, but had been reduced to less than 60 grams and were of extreme poor quality] Amongst these women was one of the four doctors, Dr H. The women explained to the camp leader, Mrs S, that they would like to speak with the Japs to ask whether they knew how bad the bread was, which had been delivered by a bakery from town. Moreover, this awful bread was given in too small a portion for the worker of a work camp.
It was a pity that Mrs S took the message to the Jap without an interpreter. When the Jap arrived at the office, many women from the surrounding huts had gathered around, most from curiosity, others to show solidarity. The Jap had the impression this was a beginning of a rebellion. Before everything had been explained, ‘camp punishment’ was ordered:
1. The evening rations for hut 14 had to be returned.
2. The fires in the kitchen and bakery had to be doused immediately
3. Bread and half-cooked food had to be taken to the pigs by the women themselves.
4. The entire camp was given several hunger days. Their food was destroyed in front of them.
‘The Japs never make mistakes and never do anything wrong’, we were assured
repeatedly. To have it pointed out that they had let themselves (perhaps) be deceived by one of their suppliers, was felt as a disparagement to their honour.
The individual punishment for the sixteen women was the same as those who had been caught trading at the ‘gedek’ and took five days.
Again our camp leaders intervened and asked commander Tanaka for blankets for the prisoners, but — according to Tanaka — these women were like cats and dogs: they did not appreciate good food given to them and like cats and dogs could sleep without blankets.
Two of the victims had to be taken to the hospital before the five days had gone by, one of which with severe dysentery. A third, who had a serious abscess in her jaw, was not permitted to consult a doctor. Amongst the victims was also an old lady.
This time the Japs tried to make the shaving of heads a public entertainment on the big field. The hairdressers had to execute this sentence which they of course detested, but had the advantage for those concerned, that it was done properly. The hairdressers even took a chance and left a few centimetres of hair!
The Japs got a taste for this new game. They loudly boasted about it to their friends over the telephone. In the middle of an ordinary conversation with a hut leader, one of the possessed idiots suddenly said ‘I hope we shave at least 100 women!’ But even for him the capitulation came too soon!
Understandably, the sixteen punished women suffered most from the thought that their well-meant protest had had such terrible consequences for their camp mates.
Sometimes, when we talk again about these hunger days, we again feel, involuntary, that miserable feeling of disgust and weakness. The punishment was stipulated carefully: several days without food or drink for the entire camp, including the hospital; nobody was permitted to leave their huts; nobody was allowed to bathe; nobody was allowed to do the laundry.
To prevent sabotaging these orders, the Japs had shut off the water where possible.
We tried to take the blow as well as we could. In all huts the women were advised to move as little as possible and especially to keep the children calm. Only a few amongst us had some rations left apart from some pieces of the unsurpassed ‘bungkil’[a by product used for pig feed and fertiliser for the gardens, pressed in small cakes]. But because we had hardly any water to wash this fodder, we could only soak it, because there was no fire either too roast it. It made many of us vomit.
We took care of the children first by giving them an occasional little spoonful of sugar or a minuscule slice of stale bread.
Worst of all was that the hospital too had to share this scandalous punishment. The
nurses achieved the near impossible. The first night they stole the remainder of dough
from the bakery, the only thing the Japs had forgotten to throw to the pigs. From
that dough they baked small pancakes and made porridge on a small electric plate.
A long and tiring job. All the nurses stayed on their post day and night without any
There was dead silence in the entire camp. We caught ourselves whispering. Most children were totally apathetic, hardly complaining or wining. How long would ‘several days’ take, we asked ourselves, but everybody bore themselves splendidly.
Finally, after fifty hours, the news came at ten o’clock in the evening: ‘all shifts to their post immediately’. The exhausted women did not let themselves stopped by weakness and within a quarter of an hour the fires burnt high in kitchen and bakery. Children were woken up en did not understand why mummy cried.
At twelve midnight everybody had enjoyed tea with sugar, bread and half an egg, ‘pisang’ (banana) and ‘djeruk’ (orange). The kitchen and the ‘toko’ (shop) had been admirably busy for this achievement.
The regularly returning punishments we can now regard as Jap jokes compared with previous punishment explosions. One evening, one of the women on ‘tenko’, being distracted, bowed a second too late. The 180 women and children from the same hut had to stay in the cold from half past seven till midnight. They had not had their evening meal yet.
One of the favourite shows was to let one stand for hours in the sun on the scorching field. Hei-hos were present to prevent the women looking for a moment’s rest or trying to find shelter from the sun.
The hardest punishment was the sudden halting of our extra rations, which would arrive via the toko. Up to three times such a delivery, which had just been unloaded, had to be loaded up again and returned on the pretext that we had not bowed deep enough, that a piece of bamboo had disappeared or that the terrain had not been kept clean enough.”
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Yesterday it was 15 August — VJ day. No mention was made as far as I know of this in the media. In Holland a wreath was laid by Prime Minister Balkenende at a monument in The Hague, paid for by the survivors, not by the Government. Is it a wonder that so many of the survivors of the Far East POW camps, both military and civilian, are feeling bitter?
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