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My Experiences in Japanese Concentration Camps on Java, Indonesia.

by johan rijkee

Contributed by 
johan rijkee
People in story: 
J.E.H. Rijkee
Location of story: 
Java, Indonesia
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 June 2005


My experiences in Japanese Concentration Camps on Java, Indonesia (former Dutch East Indies)
1941 — 1945

J.E.H. Rijkee


At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour, on the 7th of December 1941, we were living near the town of PALEMBANG in the South of Sumatra, Indonesia.

My father was an engineer working for the SHELL.
Soon after Pearl Harbour, women and children were evacuated to Java. My father had to stay behind to assist in destroying the oil installations. My mother, sister and myself traveled first by train and then by ship to Java.

We crossed the Strait of Sunda between Sumatra and Java and had to stay on deck with our life jackets on for the duration, the reason being the danger of Japanese submarines.

Our journey ended in the town of MALANG in East Java, where three weeks later my father joined us.

In MALANG we stayed in a house with another family who had two older boys.
During the air raid warning we sheltered in the garage and through the side door we could see in the distance the dog fights over the Malang Air base.

After the war I read that SABURO SAKAI,one of Japans famous fighter pilots, fought over this air base.

In June 1942 my father was picked up to be interned in a concentration camp for men.
Later that year we were interned in DISTRICT MALANG (a housing estate surrounded by a barbed wire fence)

I have carried out some research at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King’s College, London.
I used the SALEX MASTIFF Report written by Wing Commander T.S. Tull M.B.E. which is at this centre. As Officer in charge of a parachuting team he was dropped at Magelang, Central Java. His orders were to safeguard and help the 24000 APWI's (Allied Prisoners of War and Internees) until the arrival of the Allied Forces to accept the Japanese surrender.
This report gives an accurate description of our liberation by the British.

The abbreviation CIC ( Civil Internment Camp) denotes the official numbering of the Japanese Camps all over the Pacific.

CIC 289: DISTRIC MALANG (Housing Estate) East Java

This was our first internment camp and we stayed there from July 1942 until November 1943.
In this camp we were living in a house with several other families.

The food situation was gradually getting worse but we still had a bit of privacy and space.

In November 1943 we were transferred to
CIC 254: KARANGPANAS in SEMARANG (North Coast of Central Java)


Although the distance was only 500 miles the train took two days to get to
SEMARANG. We had only hand luggage and hardly any food or water with us. During the journey the train would stop for hours on end in the searing heat.
A lot of people became ill and because it was so crowded you could not move or
use the bathroom.

When we reached KARANGPANAS camp I was mentally so affected by this journey that I was brought to a make-shift “hospital”.
This “hospital” was just an empty room without any furniture.

Since our other luggage never arrived, I and many others, had to lay on the
cement floor.
After three weeks I was allowed to leave the “hospital” and join my mother and sister in a barrack.

In the barrack there was a long continuous plank bed alongside both walls. Each person was allocated 20 inch (50 cm) of space. No more space or privacy.
This was a real concentration camp.
The food situation was terrible and you never knew when food would be next handed out.

In this camp a lot of the men were already very old and since they were dying like flies my mother managed to obtain mattresses for us.
The dead were carried to the make-shift morgue on a stretcher covered with a white sheet and when I asked what was happening I was told that the person was asleep.

For the rest of the war we had to make do with only our hand luggage.

In June 1944 we were transferred by bus to
CIC 256: CAMP 6 AMBARAWA - (Central Java)

CIC 256: CAMP 6 AMBARAWA - (Central Java)

This camp was better organized than the previous one. However it was a very crowded camp. Space per person was now 18 inches (45 cm).
The food situation was still very bad but at least they gave you something twice a day.

Many times we were chased out of the barracks, when the Japanese wanted to search for forbidden articles such as money, pencils, paper, diaries, gold items etc.
I managed to hide my father’s signet ring by putting it on one of my toes and covering it with dirt or mud.

Since by this time the older boys were sent to the camps for men, all the menial jobs were done by the younger ones.
This was the only camp where I had to work. The hardest job was cutting grass between the barracks which was done by using a kitchen knife. One day when I was cutting grass I put my knife down for a moment to rest. Somebody then stole my knife, which was a major disaster because my mother had now only one knife left.

The lightest but most frightening job was sweeping the Japanese quarters near the gate. Not only were the Dutch inmates punished there but also Indonesians from outside the camp.

One day while I was sweeping, two Japanese were beating an Indonesian gentleman with bamboo sticks. When the blood was pouring out of his mouth one Japanese got an old food tin to collect the blood. They then forced the man to drink his own blood.

Another time when I was sweeping the Japanese Commander’s bedroom, he came rushing in and ushered me outside pointing to a high flying British or U.S. war plane. He then forced me to hide under his bed. I suppose he wanted to convince me that the plane was the real enemy.
When I finished cleaning his bedroom he gave me a biscuit.

In May 1945 we walked with our belongings to
CIC 262: AMBARAWA 8 - (Central Java)

CIC 262: AMBARAWA 8 - (Central Java)

This was a work camp for making rope.

However the situation became so bad food wise that not many people were able to work.
My mother became seriously ill and had given up. My sister and I had to fend for ourselves.

Then the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

We did not know what was happening in the world. The food situation suddenly improved and my mother pulled through.

On the 22nd of August the camp commander held a speech in the Indonesian language which I could understand. He told us that the Emperor of Japan had the pleasure in telling us that he had decided to end the war.

When the gate was opened there was a crowd of local Indonesian people to welcome us.
I was adopted by an Indonesian couple. They gave me extra food and I could have a shower every day.

My father managed to reach our camp thanks to the Red Cross.

However after a couple of weeks the Muslim Militia was infiltrating the area. They were forcing the Indonesian population to stop helping us. In those days these Militia were called extremists or permoeda’s, nationalists, T.K.R. Indo’s etc.

They all had their own agenda and sometimes were fighting each other. It became very dangerous to leave the camp. Many people who did were kidnapped and murdered. The Japanese were ordered to protect us. When the English troops landed a real shooting war started with tanks, planes(Typhoons) heavy guns etc.

The Japanese under the command of Major KIDO fought shoulder to shoulder with the British against the Indonesian uprising. The seven camps in and around Ambarawa were attacked by thousands of Idonesian rebels which prevented any food transport. Because of this we were supplied by Dakota's dropping food containers by parachutes.
This is all described in Wing Commander T.S. TULL’S report.

On the 22nd of November 1945 the Indonesian rebels broke through the camp perimeter and herded the camp inmates with their arms above their heads, to the central area where they started shooting and throwing hand grenades into the crowd. A lot of people were killed or wounded but miraculously my family and I survived this attack without a scratch.
When they heard the engine noise of a British tank coming to our aid, they all fled being so afraid of Gurkha soldiers.

After this horrendous attack in Camp 8 (see Tull report — Part four “Total War” page 13) the fighting was so severe that it took two days before the dead could be buried in a mass grave. The British caught one attacker of the atrocity. He was placed in the middle of the field with bound hands and feet, where he was kicked by the camp inmates.

To shorten the defense perimeter we were moved to the pre-war hospital (camp 7) near the center of Ambarawa. For days on end heavy fighting went on all around us. Next to our building a British 25 pounder gun was continually firing.

Every time the gun fired my father started counting until he could hear the muffled impact. In this way one could work out if the enemy was coming nearer or retreating.
Looking back on this I realize now that this was my first awareness of the travel of sound waves.

The Indonesians were firing back with mortars and 75 mm guns (ex. Dutch army)
One day we had a direct hit. The roof caved in and you could see the blue sky. Again we were lucky and were only slightly wounded.
The tailfin of a mortar grenade hit my knee and when I touched it, it was very hot. Unfortunately I had to hand this tailfin over to a British Officer who came to investigate the incident for intelligence purposes.

In December when the British managed to open the road to the coast, we were evacuated in a heavy armoured convoy to Semarang. In Semarang the fighting was less severe. I will never forget that, in spite of the fighting, the British and Gurkha soldiers organized a marvelous Christmas party for the Ambarawa children. I was given a Meccano set No.1 which was over-whelming after years of suffering.

On the 28th of December we boarded a landing craft and sailed to a British commando-assault ship which was to take us to Ceylon. For safety it was moored a long way from shore. On our way we passed two British war ships (Sussex and Caprice) who were giving ground support.
When we reached our ship we were hoisted up and given a corned beef mash potato meal.
The first good warm meal in years.

During the voyage to Colombo the ship's crew organised entertainment for the children. Also a lot of films and cartoons were shown.

After staying three months in Kandy, Ceylon, at the former headquarters of Lord Mountbatten, we were transported in a Dutch troop ship to Amsterdam. We stopped before the SUEZ CANAL and were then transported by train into the Egyptian desert. We were welcomed in a British army camp by a music band consisting of German prisoners of war from General Rommel’s “Africa Corps”. These German POW's also operated a make-shift playground and handed out sweets.

Also winter clothing and shoes were distributed. After walking bare feet for three years it was strange to wear shoes again.

On the 5th of May 1946 we arrived in Amsterdam. We consider this date our Liberation Day.
After sixty years I still remember all the good people who were so friendly to us. The local Indonesian population, the british soldiers and ghurka's, the british sailers and last last but not least the german POW's. Even the japenese commander had a weak moment when he gave me a biscuit.

These were my experiences of the Pacific War.

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