How I Lost My Best Friend
Elizabeth van Kampen
When you drive from Jakarta through Bandung and Yogyakarta to Surabaya over the island Java, you will pass from one little village into the next one. All along that road you will see the Bougainvillaea showing her beautiful flowers, you will see those nice rice-fields with the volcanoes in the background. Words are not enough to describe this picture of beauty. Indonesia, the country where I grew up, the country I always find back in all my dreams, the country where I lost my best friend.
Bougainvillaea all along the road
Taken September 1996
I feel very privileged to have had the chance to grow up in those wonderful paradisiacal surroundings.
My father, was 22 years young when he went to Indonesia in 1920, he was
an engineer working for the Dutch KPM/ Java-China-Japan Line. He studied furthermore in Indonesia and partly in Holland.
My Mother, Father and I
In 1925 he went for his study to Holland and there he met my mother.
They married in June 1926 and I was born in April 1927.
In 1928, the three of us went to Indonesia, I was then 1.5 years old.
My father had found a job on a coffee and rubber plantation on the island Sumatra, as the technical adviser.
My father and I
Much later my father told me that he was very surprised about how quickly I had adapted myself to the life in Indonesia.
I had come from Holland as a little Dutch girl, spoiled by her grandparents, into a totally different world.
Sumatra is one of the most beautiful islands of Indonesia. Or must I say was? Because today thousands of trees are cut or burnt down.
The Sumatrans never worked in our houses so in those days the Dutch imported the Javanese to become their home-servants. It must have been lonely and difficult for them, Sumatra is different from Java.
In 1934 the whole world fell into a big economic crisis.
The firm in Holland my father worked for had to close down, all employers were discharged. My mother, my younger sister and I went to Holland, my father went to Java to look for another job. Luckily he found one right away.
My mother stayed for 10 months in Holland which was very bad for my school-life, since I had to switch over from one school to an other in such a short time. First in the town where my mothers parents lived and then to the town where my fathers parents lived, all the time I missed my father.
When at last we were going back home, my grandparents stood there very sad waiting for the boat to leave, taking us away from them. My grandfather (fathers father) asked me if I wasn’t sorry to leave Holland and I answered:
“No, I am going to my daddy” He said; “ Oh that is very sweet of you, I will write this to your daddy”.
Prins der Nederlanden
We sailed on the ship the Prins der Nederlanden to Indonesia, I celebrated my 8th birthday and I was going home, this time to the most wonderful island in Indonesia, Java!
Of course I had to go to school again, so I had to leave my parents and had to stay in a boarding house in Tasikmalaya. The plantation was too far from school. This lasted only 6 months but to me it seemed much longer!
After those long 6 months we went to the most loveliest town ever, we went to Malang.
Going to a boarding house was no longer a problem. I could come home every Saturday afternoon and back to Malang every Monday morning at 5 a.m.
Our schools began at 7.30 a.m. and ended at 1 pm. The schools in Indonesia were very good, we learnt much more about Asia than the children in Holland and at the same time we also learnt the same as the Dutch children. So our Basic School took us one year longer than in Holland.
My old boarding-school in Malang
Taken October 1996
My life between Malang and the plantation was a real paradise on earth. In Malang I had my friends, my schoolmates and my swimming-pool. I became a good swimmer.
On the plantation I learnt horse-riding on my mountain horse. I went to the Kampung ( a small Indonesian village in a town or on a plantation). I loved to listen to their Indonesian music, some played guitar and others sang. And I always received something sweet to eat.
Indonesians are very generous and hospitable!
I used to walk for hours over the plantation with my father. We talked a lot, he was my best friend, the best friend I ever had. My father was born in Holland but he knew a lot about the Indonesians and their country. Oh yes, he loved Indonesia, but unlike me, Holland was his motherland. To me Holland was just the country from my parents and grandparents.
I had become a part of Indonesia, to me it was my mother country. If there had not been that terrible World War, I know that I would still be living in Indonesia.
In 1940 Germany occupied Holland. My parents, all our parents, were extremely worried about their motherland and specially their family. They were frustrated for they couldn’t do anything to help them.
Then Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, our lives in Indonesia began to change slowly but surely. Together with our Dutch Army we saw British, American and Australian soldiers everywhere.
From left to right, my sister Henny, Cora a friend, Puck my youngest sister and me, the eldest and tallest one, at the age of fifteen years old.
Our parents and teachers told us that the Dutch would fight till the last man, never would we give Indonesia to Japan.
I was almost 15 years old when the Japanese soldiers walked into Malang.
My sister and I were at our boarding-school when we first saw them.
We had lost the war against Japan.
We went to the plantation , the Japanese had closed all our schools and Dutch became a forbidden language.
The Indonesian police came to put seals upon all the radios from the Dutch living in Indonesia.
We were completely cut off from the rest of the world for 3½ years long. All the Dutch soldiers and marines were put into camps. Later on many of them were transported to Burma and Sumatra to work on the infamous railways. Others were transported to Japan to work in the mines. Thousands men died of hunger of malaria, dying in deep misery. Some of the transport ships were bombed by accident by the Americans or the British, most of the those poor men drowned.
My father had to bring his car to the nearby police-post. It was no longer his car, it belonged to the Japanese Army. My father did not receive any papers telling that he had delivered his car, some Indonesians were laughing, the white master had to hand over his car to the Japanese Army. My dad and I had to walk all the way back home, my father had tears in his eyes, he was very worried about what was going to happen to his wife and his daughters!
My father, like all Dutch, had to pay 150 guilders for his “new” Japanese identity card and 80 guilders for my mothers card, in those days a fortune. This was of course pure theft.
He had to work for an extremely very small salary, but at least we were still free.
In February 1943 my father had to leave the plantation. He asked me to look after my mother and my two younger sisters until the war was over and he could come back.
16th of April 1943, it was my sixteenth birthday and I was allowed to visit my father in his camp in Malang. Of course I was not allowed to go inside but we could speak in Malay under the surveillance of an Indonesian guard who kept a distance between my father and me of two meters. We were allowed to speak for 10 minutes. I told my dad that everything was still fine on the plantation.
It was the last time I saw my father. with that last gentle smile on his face, it was his present for my 16th birthday.
Only 8 years earlier I had told my grandfather that I was going back to my daddy.
June 1943 my mother, my two sisters and I, had to leave the plantation.
Rasmina our beloved old cook started crying, Karto the head-superintendent who was from now on in charge of the plantation Sumber Sewu stood at attention and all the other Indonesians around us did the same: “ Hormat ( respect) to Mr. and Mrs.van Kampen” he said.
My mother started crying and I had tears in my eyes, she handed Karto the keys of our small but oh so happy house. We left with four rucksacks, leaving everything behind us, including my mountain-horse, the two adorable little white dogs Molly and Dolly, our sweet cats, the birds, the rabbits and the fowls. We had lost everything. This cosy small house was no longer our home, my poor mother couldn’t stop crying.
We were brought into a camp for women and children in Malang, this camp was not really bad.
November 1943: my mother received the message that my father had been taken out of his camp and was brought to the Kempeitai prison in Malang. He had been hiding weapons and munitions. My father had been appointed as a Land-guard for several plantations through the Dutch East Indies Army. Since he was very technical I guess that he also helped with blowing up some bridges. My father was like all the others optimistic about the war against Japan. America would win that war of course, but when ?
We never received any papers about a legal process or anything else telling us what happened to my father, the Red Cross also couldn’t give us any information.
February 1944 we ( mother, sisters and I ) were dumped into trucks and we drove through Malang to the station. All along the road were many very young Indonesians laughing and were calling us names. Of course the white masters were now nothing more but slaves to the Japanese Army. I bent my head , my eyes were full of tears.
I felt terribly sad that very day, because all this happened in Malang, the town I loved so much, my school, my friends, the town of my youth.
The train would take me further away from my father, what a horrible world.
We were brought by train, in goods vans, but without food and without anything to drink 24 hours long in the sun, to Ambarawa, Central Java. From there we were transported to Banyu Biru. Our concentration-camp Banyu Biru camp 10 was an old prison full of dirt and vermin.
The four of us had to go into a one person cell. We received extremely little food, we could hardly wash ourselves nor our clothes, there was not enough water for so many people.
I had to work outside the camp, as from now on I was a slave from the Japanese Army .
All day long I had to load and unload heavy big stones working on the land. I had to bring heavy cases on cavalry wagons to the station of Ambarawa about one hour walking from Banyu Biru and of course one hour back. It was a very hard job.
Most of the Indonesians we passed on the road felt sorry for us, but of course there was no contact, that was strictly forbidden.
Every two weeks I had a malaria attack, I had tropical abscesses underneath my feet and in the end I also suffered from oedema. My mother too had malaria and an other type of oedema, my younger sister had jaundice and the youngest one also had malaria and she became completely apathetic. She lost a part of her memory, she can not remember my father or the places where we used to live before the war.
Daily I prayed in myself, asking God to protect my parents and my sisters.
Begging to stop this horrible war for the whole situation was so inhuman, we were all completely lost in a sadistic and very racial discriminating world.
I have seen very brave women who gave me reason to stay optimistic. I have seen little boys been taken away from their mothers and been sent to a camp for men only. They stood there on a truck, 10 years old leaving their mothers while their fathers were somewhere else maybe in Burma or maybe dead. I have seen women losing their minds through all their grieves I have seen some girls and young women been taken away as “Comfort women” to the Japanese brothels. I have seen how women have been beaten up so badly that almost all their bones were broken. I can still hear the screaming in my head, we all had to stand there to watch. I have seen three women been hanged 12 hours long under the burning tropical sun, with their hands tied up on their backs. We had to watch all the time with tears in our eyes .I have seen it daily how little children died of hunger and mothers who stood there with no tears left in their eyes when their dead children were carried out of the camp.
My mother, sisters and I became sicker every day, specially the last 6 months.
We were the victims of hatred of racism and sadism and that is very difficult to understand when you are a teenager, nothing more than a schoolgirl.
We couldn’t understand Japanese, so they screamed louder and louder, only sometimes we had a interpreter.
Every morning we had to bow for the emperor Hirohito, bow for the Japanese Army and we were so terrible tired, many of us could hardly stand up straight.
During the last six months about six to seven people a day died in our camp. In our concentration-camp 5500 women and children were kept as prisoners, although the prison was built for 500 persons only.
Each time there was less to eat, less place to sleep, and we tried so hard to get those lice out of our hair, tried to kill all those bugs. We tried to sleep as much as we could, but every two weeks I was put on night duty from 2 a.m. till 4 .a.m.. Several women had to walk through a part of the camp, two women together, it was quite cold at night, our clothes were worn out, and of course our shoes too. Most of us walked barefoot.
During one of those nights a woman, completely naked, was running through the camp while she couldn’t stop screaming, she had lost her mind. We had to wake up our Dutch camp-head Mrs. Eigeleberg. Two Japanese took the poor woman away out of the camp and we never saw her again.
We were punished for each battle the Japanese Army lost against America and Japan were losing very badly,, we could feel that in their behaviour towards us.
Slowly but surely we all became indifferent, all we were interested in was food!
Food for our loved ones and for ourselves.
Breakfast: a small plate with starch;
Lunch: one small cup of boiled rice, some small pieces of cabbage leaves and a teaspoon of sambal (hot spices);
Supper: a small plate of starch with some tiny cabbage cuttings, some sort of a soup.
We never had any meat and no fruit either.
This menu never changed, 1½ year long.
Then all of a sudden the War was over. A terrible bomb fell on Hiroshima and another one on Nagasaki. Our Japanese torturers quickly left our camp. Other Japanese soldiers came and we received more food.
Three weeks later our next war began. The young Indonesians were stimulated 3½ years long by the Japanese propaganda “Hate the Dutch”. They planned to kill all the Dutch who were still waiting in their camps for better days. They killed thousands of Eurasians in Java for these had been “free” during the war with Japan. Many Dutch leaving their camps have been killed by those young Indonesians. The Japanese Army can be proud of their so thorough propaganda work.
Lord Mountbatten ordered the Japanese Army and their Kempeitai to protect the Dutch prisoners of war (POWs), because he could not so quickly send his own troops to Indonesia.
After the War, America divided us in “The Pacific War” and “The South East Asia War. So we came under the protection of Great Britain and Australia.
History has forgotten most of those from outside The Pacific War for they did not fall under America. That is why so very few have heard about the civilian Dutch war victims, 80.000 men, women and children from whom 10.500 died during WW II in Indonesia. It were the Japanese soldiers from the infamous Kempeitai who came to rescue us from the young Indonesians full of hate against the Dutch.
When the British soldiers came, they took us out of those dangerous camps to a protected town Semarang, from there we were transported by ship to Sri Lanka.
I stood there on that ship that took me away from everything I loved, my father and from Indonesia that was no longer my country . The French say ; “Partir, c’est mourir un peu”, and that is so right for leaving a place you really love is dying a little and that was exactly how I felt. I had to leave the most happiest part of my life behind me in Indonesia.
I was like a young uprooted tree.
In Kandi, Sri Lanka we received the bad news that my father had died at Malang in the Kempeitai prison, the Kempeitai (Japanese Gestapo) had killed him on March 25 in 1945. I became completely indifferent for what happened around me, the shock of my father’s death was too cruel. Often I thought that my fathers reported death was all a mistake, and that he was coming back home to us.
It took me 10 years to get myself out of this nightmare. I began to realise that this was not what my father had expected from me. I slowly found myself back, but could not talk about that dirty war or my fathers death, I just couldn’t.
Until in 1995 one of my friends, also from Indonesia, ( but she was in Switzerland during the Second World War ) asked me to write something on paper about those terrible years. I did!
“You must go back to Indonesia and fast” she said.
We decided to go to Indonesia in 1996 where we arrived the 13th of September, on my father’s birthday, on the island Sumatra.
Indonesia has healed my wounds. The most beautiful island Sumatra fascinated me completely!
I fell in love with Sumatra just like my father had so many years ago. I hadn’t felt so happy since ages. It was an absolutely coming home, the Sumatrans are charming people.
When our plane landed on Java’s ground I had tears of pure joy in my eyes.
West-Java, the rice-fields with a volcano in the background
Taken October 1996
I had left the Dutch East Indies in 1946 and now in 1996 I was back home in Indonesia.
Central-Java, rice-fields and Indonesian (water) buffalos
Taken October 1996
My friend and I went of course to Malang the town we both knew so well. I have taken the courage to visit the prison where my beloved father was killed, to pay him my last respect. My father has no grave, his body lays somewhere under the soil in Malang.
I have been told during this visit, that all the men were tortured once a week in that prison. I saw the place, the cell, where my father had to live. In the cell was just a bed of cement without a mattress and above his head a lamp, burning day and night. There was also one hole in the floor, which was used as a toilet. During the monsoon water from the toilets, including the vermin, were all over the place. Extremely unhygienic!
That someone you love so much has died in such horrible circumstances is almost too much to bear. There was not even a grave where I could bring some flowers. Nothing !! Just empty nothing !
My father lived almost two years long in this prison he has most certainly fought for his life, he wanted to come back to us, but he lost this fight, he died in pure misery.
I went to the plantation Sumber Sewu where I was received very warmly. The people of the plantation brought my father back to life, it was an absolutely wonderful and a deep emotional experience.
My Indonesians, my mother country Indonesia, gave me back what I had missed so much: “Sunshine in my heart”. I have taken it with me back to Holland.
In the year 2000 I went with a group of other Dutch war victims to Japan. We have visited Nagasaki, we have seen what the A Bomb has done to the innocent people of Japan.
I have also made friends in Japan !
No, I cannot forget the cruelty from the Japanese Army that I have experienced in Indonesia during WW II.
But of course I will never blame the Japanese people for what Japanese war criminals have done in Asia. I do understand very well that the Japanese people suffered too during WW II.
This was a long story to tell you
how I lost my best friend,
My Father !
Elizabeth van Kampen
Web Site www.dutch-east-indies.com