My mother and I were exactly one hundred days (three-and-a-half months) in the prison "Bantjeuj" in Bandung on Java. When we were transported to the camp Tjinhapit it seemed like paradise to us in comparison with the prison. Imagine being able to see a vast stretch of sky instead of a small rectangular bit of it! Imagine being able to see trees, grass, even flowers, and to be able to walk for hours if you wished around the camp, instead of pacing up and down in the prison courtyard like an animal in a cage! Imagine being able to shut the door and be alone when going to the toilet!
We arrived in the camp stinking and full of fleas as we had been wearing the same clothes for a hundred days without having a bath. So we were scrubbed and de-fleaed - wonderful! Afterwards we walked as if on air.
As soon as we clambered down from the truck, the waiting Roman Catholic nuns who lived in the camp embraced Jonathan and his three brothers and sister and took them quickly to the hospital to see their dying mother. Apparently she had been told that her five children had been put in "Bantjeuj" and she had struggled to stay alive during the last hundred days in order to be able to see them. He indescribable joy and gratitude on seeing her little ones made the nuns who were present weep. She stroked Jonathan's hair and whispered to him, and he talked to her. Nobody heard what they said. I can't remember how long the children stayed with her. She died the same day, reassured by the nuns that they would take care of her children until the end of the war.
In this camp Tjihapit we lived in houses - lots and lots of people in one house, with many sleeping in one room. All around the camp was a huge double fence, and Japanese soldiers stood on guard in between the fences. They patrolled in twos and threes.
The camp was situated in the town of Bandung. The Japanese had chosen a certain part of the town for a camp and had built the double fence around it. At the entrance there were large gates patrolled by soldiers. We were all given work to do, and I was appointed a "house-mother" who was in charge of houses full of boys between eight and twelve years old. As soon as a boy became twelve years old, he was transferred to a men's camp. We were glad to work, because while we had been in prison we had had nothing to do and time had passed very, very slowly. However, this enforced idleness had been something of a blessing in disguise, because we had been forced to plunge into the depths of our souls, whereas in ordinary life you have no time to think.
As I was a newcomer, I was a welcome change for the boys, and they offered me something nice to eat with my rice and cabbage. It tasted good, I enjoyed it, but then they told me that it was dog's meat. Of course, I was repelled by this, and I then discovered that I had not seen many cats or dogs in the camp. The women told me that the boys had caught them when their owners were not watching and then had killed and eaten them. We had several outbursts of tears from women who could not find their dog or cat and feared that it had been killed and eaten by the boys.
Rats were also eaten - there was a large notice in the camp which said:
"Any rat caught should be given to the hospital for the sick..."
While my mother and I were still "outside", before we were put into prison, we used to smuggle in large tins of oil and flour to my sister, so that she could make pancakes or bread. At the beginning of the occupation it was still possible to smuggle food and medicines into the camps, but not into the prisons, which were strictly guarded by the Japanese. Some women swam through the sewage at night and received parcels in that way before swimming back into the camp.
When my mother and I joined my sister in the camp Tjihapit, my mother asked her to make some pancakes for us. To our surprise, she said that she had finished up all the oil and flour or given it away. My mother was amazed, since she had sent huge quantities to her. However, she accepted regretfully that nothing was left.
Suddenly the Japs announced that we were being transported the next day to another camp. We were told that we were allowed to take with us only one flask-like container of water and one roll of bread. Panic spread through the camp. The women who had been secretly listening to the radios and who informed us of the news from abroad, quickly dismantled the radios and went to the kitchen to have the parts baked in various rolls so that they could re-assemble them once they had arrived in the new camp. In fact the Japs divided us into two camps, so that we did not have all the necessary parts. This was truly awful, for not being able to hear how the Allies were getting on plunged many people into despair. They committed suicide as they lost hope that peace was coming.
It was then that I understood that one's faith and moral strength is tested most when one lives in uncertainty and has no idea where one is going or what is going on around one. One lives from day to day and from hour to hour, waiting on God since there is no human being one can turn to or depend on. One has to be like a child clutching the Hand of the Father. The remarkable thing is that when one truly surrenders with perfect faith, with the trust and simplicity of a child, the situation is transformed from depressing frustration to freedom, and one is filled with a deep gratitude and joy that one is no longer in charge of one's life but that Someone else Who is greater and wiser is in charge of it. This surrender is followed by the certainty that whatever happens is "good", for one is accepting it from the Hands of God and not blaming other people for it.
We men, having been given freewill by the Creator, have made a mess of the world and our relationships with each other because of our loss of God. If we return to God and beseech Him for help, then a deep, joyful peace enters our being, for God is good and the way He will choose to deal with this evil world of ours will be in accordance with His Wisdom and Love. But at the same time we must remember His words:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways and not your ways..."
When it was announced that we were being transported the next day, my sister suddenly produced oil and flour to make pancakes. We then realized that she had been hoarding it "for the crisis day". The sad thing was that "the crisis day" had already passed, and she had not recognized it. If she had allowed us to eat a little of it every day, we would have been strengthened by it. But now we had to eat it in a hurry, pancake after pancake, and share it with others. This caused us to have diarrhoea, and instead of being strengthened by it we were weakened. The lesson to be learned:
"Lay not up treasure on earth, where moth doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal..."
And another lesson: we must be able to recognize the time of crisis. I think that if we strive each day to love the truth more than the lie, which is possible only with the help of the Spirit of truth, then we become aware of what is going on, recognize the crisis and are able to respond to it in a constructive way. But if, on the other hand, we bury our heads in the sand like ostriches and pretend that the problems will do not exist, we will be caught off guard.
There is a saying: "Look Fate in the face and it will lower its lids." If one has the courage with God's help to face up to the worst, then one finds ways of dealing with it.
The next day, the Japs ordered us to stand in rows before being marched off through the gates to the world outside. We had to walk from the camp to the railway-station. It was a long walk and we had children and old people with us. Each of us had one bread roll and one flask of water for the journey. The streets were lined with Indonesians, who watched us in silence. It was humiliating for us as white people to be seen by the natives as prisoners of war of the Japanese. They saw how we were treated and how the Japs cursed and shouted at us. At last we arrived at the station and were put into cattle-trucks. All the wooden shutters of the windows had to be closed, and we were sitting crowded together on benches with sick people lying on the floor between us. It was suffocatingly hot. At last the train moved off, and but it kept going in different directions, so we became confused and did not know where we were going.
The conditions were so terrible that I did nothing but pass in and out of consciousness. The whole transport was a nightmare, and I kept thinking:
"Hell is already on earth! You don't have to wait until death to enter it!"
The sick people died from suffocation, and at once began to stink. Then one of us would pull the communication cord. The train would come to a halt and a Japanese officer would go from coach to coach to find out who had given the alarm. The dead body then had to be lifted up and passed over the women to the door. Some soldiers would quickly dig a shallow grave alongside the railway track. It was hell when a child died, for the mother would refuse to part with his dead body, and some of them would become hysterical. Then a tug-of-war would ensue with the women trying to wrench the child's body from the mother, while others would hold back the mother. All this wrestling was done with shouts and screams and pleadings, with the Japanese furiously trying to hurry us on. It was so terrible that I was grateful for the times I passed out. Now and then the train would stop, and we were able to go to the toilet on the ground next to the train, while the natives assembled from the villages to watch this extraordinary phenomenon of white women going publicly to the toilet. We had no toilet paper or water, soap or towels, and most of us like myself were suffering from diarrhoea, so one can imagine the smell in our cattle-truck. To add to the horror, some people vomited during the journey from exhaustion and despair. The journey from Bandung to Batavia (now Djakarta) lasted thirty-eight hours.
Towards evening on the second day, we arrived at our new camp, which was called Kampong Makassar. As we went through the gates the Japanese subjected us to a body search. In the camp we saw bamboo buildings under coconut trees.
The moon was shining, and we could hear frogs croaking. At the sound of the frogs our spirits rose somewhat, for we knew that we could catch them and eat them. It took us only three days to catch every frog in the camp. So at night their cheerful croaking could be heard no more. Toads are poisonous, so we did not catch them. If in doubt, we used to tickle the animal. If it jumped it was a frog; but if it waddled away it was a toad.
We went to the barracks, where we had to sleep on bamboo beds (there were no mattresses). As we were all very thin, it was very painful to lie on these beds. One tried to find a position where one's hip-bone could fit in between two bamboos. We fell down exhausted and went to sleep.
During the first night my stomach was upset, so I woke up and set off for the latrines. We had been told that they had latrines where we sat in rows one behind another over a narrow latrine trench. I hated to be seen from behind by another woman. The only way to avoid that was to get the last place in the latrine, but that was always occupied because it was the favourite spot!
The night was dark with only a few stars shining. I stumbled, half drunk from exhaustion, out of the barracks. I tried to remember where the latrines were. I thought they were somewhere to the left. Suddenly I slipped on the red-brown sticky clay, and to my horror I saw great big sausages floating around me, and I smelt a terrible smell. I realized that I had fallen into the camp's cesspool.
How can I describe the turmoil, anguish and bewilderment in my heart! At first I refused to believe it. But then I raised an arm in the air and saw that it was covered with slime. I was so exhausted and dispirited that I just gave up. I started to drown with the slime in my hair and face. I didn't care.
I thought: "This is no life, let me die."
Suddenly I heard a voice saying to me:
"Do you believe in God?"
The voice seemed to be coming from high above me. I took it to be the voice of an angel.
Inwardly I answered:
Then the voice calmly but sternly reminded me that I had no right to take my own life, that I would continue to struggle to get out of the cesspool, and that if I let myself drown out of despair I would not get out of my difficulties. For whatever I had not been able to face in this life I would encounter after my death in the next life. And it would be far worse! I cannot remember the exact words, but I remember the grave words as if it were yesterday. And I remember the warning that I would be disobeying God's commandment that we are not allowed to take our own lives. A fear surged into my heart which proved to be greater than my despair, a fear of going against the will of God, Who is not only my Creator but also my Judge, and Whom I would have to face after my death.
I called out in my heart:
"Do you call this life?"
No answer was given, no voice was heard, just a terrible, terrible silence, and the black stinking pool in which I was paddling. I felt my strength going, and in sheer anguish of soul I determined to get out of the cesspool. My hands grabbed the edge, but I could not get hold of it, it was all slimy, there was nothing solid to hold on to. Then my feet tried to touch the bottom so that I could take a jump and throw myself out of the pool and onto the ground. But as my feet searched in the depth, I felt only thick slime, no hard bottom to rest on and push myself up from. What was I to do? There was no way of getting out. If I tried to shout, nobody would hear me. In any case, my voice would be so weak - I was worn out. Thoughts raced through my head. I was now very aware that I might drown after all, and I prayed intensely:
"O God, God, help me! You can see that I am really trying, but it is impossible for me!"
And suddenly I felt two hands underneath my elbows lift me up as if I were a feather and lay me on the ground. It happened very quickly and I think I fainted, because when I opened my eyes and saw the few stars in the sky I said to myself:
"What happened? Where are you?"
Then I remembered it all, the nightmare of the struggle in the pool. And with amazement I recalled the two hands, and in fact it seemed to me that I had been lifted out by two angels, each of whom had one finger. I wept and wept. In the end I made myself get up and waddle to the barracks where my mother and sister were fast asleep. I prodded my sister, who woke up dazed and said:
"What's the matter? What do you want?"
I could not speak. I just sobbed. Suddenly she saw this strange muddy phenomenon and smelled the stink and understood at once what had happened. She jumped up from the bamboo bed and put her arm around me and wept:
"O you darling! Never mind, I'll take you to the bathroom and scrub and scrub you!"
Never will I forget the love of my sister, which so great that she managed to lead me to the bathroom while her arm remained firmly around me, supporting and comforting me. Thank God, in the camp Makasser we had an enormous communal bathroom where we had running water gushing down from a bamboo holder. She stood underneath it, and told me to wait there while she went in search of the kitchens to find cooking-salt to scrub me with.
How long she stayed away I don't know. I just let the cold, strong running water gush over me, through my hair, over my face, while I cried incessantly. I had been through so much, but I was unable to tell anybody about what I had experienced, and the tears were an expression both of relief and of sadness about the tragedy of the world. My soul had become aware that the cesspool was just a small part of that world which lies in iniquity. My sister returned and scrubbed and scrubbed me. I let her get on with it, while I went on crying. She was so sweet, she tried to stop me crying by assuring me that everything was alright now, and that it would not happen again. She tried to make a joke, saying that she was sure I would make sure never to fall into the cesspool again! I went on sobbing, and after she had scrubbed and bathed herself she led me gently back to the barracks. Like a mother she kept repeating to me:
"It's all over now! Have a good sleep! Tomorrow is another day!"
My heart cried: "Yes, tomorrow is another day, but still in this world, which is a cesspool."
I fell asleep at once.
The next morning we all had to line up at 6 a.m. to be inspected by a Japanese officer. We each had a number which we had to call out, while he checked that everyone on his roll was present. Every time a person died, that number was crossed out, it ceased to exist. We had to call out our number in Japanese, and we had to wear it on our clothes.
We were all allocated jobs. My mother had to make fishnets with a number of other women. My sister had to look after the pigs kept by the Japanese, and she grew very fond of one of them, a very funny little piglet called "Wainka". One day the Japanese picked Wainka for slaughter, and my sister was heart-broken.
I was told to look after the huge fishponds of the Japanese. I also had to cut the coarse grass, which grew very fast and had to be cut all the day long! Otherwise it would spread into the pools and smother the fish. With one hand I held one bunch of grass, while with the other I cut it with the sickle. During the first two weeks my hands bled, but then they got hardened and tough, so it didn't hurt anymore. I liked my job in a way, because it did not involve getting fond of an animal which would later be slaughtered. Apart from the fish, the only animals I saw were the frogs swimming in the fishponds. But one could not get emotionally involved with frogs.
Now and again a group of Japanese would arrive in a party to catch fish. They would strip themselves, leaving only a towel round their loins, and wade through the water shouting and laughing. To our surprise, they would catch the fish with their hands, throwing them into buckets of water which stood on the edge of the pool nearby. Their hands and legs would be covered with blood as the fish had nasty fins and spikes. But the Japanese did not mind. When they had caught enough of them, they would stop, and, laughing hilariously, would disappear with their buckets of fish.
We never tried to catch a fish because we had a guard watching over us and the fish belonged to the Japanese officers. In any case, I doubt whether I would ever have been able to catch one, for they were large and slippery and one would be stung and bitten in the process.
The fish were fed on "bunkil", large, flat cakes full of holes and worms. We had to go and get the "bunkil", which were in a shed outside the women's camp. On re-entering the camp, we were searched by a Japanese soldier. At the end of the first day we told the other women about the bunkil, and they begged us to smuggle some back into the camp for them. However, we had some women doctors who warned us severely not to eat any of the bunkil as it was poisonous for human consumption, even if we boiled and boiled it. Nevertheless, my sister begged me to bring her a small piece.
The next day, some of the other women with whom I worked brought some bunkil into the camp. I also brought in a small piece for my sister, but at the last moment I threw it away in the bushes remembering the doctors' warning. My sister was furious and shouted at me that her body was her responsibility and not mine, and that I jolly well had to bring her a piece the next day. I was mad with her and said to myself that I would bring her a huge piece and good luck to her!
In that frame of mind we went to sleep on our bamboo beds. In the night, however, we were woken up by the screams of the women who had eaten some bunkil after boiling it in water for a long time. Their stomachs were swollen and perspiration ran down their faces from the pain. Some died, and those who survived suffered the consequences for the rest of their lives. How terrified I was that the same thing could have happened to my sister, and I thanked God that it happened before I gave any to her. It proved that we are responsible for each other and that if we can prevent someone from being poisoned we should do so. We cannot act like Pontius Pilate when we are instrumental in the suffering of another person. I often think back on those screams and shiver, reflecting that I almost became guilty of giving my sister poison to eat. If she had died or suffered for the rest of her life, it would have haunted me all my days, all the remaining hours of my life. Imagine: a weakening, a decision made in a few minutes, can result in years of suffering!
The Next Few Weeks
The camp barracks were situated under coconut trees on a site of red clay, and had been made of bamboo by Dutch prisoners under the supervision of the Japanese. When the Dutchmen were told that they had to move out to make way for women, they hurriedly made presents for the women and hid them all over the camp. One can imagine our delight when we found a bracelet made of bamboo on which flowers and other designs were carved. We also found bamboo rings with bright red berries (which are in fact seeds) or a polished ordinary stone in place of the precious stone. In Java necklaces are made of these berries. We also found small bamboo bowls and combs. I myself found a bamboo clasp which was meant for a belt, which I still often use. I wonder who the maker of this clasp was and whether he is still alive.
Since we had only one pair of shoes each, we decided to walk barefoot to save our shoes for the great day of peace! Besides, the red sand would have ruined our shoes in no time in the hot weather. And when the rains came, the sand turned into clay which stuck on the shoes.
On waking one morning, however, we heard women everywhere shouting in disbelief:
"Where are my shoes?!"
Everyone had kept their shoes on the ground under their bamboo beds. During the night, an army of white ants had eaten all our shoes! Here and there a piece of a sole or part of a strap was left. Some of the women cried from disappointment, but it taught us how literally everything can be taken from us, if not by human agents, then by white ants or other catastrophes such as fire, earthquake, flood, etc. I was reminded of the plagues in the Old Testament, and had to think: "There is nothing new under the sun." History repeats itself in various forms. We all chatted about it and realized that none of us had really believed before that a whole harvest can be destroyed by locusts or that grasshoppers, for example, can do unheard-of damage. A white ant is such a tiny creature, but when millions of them arrive, their weakness as individuals is transformed into a tremendous force. In the tropics we knew of the danger of being bitten by scorpions, poisonous snakes, certain wasps and bees. One should never underestimate the danger presented by small creatures.
We used to sit for long periods under the coconut trees outside our barracks. One day we were sitting there with a small group when one of us happened to look up at the tree. Then she screamed and ran away. I looked up and saw a huge spider as big as a man's hand and legs as fat as the fingers of a man's hand. It was wrestling with a coconut. I fled with a yell and so did the others. "Bang!" - the coconut fell down onto the ground where we had been sitting. The weight of it coming from such a height could easily have killed one of us. Needless to say, most of us did not dare to sit under that tree again. I believe these coconut-spiders make holes in the coconuts and suck the milk out of them, but sometimes they just grab them with their hairy legs and loosen them until they drop. I detested them, and whenever I thought of them hidden in the trees I shivered with fear. To me they seemed to drop coconuts on us intentionally. Still worse was the idea of them falling on us themselves!
We had some women doctors and a dentist in the camp. They were wonderful people who tried to help the sick although there were no medicines of any kind. There was also a great shortage of bandages. The ones we had had to be used over and over again, being scrubbed with kitchen salt and then bleached in the burning sun. We all had wounds which refused to heal because of the shortage of vitamins in our bodies, and many people had stinking, pussy wounds. There was a well-known actress in camp called Corry Wonk who volunteered to help the nuns with the washing of all the bloody, pussy bandages. It had to be done by hand, and there were no scrubbing brushes or aids of that kind. Stones and sticks had to be used for scraping or rubbing.
The Japanese would sometimes come into the camp and deposit loaves of mildewed bread and soured vegetables in our dustbin. Some of the women and boys would pounce on them and run away to share their catch with their mothers or sisters. It never made anyone ill, so we came to the conclusion that mildewed bread and soured vegetables were in fact good for us.
The doctors told us that it was good to eat frogs, snakes and slugs as they were full of protein. The trouble was that we quickly finished them off, and every rat that we caught was handed over to the hospital. We had no more cats or dogs as they had been liquidated by the boys in our previous camp. As I was working at the fishponds, I was allowed to go outside the camp, and would pass banana-trees on my way to work. The women begged us to bring back the young shoots of bananas, from which they would roll cigarettes. The heavy smokers among the women were constantly complaining, which was a great burden on those who had to sleep next to them. They would be constantly talking about their craving for a cigarette, which on top of their hunger pains made life unbearable for them.
We soon learned about the ways of the Japanese. The simple Japanese soldier who had to guard us from a high sentry-post was a nice peasant. He could speak a little Malayan, and he told us wistfully that he was longing to return to his wife and family in a village where he worked as a fisherman. There were some papaya trees growing near the fishponds, and the only way to reach the fruit was by pushing against the long stem with a long pole in order to loosen the papaya. Of course, the papayas were for the Japanese, who counted the fruits and would send their cook to collect some of them. The Japanese peasant guard would sometimes look the other way while we poached the half-ripe fruit. As soon as he heard "plop", as the papaya fell into the water, he would look round at us with a grin. We in turn would point at the pond and ask him innocently whether we were allowed to go into the fishpond to get the papaya out. We said that it had dropped into the water because it was "over-ripe". He would nod his permission from his exalted high seat, and we would wade into the water searching for the papaya in the mud. Of course, we had to eat the papaya there and then because the Japanese at the gate would never have allowed us to bring it into the camp. So we divided the papaya with a sharp stick and divided it amongst us. When the cook would appear and ask why there was one less fruit on the tree, the guard would come to our aid and admit that he had seen the papaya fall into the water. Of course, we had to be wise and not do this too often, so unfortunately we had to allow most of the papaya fruits to be collected by the cook for the Japanese.
It often happened during those years that we had to sign a card addressed to the Red Cross saying that we had received a parcel of food, which might include such delicious things as bacon, chocolate, corned beef, etc. We had to sign the cards, but the parcels all found their way to the homes of the Japanese...
Some of the little children, especially little girls, were favoured by the Japanese at the gate. They would take them out of the camp to their homes and feed them with chocolate, bananas, etc. The mothers allowed it because it was a way of getting food for their children. One little girl with long fair hair was a great favourite with one of the Japanese officers. She was about nine years old. One day she fell seriously ill with bacillary dysentery, which is curable if you have the right medicine. Her mother rushed to the gate to tell the Japanese officer, who followed her into the barracks to have a look at the girl. But he refused to let her have any medicine, and she died. This mentality frightened us. It seemed to us that in the Japanese we were dealing, not with human beings, but with another species.
Before my mother and I were put in prison, some Japanese moved into the house opposite. They had eight or nine beautiful dogs which came from the houses of Dutch people. They used to stroke them, play with them and roll over the lawn with them, and they told their servants to give them plenty of good food. One day my mother and I heard anguished yelps coming from the garden opposite. We rushed to the front to see what was happening. The Japanese had tied all the dogs onto one flagpole on the lawn, and they were bayonetting them while laughing loudly. Blood poured out of them in fountains until they were all dead. My mother and I just cried and cried, but we could not help because we knew that if we tried to stop them they would bayonet us instead...
We discovered that a high proportion of the Japanese suffered from moon-madness. One of the officers suffered from it. For a few days, just before and after the full moon, he would go raving mad. For some reason the Japanese found it difficult to keep him confined in a room in the house which they occupied next to the camp. At night he would roam through the camp, and as long as he did not see you, you were safe. But he himself would hide in the shadows and wait for his victim.
One night, a young woman had a desperate need to go to the latrines. She slipped out of the barracks looking carefully to left and right to see if she could see him. When she thought the coast was clear, she ran swiftly towards the latrines. But on her way back he grabbed her from behind and kicked her repeatedly with his heavy boots. She screamed and fell unconscious. Women and guards came running, and the young woman was carried to the hospital. They operated on her and found that she had lost one kidney. She was about twenty-three years old, and engaged to be married. Of course, her injury meant that she could never have a child.
The next day the Japanese officer sent her a huge cake as a token of his regret. How can we understand this mentality?! To us it was a mockery. But he sent the cake with all sincerity.
There were various jobs to be done in the camp. When the trucks arrived carrying heavy bags of flour for the kitchen, the women had to unload them. It was very heavy work, and the Japanese made no effort to help. My sister, as well as looking after the pigs, was one of those who had to unload the trucks. One day she was in terrible pain, and we had to massage her back. For the rest of her life she has suffered from backache as a result of this work. She has to be treated regularly by an osteopath. Many prisoners of war have suffered either physically or spiritually from their experiences for the rest of their lives.
Every day, the Japanese would pick out some of the cleverest women in the camp, put them in a room together, and set them to solve some problem or other. At the end of the week they would have to tell the Japanese officer the solution they had arrived at. We called them the "think-tank". They had to deal with economic, political and religious problems.
My mother was happily making fishnets for the Japanese when she discovered that the nets were not meant for fish at all, but for the camouflage of Japanese soldiers. She promptly refused to continue the work, and told the camp's woman commandant that according to the Geneva Convention she did not have to help the army of those occupying her own country. The Japanese officer came storming into the room and burst out indignantly against my mother in a mixture of Japanese, English and Malayan words. My mother, who was very small and the same height as the Japanese (most of us towered over them), raised herself to her full stature and answered him in the same fiery tone. She reminded him that she was Russian. He gaped at her, not quite grasping the horrible significance of that fact. Russian! Then she said that it would be a shameful crime on her part to help the Japanese against her own people, and mentioned the Geneva Convention. Finally, she reminded him that her honour was at stake, leading him to think that in certain circumstances Russian women might commit hara-kiri.
He was so amazed that he let her go free, and gave her some needlework to do instead. My mother taught me never to show fear in the face of the enemy. By bluffing and shouting back at them indignantly one gained their respect. They despised cowering people and admired courage, even in their enemy.
We were surrounded by millions of flies, and the Japanese were getting worried that they might spread various diseases. So one day we were told that each of us had to catch fifteen flies a day, otherwise we would get no food. We all laughed. It was easy enough to catch fifteen flies on a piece of tin or the lid of a box. We used to stand in long queues for our meals and as each of us came forward we had to show our fifteen flies. They were counted by a Japanese standing next to the woman who was dishing out the food. But soon our laughter turned into anxiety; for, believe it or not, the flies were dying out under the ruthless hands of three thousand women and children. Thank goodness, the Japanese released us from our fly-catching duties when there were no more to be caught. It shows that there are simple ways of dealing with pests that do not need pesticides, etc.
Some teachers in the camp volunteered to give lessons in the evening. We were too tired to do a lot of learning or listen to lectures, but I tried to continue with lessons in Maths. As we had no textbooks or writing material, the teacher would draw with her finger or with a stick in the reddish sandy clay ground. She would draw geometrical figures and use the ground as her blackboard. Then she would explain the theorems to us. We could not make notes, so we had to sit and listen, concentrating very hard to try and remember everything she taught us. She also did algebra with us, which was much more tedious as it took a long time writing the equations out on the ground with a stick.
We noticed what difficulty we had memorizing our lessons. This was owing to vitamin shortage. After the war many of us had to recuperate physically for about two years before we could enter university. When one's body is depleted of vitamins and proteins, one cannot concentrate or think clearly or memorize material.
In spite of everything, we could still laugh sometimes. This released tensions, and relieved suffering. Sometimes we doubled up with laughter when something we had been dreading did not materialize. The children were always adorable and elicited smiles and protective behaviour. We also laughed at the Japanese in a mocking way, imitating their bow legs or ways of walking or shouting.
There were some artists in camp, and the Japanese gave permission for them to give us a performance. I vividly remember someone doing a solo dance fighting an invisible enemy with a sword. At the end she collapsed exhausted on the ground, and the sword in her hand turned into a cross shape. This made a deep impression on me, and influenced me in later years. We are constantly fighting against invisible enemies who sometimes manifest themselves in visible form. The cross is our weapon against the enemy; we take it up to fight evil and become worthy followers of Christ.
I learned in the camps that all the sufferings we endured there - hunger, fear, illness, death, etc. - we share with the rest of humanity because of our common loss of God. However, these "crosses" can be endured in three ways. Either we grumble and complain about them. Or we can endure them without grumbling, but without bringing Christ into our suffering, without thanking Him for them. Or we can accept them as from the hands of God, with thanksgiving. Only the last is truly "taking up one's cross and following Christ". Only the patient endurance of suffering for Christ's sake can be compared to the voluntary suffering of persecution for the sake of truth and righteousness. Only such suffering attracts the grace of God.
One day, two boys fell ill with terrible stomach pains. The doctor told the respective mothers that they had appendicitis and advised them to allow them to be operated on in case they developed peritonitis, in which case they would die. The boys clung onto their mothers, beseeching them not to let them be operated on. One mother hugged her son, comforting him and reassuring him that he would not have to have the operation. He was so relieved. He hugged and kissed his mother, and told her how much he loved her for her decision. The other mother wrested herself away from the arms of her son, clenched her lips together and said to the women:
"Take him and operate on him."
They grabbed the boy, while the mother walked away with tears streaming down her face. The boy screamed abuse at his mother:
"I hate you! You don't love me! How can you let this happen to me! You are awful, terrible..."
The mother just walked on without looking back until she was out of earshot. Then she slumped down and with sobs prayed to God:
"Save him, save him!"
Nobody dared to come near her. The women just watched her, and many wept with her. I was only a teenager at the time, and did not know what motherhood was. But I thought of the Lord weeping in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was as if her sorrowful, sobbing body was pleading with God:
"Please let this cup pass from me... But not my will, but Thine be done!"
The boy was brought to the bamboo hospital, where he was held down by twelve women. There was no anaesthetic, so the surgeon had to start operating on him with primitive tools. Screams pierced the air, but his mother did not hear. The boy recovered.
Some months later, the other boy started to scream. He had peritonitis, and the doctor was unable to help him. So he died in excruciating pain.
Which of the two mothers had true love for her son? Was it not the one who accepted that her son had to suffer since this was the only way he was to be saved? The other woman by her permissiveness, by her trying to avoid her son's suffering, landed him in a far worse condition which killed him. We see this so often in the world today. People are permissive, they condone evil for the sake of a false peace and a false unity. The result is death.
Increasing numbers of people died either from malnutrition or from illnesses which we did not have the medicines to treat. In Bantjeuj prison we had been given only three spoonfuls of rice with salt each day. In the camps we received rice with a spoonful of cabbage and a teaspoonful of sugar each day. Some of the cooks were clever and made a kind of broth to go with the rice made of herbs and pig tripe which the Japanese used to throw out each day.
One day I got a toothache and had to go to the dentist. She could either put a clove in the cavity or pull out the tooth without an anaesthetic. The last few months before peace came I kept putting a clove in the cavity, praying that the tooth would not have to be pulled out. For the screams coming from the dentist's hut were chilling. I used to watch some of the patients coming out of the hut with swollen eyes and tear-stained faces. But I also noticed how quickly they recovered, saying what a relief it was to be rid of the abscess, which made their whole body feel ill. I often used to think how "one has to get worse to get better". This is the pattern of much suffering.
The Men's Camp
Towards the end of our time in the camps, an incredible thing happened. The nice Japanese soldier in his high watch-tower told us that a men's camp had been moved close to ours! The excitement rippled through the whole barracks. The women could not sleep, wondering whether their husbands or sons or fathers would be among those men. Most of us knew in which camps our husbands, sons or fathers were. In our case, I knew that my father could not be among the men close to us, and my sister knew the same about her husband. There were some women, however, whose loved ones were in the men's camp. Now we were all faced with a new situation, a crisis of a different kind from those we had faced up to then.
The women started planning how to get under the first, barbed wire fence and then the second, barbed wire and bamboo fence. This plan involved some women being on the lookout for the three guards who patrolled the area between the two fences. But other women objected, fearing that if they were caught there would reprisals from the Japanese. The whole operation was very risky. First, the women had to crawl under the fences at night, when there was no full moon. Secondly, they had to arrange for their husband or son or father to do the same at the same time, so that they could meet for an hour or two in the space between the two camps. And thirdly, both had to crawl back to their camps.
Every morning at 6 a.m. there was a rollcall, and each of us had to call out our number. If someone did not respond, the Japanese would check why she was missing. Now each barrack had one woman in charge who was responsible before the Japanese for each missing person in her barrack. These women did not want to be beaten up by the Japanese because one of the women for whom they had been made responsible was caught.
We had already suffered various punishments at the hands of the Japanese for the "transgressions" of one person or group of people. Sometimes only the "culprit" was punished. Thus she might have to stand in the burning tropical sun with her arms stretched upwards. Whenever I saw a woman being punished in this way, I would feel sick in my stomach and tears would begin to prick behind my eyes. A Japanese soldier would stand guard nearby, and as soon as the woman would begin to lower her arms he would start yelling and shouting at her and wave his bayonet very close to her stomach. Of course, many fainted and got sunstroke.
Now I read that the communist submit their victims to the same kind of tortures in Siberia, except there it is torture by cold rather than by heat. The same spirit of the evil one is at work in both situations. Satan and his angels try to break a man's spirit until he despairs and begins to doubt in the goodness of God. Is God really almighty? he wonders. Or is the devil in command? But while the devil is mighty, God is almighty, and when He wills it He can completely turn a situation around. I experienced that in Bantjeuj when I felt an invisible wall around me when being taken for interrogation, and many other people in the camps experienced it.
Another reprisal the Japanese used was rationing our food even more. This particularly affected the little children. The mothers of these children argued that the lives of their children were being jeopardized by the acts of the women who wanted to see their men. Those women, on the other hand, said that they had the right to see their loved ones for just a few hours. After all, they might never see them again. I did not take part in these arguments. I only thanked God that I had no children to worry about, and no husband who was within reach and whom "I would never see again".
Of course, some of the women did manage to get out and back and meet up with their loved ones. The next day their radiant faces gave away the secret. They were filled with such joy and gratitude, and just could not contain it. This went on for a few weeks at night when the barracks were fast asleep. But one day three of them were caught when they tried to slip back into the camp. The Japanese made them walk through the camp with a placard on their chest and back on which their crime was written in bold letters. All their hair was cut off, and they were put on very meagre rations. The Japanese punished the head of their barracks, and all the other women in the barracks (about two hundred people) were also punished by having their hair shaven off. This was a warning for the rest of us.
Benny and Freedom
I became so weak physically that the Japanese gave me permission to stop working for them. I was allowed to lie down all day in the barracks. This enabled me to nurse a little boy called Benny whose mother was seriously ill in hospital. She was a war-widow whose husband had been a pilot killed near Singapore. Benny was very weak from malnutrition, and the two of us would just sleep for most of the time.
Benny got worse and worse. At night I used to cradle him to try and keep him warm. It was like holding a little leather bag full of bones. How I prayed for him to stay alive for the sake of his mother!
Then I had a vivid dream. I saw all of us standing on a huge field. We were handed white cards, and on each card was a date, and a time (e.g. 11 a.m. or 2 p.m.) and the word "car" or "train" or "truck". When I told the dream to my mother, neither she nor I could understand it. The white cards might have meant freedom, but what was the meaning of the different dates, times and modes of transport?
We all imagined that peace would come like a kind of firework. We would all shout with joy and run out of the camps together. But it was quite different in fact. One evening, about a week after the dream, the Japanese summoned us to come out together onto a huge field. We wondered whether we were going to be told about a move to another camp. We had heard the terrible rumour that the Japanese were planning to put us on ships and transport us across the sea to Borneo. I think that if that had happened, hardly any of us would have survived. While we were trooping together towards the field, I suddenly recognized that my dream was coming true. I grabbed my mother's arm and shouted:
"It's my dream! We're going to be given white cards now!"
When we had all assembled, a Japanese officer climbed onto a platform and started a long, tedious talk about life. We wondered what on earth he was leading up to. Then he started to talk about different religions, and that the faith of a Christian is in Christ, Who has given us a shining example of forgiveness and Who has taught us to pray for our enemies. Then he ended simply:
"I want to remind all of you to act like Christ in Whom you believe. The war is over, and we Japanese have lost the war."
Then he descended from the platform.
There was a stunned silence. No one could believe his words. The war was over?! How did it happen? Nobody cheered, nobody felt joy, it was all so unreal. A few women started to sing the national anthem in faltering voices. Here and there women started to cry, and within a few minutes of the announcement everyone was crying. We suddenly realized that now we would hear which of our loved ones had survived. Until then, everyone had lived in hope. But now fear fell over us. What did the future hold in store for us? How were we going to cope with our freedom?
Instead of rushing out of the gates towards freedom, we quietly walked back to the barracks, having been told that we had to stay in the camp until the British came.
The days and weeks that followed were like a dream. Suddenly the women did not have to carry heavy bags of flour anymore. The Japanese soldiers did it instead. We did not have to do any more work. Huge quantities of rice and sugar arrived. But we remained prisoners.
Then the first British arrived. We had told the children that they would soon be seeing their daddies again, white men! But then, to our surprise, when the English officers walked into the camp, the children suddenly shouted:
"They've got legs, Mummy! They've got legs!"
Apparently they had seen snapshots of their fathers taken from the waist upwards, and they presumed that their daddies were legless!
A plane flew over the camp in order to drop crates of food by parachute. We were told to make a white cross on the field next to our camp. The first parachute did not open, and accidentally crashed through the hospital roof instead of onto the field. Several people were killed, and the tragedy affected us deeply. Of course, our bodies could not cope with all the different foods we were given. Sugar was a particular problem. We all developed sugar-heads, and had big, swollen faces. As our bodies were so thin, we looked like frogs, and the doctors forbade us to eat any more sugar.
We heard that peace had come as a result of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. If that bomb had not fallen, thousands and thousands of people in Java and elsewhere would have perished. I don't want to say that for that reason it was justified. Why should we live and others die? I think God allowed it as a warning for the whole world. Unless we change and turn towards Him for help, we are heading for a world catastrophe.
Even when peace had come, people went on dying daily in the camps. For them the peace had come too late. It seemed worse that they should die after the war had ended rather than during the war itself.
However, death is death whenever it strikes you. And when the moment of parting from the earth comes, it is the quality of our souls that matters. How much love for our Creator have we acquired during our sojourn on earth? Man is like grass, here today, gone tomorrow. Sometimes, through deep suffering, a soul can acquire a deep love and gratitude to God in a very short time, as in the case of the good thief on the right hand of Christ. When he was hanging on the instrument of shame, the cross, in just punishment of his crimes, he admitted that he was suffering justly, and appealed to the Mercy of God to forgive him. But we also have the case of the other criminal, who was hardened in heart and could neither repent nor appeal to God for mercy. Although he was suffering terribly, and death was staring him in the face, he was too proud to repent.
We left the camp on different days at different hours by different forms of transport, just as I had seen in my dream. It all depended on whether one had friends outside the camp who were willing to give you housing and food. We had friends, stateless White Russians, and so we were fetched by car and whisked out. Others were put in lorries and taken to hotels.
Benny and his mother just made it. If peace had come only a few days later, he would have died. The children in the camps had stopped growing. After the war they shot up; their bodies tried to catch up with the lost years. People would say: "Nature knows best", "Wise nature" put a stop to their growth while they were malnourished and needed to preserve their strength. But is it not God Who controls nature? Is it not He Whom we should thank?
In a short time the camps were emptied and we all tried to readjust to life in the world. We were short of clothes, and had lost houses, cars and all our property. It meant starting again from scratch. My father sent me to Holland, while he stayed behind for another year to work for the bank. On the way to Holland, we stopped in Suez and were brought to Attaka, where we were all given a pair of brown walking shoes, two pairs of thick stockings, and a shirt and jacket outfit. We all looked alike. We did not mind until we arrived in Holland, but then it became a nuisance to be identified by our clothing as former POWs. In Holland everything was rationed, and we needed coupons to buy practical items like sheets, blankets and towels.
When the war was over on Java, and we were living in houses, the Indonesians attacked us. During the war the Japanese had educated the Javanese and Malays to hate us, to long for independence. So there were snipers in the trees, and we had to duck and hide from them in gutters in broad daylight until help came either from the English or the Dutch soldiers. As a result, when I went to Holland and was staying with my uncle and aunt and their five sons, I preferred to walk very close to the houses, would peer into the trees and look over my shoulder every few minutes. They treated me very kindly, but must have thought I was a mental case. Gradually, however, I adapted to normal life without snipers in trees.
However, life was never the same as it had been before the war. My eyes were opened to the fact that life is fleeting, that one cannot rely on men, but only on God. The Christian is a stranger in this world, a pilgrim journeying to a Kingdom that is not subject to time and change. There, and only there, is true stability and continuity. How true are the words of the Lord: "Without Me you can do nothing", and: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My word will abide forever."
In Holland I went to Amsterdam university, and then got married to an Englishman who had been an officer with the Gurkhas in Java. We moved to Amersham and had four children, two boys and two girls. Life in England was good, I was content as a wife and mother. How grateful I was that God had helped me out of the cesspool.
Slowly, however, my longing to feel as close to God as I had been in prison and the camps overtook me. What is the good of having a husband, children, a house, a garden, if you miss out on God? This feeling started me on my search for the True Church, the living Church of the living God. I discovered that 99% of the churches are corpses, and that as the angel said to the myrrhbearing women: "You cannot find Him among the dead." I needed real spiritual food, I refused to be fed with the bunkil that kills the soul. There is a spiritual famine throughout the world and people in their despair feed themselves on poison instead of the Truth.
The clouds are gathering everywhere and we are heading for a mighty catastrophe as man becomes more godless every day. But a catastrophe is not the end of things, we often have to get worse to get better. A chastisement for the world which leads to the salvation of thousands is better than a false peace in which thousands are lost spiritually every day. People are clamouring for peace. But is the present situation really peace? In fact, there is a mighty war raging between good and evil, between God and Satan, and the battlefield is the souls of men. How much longer are we going to remain blind to this, burying our heads in the sand? Since a war is being waged, we must join the fight - on the side of the Truth. We must take up our cross and confess the Truth. For it is the Truth that gives life, even when it brings suffering, whereas illusions kill. As the Lord said: "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free..."