by Han Mouthaan
For clarification purposes: The Dutch civilians of the former Dutch East Indies endured two types of camps during AND after WWII. The first type were the WWII Japanese concentration camps, 1942-1945. The second type of camps were internment camps during the Bersiap period 1945-1947, a tumultuous time that followed the end of WWII in the former Dutch East Indies. The internees of both camps were mostly women and children left behind when the men were either killed or captured as POWs by the Japanese. The following story is about the Bersiap Camps. After the Japanese capitulated on August 15, 1945 and Japanese forces gradually withdrew, a vacuum of power existed in the former Dutch East Indies. There was no Dutch army present. The Indonesian revolutionary fighters (Pemudas), emboldened with nationalistic fervor during the Japanese occupation of this Dutch colony, targeted the Dutch civilians Indos and Totoks. Many were the women and children who had recently emerged from the Japanese prison camps. Hundreds of these Dutch civilians were murdered by these freedom fighters. To protect the almost 46,000 remaining, the non-violent faction of Republic of Indonesia freedom movement put these Dutch civilians into the Bersiap “concentration camps”. The following story is about the people who survived (barely) in one those camps.
Camp Barongan was located several miles outside of the city Yogyakarta, formerly known as Jogjakarta or Jogja for short.
The camp consisted of three single houses part of an old, rundown and deserted sugar plantation. The administrator’s house was Camp A. Camps B and C, together, consisted of the other two single houses. They were separated by a brick wall and partially surrounded by another brick wall. The front yards bordered on the street and were enclosed by a gedek fence which adjoined the brick wall surrounding the two houses. Confusing huh? I believe that everybody knows that a gedek fence is made of tightly woven bamboo panels about 6 to 9 feet long and the height of a person. Camp A was several hundred yards away from camps B and C.
I do not know how many people were in Camps B and C together. I do know that most of them used to live on the same street (Opakweg) in the Kota Baru community of the former Jogja, where we were interned before being moved to Camp Barongan. Boys older than 13 and men were placed in a men’s Camp Poendoeng. I do not know where the people in Camp A were from. If I remember correctly, we were transported in trucks from Opakweg camp to a transfer camp in Bintaran (also in Jogja) for a few days prior to going to Camp Barongan. Several ladies who did not want to turn over their jewelry to the pemudas (young Indonesian freedom fighters) threw them into the well behind the house. Someone diving into that well could come up with riches!
The person in charge of Camps B and C, the “Camp Leader” was Ms. van der Beek, a somewhat elderly lady, who could not walk very well as I recall. She spent time in a concentration camp during the Japanese occupation, where she had learned all about camp life and as a result was appointed to the position of Camp Leader. She had two daughters Nickie and Florrie with her. An attempt to transfer a few families, like the van der Beek and Teunissen families, to a different camp, for reasons unknown to me, did not materialize. My mother, Ms. Dee Mouthaan, was Assistant Camp Leader together with Ms. Yvonne Hamwijk, who had two children. I remember well Jan (van Gent), Tienke , Ferrie and Kitty (ten Hones) , Nicky (Behouden) and Oma (Grandma) van Gent. They lived diagonally across the street from us on Opakweg. Jan and Ferrie were my friends and playmates. They all belonged to Camp B. I remember Oma van Gent’s death very well as my mother had to accompany her body to Jogja for her funeral. She was transported on a small, open, hand-propelled railroad car. Two pemudas (freedom fighters) propelled it by moving a handle sticking up out of the floor of the car fore and aft. It was a dangerous trip for my mother who was alone with the two pemudas who could have inflicted a lot of harm on her. They left early in the morning and my mother returned home late at night. Before she left, my younger sister Jeannette (Meitie in those days) remembered our mother telling us to be mindful to Tante (Aunt) Lies Marschall in case she did not return. Tante Lies was not related to us but was a very good friend of our mother’s. In those days we often called good friends of our parents “Aunt” or “Uncle”. She was a teacher and taught me arithmetic and Dutch language all through the camp years. On her way back to Camp Barongan our mother counted the hundreds of fire flies in the fields to suppress her fear.
The only food we received once a month consisted of sacks of uncooked rice and sugar. The distribution was the responsibility of Ms. Hamwijk. We, young boys, had to carry the bags from Camp A, where they were unloaded, to Camps B and C and those bags were heavyyyyyyy. My mother and other ladies were always engaged in “gedekken” (bartering with the local people on the other side of the bamboo fence) when the pemudas were not in sight. No-one had money so clothes, bed linen, pillow cases, shoes, slippers, jewelry and anything else that could be exchanged was used in the bartering process. In return we received chicken meat, duck or chicken eggs, sometimes beef or goat meat, all kinds of vegetables and cooking oil. The merchandise was passed over or under the bamboo fence. From time to time there was a market held on the grounds in front of Camp A. A couple of times our former cook and housemaid came to the fence to bring us food. I don’t know what my mother would have done if we had had to stay in camp any longer than we did because her barter material had diminished drastically after having been in Barongan for some two years. My little sister had a beautiful doll with eyes which opened and closed. The eyes no longer worked after we arrived in Barongan. It turned out that our mother had wrapped her few pieces of jewelry in a handkerchief and had hidden them in the doll’s head interfering with the operation of the eyes. She was very good at making clothes and thus very handy with needle and thread. She taught me how to alter clothing, which came in handy in the early days of my life in the USA when I could supplement my income by making alterations to people’s clothing.
The “poepsloot detail” was a necessity to maintain hygiene. Our “poepsloot” (toilet facilities) consisted of a gedek enclosed area over a narrow creek just behind the back wall of the camp. It ran parallel to the back wall and there was a concrete platform between the creek and the wall. It had water running through it, except when the local people dammed it off at its origin to direct more water to their rice fields. A Pemuda would round up 3 or 4 of us kids to remove the dam. This was, for us, a welcome detail since we could then go swimming in the river where the dam had been built.
Our bathing area was a well with a high privacy wall around it where we also obtained our drinking water and washed our clothes. In those days a well consisted of a hole in the ground of about 3 feet in diameter with a low concrete wall around it and with a concrete floor. To keep the floor around the well and the cemented platform at the poepsloot clean, they were scrubbed with bricks. The cleaning crews were crafty and made all kinds of shapes of the bricks they scrubbed with, like cubes, discs, cones, etc. After a while they had quite a collection of artistically shaped pieces of brick that should have wound up in a museum but instead never left the camp. A metal pipe resting on the privacy wall and spanning the well had a pulley attached to it over the well with a long rope and bucket to bring the water to the surface. The water level was very low which made the well deep. Fortunately, nobody ever fell into it. If I had to drink the water from that well now it would have unpleasant consequences for me, I think. The water was clear and cool. Soap was made from wood ashes and other ingredients (don’t remember what). We brushed our teeth with finely-ground brick or charcoal on our index fingers. After we had left the camp, our dentist asked why we had such grooves in our teeth. Because Camps B and C had to share one well, which was located in Camp C, we made a large hole in the wall between the two houses through which the boys from Camp B carried large tubs of water into their camp. Public water was obviously absent.
For our parents, interned in the different camps, life in the Indonesian (Bersiap) concentration camps was difficult due to the fact that our lives were totally dependent on our guards who often did not treat us kindly. They always made us realize that we were now subordinate to them and that we had to do as we were told, which strongly reminded us of the Japanese occupation we had just left behind. Medical help was non-existent so we just hoped that no-one would become badly ill. Luckily, as far as I can remember, no-one in Camp Barongan was seriously injured as a result of rough treatment by the guards.
As young children our camp-time was not bad as we did not have to go to school and could just play all day. We did not get to eat the kind of food we had been accustomed to eating before the war, and we often did not have much to eat, but it was not a total catastrophe. My sister recalls that it was a treat to have a sunny-side-up egg over rice. Cooking was done on a wood fire or, when available, a charcoal fire.
The children played all kinds of games to keep themselves occupied in the late afternoon and after dark they told horror stories. Thea van Assendelt-Teunissen remembers that if one placed a doerian (duria: large thorny fruit which has a bad odor but tastes great) on one’s pillow and the clock struck 12 at midnight the doerian turned into a skull (yah, sure!!). I remember a play with many well-known tunes but with words written by Ms. Lieke Morjan, the musically gifted guitarist. The songs all have to do with Camp Barongan. Louis Pauselius and Henny Beekveld-Koopman (a Camp C mate) sent me copies. The play had, among others, the American Statue of Liberty in it, personified by Nickie van der Beek. The lighting, because it was performed at nighttime, consisted of oil lamps made of small metal cans filled with oil with wicks made of rope, I think. There was no electricity. I, unfortunately, am not sure of the reason why the play was put on. I believe that it had to do with the early evacuation of the Teunissen family.
Mr. Teunissen played a very important part in the evacuation of the members of his family and the closing of Camp Barongan shortly thereafter. He was a member of a group of Dutch people who were engaged in negotiations with members of the new Indonesian government concerning the economic situation of Indonesia. At the end of the negotiations Mr. Teunissen was believed to have demanded the release of his family members prior to his departure which prompted their early evacuation. It also caused the Red Cross to send a delegation to our camp. Ms. Lien Teunissen saw an opportunity to pass a message about Camp Barongan , written with a sharp pencil on a piece of cigarette paper, to one of the members of the delegation during the hand shaking ceremony at the end of their visit. We were not allowed to have any written communication with the members of the Red Cross delegation. A short while after that the time in Camp Barongan came to an end for all of us sometime in late 1947.
Our father was reunited with us (from Poendoeng) shortly before we were transported to Jogjakarta in trucks and from there by train (with all of the windows closed) to Batavia (Jakarta), crossing the Allied border in Bekasie I believe, to our freedom!! It was a 24-hour long journey that could have been terminated in a disastrous manner at any point of the trip by the Pemudas who were constantly engaged in fire fights with the allied forces. My wife and I tried to visit Barongan in 1992 during a vacation in Indonesia but could not find anyone who could take us there or even point us in the right direction. It was just as if they did not want to talk about the place although I never mentioned that I spent time there as a prisoner.
It has recently come to my attention that Jan van Gent and Kitty Pauselius-ten Hones have passed away. Tienke van Vliet-ten Hones lives in Germany and Ferrie ten Hones lives in The Netherlands. I have not been able to find out anything about Nicky Behouden. My attempts to call Tienke and Ferrie were unsuccessful. I would appreciate it very much if anyone in our readers’ circle (or outside the circle) could possibly add to the above. My memory leaves a lot to be desired now-a-days and I never expected to hear anything about Camp Barongan!! My story is one-sided in that it only deals with activities in camp C, and I hope that I have not offended those who spent time in camps A and/or B and who might possibly read this.
I was able to put this story about Camp Barongan together with the help of the following people who I would like to thank at this time: Jeannette Noorman-Mouthaan (my sister) and my Camp C mates, Thea van Assendelft-Teunissen, Henny Beekveld-Koopman and Louis Pauselius (not a Barongan dweller but well known among ”DE INDO” magazine readers).
The following individuals, not mentioned above, were my Camp C mates that I remember having played a role in some way in life in Camps B and C: Carien and her younger sister Annelies Teunissen, Miss Fietje Cock, Ms. Leeuwen, two sisters Zwart, Annie de Nijs and her sister Doortje Riemvis-de Nijs, Miss Dee Schultz and her mother Oma Schultz, Oma Smit, Ms. Doeve and her daughter Vera and sons Doppie (the body builder) and Arnold, and the Keasberry family, of which I only remember the name Wally. I can remember faces of people from Camp B but their names escape me. We did not associate with them much in that we were separated by a wall with a hole in it at the well and they had their own activities. We had no contact at all with members of Camp A.
Much thanks to Han Mouthaan for sharing his story and for Kees Kunstt for sending it in to The Indo Project.
The various types of camps in the former Dutch East Indies during and after WWII.
Bersiap Camps, in the former Dutch East Indies
General Information about daily life in the camps