Over 10,000 women and children
That's how many civilian prisoners were packed into Tjideng, reportedly the worst Japanese internment camp in Java during World War II. Among these 10,000 women and children were my mother, Klara, my two sisters, and I. Meanwhile my father, Wim, was among the 1500 military men crammed into a hell ship and transported to a coal-mining town in Japan as a slave laborer.
Bowing to the Emperor: We Were Captives in WWII, a memoir, captures our experience during those dark years in Indonesia and Japan. It's a story of the fierce determination, love, and ingenuity of a mother and the strength, leadership, and optimism of a father when faced with near starvation and unspeakable living conditions. Besides being the personal story of my family, it is also a universal story of survival and of hope despite loss of country and loss of all material possessions.
Have your fingertips or your knees ever been hungry? Have you ever had a constant ache in your stomach, an ache that worsens if you put a little food in it?
. . . Have you ever been prepared to cut slices off your shrunken buttocks to feed your starving children? This is starvation.
ch. 9 - Klara, January 1945
The prisoners were jammed into a space between decks where the Japanese had built an extra floor. The space was so cramped that the men could hardly sit upright. . . .The men, eerily quiet, sat as ordered, stupefied by the heat and the fear of what would happen next.
ch. 4 - Wim, March 1942