Bangkinang and the experience of a 17 year old girl
During World War Two in the former Dutch Indies Bangkinang had 2 Japanese Internment camp, because the Japs kept the man and boys older than 12 years separated from the women and the children. Bangkinang was in the middle of a jungle of rubber trees and about 250 km from Padang. Men and women camp were about 2 km apart.
During the month of December 1943 we had to leave our prison in Padang and had to walk with our spare luggage to the station. The blinded trains then brought us to Pajacombo and from there the Japs transported us, 35 people per open truck, and a total of 400 to 500 women and their children to Bangkinang.
All happened under the burning sun and no food and water. The whole transportation to our new location in the jungle took more than 8 grueling hours.
The main problem in this women-children camp of about 2300, as in all Japanese camps, is the severe hunger and lack of medications, not to mention the cruelty of some of the Japanese, Korean and Indonesian guards.
The standard food allocation consisted of a small can of rice and a small amount of tapioca flour, which just made “blubber”, Meity says today with disdain. Her mother had arrived in the camp separately from Meity, because she had a leg surgery due to infection and had to be transported with other sick people.
On each truck transporting prisoners from Pajacombo to Bangkinang with heavy winding roads was also a Japanese guard. This guard on the truck she was seated, was constantly looking at Meity, while she was holding her golden necklace with at the end a cross with in-bedded stones . When the Japanese soldier got her attention he pointed to himself and made a catholic cross sign to let her know that he also was a Christian. Meity understood him and made also her catholic cross sign. Once in Bangkinang this Japanese guard approached her, gave her a package and indicated her to hide it under her close. Later in the barak, she opened the package and it was dried salted fish. He had given her food.
Some of the Indonesian guards were helpful smuggling letters between the women and men camps. A prime exchange spot was, gruesomely enough, the camp mortuary called Kuburan, a structure located between the two camps. Following the death of a person, we were permitted to come to view the body for the last time and at the same time letters were exchanged.
Food smuggling was even more frequent. But we had to watch out for a Korean guard, which was given the nickname the Cyclops. He was always hiding in the dark somewhere against the fence wall, to catch us smuggling for food, because we were too hungry. So, it was kind of fun to do things like that, but it was scary too, especially when the Cyclops was on guard, a cruel person.
Meity recalls one particular incident involving a young mother of 2 small children who joined the girls in smuggling food. During the work in the yard just outside the camp this young mother, Nelly Kornmann, had met somebody from the village and asked her for a package of nasi ramas. These villagers bring you food in exchange for money or jewelry.
The Japs caught her and started beating her so badly – she fell down and then they hit her with the butt of the rifle, while she was lying on the ground.
We were standing there and we could not help, because the other guards were pointing their riffles at us. This young mother recover, but she did not go outside anymore and only spoke with her two children.
Meity herself was beaten severely in another smuggling case. At that time she had some jewelry as a bundle in a handkerchief to help others to sell it for money.
Meity went to the wall to make a sale, but on her way one of the Dutch girls passed her and said: “Slanted eyes are watching you” and went to the bathroom.
I followed her also to the bathroom.
Then I heard his footsteps and banging at the doors. Finally he pulled my door open and pulled me out. It was Cyclops, the Korean guard. Luckily he made one mistake, he looked one moment away from me. I flipped the bundle of the jewelry in the handkerchief over the partition.
He pulled me out and to his office and wanted to know where the package was. I told him I have no package. Then the beating started and I landed under his desk. By another blow I fell with my head against the edge of his desk, which cause a local crack in my skull. Medical wise I experience my whole life balance problems due to that beating.
He pulled me up by my hair and started hitting me again. Then he searched for the package, but could not find it, which made him angrier and I received some more blows. Then he put me in the corner and I had to stand there, the sadist.
Later on I heard from my mom, another girl was behind me in the other bathroom and caught her package with the jewelry. She heard and saw everything and brought the package to Meity’s mother.
Meity, at that time about 17 years, confronted her most sexually dangerous situation a couple month before the end of the war. I was ordered to go to the front office. Already there were 3 of my friends from Sawahlunto, namely the sisters Heidy (18 years) and Tera Freeth (nearly 17) and the 13 year old Leksmi Vetter.
I thought, “O boy, what is going on?” There was a black sedan and the Japs pushed us in the car and drove us out of the camp. They took us to their soldier’s camp and placed us in a room. That camp was a shocker, because all those Japs were walking in the cawak (loincloths). After a while Sakai, the Jap who put us in the car, came back with 3 other officers. They were looking at us as available meat and were laughing and kind of giggling. “Which one do you want”? Then about 15 minutes later they left the room. We do not know what is going to happen.
Meanwhile mom was like crazy and went to the lady camp leaders to tell them to go to the guard and let him call the Kempeitai. She even threatened with a revolt of the 2300 people, if no action was taken. So they did and went to the guard and told him to make the call and that they could not tolerate this. The guard indeed called the Kempeitai, who went to the soldier’s camp and ordered the officers to let the girls go back to their camp. Sakai and the 3 officers were mad and for the girls it was a miracle that that happened.
The end of war and announcement of the Japanese capitulation came on august 22, 1945. Food droppings from the Allied Forces provided some relief and hope to the Bangkinang women and child internees. RAPWI was in charge and the Japanese were ordered to protect the internment against the permuda’s. British troops replaced the Japanese and Indonesian guards. Meity her father came over from the men’s camp for a visit. Many Dutch and Dutch-Indies stayed in the camp due to the increase of violence and murders created by the Indonesian permuda’s against all who were associated with the Dutch. The bersiap had started.
Then the British started moving the men, women and children from the Bangkinang camps back to Padang, also Meity and her parents. In Padang, to the large building the “Landraad” where they were guarded by Gurkhas and Indian Siks.
A couple month later they decided to move to Batavia where Meity and her parents got united with her brothers. Rudi had been in a POW camp and survived Pakan Baru as well as the Junyo Maru ship wreck. Henri had been captured by Indonesian troops soon after the revolution began and had spent time in Amberawa camp. Liberated by the British, he was then taken to Sri Lanka.
Edwin, the eldest, had been dispatched to the Burma railway to serve as a field medic. The war experience at the Birma railroad made him sick and he became traumatized.
In 1947 the whole family Uijleman-Anthonijs depart together for the Netherlands.
Today Meity and her husband Daniel Ungerer, both at the age of 87, are living in Southern California
Meity (Gerdy) her mother tante Lucy is the sister of my father Eddie Geenen.