Johan “Hans” Maul Letter
20 August 1945

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Detailed letter explaining work as a slave and starvation at Miyata. (Brackets) used for clarity in translation from original Dutch.
Source: William Maul, son of Johan Maul
Picture: Maul, 1945, Australia
William Maul - POW Fukuoka #9 Miyata
20th August 1945
POW camp Miyata Fukuoka

Dear Mother,

Mary, Queen of Peace. Do we still have to doubt her, to whom we turn in endless prayer, begging for peace, for an end to the war, an end to martyrdom of the POW’s, an end to the slavery, reuniting families, torn apart. Why is it that on the feast of Her Assumption, the silence, the deep silence spread over the slave camp Miyata, where a few hundred human beings for 19 long months were hit, bashed, kicked and beaten by a hoard of two legged, short armed, bowlegged, slitty eyed creatures. Because this island kingdom, that is known as Japan, is not inhabited by 80 million humans, as we learn in our geography classes, but by 80 million two legged creatures who have not yet reached the stage of development where they play with science and technique. (technology)

The tribe of 80 million barbarians still requires several generations before they have the right to the title of human being.

I am well in body and spirit. In my heart there is no bitterness, no hate against this cruel hoard. Only contempt, deep contempt for these arrogant, stupid creatures. Now that peace and quiet has returned to my mind. (soul)

The war is over, the daily Way of the Cross to the mines is over. On this road many died. The weak in body and mind are left behind. God had pity on their suffering and called them home to his house, where these poor souls now have eternal rest. Those of us left behind now live in expectation, the blessed expectation, for our redeemers.

Although still enclosed by the high wooden fence, we are still beaten by this scum, the food we receive from our suppressors leaves not a little, but a lot to be desired, but peace has returned to our hearts and we are convinced that it is over, although there has not been an official announcement yet that the war is over. On the contrary, our guards are doing everything they can to keep us in the dark.

When on the 16th of August, we were ready in the morning to go to the mine, we were sent back to camp with the information that that outside the camp an epidemic had broken out and because of it we had to stay in the camp. (How do they know this)

Suddenly on the 17th of August, Red Cross parcels were distributed, we received better and more food and vegetables arrived. The mood in the camp improved by the minute.

On the 17th August, at evening roll call, sergeant on duty, Kusihara, said that there would be a fire drill, the sirens would sound and then we have to walk out of our barracks and dive into an old mine.

The silence, the strange silence, which has reigned for several days, was about to be broken by the sounds of planes, heavy bombings and the thunder of anti aircraft guns. We couldn’t believe it. It didn’t happen either, but in the meantime, the disappointed ones went back to bed. (this sentence is a bit hard to understand. I think it means that they thought the fighting was over, but the noise etc returned, bringing back fears that it actually wasn’t)

Then suddenly on the 19th August, in the middle of the day, a plane circled above the camp and dropped pamphlets. A little while later the rumour spread: the war had restarted.

The Doctor, Captain Hilffman, our camp commander, had been beaten by the Japanese translator. A few minutes earlier, a pig had been slaughtered for us on the order of the Japanese Camp Commander. The minute the scum saw this, they entered the kitchen and begged for some. This was refused. Suddenly all the officers had to change into their work clothes and report for fatigue duty. This was accompanied by bashing and kicking. During this melee the “scum” made off with the pig. Then the whole camp had to report in work clothes. The prisoners were shattered. Chris Joha fainted, many looked grey from the fright, from the disappointment. We were put to work.

Then something strange happened. In our camp, since the beginning of the heavy bombardments on this island, there were ditches and small pill boxes used as machine gun nests. These were suddenly (magically) turned into air raid shelters. This was strange and brought doubts to the masses. I remained convinced that it was really over and immediately made several bets. Even so, the Doctor and the officers remained very pessimistic. In the meantime, the entire rice supply was removed from the camp. The pig was returned, after the best pieces had been divided and eaten by the scum. Slowly the peace returned. Most of us accepted our lot, more suffering, waiting for release.
In sombre mood we attended evening roll call.

Two announcements: Smoking was again permitted from morning till night; we were allowed to grow our hair as long as we wanted. Another doubt, although this raised spirits. This therefore, was a war of nerves.

It is three o’clock in the morning of the 20th August. There was no alarm the whole night, which would have been the case if the war had restarted. So I won my two bets! Only a little while and then we will see each other again. How will that be? Meanwhile, I have lost a lot of my fat. My lowest weight has been 57kg (125 lb), at present I am 60kg (132 lb). How we suffered from hunger. Now I can see the disadvantage in my past life of eating too much.
[Note– the following is an extraordinary description of the hunger and starvation imposed by the Japanese]
What a dreadful feeling, never feeling satisfied. The serving is always just enough so that you do not die of starvation. But your body constantly diminishes. You are unsteady on your feet, you drag your feet, you are troubled by all sorts of rashes, boils, wounds take a long time to heal, weak eyes. All this through lack of food, lack of vitamins, vegetables, fats and protein. Salt has not been provided for several months and before then, only very little. Sugar has been unavailable since the beginning.

The only sweets were provided by the Red Cross parcels. Oil or fat we had for one month. Eggs, 1 for Easter 1943. Meat only from the Red Cross, it was tinned. Because of this lack of provisions we all suffered from hunger visions. You remembered huge feeds from your past life, dinners and parties etc.

During the night I often woke, or during the monotonous work in the mine, where you slept more than you worked, I saw before me: a Christmas morning, sausage rolls, coffee or huge cakes on New Year’s day. I began to imagine which puddings I would have when I got home. And not only the fine delicacies, but also the simpler Indonesian treats, eg. Gado- gado and tahoe. God this was unbearable, everyone suffered like this. All conversations were about FOOD. Many of us began to copy recipes so as to be able to enjoy the re reading of these recipes; others rummaged round in the rubbish tips to see if there was anything edible to be found in there. But these Dung beetles (that is the literal translation of mest keevers) got their punishment. They all ended up in hospital with the vilest diseases and many died from them. Some others resorted to stealing food, either from the kitchen or from the Japanese pantries. If they were caught, a thrashing from the Jap would ensue. The thief would be belted up till he fell to the ground, he would be revived and the bashing would continue. Then he was thrown into a cell, received no other food at all or one small potion of rice per day.

The hunger expressed itself differently in each one of us. I had the good fortune that I don’t smoke. I constantly swapped my cigarettes for food such as rice, vegetables, sweets or fruit. You can’t help wondering how it is possible that there are people who, although they are hungry, can swap their rations for cigarettes. And yet, I have learn to understand how men can be so addicted to smoking, that they would rather swap a portion of their rations than go without cigarettes.

Eventually I found a way to forget the gnawing hunger: STUDYING. With utter despair I threw myself into the study of math and electrical technique. I would get up at 3AM, grab my notes which I had made in Tjimahi. (POW camp in Java) I no longer had any books. The desire to study was so great, that I spent every spare hour studying. I even smuggled my notes into the mines, so that I could study in a quiet corner, leaning against a pine wood prop, or sitting on a heap of newly dug coal, under the poor illumination of my miner’s lamp. This desire for study became an obsession. Summer and winter, at exactly 3AM I woke up and grabbed my notes. Even in the worst cold, when your breath froze on the blankets and when the icy wind howled though the cracks in the rickety barracks. But it was hopeless, the way your memory deteriorated. Formulas that you had pounded into yourself in the morning would be forgotten by next morning. This was so depressing. But I kept it up to the present day. ( It is now 3rd September) Not only did I forget the hunger, but also the Jap bosses in the mine noticed that Number 28 (that was my slave number) studied. I was questioned, tested and found to be good enough to work in the Electrical section (the DENKI) in mine number 5 run by Tukusha. I was known as elect-technical engineer and after 3 months of stupid monotonous slave work of throwing baskets of coal into empty carts, I landed in the electrical workplace of mine number 5. Into this section together with me came Geelhoed and two others. Geelhoed is also an engineer. I became the head of our team number 4.

Then began for us in DENKI, a more humane time. Not that our work was lighter than the miners, on the contrary, it was sometimes much heavier. But the big advantage was: we didn’t always work in the mine, sometimes it was the workshop, working on lathes, repairing engines, transformers etc. At other times it w as the laying of heavy cables in t he mine. Add to this that our bosses were engineers, so were a little more educated Japs. Here they call every technician “engineer”. My top boss, the head of the Electrical section, Matsubara 2nd class engineer, is actually the same level of a MTS person. (MTS stands for Middelbare Technische Hoge school in Indonesia and was considered a very good school) Our treatment by the Japs from this Electrical Section was more humane than that of the churlish bosses in the mines. We never received one beating and were never verbally abused. This was a huge difference from the cursed devils in the mine. The grave dogs beat, whipped up, drove, wore out and thrashed our boys. Remember the physical condition we were in…underfed, weakened and not enough warm clothing in the winter.

In the aisles (corridors) the water came down in torrents, we had to work up to our ankles in freezing cold, foul, black muddy water. Most of us contracted diarrhea , every 15 minutes we had to go to the latrine. For this you had to ask permission and give an explanation. God how we suffered. The devils didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand and if you soiled yourself, they laughed and ridiculed you into the bargain. For diarrhea you were not allowed to stay in barracks. Besides, the one who decided whether you were capable of going to work was a moron of a Jap soldier, and as long as you didn’t fall in your tracks, you had to go to work.

It often happened that as we lined up for roll call before going to “hell”, suddenly someone would collapse and lie there shivering from a fever. The Japs would attack him shouting and belting him with sticks until he came to and proceeded with a shaky gait. “You see he can stand up, so off to work” was the opinion. If he stayed down no matter how hard they belted him with their sticks, only then he would be allowed to go to hospital. But even that was not the end of the suffering. Those who were sick in the camp were given less to eat than those who went to work. The Jap stuck to the rule: “He who doesn’t work, will not eat.” Healthy provisions were unavailable. The sick received very little rice and a little vegetable soup. Everyday they were checked by that Jap soldier ; Ando this grave dog was called, and if their fever was almost gone, they would be forced to return to the mine. Neither our Doctor or our Officers had any say in the matter. In this manner we lost 30 souls to pneumonia and fatigue.

We were exploited to the end. Work commenced at 7AM and we would return at 7 or 8PM. Rest period before mealtime was approximately 30 minutes, although this however w as lengthened. The worst time was from November to December 1944, when the mine workers didn’t get home until 10 or 11PM and had to be out again at 7 the next morning. For this overtime we were rewarded. This reward consisted of 2 or 3 balls of rice. (these rice balls were about as big as a billiard ball)

The working “week” was usually 10 – 11 days, then we had one day “rest”. That is to say, we had one day when we didn’t have to work in the mine, but then came the masterly logic of the scum: “You are free aren’t you? Well then, you can easily work in the garden or on the farm. The word “farm” was a stately title for a poor piece of land about 10kms (6 ¼ miles) from our camp. There w ere a few miserable cows doing what cows do in a cow’s life. The ground was mostly sandy and on this “farm” we had to work, drain swamps, dig and plant. And all this privation on a very small ration. Our ration consisted of 500 grams (1lb) of raw rice per person per day. On days off, that is when “we didn’t work”, this was reduced to 350-400g (11 – 13oz). You can imagine how we climbed the walls from hunger.

To give a small personal example: On Christmas Day 1944 we had a huge dinner. The whole day we actually had good and adequate food, mainly due to the Red Cross. We started the morning with krentenbrood (fruit loaf) 200grams (6 ½ oz). I was later able to buy one more piece in exchange for cigarettes. Lunch consisted of a mug of rice as well as a hearty soup consisting of a good deal of vegetables and corned beef. In the evening was the actual Christmas dinner. Once again we were issued with a large mug of rice and soup with meat and butter. I received 2 extra serves of rice and soup from guys who couldn’t finish theirs. I ate the two servings. Then we got a sort of Bengal rice. Then came the pudding, again two servings. Nevertheless, I still went to bed not fully satisfied. A few of the men left the hall looking very pale. Too much to eat I chuckled to myself. That promised something for the next day! And sure enough most of them didn’t want their breakfast on Boxing Day. The saying was: “Give it to Maul” That morning I was given ( as opposed to having to swap cigarettes for it) a total of 5 complete portions of breakfast consisting of a mug of rice and soup. On top of this, I was able to buy a serve of pudding and a serve of Bengal rice with cigarettes. At midday I said “I am satisfied”, but by 2PM I was on the look out for another feed! Rice on its own is not filling. The lack of meat, fats sugar, protein, other foodstuffs and vitamins cause the hunger. Oh dear there were a lot of people who suffered from the trots on Boxing day. You only had to say to them, “Do you want some more rice?” and they would turn deathly pale and run for the toilets!

What a difference with today….6th of September 1945. We have raised our own rations to 900 grams (1lb 130z)! Many now ask for only half rations thanks to the extra portions we receive from the Red Cross and that which the Americans throw over the camps from their blessed B29’s. Now I weigh, after 10 days, 65kg (143lb).

29th September: A lot has happened since I last wrote. Today we are entering the harbor of Manila. How long we will stay there is not yet known. We are counting on about a month. While there, I hope to receive news from you. I haven’t heard from either Huib or Jan (brother and brother-in-law, both of who survived the war in different camps). You probably have, because they too would have now been given the opportunity to send you a telegram.

Dear ones, so long for now, much love Hans.

 

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