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Marian Bruinvels:
Engelse verhalen/Camp Stories

Ten geleide
Enkele verhalen in het Engels geschreven, speciaal voor kinderen en kleinkinderen van de Eerste Generatie in het buitenland die geen Nederlands begrijpen. Noot van Marian Bruinsveld: "I am most grateful to Mrs Alice Everard from Sawbridgeworth, UK, for correcting these texts'.


Purple bougainvilleas

On the lawn in front of the house Marianne's mother was posing for pictures to be taken by her husband. He needed those pictures of his wife and two little girls for the challenging times ahead. The Japanese troops had invaded the main island Java in March 1942 and soon all the Europeans would be sent to prisons and concentration camps. Marianne's father did his very best to include the purple bougainvillea blossoms in his photographs. Although the pictures were black-and-white he sensed the blossoms would highlight the happy and quiet afternoon. One of these photographs of a dark-haired woman and her daughters in their light dresses would be Mining Engineer Henk Bakker's companion through three long years of imprisonment. Marianne and her sister were in a solemn mood that made them feel important. Momentous times were arriving! The girls felt no fear at all for the oncoming events.

Today, Marianne is looking at her father's prized possessions. They consist of a book of psychology, its margins covered with pencil-scribbled texts in a minute handwriting: her father's plans for the energy supply of East Asia after the war. Furthermore, a book of songs he used for his cabaret performances in the camp. And, most precious, the framed photograph with the purple bougainvillea. Its small hook is a bit rusty.

For three long years the Bakker family was separated. But in February 1947, they arrived, reunited, in the Netherlands. It was the coldest winter in fifty years. After several months, after an eternity of snow and ice, spring finally did happen. The rhododendrons bust out in bloom. "Look! Bougainvilleas!" Marianne shouted.

Life outside the camps October 1942.

Struijswijk prison was quite a long way from their house. Marianne and her mother took a dogcart (a small vehicle) to bring food and some clothing for Marianne's father. Marianne's mother had knitted white cotton socks and the cook had baked a spicy cake. Marianne's mother had wrapped those items together with three brand new white undershorts into a very small package and she had added a letter of encouragement for her husband. No large packages were allowed. After thirty minutes, they arrived at the white, forbidding prison. A guard was standing near the gate, which was flanked by barbed wire fences. The guard, a heiho, carried a gun. He shouted at Marianne and her mother. But after a while he accepted their package. Daddy's name was written on its brown paper in real big letters.

"Why couldn't we see Daddy?" Marianne wanted to know. "Will he write?" Marianne's mother was quiet. There were more questions than answers, these days.

In 1942, life outside the camps was proceeding much as usual. Although some servants had left to join their family in Middle Java, the others went about their business like before the occupation. Food became scarce, so Marianne and her cousins sometimes had to be content with peculiar dishes, but they never went hungry. The Japanese hairdresser like all other Japanese hairdressers and pharmacists turned out to be a member of the Fifth Column and brought out his hidden guns and grenades. Now he walked the streets in military uniform. Marianne's mother cut the hair of the two little girls herself. They wore bobbed hairdos, exactly like the little blond Princesses of Orange, who had sought refuge in Canada. Marianne and her sister were brunettes, but even so they felt a bit like those royal children, far away. By that time is was strictly forbidden to show the national colours any more, so the girls could not use their beautiful red, white and blue bows on Queens Day.

The children contributed to 'work', like their aunts and mothers. Socks had to be knitted, the yarn to be wound on a little wooden wheel by the children. Coarse, brown rice was selected: the bad grains picked out and fed to the chickens. One hundred bad grains would earn a copper cent. The head of our Queen Wilhelmina was depicted on the cent. Schools were closed, due to the war, a fact bitterly regretted by Marianne, who was in absolute veneration and love for her charming first grade teacher, whose name was Miss Lastdrager. She was much adored by Marianne. Henceforth, no more reading lessons or singing of songs! Marianne's mother tried to make up for the missing teacher, but was considered no fit substitute by her pupils.

At first, the Japanese 'economists', as they were called, controlled the city. These civil servants displayed correct behaviour and courteous manner. But after a short time Marianne's mother had to vacate her house. She was lucky to be able to move in with her sister's family. Marianne's uncle was a director of a Swiss firm. Therefore, Uncle Han did not have to go to the prison. Switzerland was neutral. This meant that the Swiss were not at war with the Japanese and that was why most of Uncle Han's relatives were living in his house until finally they too were all summoned to the Japanese camps.

September 1943 Arrival in Cideng

The first camp to which Marianne and her family were sent was the infamous Cideng camp. This camp consisted of an enclosed quarter in the city of Batavia: formerly comfortable homes with a front lawn, a back yard, and outhouses for storage and servant's facilities. Built for one European family, including the customary four or five servants, they were unfit for ten or twelve families. The men had been sent to prisons and working camps all over the archipelago, so in the women's camp Cideng only males below 15 and over 70 were allowed. A few male doctors and pastors could do their beneficial work for the thousands of prisoners.

As mentioned before, Marianne's aunt was married to a Dutchman who was a branch director of a Swiss textile import and export firm. Since Switzerland was neutral during the Second World War, the Japanese at first did not send Marianne's Uncle Han to prison or his female relatives to a camp. So Marianne's family stayed out of the camps for almost one year. During this year, 1942, these camps were relatively well organised; the gates only closed during the night and in the morning friends and relatives were allowed to bring food and clothes to the inmates. Regular food was sufficient, although not very tasty. Women could prepare their own meals and there was soap and enough water to maintain elementary hygiene. At the end of this period circumstances changed for the worse and the women and children started to be sick in great numbers.

Until the day Marianne, her mother and sister had to leave their aunt's home too, Marianne's mother had been very busy packing their things, like mattresses, kitchen utensils and clothes. The Dutch were very optimistic at first and the women were of the opinion that the war would soon be over. But after more than one year of enemy occupation, their mood changed from hopeful to desperate.

For their exodus, Marianne's mother hired two small vehicles; one was a 'dogcart', drawn by a pony, the other a rickshaw, pedalled forth by a cyclist. Although they had to leave all their pets behind, for obvious reasons, Marianne who was sad at first, got expectantly excited about the whole operation and sat down obediently in the small seat next to her mother. As the horse started to pull, the wobbly cart lunged forward. The rickshaw cyclist started to pedal. Marianne looked behind her to wave goodbye to her red Persian tomcat. He stood very still, blinking his green eyes, his tail erect. In the dogcart, their beds and mattresses were lying on their sides, together with suitcases full of clothes, toys, books and also a small, upturned, bedside table. Inside this table Marianne's mother had crammed all the medicines she could possibly take hold of, together with bandages, cotton wool and band-aids. Of course they did not leave their blue-rimmed enamel potty behind. It was quite a long drive to the Cideng camp; they were hot and tired when they arrived at the main gate.

After a lengthy check-in procedure the dogcart and the rickshaw were allowed inside the gates. Marianne and her family were handed their POW-numbers. They received remarkably beautiful numbers: 121 for Marianne's mother, 122 for Marianne herself and 123 for her sister. This indicated that their house was very close to the main gate where the counting had started. They had to wear their number tags like a badge and the woman at the gate told them never to take it off during the day. Marianne wondered if she had even to wear the tag while bathing.

Their new home was indeed very close to the gate: the small procession only had to walk a few steps, and there they were!

The guard shouted at the second house to the left of the main road, and a middle-aged woman walked out of the shadows to meet them. She introduced herself as the appointed head of the whole house and showed Marianne's mother her room. Homes in Batavia usually had a front porch, where one could sit in the shade, a main living room, a dining room, and several bedrooms. Marianne's mother was shown into a rather large bedroom. "This is a room for girls-only families," the head mistress said. "Another lady with two daughters will arrive shortly. Since you are first, you can choose which side of the room you want." Marianne's mother said she preferred the window side of the room, so they would not be disturbed by people walking through their territory. She put up the beds and mattresses, shoved the suitcases under the beds and placed the small medicine table in the middle. Then she started to pull strings between nails in the walls, and she draped some sheets over the strings to partition off their living space from the rest of the room.

Later, they would find a wooden box and some bricks to make steps on both sides of the window, so they could pass in and out of their room without disturbing the other family. Cooking had to be performed on the front porch, but whoever arrived late, as still more people poured into Cideng, had to cook her meals in the garden.

It was a strange and busy day and Marianne and her sister did not sleep until very late. They lay listening to the noises of all those other people. In the back of the house someone was playing Beethoven on a piano.

Pianos, pianos

The next morning Marianne's mother was woken up by a loud shouting. No time to wash or eat breakfast: all women had to stand to attention at the front of the house. The irregular fashion, in which these thirty or more women and children were assembled, aroused the ire of the three inspecting Japanese officers. A few slaps here and pushes there sufficed to arrange the inhabitants of Laan Trivelli 95 into three orderly rows, the children behind their mothers. The front line, which had to be perfectly linear, faced North in the direction of the Great Tenno, the Emperor in Tokyo. A long time was needed for practising the exact positioning of their hands. It was rather difficult, thumbs forward, resting on their small sticky thighs. Then the correct bow was practised, not 90 degrees but 45. After one hour bowing on command the exercise was considered sufficient.

Bread had arrived in the meantime. The children did not like its taste; whole corns of maize were discernible. Marianne's mother used some crunched peanuts to make the sandwiches tastier. She made tea on a charcoal stove and squeezed green oranges (jeruks) for them. After breakfast, Marianne started to look around for some friends to play with.

Soon she found some girls playing with a wooden doll-house. They were squatting in front of the open doll-house and were moving the dolls from one room to another. "Hey, who are you?" they asked. Marianne's sister also appeared, curiously. "You may sew cushions for the doll's chairs", one big blond girl shouted. As Marianne and her sister retreated to ask their mother for materials, they heard a frightening noise.

At the gate of the camp a loud commotion was heard. A huge grand piano was arriving on a flat, horse-drawn cart. "'Number 95! Number 95!" shouted the guards in Malayan. And there the cart came tottering towards their house. The enormous, leg-less instrument was cautiously placed on the dry front lawn. The cart wheeled away, leaving the piano and its beautiful, tapering legs by its side. Several women, acting in a musically superior way, stood deliberating by the stranded giant. They decided to have the piano installed on the back porch.

At the end of the morning the grand piano was standing at the back of the house and the now superfluous, earlier piano, a brown walnut upright one, was placed on the front lawn. "But the rains will ruin it!" Marianne's mother said.

And so they did. The brown walnut instrument was joined by no less than eleven other pianos. Marianne played her little tunes on all of them. Two years earlier, she had received piano lessons from beautiful Mrs. Haasse, the mother of the now famous Dutch author, Hella Haasse. The Japanese invasion caused these lessons to stop. Marianne much regretted the loss of those magic moments, when, after she had played her little tunes, Mrs. Haasse seated herself at the grand piano and played lovely melodies to Marianne's self-invented stories.

After the rains and the subsequent sun shine, the piano strings all gave up and snapped one by one with thunderous bangs. The ivory linings of the keys curled and sprang away. Marianne's tunes acquired a ghost-like clang and in the end they stopped altogether.

The grand piano at the back of the house was used for piano lessons from sunrise till sundown. Every child received fifteen minutes of training. The evenings were reserved for the most advanced students. Marianne fell asleep at night to the accompaniment of Brahms and Beethoven melodies.