Copyright Information for Contents of Appendix A: Copyright in these works is vested with the author being Elisabeth Samethini of Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Here follows Lisa Samethini's personal account of the war and the Japanese occupation of Java:
To Mary-em, Frances, Christine and Sandra,
This is my story of what happened to me during the war, from 1941 to 1945. Where do I begin?
I was born on 9th May, 1922 in Amsterdam. My father's name was Frans Anton Boerman. My mother's name was Maria Antonia Johannes Willian. Dad was in the Dutch Navy when the war broke out in Europe 1939 We were then living in Indonesia. The town we lived in was Soerabaia and our address was Darmo Boulevaard, 149, and opposite our house was the zoo. My sister Tiny and I went often to the swimming pool at Tegalsari on our bikes and that was where I met a certain man named Frank Samethini, who was to become your father. When he first saw me, he told his friend, "That is the girl I am going to marry," and he did. The cheek of that man!
We married on 4th June, 1941 in Bandoeng. Why in Bandoeng? Well, Frank and his brother Han had been called up into the Army, and when Han said that he was taking his wife with him, Frank asked my father if I would be able to come too, and my father said, "Well, you'd better get married then." But I had to fix up the papers, so Frank went on ahead, and I followed two weeks later and we got married. The reason they, the boys, had to go there was so that the Army could speed up the process to make them sergeants, because the war was no also with Japan and they were coming to Indonesia. It was one sad wedding with no family or friends, besides Anna and Han. But I was happy, because my life at home was not a happy one, so I was glad to go. I was with the man I loved and I felt free as a bird!
When we came home two months later, we lived with Frank's mother. We had our own room. We made it nice with wall paper.
Anna, Han's wife, was going to have a baby. I wanted one too. After being married for two months, I found I was pregnant. I wasn't so happy the first three months because of morning sickness. Then the war broke out and Frank was called up into the Army. I was 19 years old, 6 months married and 4 months pregnant.
Once a month Frank came home from the Army for one weekend. When he had to go away again, I would cry my eyes out. Shortly afterwards the bombs began to fall. The first time it happened, I was visiting a friend of Mother's. The sirens started with a horrible noise and I thought they were just practicing but then the bombs started to fall and the aeroplanes were fighting in the air. We were so afraid and we all dived under the bed. After what seemed like hours, the all clear came. We were all dazed and didn't know what to think about it at all. There was chaos everywhere. We didn't know how to get home and luckily an Army truck with soldiers picked us up and off we went back to Brantas Street where our house was and Mum (your Oma) and Tiny went to their home. My father's ship had been bombed and out of the 350 men on board only 80 were picked up by the Japs. My father was not one of them. He was dead at 45 years of age.
Some friends of my mother-in-law built a shelter in front of our house with sand bags, and every time the sirens started we had to go in there sometimes for 8 hours. I was seven months pregnant. That lasted for about two months and then the Japs invaded Indonesia and the war was lost.
My mother's house was ransacked by the Indonesians and Mum and Tiny came to live with us, or rather next door where a little pavillion was empty. We stayed home as much as possible, we were so scared. We heard nothing from Frank or Han.
On the 8th of April, 1942 I was in labour. I could not go to the hospital because the Japs had taken everything. So Mum called the Indonesian doctor and Mary-em was born the next day, 7 lb. 950 grams. She was nearly 3 weeks old when we found out where Frank was. The Kaiser of Japan gave permission on his birthday that we could visit our husbands for two hours. When we came to Frank's camp, a man asked me if I was Mrs. Samethini, and I said I was, and he told me Frank had been brought to another camp, where I was told he had been moved again. But this time somebody told me that Frank had seen the advertisement that I had put in the paper where I had told him he was the father of a little girl. (A friend of Frank's said, "Hey, Frank, did you know that you are a father?" He had found a newspaper and, having heard nothing about the outside world, started to read from A to Z and found that notice. It was like that, to me a miracle. No one was allowed to have newspapers. Somebody must have smuggled it in.
So then we went to a third camp, only to hear that visiting time was over. We had also gone into a wrong street and some drunk Japs wanted to get me out of the "dogcart". Out of the building came a Japanese officer who told us in Dutch that the street was especially for "bad girls" and he yelled something at the drunks to make them go away. It was one of the most horrible days of my life. When I came home, I started bleeding badly and Toet, my mother-in-law, called the doctor, and he gave me something for it and I had to stay in bed for two days.
So that was that. Frank did not see his little baby girl. She, Mary-em, slept through it all. Three months later, we were allowed to visit our husbands again. Hundreds of women and children waiting, but this time I made sure we were in time and Frank finally saw his little girl for the first time. He told me how upset he was when he didn't see me the first visiting time and I told him what had happened. He told me how painful it was with all there other women there and me not there. When the time was up, we were so upset and then we parted again. But I promised to walk past the camp everyday, and call him. When I did this, the other men would call Frank and we would walk up and down, saying a few words to one another, but we had to be careful that the Japs did not see. After a few weeks Frank was put on a transport and he went to Singapore and then later to Japan.
Mum and Tiny were by then living with another family in a house where I visited every weekend. One day the Japs built a wall around about a hundred houses. It was called a camp. Mum's house was there and one day when I visited Mum, the Japs wanted us to stay. But we explained we did not have any clothing with us so they let us out, but we could not go back in again.
So I couldn't see Mum again. The 24th of September, 1943 we were told that we had to report back at the camp. On the 28th Ida, who had been renting a room at Toet's place, and I went out to get some information as to what we could take with us to the camp. There were about 50 other women there. After hours of waiting, we were allowed to go home to get our things, still not sure what to bring. We had to be back the same day. We went home and started packing. It was awful. Toet was crying, Anna was crying. We had to call for a "dogcart" (a cart pulled by a horse) with Ida, Mary-em and me with our belongings, it was a drama.
When we arrived at the camp, I thought I would go to my mother, but when we arrived, they were gone. They were taken to another camp. So they put Mary-em and I with another family. The other family didn't like that at all. We had no mosquito net so Mary-em and I had a horrible night. The next day I found Ida and we went to the office, and asked permission to live in my mother's house. We were allowed to do that, so with the three of us we moved in. Mum and Tiny had left a lot of things behind. We lived in one bedroom because another family had the other rooms and those people were a nasty lot. They made lots of noise, so Mary-em could not not sleep. When I asked them not to be so loud, they just laughed. It was terrible. I cried a lot.
After about 4 weeks, we were told to pack up, we were going away. I had a heavy pack on my back, a big bag in the other [hand] and pushing Mary-em in the pram. We were loaded into big trucks. Mary-em and I sat next to the driver because the truck was full. We drove to a railway station and waited for a long time in the hot sun. Then we were loaded onto the train and we were in that train for 26 hours, sometimes stopping for a bit of food and for some hours, it went on and on, and we were not allowed to get off the train. The trip itself was really about 2 hours, but they kept driving backwards and forwards to confuse us and make us feel low.
After 26 hours we arrived at Ambarawa, where we were loaded onto trucks and driven to a camp. Poor Mary-em. The whole time she had been on my lap where she had slept, and the only thing I could give her was a little coffee or coconut milk. We were both so tired.
When we arrived, a Jap yelled and swore at us. Welcome to Ambarawa Camp.
They gave us some food in banana leaves which was rice with something in it, and we had to eat that with our fingers because our possessions didn't arrive till the next day.
We were with 25 women and children in one big room. One bench against the windows, one in the middle and one against the wall. We had one [square] metre for each person to live in, with a mattress made from something like straw. It was very thin, and to sleep on it was very hard. Poor Mary-em was sick. She had dysentery and she had to go on a diet: thin porridge and tea. She was never any trouble, except that she had a bad temper. If something didn't go her way, oh boy! Screaming and stamping with her little feet. The worst was when she didn't want to eat and I would get mad at her. I always had to sing her to sleep, and if I didn't want to, she would cry till I did.
There was a lady who was a minister's wife and she was pregnant with her sixth child. She had a little boy, and of course he cried often at night. After six months he got sick and died. It was very sad. He came out of the hospital (he had a fever and his mother thought it was from teething) and she thought he would be all right. But I could see death in his little face.
The food was terrible, one cup of rice and a bit of rubbish that they called vegetables. It was never enough and we were always hungry. The bread was made out of starch, and you could hit someone on the head with it and they would've got a nasty bump. In the beginning, we had a shop where you could buy lollies or biscuits. But that did not last very long.
Every morning we had to line up in front of our room and a Japanese soldier would come and inspect us. We would stretch ourselves up so we would be looking down on him, and he didn't like it. Mary-em cried every time she saw a man. She wasn't used to them and she would be scared. We all had to wear our number and we had to bow down about 15 inches. Every time they came around you had to bow. One lady said softly, "Drop dead" while she bowed her head, and the Jap said, "Thank you." He understood Dutch. She was lucky he did not hit her. We were not allowed to wear lipstick, and of course there were girls who did so anyway, and they got punished and got hit on their head. And then came the time we had to do "night shift". Ida and I had to get out of bed and walk around for an hour to see that everything was O.K. After one hour you had to wake up two other people and they did the next hour. You counted yourself lucky if you did not see a Jap or two, because if they were drunk and you were not quick enough with the answer to their query about how many people were in the hospital or so on, they would hit you. The officer in charge of the camp would send a letter around the camp in Japanese and we had to learn it, like it or not.
Sometimes we had to work outside the camp, like weeding along the road side. Nonsense of course, but it was meant to keep you "low" and sometimes they gave you a cigarette as payment. One day a lady was tortured because she smuggled a letter out of the camp and she was caught. They stuck sharp pointed matches under her fingernails and she became very sick.
The worse the war started to go for the Japs, the meaner they became. The food became less and less. One of the problems was that there was not enough water and no soap. You stood for hours waiting for your turn with a bucket of water. Forget about taking a shower or washing
your clothing. You had to "make do" with that one bucket. If the taps in the bathroom were going, everybody went mad. But the hunger was your worst enemy.
There was a group of Negro women in the camp separated from us, and I would take my dresses there and exchange them for bread. (We did not care what they had to live on as they got the same rations as us. We had become so hardened and desperate to eat. You became very selfish.)
The camp was surrounded by a high fence, and a group of us would go close to the fence at night and ask the Indonesians outside for food, like eggs or sugar, and you would give them money or rings. One day the Japs found out and we were punished by making us stand in the sun all day. I could not take it and fainted, and we were all burnt to a crisp, so no more fencing. Some still tried it, but I was not game anymore.
One day a child got the chicken pox. In a matter of days all the children were sick, including Mary-em. Then we had an outbreak of whooping cough and all the kids were sick. Poor M.E., she was so sick and nothing to help her, there was no medicine. When that was over, kids started to die, from what we did not know. One day they were healthy, the next day they were dead. Women started to die with dysentery and malaria. I was in the camp hospital with dysentery and all they gave you was Epsom salts. There was no medicine. Then I had malaria. Dysentery was easy to get because of the rotten food and the toilets were nothing but planks over holes in the ground. The water situation and the heat, that was enough to make you sick. When I was in hospital, very sick with dysentery, there was a little girl singing a Dutch song about green grass under your feet, and she stopped singing. I heard the mother crying. The little girl had died.
Many people died, specially older people, their legs swelling full of water and when the fluid would reach their heart, they would die too.
One day they, the Japs, told us that 500 more women and children would come to the camp. We were not too happy about that because it meant less food for us. When they arrived we had to carry their baggage in while they looked on and told us off if we were not careful enough with their belongings. We wanted to hit them. We had to make room for them and our one metre space became even smaller. On top of that, they sent us a group of old men but, thank God, they did not stay long. Sometimes we would get officers visiting us to see how everything was, and everything had to look nice and clean. We had to stand in front of our beds (if you could call them that). It was such a farce.
One terrible day, all women under 25 had to parade in front of the Japs who sat at long tables (there were about six of them), looking us over. Some of the women's numbers were even written down (we all had our numbers on). I had Mary-em with me, thank God for that. She may have kept me safe from being sent to a "whore camp". Ten girls were taken away and we heard later they were raped time and time again and held in cells. The head of the camp kept saying that nothing would happen to those girls, but we knew better. I am sure they wanted young unmarried women, and because I had M.E. they did not want me. They also took little boys away to the camps where the men were. It was terrible for those mothers of those kids. One older woman, who was a whore, gave herself up in exchange for a young girl, so the girl stayed with her mother. All that was very upsetting. We had enough to cope with. Hunger, sickness and death. That was the order of the day. Singing was not allowed. No Christmas service, so we became more and more disheartened. In the beginning we were hoping it would not last too long. And every time we would say that next Christmas we would be home.
One day I had a terrible toothache. My face was swollen and I had to wait till the Jap gave our doctor a pair of pliers to pull out teeth. I had to go. I was very nervous. I was number one in the line waiting to see him. I was put in a chair, a nurse standing behind me holding my hands. The doctor told me he was not a dentist. He asked which tooth it was and I told him. He gave me an injection but told me that it might not work. Well, it didn't help and when he pulled the tooth, I yelled my head off, the pain was so terrible. He was not sure he had the right one. I said, "Let me see it." I was happy to see it was the right one because it was black. I felt very sorry for the woman behind me.
All the women in the camp stopped having their periods. This was because of bad nutrition, as we had also lost so much weight and were always so tired all the time.
In December, 1943 we were making presents for the kids between 2 and 12 years old. M.E. was not yet two, so she was not going to get anything. The woman who had decided all this thought that children as young as M.E. were too young to understand. I was furious, so I made some gifts myself. I made a ball, an elephant and a rabbit. You could make those things from old clothing or you could pull out some knitting and make something from that.
On 9th April, 1943 it was M.E.'s 2nd birthday. Ida and I had some material and embroidery thread and we made her a book. She was "over the moon" about it. And now, 50 years later, she still has it.
There was a little boy who was always pestering her, and she got so mad one day that she bit him on the leg. You could see the teeth marks in the little boy's skin. The mother was furious but I did not spank M.E. because I could not blame her. The next day, they sent 13 people to our camp from Sourabaja and they told us that it had been bombed in four places.
January 1944 - The food was so bad and little of it, and we were so hungry. Sometimes they opened a little shop where we could buy some lollies and biscuits. They paid us 1.50 a month.
June 1944 - All of a sudden a hundred of us were sent to another camp called "Banjoebiroe". We had to walk. It was about 5 kilometres and it took us about three hours because of the children, and we had to carry our own baggage. M.E. was so happy because she had not seen anything outside the camp before. The Indonesian women were working in the rice fields and because it was so far away, she called them little boys. She had blisters and her toes were bleeding, but not a tear or a cry. She seemed not to feel it. She was that happy to be outside the camp. The next day she was sick, vomiting and with a tummy ache. She never cried, only askin for "Mummy".
Our breakfast was porridge from tapioca powder. It was like a big bowl of jelly and M.E. could not swallow it. The bread had been made of starch. This camp we were now in was an army camp. It had big rooms that could fit in about 40 women and children. There was a bathroom so big, and when you showered with 15 other women at the same time, it was very embarrassing. It was also sad to look at the old women with all their skin hanging so loose from all the weight loss. I was skinny myself, but I didn't want to be reminded of the fact.
The Japs had an idea. We had to look for snails in the big backyard and eat them. We got buckets full and we brought them to the kitchen, where the women made of puree of them. We got one spoon each. I gave Mary-em my spoon because she needed it more. She had a mouthful of sores which I wiped with iodine. This was a big drama of course, as it hurt so much. We all used salt mixed with water to heal our wounds and it worked well.
There were at least five other camps in the neighbourhood, and one day a woman had smuggled a note to another camp. She was found out, and we had to watch as the Jap swung her around and around by her hair. Some others had smuggled food out and they were caught, and had to kneel down with bamboo sticks under their knees and stay there for hours. If one fainted, then a bucket of water would be thrown over her because if one fainted the others would fall too, because they were all tied together on the one bamboo.
There were rumours going around that the war was soon going to be over. One day the Japs told us we had to walk to a station to carry the luggage of other women who were being moved to a camp close by to us. Ida and I were to go, about 50 women in all. We walked to the station, which was 5 km away, and when the train arrived about 115 women and children came out. Of course we asked where they were from. After a few weeks of doing this I started to ask after my mother and sister. One day someone called out that they knew my mother and sister, and that they were coming out on the last transport. I was so happy that at last I would see them again, but I got sick again with diarrhoea and had to stay in bed. Every time I asked if anybody knew when the last transport was coming. Ida came back one day and told me the next
day Mum and Tiny would be arriving. So I went the next day but we were not allowed to mix with the other women. So we were standing on one side of the station, and when those women came out of the train, I looked and looked, and all of a sudden I saw them and started to call them. They heard me but could not see me, and the other women around me started to call out too, "Mum, Tiny!" And then they saw me and I could not go to them. We all cried and waved till the time came to load up the baggage and the others made sure Mum and Tiny were in the last group, so we could talk. We cried of course, and when we came to the camp, Mum gave me an egg and some sugar and then we parted again. But I knew where they were, about 10 minutes walking distance from our camp.
They were alive! Tiny was so big. She had to work very hard for the Japs. She was part of what they would call a "working group". That included moving furniture, ploughing fields, and she got hit by the Japs. At the same time she had to look after Mum, who was often sick, stealing food for her, and hunger and sickness always there. I think this was April 1945. I am not sure, I have forgotten so many things. I had no more contact with them of course.
In August a funny thing started to happen. We did not have to work outside any more. Rumours went around that the war was over but we could not believe it. Why didn't anyone tell us then? It was all said in a whispering tone and we saw the Japs coming and going. They seemed to disappear and it was very still. And then, about 6 o'clock it came, the words we were waiting for, the war was over. Nobody was jumping up and down, nobody told us what to do. Women were called to the office and told that their husband was dead, and they came back crying. Then, about a week later, a long list was posted outside the office with the names
of those men who were dead. Frank's name wasn't on it and so I knew he was alive, but where I didn't know.
I asked permission to go to my mother's camp and was told by the office there was no way, but then a week later I was told I could go, and I had to leave within two hours and get myself over there. I packed our belongings and after a long time begging for a trolley to put our things on, and after all I had Mary-em too. Nobody lifted a finger to help me. Finally, the minister's wife said that she would help me push the trolley, and so me with Mary-em on one arm, I came to the camp. There I waited again for permission to get in there and my nerves were at the breaking point. And then Mum and Tiny were there and they helped me in. They did not know that I was coming, and now M.E. and I were not alone anymore.
In no time the Indonesians came to sell veggies and meat. We had not seen meat for three years and we did not have any money, so we exchanged a dress for meat and so on. Mum and I went out of the camp (that was part of the first days of freedom) to a village to sell some dresses. We sold all that we had and went happily back to the camp. What we did not realise was that we could have been shot at by the Indonesians. There were a lot of Indonesians who were now our enemies.We heard that my old camp at Ambawara had been stormed by 800 Indonesians and they had killed hundreds of women and children. After a few weeks we were not allowed to go outside the camp anymore. We didn't understand what was going on.
Then we were told the Indonesians were going to attack us. Ten Gurkhas (these were Indian soldiers serving under the British Army, ed.) arrived to protect us. We were all in a state of shock. I shuddered at the thought of me and Mum wandering around to other villages to sell some clothes. Now I understood why they looked at us so strangely as we
walked through the kampong all by ourselves. So now we were locked up again, for our protection. Right outside my window was one Gurkha soldier with his machine gun and hand grenades, and he showed me through his binoculars from where the Indonesians were coming. When the shooting started, one woman was killed and a few wounded. To get to the kitchen, you had to break down the walls because it was too dangerous to go outside. You had to duck for cover, the bullets flying around into the cooking drums. One Gurkha was killed. My nerves were so bad that I lost control of myself and I started to scream and could not stop. Finally, they calmed me down and I felt so weak, I could not move.
A few weeks later, the English soldiers came to rescue us with big trucks. They had to fight their way through to get to us. We were all packed onto the trucks, about 20 in a truck, with our mattresses on the roof. Along the roads were burning houses. Then the rain started, and our mattreses were soaked and started to leak and we got wet, so the mattresses were thrown off onto the road. After about three hours we arrived in another camp. Some dead Indonesians were still lying on the road. The alarm would still go off and more Gurkhas died. We were surrounded by English soldiers with 14 cannons. Aeroplanes bombed villages and 10 days later we were transported to another camp in Semarang. There we were not welcome and it took some times before we got one room. Eventually, we had a big room where we slept, Mum, M.E., Tiny, a good friend of Mum's (Mrs. Bavan was her name, and even though my mother had known her for a hundred years, they still called each other, even throughout everything, Mrs. Boerman and Mrs. Bavan, in Dutch it was Mevrouw Bavan etc.), her two children and me. We slept, on the floor, all in a row. The idiotic thing was that now the Japanese also had to protect us from the Indonesians. We were safe there.
We had to decide what we were to do and where to go. We decided the best thing was to go to Jakarta. We could not go there by plane, the Indonesians had the airport, so the English decided that we could go by transport ships. Now that took some doing. Off we went again in trucks. If you were on a transport ship for soldiers you don't get a bed. We were below in the ship and slept on hanging mats. If you wanted a shower it was only salt water. M.E. got boils and it was hot. To get our food we had to stand in line, a long row of women and children, and with a bit of flirting, I got extra butter.
After three days we arrived in Jakarta. We got into trucks again and we arrived in our last camp, called Adek. The rooms were enormous, 50 women and children could fit into a room. We were free, with no one shooting at us, and every night we had a band playing and dancing. A lot of English soldiers came every night. I, in the meantime, had found out that Frank was in Manila (he had been transported from Japan), and we wrote to each other. He was trying to get to Jakarta. In the meantime he was sent to Balikpapan and he told me he had a big army tent for us to live in, because there were no houses to live in. Apparently the Aussies had bombed it flat. But I had a good time and everything seemed different. One day they promised me a boat to Balikpapan. I was waiting for hours and the boat did not come. They had forgotten to tell me that the boat was not going. When I wrote this to Frank he got very upset and persuaded a pilot friend of his to bring him to Jakarta. He got permission and one day I was out on the street buying bananas and a truck stopped, and who got out, Frank. We looked at each other and I could not say much, it was such a shock, so I said, "So you finally made it." What a stupid thing to say after three years. He kissed me and I took him into the room where Mary-em was with Tiny and Mum. When M.E. saw him, she jumped off the bed and ran up to
Frank and said, "That's my Pappie!" She recognised him straight away from the photo she used to kiss goodnight every night in the camp. That was a moment you never forgot.
Frank slept with the men and had his money stolen, but after a week we went by plane back to Balikpapan in a plane without chairs. We sat on our luggage and M.E. got airsick but nothing really mattered. When we arrived in Balikpapan we discovered Frank's beautiful tent was stolen. There was a camp for women who were waiting for tents to be erected and they wanted me and M.E. to go there. I told them I had been 3 years in a camp with 3,000 women and children, and there was no way I was going in there. After a lot of talking and me yelling they gave us a two room hut that was meant for an officer. I got it my way and we moved in. We had nothing. They had to bring beds and everything and I think they were happy to get rid of me, but I had learnt a lot in these three years. I was not the naive little girl anymore. I had learnt the hard way to stand up for myself.
We had nothing, but we were so happy. I had one dress made out of parachute material, made by hand, one pair of shorts, one skirt and one blouse. Frank had only his army clothing. We lived there for two years and twice we moved to better tents. In the meantime, we had our second baby, our lovable Fransje.
I could tell you much more, but these were the important things that happened at that time. Years later we had two more lovely girls, Christine and Sandra.
Thank you, Sandra, for doing this work for your sisters. She was the one who started me writing all this down.
Elisabeth Boerman-Samethini passed away in Sydney, Australia on 27 October, 2010 at the age of eighty-eight. She leaves behind four daughters, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
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