Veteran Stories:
Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga

Civilian

  • A small cotton storage bag made for Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga by her mother and sisters, Emmie and Ann, for her birthday, 24 February 1944 at the Soemowono Internment Camp, Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). The bag is made from an old cotton sheet and pulled out threads.

    Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga
  • A small cotton storage bag made for Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga by her sister Emmie, for her birthday, 24 February 1944 at the Soemowono Internment Camp, Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). The bag is made from an old cotton sheet and pulled out threads.

    Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga
  • A small cotton storage bag made for Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga made by her sister Emmie, for her birthday, 24 February 1944 at the Soemowono Internment Camp, Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). The bag is made from an old cotton sheet and pulled out threads.

    Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga
  • Photo of Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga taken after the war.

    Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga
  • Photo of Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga taken in 2010.

    Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga
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"We did not get any food. We did not have any water."

Transcript

[Living conditions in the Ambarawa internment camp in the Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia] From then on, our hunger started because there was never enough food. We still had to work, we had to clean toilets, we had to clean rooms, we had to all keep the grass down with our fingers, there was no tools. We were volunteering in the kitchen, in the hospitals, a lot of people were sick. There was a little sick bay, children died because of starvation. Some people already had illnesses before they entered these camps and there was no medicine. And if people still had some, because some were not plundered [by the Indonesians and Japanese] and they had more medicine and provisions with them, then they were hiding it for other people because there was no way that in this camp, there were a couple of thousand people, there was no way that they could share those couple of tins of whatever they had, milk or, with somebody else.

We walked out of this camp to a little train station where we were ordered to sit down in the burning sun and we sat there a whole afternoon. We were not allowed to move. Once in a while, the Japanese came by, we had to jump off and bow, what were waiting for? And then we said, we were waiting for the train, we were going into a train. And the train never came. And it was close to 5:00 in the afternoon when the train finally chug-chugged into the station. But it was an open station, it was just like a hall, with an overhang, but we were sitting outside in sort of like an area for the camp people.

And out of these trains rolled hundreds of old men who had been transported we think from Bandung [now second largest city in Indonesia] all day in the train, there were a couple of dead people were carried out and they were loaded intro buses. They did not have to walk. And whatever, there was one truck where some sacks like backpacks or a couple of suitcases or bags actually were loaded. But most of them just struggled and they looked so sick.

As soon as the train was empty, we were ordered around screaming, yelling in Japanese, “Get in, get in,” well, in Japanese of course. So we were loading into this closed-up train where these sick people had been in, it stank in there. And you imagine a tropical heat up to 32, 30 degrees we lived in, every day. We were used to that but it was terrible in that train. So we sat there and 6:00, it’s dark, so we struggled in there when it was all of a sudden, it because dark, there were no seats, we sat on the floor. We did not know where we were sitting in. There was one hole at the end of each wagon where we could do our business but you had to step over the people to … We did not get any food. We did not have any water. My mom had one bottle with water for us and she was very very easy giving us a little sip once in a while. All night we sat there in the dark and the train did not move. We were not allowed to open any windows because they were all blocked with wood, closed off.

There were 4,000 people in that camp [name not specified]. Hunger, watery soup, starchy porridge in the morning, it was the tapioca starchy. No milk, no eggs, no meat, nothing. Once when we were there, a cow’s head came in for the soup the Japs had, because we always get soup but you could not see the soup, this is water. So he wanted the tongue and he wanted the inside of the cheeks for himself. That was cut out first and then the rest went into the pot for the whole camp of 4,000 people. It was unreal. People could laugh about it too.

There was a hospital part of the camp full and full of sick people. And they were dying. We had to walk and work outside of the camp and the developed part of the jungle into say like gardens. And they had to be planted but we could never harvest, it grows very fast in the tropics. We could never harvest it because high officers would come to inspect how the ladies could work and what they could, but we were never able to harvest it.

We were there until about July and every day, it got worse. People from our group, next day, they did not appear in our group, young people always had to work outside the camp. Yeah, she had died, 16 year old girl had just died in her sleep. There was no energy. We walked around like zombies.

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