How I Lost My Best Friend
When you drive from Jakarta through Bandung and Yogyakarta to Surabaya over the island
Java, you will pass from one little village into the next one. And all along that road you will
see the Bougainvillea showing her beautiful flowers, you will see those nice rice-fields with
the volcanoes in the background. Words are not enough to describe this picture of beauty.
Indonesia, the country where I grew up, the country I always find back in all my dreams, the
country where I lost my best friend.
I feel very privileged to have had the chance to grow up in those wonderful paradisiacal
My father, was 22 years young when he went to Indonesia in 1920, he was an engineer
working for the Dutch KPM/ Java-China-Japan Line. He studied furthermore in Indonesia and
partly in Holland.
In 1925 he went for his study to Holland and there he met my mother. They married in June
1926, in April 1927 I was born and in 1928 the three of us went to Indonesia.
My father had found a job on a coffee and rubber plantation on the island Sumatra, as the
Much later my father told me that he was very surprised about how quickly I had adapted
myself to the life in Indonesia. I had come from Holland as a little Dutch girl spoiled by her
grandparents, into a totally different world.
Sumatra is one of the most beautiful islands of Indonesia. Or must I say was? Because today
thousands of trees are cut or burnt down.
The Sumatrans never worked in our houses so in those days the Dutch imported the Javanese
to become their home-servants. It must have been lonely and difficult for them, Sumatra is
different from Java.
In 1934 the whole world fell into a big economic crisis. The firm in Holland my father
worked for had to close down, all employers were discharged.
My mother, my younger sister and I went to Holland, my father went to Java to look for
another job. Luckily he found one right away.
My mother stayed for 10 months in Holland which was very bad for my school-life, since I
had to switch over from one school to an other in such a short time. First in the town where
my mothers parents lived and then to the town where my fathers parents lived. And all the
time I missed my father.
When at last we were going back home, my grandparents stood there very sad waiting for the
boat to leave, taking us away from them.
My grandfather (fathers father) asked me if I wasn't sorry to leave Holland and I answered:
"No, I am going to my daddy" He said; " Oh that is very sweet of you, I will write this to
On the ship to Indonesia I celebrated my 8th birthday and I was going home, this time to the
most wonderful island in Indonesia, Java!
Of course I had to go to school again, so I had to leave my parents and had to stay in a
boardinghouse in Tasikmalaya. The plantation was too far from school. This lasted only
6 months but to me it seemed much longer!
But after those long 6 months we went to the most loveliest town ever, we went to Malang.
Going to a boardinghouse was no longer a problem. I could come home every Saturday
afternoon and back to Malang every Monday morning at 5 a.m.
Our schools began at 7.30 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m. The schools in Indonesia were very good,
we learnt much more about Asia than the children in Holland and at the same time we also
learnt the same as the Dutch children. So our Basic School took us one year longer
than in Holland.
My life between Malang and the plantation was a real paradise on earth. In Malang I had my
friends, my schoolmates and my swimming-pool. I became a good swimmer.
On the plantation I learnt horse-riding on my mountain horse. I went to the Kampung ( a
small Indonesian village in a town or on a plantation). I loved to listen to their Indonesian
music, some played guitar and others sang. And I always received something sweet to eat.
Indonesians are very generous and hospitable!
I used to walk for hours over the plantation with my father. We talked a lot, he was my best
friend, the best friend I ever had. My father was born in Holland but he knew a lot about the
Indonesians and their country. Oh yes, he loved Indonesia, but unlike me, Holland was his
motherland. To me Holland was just the country from my parents and grandparents.
I had become a part of Indonesia, to me it was my mother country. If there had not been that
terrible World War, I know that I would still be living in Indonesia.
In 1940 Germany occupied Holland. My parents, all our parents, were extremely worried
about their motherland and specially their family. They were frustrated for they couldn't
do anything to help them.
And then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Our lives in Indonesia began to change slowly but
surely. Together with our Dutch Army we saw British, American and Australian soldiers
Our parents and teachers told us that the Dutch would fight till the last man, never would we
give Indonesia to Japan.
I was almost 15 years old when the Japanese soldiers walked into Malang.
My sister and I were at our boarding-school when we saw them walking in.
We had lost the war against Japan.
We went to the plantation , the Japanese had closed all our schools and Dutch became a
The Indonesian police came to put seals upon all the radios from the Dutch living in
We were completely cut off from the rest of the world for 3« years long. All the Dutch
soldiers and marines were put into camps. Later on many of them were transported to Burma
and Sumatra to work on the infamous railways. Others were transported to Japan to work in
the mines. Thousands men died of hunger of malaria. They all died in deep misery. Some of
them were bombed by accident by the Americans or the British, most of the those poor men
My father had to bring his car to the nearby police-post. It was no longer his car, it belonged
to the Japanese Army. My father did not receive any papers telling that he had delivered his
car. Some Indonesians were laughing. The white master had to handover his car to the
Japanese Army. My dad and I had to walk all the way back home, my father with tears in his
eyes. He was very worried about what was going to happen to his wife and his daughters!
My father, like all Dutch, had to pay 150 guilders for his "new" Japanese identity card and 80
guilders for my mothers card, in those days a fortune. This was of course pure theft.
My dad had to work for an extremely very small salary, but at least we were still free.
In February 1943 my father had to leave the plantation. He asked me to look after my mother
and my two younger sisters until the war was over and he could come back.
16th of April 1943, it was my sixteenth birthday and I was allowed to visit my father in his
camp in Malang. Of course I was not allowed to go inside but we could speak in Malay under
the surveillance of an Indonesian guard who kept a distance between my father and me of two
meters. We were allowed to speak 10 minutes. I told my dad that everything was still fine on
It was the last time I saw my father. The Kempeitai (Japanese Gestapo) killed him March 25
in 1945. A last gentle smile on his face was his present for my 16th birthday .
Only 8 years earlier I had told my grandfather that I was going back to my daddy.
June 1943 my mother, my two sisters and I, had to leave the plantation.
Rasmina our beloved old cook started crying, Karto the head-superintendent who was from
now on in charge of the plantation Sumber Sewu stood at attention and all the other
Indonesians around us did the same: " Hormat ( respect) to Mr. and Mrs.van Kampen" he
My mother started crying and I had tears in my eyes, she handed Karto the keys of our small
but oh so happy house. We left with four rucksacks. We had to leave everything behind us,
also my mountain-horse, the two adorable little white dogs Molly and Dolly, our sweet cats,
the birds, the rabbits and the fowls. We lost everything. This cosy small house was no longer
our home. My poor mother couldn't stop crying.
We were brought into a camp for women and children in Malang. This camp was not really
bad. November 1943: my mother received the message that my father had been taken out of
his camp and was brought to the Kempeitai prison in Malang. He had been hiding weapons
and munitions. My father had been appointed as a Land-guard for several plantations through
the Dutch East Indies Army. Since he was very technical I guess that he also helped with
blowing up some bridges. My father was like all the others optimistic about the war against
Japan. America would win that war. Of course, but when ?
We never received any papers about a legal process or anything else telling us what happened
to my father. Also the Red Cross couldn't give us any information.
February 1944 we ( mother, sisters and I ) were dumped into trucks and we drove through
Malang to the station. All along the road were many very young Indonesians laughing and
were calling us names. Of course the white masters were now nothing more but slaves to the
Japanese Army. I bent my head , my eyes were full of tears.
I felt terribly sad that very day, because all this happened in Malang, the town I loved so
much, my school, my friends, the town of my youth.
The train would take me further away from my father. What a horrible world.
We were brought by train, in good vans, but without food and without anything to drink
24 hours long in the sun, to Ambarawa, Central Java. From there we were transported to
Banyu Biru. Our concentration-camp Banyu Biru camp 10 was an old prison full of dirt and
The four of us had to go into a one person cell. We received extremely little food, we could
hardly wash ourselves nor our clothes, there was not enough water for so many people.
I had to work outside the camp, as from now on I was a slave from the Japanese Army .
All day long I had to load and unload heavy big stones. I had to work on the land. I had to
bring heavy cases on cavalry wagons to the station of Ambarawa about one hour walking
from Banyu Biru and of course one hour back. It was a very hard job.
Most of the Indonesians we passed on the road felt sorry for us, but of course there was no
contact, that was strictly forbidden.
Every two weeks I had a malaria attack, I had tropical abscesses underneath my feet and in
the end I also suffered from oedema. My mother too had malaria and an other type of oedema,
my younger sister had jaundice and the youngest one also had malaria and she became
completely apathetic. She lost a part of her memory, she can not remember my father or the
places where we used to live before the war.
And daily I prayed in myself, asking God to protect my parents and my sisters.
Begging to stop this horrible war for the whole situation was so inhuman, we were all
completely lost in a sadistic and very racial discriminating world.
I have seen very brave women who gave me reason to stay optimistic. I have seen little boys
been taken away from their mothers and been sent to a camp for men only. They stood there
on a truck, 10 years old leaving their mothers while their fathers were somewhere else maybe
in Burma or maybe dead. I have seen women losing their minds through all their grieves I
have seen some girls and young women been taken away as "Comfort women" to the
Japanese brothels. I have seen how women have been beaten up so badly that almost all their
bones were broken. I can still hear the screaming in my head, we all had to stand there to
watch. I have seen three women been hanged 12 hours long under the burning tropical sun,
with their hands tied up on their backs. We had to watch all the time with tears in our eyes .I
have seen it daily how little children died of hunger and mothers who stood there with no
tears left in their eyes when their dead children were carried out of the camp.
Also my mother, my sisters and I became sicker every day, specially the last 6 months.
We were the victims of hatred of racism and sadism and that is very difficult to understand
when you are a teenager, nothing more than a schoolgirl.
We couldn't understand Japanese, so they screamed louder and louder, only sometimes we
had a interpreter.
Every morning we had to bow for the emperor Hirohito, bow for the Japanese Army and we
were so terrible tired, many of us could hardly stand up straight.
During the last six months about six to seven people a day died in our camp. In our
concentration-camp 5500 women and children were kept as prisoners, although the
prison was built for 500 persons only.
And each time there was less to eat, less place to sleep, and we tried so hard to get those lice
out of our hair, tried to kill all those bugs. We tried to sleep as much as we could. But every
two weeks I was also on night duty from 2 a.m. till 4 .a.m., several women had to walk
through a part of the camp, two women together, it was quite cold at night, our clothes were
worn out, and of course our shoes too. Most of us walked barefoot.
During one of those nights a woman, completely naked, was running through the camp while
she couldn't stop screaming, she had lost her mind. We had to wake up our Dutch camp-head
Mrs. Eigeleberg. Two Japanese took the poor woman away out of the camp and we never saw
We were punished for each battle the Japanese Army lost against America.
And Japan was losing very badly, we could feel that by their behaviour towards us.
And slowly but surely we all became indifferent, all we were interested in was food!
Food for our loved ones and for ourselves.
breakfast: a small plate with starch;
lunch: one small cup of boiled rice, some small pieces of cabbage leaves and a teaspoon of
sambal (hot spices);
supper: a small plate of starch with some tiny cabbage cuttings, some sort of a soup.
We never had any meat and no fruit either.
This menu never changed, 1« year long.
And then all of a sudden the War was over. A terrible bomb fell on Hiroshima and another
one on Nagasaki. Our Japanese torturers quickly left our camp. Other Japanese soldiers came
and we received more food.
Three weeks later our next war began. The young Indonesians were stimulated 3« years long
by the Japanese propaganda "Hate the Dutch". They planned to kill all the Dutch who were
still waiting in their camps for better days. They killed thousands of Eurasians in Java for
these had been "free" during the war with Japan. Many Dutch leaving their camps have been
killed by those young Indonesians. The Japanese Army can be proud of their so thorough
Lord Mountbatten ordered the Japanese Army and their Kempeitai to protect the Dutch
prisoners of war (POWs), because he could not so quickly send his own troops to Indonesia.
After the War, America divided us in "The Pacific War" and "The South East Asia War. So
we came under the protection of Great Britain and Australia.
History has forgotten most of those from outside The Pacific War for they did not fall under
America. That is why so very few have heard about the civilian Dutch war victims, 80.000
men, women and children from whom 10.500 died during WW II in Indonesia. It were the
Japanese soldiers from the infamous Kempeitai who came to rescue us from the young
Indonesians full of hate against the Dutch.
When the British soldiers came, they took us out of those dangerous camps to a protected
town Semarang, from there we were transported by ship to Sri Lanka.
I stood there on that ship that took me away from everything I loved, my father and from
Indonesia that was no longer my country . The French say ; "Partir, c'est mourir un peu",
and that is so right for leaving a place you really love is dying a little and that was exactly
how I felt. I had to leave the most happiest part of my life behind me in Indonesia.
I was like a young uprooted tree.
In Kandi, Sri Lanka we received the bad news that my father had died in the Kempeitai prison
from Malang. I became completely indifferent for what happened around me, the shock of
my father's death was too cruel. I had lost the best friend I ever had. Often I thought that it
was all a mistake, and that my father was coming back home to us.
It took me 10 years to get myself out of this nightmare. I began to realize that this was not
what my father had expected from me. I slowly found myself back. Only talking about that
dirty war or about my fathers death, I just couldn't.
Until in 1995 one of my friends, also from Indonesia, ( but she was in Switzerland during the
Second World War ) asked me to write something on paper about those terrible years. I did!
"You must go back to Indonesia and fast" she said.
And so we decided to go to Indonesia in 1996 where we arrived the13th of September, on my
father's birthday, on the island Sumatra.
Indonesia has healed my wounds. The most beautiful island Sumatra fascinated me
I fell in love with Sumatra just like my father had so many years ago. I hadn't felt so happy
since ages. It was an absolutely coming home, the Sumatrans are charming people.
When our plane landed on Java's ground I had tears of pure joy in my eyes.
I had left the Dutch East Indies in 1946 and now in 1996 I was back home in Indonesia.
My friend and I went, of course, to Malang the town we both knew so well. I have taken the
courage to visit the prison where my beloved father was killed, to pay him my last respect .
My father has no grave, his body lays somewhere under the soil in Malang.
I have been told during this visit, that all the men were tortured once a week in that prison. I
saw the place, the cell, where my father had to live. In the cell was just a bed of cement
without a mattress and above his head a lamp, burning day and night. There was also one hole
in the floor, which was used as a toilet. During the monsoon water from the toilets, including
the vermin, was all over the place. Extremely unhygienic!
That someone you love so much has died in such horrible circumstances is almost too much
to bear. And then not even a grave where I could bring some flowers. Nothing !! Just empty
My father lived almost two years long in this prison he has most certainly fought for his
he wanted to come back to us. But he lost this fight, he died in pure misery.
I went to the plantation Sumber Sewu where I was received very warmly. The people of the
plantation brought my father back to life . It was an absolutely wonderful and a deep
My Indonesians, my mother country Indonesia, gave me back what I had missed so much:
"Sunshine in my heart". I have taken it with me back to Holland.
In the year 2000 I went with a group of other Dutch war victims to Japan. We have visited
Nagasaki, we have seen what the A Bomb has done to the innocent people of Japan.
But I have also made friends in Japan !
No, I cannot forget the cruelty from the Japanese Army that I have experienced in Indonesia
during WW II.
But of course I will never blame the Japanese people for what Japanese war criminals have
done in Asia. I do understand very well that the Japanese people suffered too during WW II.
This was a long story to tell you how I lost my best friend, my father!
Elizabeth van Kampen
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