Liberation of camps in Dutch East Indies – Derk’s Story

Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Java

Composed by Dr Bernice Archer

From Derk HilleRisLambers a Dutch boy interned with his mother and three sisters in Java.

My mother, botanist Dr Willemina Maria (Willy) HilleRisLambers – Coelingh, 40 yrs old, has managed to keep herself, her three daughters, and one son (me) alive from 5 June 1943, while confined in internment camps Wijkkamp in Malang, Karang Panas in Semarang, and Lampersari, also in Semarang.

My father Marius, botanist as well, survived in camps Marinekamp in Malang, 4th and 9th Bat. in Tjimahi, Baros 9 also in Tjimahi, “Mater Dolorosa” in Batavia, now Jakarta, and the Tjikini hospital also in Batavia.

My mother kept a war diary, and in her entry for 15 August 1945 she marks the Japanese capitulation. This is remarkable, because in many internment camps this news was shared only after several days’ delay.

15 August 1945

Today just 175 grams of rice, again 5 grams less! But I don’t get too much worked up because, if rumours turn out true we’ll get 500 grams rice + 1 tin + a handful of peppers, promised us by Van Mook.1 Word of mouth has it that yesterday at 4 o’clock the capitulation has taken place! I can’t believe it. Imagine, never again having to use an electric iron to cook your bits of sajur and sambal dishes, with children on the lookout, who shout “fritters” when there is danger! Never again fumbling in pitch darkness with pans with vegetables for others, that sometimes fall over because they can’t be set straight, or they cook dry because in my drowsiness in the middle of the night I don’t manage to turn the dial, or turn it too far!

No more remorse, and disgust for myself when my terrible hunger makes me lose control so much that I eat food that really should go to the children, or when I catch myself hoping that Heleen won’t be able to finish her plate. And the despair when my two youngest are still so terribly hungry after eating a small pancake of barely 40 grams of “Asia Flour” (the ration for 1 meal, for those who can’t digest cassava porridge).2

1 H.J. van Mook was acting Governor-general, he operated from Brisbane, Australia
2 Asia flour: 50% tapioca, 40% maize, 10% soya

Wil writes later, 15 August 1985 about this:

“Finally, the moment apparently had arrived. Someone still had a flag. The whole house stood around it and sang the Wilhelmus [national anthem] with voices quivering from emotion and weakness.

Derk sent additional piece from a later letter given to him by his mother:

And thus we approached the end of the war – and of our strength! At last the moment apparently had arrived. Someone still had a flag, the whole house stood gathered around it and sang the Wilhelmus with voices quivering from weakness and emotion.


On 15 August 1945 not much had changed, we were given more rice, still very white and polished, and large packages of curry powder. On one occasion a cow was shared, I got a leg with skin and hoofs and very little meat. I didn’t have any usable knife, the blades had been broken from cutting wood – I forgot how I managed.


Then some men arrived who hoped to find their families here. But no sign of Marius. (her husband)

Finally Rev. Van den Blink arrived, who said Marius was in “de Goede Herder”, in Meester Cornelis, a Batavia suburb. I put my children in the care of Truus Arends and could travel by a Red Cross train from Semarang to Batavia. We were packed three layers thick! I managed to arrive at “De Goede Herder” and … no Marius, though there were other tattered looking men. Finally an inspector of the Forest Service whom I knew said “Your husband is in Tjikini” (the big mission hospital).

A Dutch physician on his way to Carolus (The Roman Catholic hospital) took me along in his jeep, through a very turbulent and dangerous city. In Tjikini hospital I found Marius, very skinny but alive.

I was staying in Hotel Tjikini and stayed there for a week, until father’s birthday. In the hotel we were sleeping three abreast, all strangers, across double beds that had just a mattress and a mosquito net. “How much do I pay?” I asked. “Just what you care to give, between 0 and 5 guilders a day” said the owner. He had no food, but I got that in the hospital.

On the 21st of September a naval officer’s wife, with whom I shared a bed, went to Tandjong Priok: her husband was on the Cornelis Evertsen, the first Dutch warship to call in at Java. She brought me back a slice of white bread with jam (or cheese?), which became Father’s birthday present!

Back to Semarang on the train, loaded down with at least 25 notes to be delivered in Semarang, in camp Halmaheira (women), Bangkong (boys and men), also in the kampong Tjina. I borrowed a bicycle from an Indo Dutch family outside the camp; when I had delivered all letters and had returned the bicycle, we were suddenly prohibited from leaving the camp: too dangerous, and the Japs had to defend us against the Javanese! The children didn’t understand this one bit, and neither did I.

One thought on “Liberation of camps in Dutch East Indies – Derk’s Story”

  1. I was in camp Halmaheira mentioned in this story, with my mother and baby brother and also a sister of my mother and three cousins.
    My mother had cut out banknote numbers before the war and sewn in my brothers stuffed animal.
    When the jap opened the camp cate we went out and look for a chinese place to eat. He was happy to give us food for those banknote numbers.
    When we returned to the camp, it was locked. The jap refused to open it because they heard that an attack was imminent.
    Panick.
    I said, to my mother and others, come follow me around the camp, I might get us in.
    After a while in the bushes I found the sewer I was looking for and entered and the other six followed.
    We were soon in the camp again.
    This is one of many that I was lucky and did not get killed.
    Many such harrowing stories of escaping death followed.
    Think I have more “lives that the nine that a cat has” is my saying.

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