Excerpts from internees’ recollections of liberation from Java
Composed by Dr Bernice Archer
Bert Singlelenberg. Dutch boy interned with his young brother at the age of 10 years in Boys camps Ambarawa 6 and 8 Java
(Interview with Dr. Bernice Archer)
After no contact with either of his parents who were in two different camps,
We only heard about the capitulation on 23rd August 1945 but in between things were happening. We got extra food and boys were coming to our camp from the ‘working camp’. The Japanese were nervous. Then the Japanese went away. We were ‘trading’ with the Indonesians – it was chaos. I managed to trade for a chicken and some eggs and wanted to take them to my mother. I knew the camp but not which barracks she was in. I found her. She was ill and my younger brother was ill in the camp hospital. He was 6-years-old and could not walk. I started from that time looking after my mother; working in the kitchen baking bread, washing clothes and I had to slaughter chickens – that is what we were doing all the time. I had also been dealing with the dead bodies in the boys and old men’s camp.
In September 1946 my father came to Ambarawa. It was difficult to start again; I was a boy when my father left so I was still in his eyes a small boy. But of course, in the first year after liberation we had to stay in the camp because of the Indonesian uprising and we had to help defend the camp against them – so we were ‘militarized’. And then when my father came I did not know him. He recognized me. Then he started up a cigarette and I asked ‘can I have one’. And he said “you are smoking that is not good…..”and when we were a family again he tried to tell me what to do.”
And well I had been looking after my mother and my younger brothers and tried to survive all these years – this before he was moved to the boys camp – and then there was somebody who was going to tell me what I should do – that was so difficult for him and me.
When we got back to Holland we were separated again because my father did not have a house. So my brother and I went to an aunt and my parents and two younger brothers went to my grandfather’s house. That went on for almost a year. And I had missed three years of school so one had to work hard to get back to normal life. But my parents never talked about camp and never asked how it was for me and what I did in the Boys’ camp.