With some difficulty I look back on my childhood in the Dutch East Indies, my memories are not at all rose-tinted.
On April 5th 1933 I was born in Batavia, the first son of David Hartog van der Velde (born in Amsterdam on May 5th 1904) and Klaartje de Vries (born in Harlingen on November 22nd 1901).
Both parents came from a Jewish family, my uncle, mother's brother, was 2nd Chazan in the Shul (Synagogue) in Harlingen and my grandfather Bennie van der Velde was a rabbinical teacher at the Nederlands Israëlitisch Seminarium (Dutch Israelite Seminar) in Amsterdam, founded in 1814.
On April 23rd 1930, mother and father had their civil registry wedding in Amsterdam.
Like many young couples, the crisis and related unrest in America was a reason to look for good jobs elsewhere. The Indies had a great attraction with its tropical climate and well-paid jobs.
My father therefore foresaw a bright future in the Dutch East Indies and so it was that my parents left for the East Indies shortly after their wedding, where father had been offered a very good job as head accountant at Lindeteves Stokvis in Surabaya. At a later date, around 1940, he would be transferred to a branch in Batavia.
Although there was a kehilla (Jewish community) in Surabaya it was small and not very conservative. It consisted partly of the so-called Baghdad Jews.
There was a synagogue in Surabaya but I do not know if it was really used a lot. What I do know is that there were Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services on the high holidays.
My father was the Chazan (cantor) of the shul and sang both for the Ashkenazi Jews, the Jews who mostly came from Europe and for the Baghdad Jews who were of Sephardic descent.
There is a real difference between the way the songs are sung in the shul for the Ashkenazi Jews and the Sephardic Jews, but my father sang for both. He also held several drôsches* (speech) after the service.
We have found one of these readings, drôsches, but it is very difficult to read. My father practised regularly at home with his machzor, a prayer book especially for the high holidays.
On Friday evening father always made kiddush (blessing ot the bread and wine for the Shabbat), he would have a black skullcap on his head. I put my hand on my head and realised that I wanted to become a religious Jew confusing religion and Judaism, because I didn't understand the meaning of that yet.
On Shabbat my father worked half a day but my mother kept the Shabbat and she was always lying in the shadow of the house on a chaise longue. I had to go to school on Saturdays but when I came home my mother was resting there with a sidoer (prayer book) in on hand and letters from the Netherlands in her other hand.
With Hanukkah, the Feast of lights, which is usually celebrated in December, the Menora (candlestick) was lit. Hanukkah lasts eight days so the candlestick also has eight arms and one extra arm on the front called the shammes, the servant. With the shammes you light an extra candle every day until all candles burn on the eighth day.
The Menorah, which my father always lit, survived the war and is now with my nephew in Jerusalem.
As there were no items for sale in the Dutch East Indies for the Jewish holidays, we were sent these by family from the Netherlands.
For example, an uncle, my mother's brother, made sure that we got matzes with Pesach (the Jewish Easter celebration) on time. These were packed in large round tin boxes. Of course we held the seider evening, read from the Hagada and sang the songs we are so familiar with. One of the last seider nights that I remember there was an elderly couple from America with us, they could not travel anywhere at that time. They were also familiar with our old melodies, so they sang them full heartedly.
On March 23rd 1937 my sister Elize was born in Surabaya.
I remember the anxious times when the three of us (my mother, my sister Elize and I) lived in the house at the Baveanstraat. We didn't know when we're going to be picked up and also very vulnerable at night because there was no man in the house. I remember from my mother's stories that we were attacked by Javanese once during the night, but it was our Japanese neighbour who rescued us.
But then that day and that moment, around 1943, arrived when we, my mother, sister and I were picked up. Two betjaks (a cycle rickshaw) were waiting for us. We were only allowed to take very little with us. My mother had counted on us going to the women's camp "Darmo". The Darmo camp, at the Darmo Boulevard was a neighbourhood with existing houses and where, in the beginning of the occupation, the local sellers used to sell their wares. She already had a trunk brought there, but in the end she had to put some stuff in a few small suitcases and ended up arriving at another camp with very little belongings.
By far the majority of the men had already been arrested during the capitulation of the Dutch East Indies as "Whites", but the women and children would follow later. It was also a very frightening time for the Javanese. The only men I remember who had not yet been arrested were Dr Segal and a Mr van der Berg. He was also arrested soon after but Dr. Segal came with us to the Tangerang camp.
That we were picked up and incarcerated on the basis of a Jewish list was a fact. My father was secretary of the Jewish Congregation of Surabaya and mother did the secretarial work for the Congregation and knew that there was a list with the names of all Jewish inhabitants of the Community in Surabaya because she herself had kept it up to date for the Congregation. That we were arrested on the basis of this Jewish list is a fact that was always denied by the Red Cross, but was reluctantly admitted by them after the statement of various reputed witnesses (see letter below).
Surabaya has a harbour and at that time German submarines also moored in the harbour for maintenance.. The Germans polled the Japanese officers and put them under pressure to find out whether there were Jews in Surabaya. They made it clear to the Japanese that they had to arrest Jews. In fact, the Japanese knew nothing about Jews and Jews were not persecuted in the Dutch East Indies as a race but one was interned because of being totok (European) or indo (mixed European/Indies blood). Under pressure from the Germans, the chairman of the Jewish community, Mr Ehrenpreis, was tracked down and under much more pressure and torture, the Germans/Japanese got the list of names of the Jewish inhabitants from him.
In Surabaya we were placed in the Werfstraat prison, this prison was guarded by native prison staff. Once there my mother realised, when we arrived in the cell block, that we had been arrested on the basis of the list of the Jewish Congregation, because the cell block was full of Jewish people. Since we had been labelled "dangerous" by the influence of the Germans we were placed in a cell block under the supervision of the Kempetai, the Japanese SS.
In the Werfstraat prison we had to go on roll call twice a day and I was very afraid of that. We were witnesses of the torture of Javanese and often we did not see it but heard it. We all had to take showers at the same time, naked in a big nasty room. The toilet was a small barrel that was connected to the sewerage system in the cell. But the big shock for me was that our luxurious house with clean beds were substituted by a cemented floor where I contracted asthma, from which i still suffer now.
The Kempetai were in the main building, this was also the entrance to the prison. During bombardments by the Australians, we were also locked up, which was very frightening. The sound of the barred door falling into the lock, the iron on iron, being closed from 6 p.m. is still a nightmare for me.
My mother was a very strong-willed woman, who later on suffered from severe tuberculosis which she probably caught in the prison on the Werfstraat. It is well known and was also confirmed to me by a friend that dispite her illness, she taught Jewish education, in both Camp Adek and other camps, to both the Dutch Jewish children and the Baghdad Jews. Teaching was strictly forbidden, but this did not stop my mother from doing it anyway.
It was around Christmas in 1943 that we were moved from the Werfstraat together with several other camps in one big transport. It was a very difficult journey that lasted three days. Apart from an extremely slow steam train, we were bombed several times. The Japanese held us at gunpoint while some of them ran out of the train several times to take shelter from the bombardments.
Via the large camp in Batavia (probably this was Tjideng but I can't remember) we ended up in Tangerang, a former penal camp of the Dutch, which was housed in the LOG** (Lands Opvoedings Gesticht voor Jongens). How exactly we ended up here and how we were transported I can't remember.What I do remember is that whenwe arrived in the camp, we were placed in the last room by Mrs. Vreede who was leading us at the time. We received the cold leftovers from the drums in which the food was cooked and transported.
In Tangerang there were also two daily roll calls where I queued, shivering with fear. Because I was so small I had to stand at the front and it was terrible to see how women were beaten.
When I was 11 years old, I was taken away from my mother and sister and taken by open lorry to the boys' camp Baros 6 or also called Camp 6 in Tjimahi.It was a camp for boys from the age of 11, but I also remember that there were adult men there. In this camp I was harassed by the other boys. It was a two way hell, 1 because I was too small for my age and 2 because I was Jewish, a fact they knew.
Although there was a camp for women on the other side of the street, my mother and sister were transported from the LOG to camp Adek*** in Batavia where they arrived on the 25th of March 1945.
After the Japanese capitulation and the fall of Japan, about which we only heard about later, around the 18th of August 1945, a very dangerous and scary time dawned. The little food we received from the Japs during the internment was no longer given to us, and it became scrambling to find food. I did get some money and went to the kampong across the street with my pan and bought some typical noodles called bami goreng. This went well a couple of times until I got to the Warung (small diner usually a hot plate and no tables or chairs) and the woman who was selling the food there said "Sinjo" which means boy in Malay, which I then spoke fluently, "I can't sell you anything anymore".
Don't forget that I was very small in size because of the malnutrition and begged her to feed me anyway because I was so hungry. She did fill my pan but I felt a lot of hostility towards me. I stood tall and slowly walked out of the kampong, step by step, so as not to give the impression that I was scared and lived to tell about it. Once back in the camp I burst into tears, but I emptied my pan of food in no time and made the taste of it last.
Of course it was also a very scary time because although you were allowed to leave the camp, it was very dangerous because the Indonesians were so indoctrinated and misled by the Japanese. They had been told that only when all the prisoners had left the country or had been murdered could there be indepence.
As is well known, the truth turned out to be quite different. What was particularly terrible for the Javanese was that the Japanese used false pretences to recruit thousands of boys aged around 16 with the intention of enslaving them and making them work in the mines. Many were transported and drowned during the transports with 4 so-called Japanese hell-ships.
My father was not immediately arrested after the occupation by the Japs, because he had to keep Lindetevis stokvis running until it was taken over. He was in the City Guard as an armed soldier. During the capitulation, the men threw uniforms and weapons into a pond and went home in their underwear. My father had his car nearby so the neighbour from across the street Mr Green came home with him in his underwear. Like us much later, he ended up in the Werfstraat prison where my mother was allowed to drop off a suicase with some belongings. After this he was moved to a camp in Bandung and then put on transport on the Japanese hell ship Junyo Maru. This heavy steamer sailed from Batavia with about 6,500 men to Padang on the west coast of Sumatra to work on the Sumatra railway line. This 23rd transport of prisoners of war from Java, including 2300 Dutch prisoners of war, was called Java Party 23.
My father was imprisoned aboard this Junyo Maru and was transported under the most terrible conditions when the ship was torpedoed by the British HMS Tradewind on the 18th of September 1944, resulting in 5600 deaths, including my father. The other 3 ships were also torpedoed by an English submarine, drowning most of those who could not swim.
We were transported from camp to camp by Gurka's, English soldiers of Indian descent.They guarded our camp and kept a reign of terror among the natives. This was for our safety. Eventually we ended up in a permanent barracks of the KNIL which was better defensible against the Javanese. We slept together on the wooden floors. When somebody was smoking at night and threw his cigarette butt away, it landed on me and I woke up screaming from the burns. This is why I was moved to the infirmary with other boys for a while.
It is very likely that either my mother, or the management of the camp where she was staying at the time, called Adek, made it possible for me to come to Batavia to join her. I was flown by plane, an army Boeing piloted by a Japanese officer.
The sight of the sawa's (rice fields), with the rice plantation seen from the sky, is still so clearly burned on my retina. After arriving in Batavia, we were transported by a couple of trucks to the inlet waterway of Batavia. Batavia did not have a harbour but a inlet waterway and then you were taken to the big ship with a landing craft or small ship. So I was just dropped off there and then the lorry drove away.
There I was only 12.5 years old and skin and bones, I weighed around 28kg. There was a list of people who were in the group to board the big ship. Later it turned out to be the ms "Oranje". The one who was in charge and who read the list, realised that my name was not on it and did not know what to do. Because of the strong survival instinct that I had I knew what to do. I put the small bag in which I had all my belongings like my metal food bowl on the ground and discreetly entered the landing craft. Then I walked over some sort of bridge and without being noticed joined the group with the people whose names had been called.
Although the person in charge was aware of what I was doing, didn't blink an eye and said nothing. So that's how I came aboard the Oranje. Once on board it happened again because my name was not on the list aboard. I persisted even at my young age and said I was not stepping foot off board anymore. The crew then took the old shipping lists and checked them. It turned out that my mother, who had a severe case of tuberculosis and whom they wanted to get rid of as soon as possible, had refused to board the Oranje as long as I was not with her. She insisted on waiting until I was present and only together with my sister and me she would board the ship and make the crossing.
To make a long story short, the person in charge on the ship called the hospital, after which my mother got dressed and was takenr with my sister to the " Oranje" in a very small boat. It was only when she saw me from afar that she climbed on board via a very long ladder that reached into the sea on the side of the ship.
The boys that were on the ship slept in the rear, on the aft deck which was completely sealed with gauze. The section was completely closed because they did not want the boys to ream the ship. Th egauze was used to keep out burglars who could get on board along the cables in the harbour. Once in a while I was allowed to visit my mother who whax in the infirmary.
My mother was admitted to the sanatiorum in Santpoort immediately upon arrival in the Netherlands. My sister was placed with an uncle, who had 2 foster children outside his own 3 children, there was still place for a girl but he refused to take in a boy. They dropped me in the Oosterparkziekenhuis, a hospital of the Catholics. After about 3 weeks we, Elize and I were transported to Switzerland with another couple of children under the auspices of the Red Cross. We were supposed to stay there for about 3 months to recover but in the end this became one year.
Of course you can't compare children's homes at all with the prisoner camps, you get a bed there, meals with the regularity of the clock and are well cared for. Just because of all the negative experiences of my past all this was all very difficult for me. I still carry the war and this negativity I was subjected to a child with me every day. Now I am 87 years old and live with my wife in the old people's centre Beth Juliana, in Herzliya, Israel. We have been married for almost 59 years and in the beginning we lived together in our appartment here.
Unfortunately, due to the disability of my wife Sylvia Louise Duis, we were seperated and she now lives in a different department in the same centre. We see each other a lot and she comes to our appartment almost daily with her wheelchair. I still enjoy and value a clean bed everyday, the tablecloths in the dining room have fringes and everything is clean.
Unfortunately we are alone together!
Benno van der Velde, Beth Juliana Herzliya, Israel
* The simple drôsche, derived from the Hebrew word "derascha", means religious nomination. Nowadays, the plural "drosches" also means talking nonsense.
** Through reseach of Tilly we have been able to find out that the only transport from Tangerang with 20 boys was from the LOG on the 23rd of February 1945. It was a camp for boys and men from the age of 11, but I also remember that there were adult men here. Although there was a camp for women on the other side of the street, my mother and sister were transported from the LOG to camp Adek in Batavia where they arrived on the 25th of March 1945. Camp Adek (abbreviation of General Delian Emigration Office) was the office for the recruitment of coolies for the tobacco planters in Deli. The camp was housed in family barracks fenced with barbed wire. (Source: Japanese civilian camps.nl).
*** Camp Adek (abbreviation of General Delian Emigration Office) was the office for the recruitment of coolies for the tobacco planters in Deli. The camp was housed in family barracks fenced with barbed wire. (Source: Japanese civilian camps.nl).
Headoffice building in 1930 of Lindeteves Stokvis in Surabaja
Marriage certificate from David Hartog van der Velde and Klaartje de Vries
of 23rd of April 1930 in Amsterdam
Mij parents and me in 1935
Last picture of my parents my sister Elisheva and me
My registration card / Internment card of the boys camp in Tjimahi
My ticket from the camp by plane, a Boeing, to Batavia back to my mother
Evidence that we as Jews had been deliberately arrested in the Dutch East Indies as Jews
Birth announcement of Benno
april 5th 1933
Birth announcement of Elize iin the
Indische Courant of 30.03.1937
Mr Ehrenpreis chairman of the Jewish Congregation in Surabaya during a Hanukah celebration with my sister Elize (in front) the year is 1940 - 1941.
Meeting with front centre from left to right
Mr. Ehrenpreis, father, Elize and mother
Waarschijnlijk bijeenkomst van de Joodse Gemeenschap Soerabaja rond 1940
Choepah (wedding ceremony) of Jacob Franken and Ms. van der Linden
Father with talles (prayer shawl) and black skullcap
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