Bamboo Baskets

My father worked very hard and at the same time he instructed Karto, the kepala mandur (the head-foreman) from Sumber Sewu, so that he could take over in case my father had to leave. Karto was a proud and hard working Madurese who learnt fast, he also had a deep respect for my father, they got on very well. I quite often saw them laughing together about something, but most of the time I couldn’t understand what they were saying, since my father spoke Malay, Javanese and a little Madurese, while I only understood quite some words of the Malay language.
Karto’s family was very nice as well, and Karto’s son, my age, looked after our two mountain horses once a week.

And then one day at the end of October 1942, when my father and I walked back home for lunch when we heard a lot of noise. It was the sound of some trucks coming into our direction, while we were walking on a main road. So we quickly walked off the road and hided behind some coffee bushes. Se saw five trucks coming and we heard people screaming.
When the trucks passed we could see and hear everything, especially since we were sitting higher up, than the road. What we saw came as a real shock to both of us.
On the open truck platforms we saw that they were loaded with bamboo baskets, this type of baskets is used for the transport of pigs in Indonesia. But in the bamboo baskets we saw that day, were not used for pigs but for men as they were laying crammed in those baskets, all piled up three to four piles of baskets high. This sight shocked us deeply, but the screaming of all those poor men, for help and for water, in English and Dutch, shocked us even more. I heard my father softly saying; “Oh my God”.
We walked home without saying a word, we had just come out of a nightmare. Up till today I can still hear the harsh voices of these poor men crying and screaming for help and for water.
At lunch time my father told my mother the whole story, she could hardly believe that people could do such things. She asked who were driving the trucks. My father told her that in each truck he had seen a Japanese driver and another Japanese sitting next to them.
This tragedy that I saw together with my father, happened in the mountains of East-Java.

It was on the 11th of August in 1990, that I read in a Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf, that many more people had seen what my father and I saw that day in 1942. Not only in trucks but also in trains did people see how many men were transported in bamboo baskets. The article said that the men had been pushed into the bamboo baskets, been transported and then, while still in those baskets, been thrown into the Java Sea. Most of the men in the bamboo baskets were military Australians.

I have often wondered: Did my father learn what happened to those poor men we saw that day? Had some of the Indonesians seen it as well? Did he speak with Karto about this tragedy? I shall never know.

We became very careful and didn’t leave Sumber Sewu. Cora, Henny and I studied hard and we went swimming in front of the house, while my mother and Jansje were sitting near the water.
I was happy that I could still go out walking in the mornings on the plantation with my father, it was always the best time of the day.
We first had a cup of “kopi tubruk”, something like Turkish coffee, then my father and I left the house while the others were still sleeping, we could see the sun slowly coming up behind the hills. These were the moments I shall never forget!