Dutch-Canadian Survivors of Japanese Prison Camps

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My First Baby

by Dolly Elma Kramers-Proost

We lived at 4 Tjelaket in Malang, a corner house officially assigned to the Administrator of the Military Hospital. The house next to us was a doctor's residence, occupied at the time by the substitute for the military, an Indonesian Public Health doctor. Dr. Wahab was a Batak (from Sumatra) and his wife was blonde and Dutch. Their children were close in age and had a rather dark complexion. Beside their house was the entrance to the Military Hospital.

Right after the Japanese occupation started on the 8th of March, 1942, my house was claimed as a command post and they started by immediately taking the couch outside. However, Dr. Wahab came over and told the Japanese that there was a much more suitable location for a command post, near the driveway to the Military Hospital. So, I got my house back and the sofa was carried back inside.

At the time, I was three months pregnant and Dr. Wahab knew that. Because we had lived under the threat of war, I had already bought a great number of things for the coming baby. I took the layette and many personal items across the street to a boarding house for Dutch ladies, where I could sleep as well.

My husband, who was a young lieutenant, had to report to head quarters in Malang where he promptly was interned, at the same time as the father of Wim Anschütz (another Kumpulan member), who as a retired officer had been called up in the reserves when the army was mobilized.

The next day, our minister, the Reverend Jan van der Woude, stopped by to see how I was doing. He told me that he had a small room for me in the house where he lived with his wife and four children, so that was great. The front room of the house was used as an office for church business, and he worked there with a ¾ Indonesian secretary, Mr. Kroeze.

The Japanese chose, or rather commandeered, many large houses and the occupants would get three hours to leave with whatever they could carry, and then had to find new accommodation somewhere else.

We also had to bow for every Jap, and if you did not do that, you were beaten up.

One afternoon, I was busy with something in the office and Mr. Kroeze was also present. And there they came, a Japanese officer accompanied by a soldier. They knocked on the door, which I opened and, of course, I bowed and then stood at attention. But Mr. Kroeze, who looked about 60 or 70 years old while I was only 22 and 8 months pregnant, put his hand on my shoulder. The Japanese officer looked very surprised, apparently assumed we were a couple, pointed to my stomach and asked when the baby was due. I told him in about a month. Both Japanese then turned around and left. And that is why the minister's family was allowed to stay in their house. At least for the time being, we were all very happy and grateful.

This happened before we were interned. All men of the cloth were allowed to keep their bicycles, while everyone else lost theirs. And no cars, of course. Because the Roman Catholic priests wore a long habit, all protestant ministers had to wear something similar so that they would become recognizable as well. Thus, the Roman Catholics wore white and the protestant khaki complete with topee, or helmet. And all of them rode around on ladies' bikes!

The Van der Woudes treated me as a member of the family and were like parents to me. Both have passed away since. He was murdered by the Kempetai and she died later in the Netherlands. But I still carry on a strong friendship with their two daughters.

And then, on September 29th, 1942, my first baby was born in the maternity clinic of the protestant mission. By then, my husband had been transferred to a POW camp outside of the city and could, therefore, not be reached. However, the wife of a sergeant who worked for my husband before the occupation, Mrs. Henneveld, not only was not afraid of anyone, she also seemed to know when and where groups of prisoners worked outside of the camp — under Japanese supervision, of course. One of those military prisoners had a secondhand store before the war and she knew him. He was Jewish and had a beard, which he had let grow with the result that he looked very unkempt — on purpose! Even the Japanese avoided him.

Somehow, Mrs. Henneveld managed to speak to him and asked whether he could take a message to Lt. Kramers, to let him know that he had a son. This meant that I had to write on a very small piece of paper the baby's name, birth date and how we were doing. He folded it many times and then hid the small wad of paper in his beard. Later, he passed it on to my husband who was very happy to get the news.

When we entered the Malang Wijk camp three months later, the baby was three months old, and he was three years old when father and son met for the first time in Ambarawa 6.

Mrs. Henneveld was interned in Semarang, where she died after the war was already over, due to eating too much after three years of starvation.

About the Author

Dolly Elma Kramers-Proost was born in Semarang and later lived in the Netherlands. She married Jacob Kramers in 1939 and they started married life by leaving for Indonesia on the last big ship that left Amsterdam, the Johan van Oldenbarneveld. When the war broke out, they lived in Malang. Her husband spent the war in two camps in Bandung, the last one being the LOG ('s Land Opvoedings Gesticht). Her father died as a POW in Surabaya. Elma entered the first camp, Malang Wijk, when her firstborn son was three months old. Through transfers, they also spent time in Solo Hospital and Boemikamp, ending up in Ambarawa 6. After returning to the Netherlands in August 1946, they went back to Java, coming back to the Netherlands again in 1950. In 1957, they emigrated with three children to Canada and arrived in Edmonton. Subsequently, they have also lived in Camrose (Alberta), Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), Ottawa (Ontario), Moncton (New Brunswick), and Edmonton (Alberta). They raised five children, four boys and one girl. Elma passed away in 2010.

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