In March 1943, Odeed and his mother were interned in Camp Boemi in Solo (Surakarta). Rachel depicted scenes of everyday life in the camp in an embroidered book intended for Odeed. In June 1945, they were sent to Banyubiru.
The descriptions of the scenes come from an interview with Odeed Cohen from 2010.
‘We arrived by train. We had departed from Malang at five in the morning on 25 March 1943 and arrived in Solo at six a.m. on 26 March. We did not have to travel far at all, but it took us 24 hours. One image I vaguely remember is an enormous heap of suitcases. You can see the Japanese soldiers standing next to them. I remember that they had military vehicles, while we had to trudge into camp, a long line of people with children and things they decided to drag along with them.’
‘Miscellaneous terms from the camp. The little playschool with the nuns; I was one of the children there. The stokers, women whose job was to keep the furnaces hot, were also called tilboys, heavy lifters, because it was such hard work. Huiszoeking: searching people's houses for money or jewellery. Straf tuinploeg Zondag: the garden crew was punished and had to work on Sunday. Jongens vanaf 11 j.: eleven-year-old boys were separated from their mothers and sent to boys' camps.’
‘A map of the camp. The two parts, with Camp Solo on the right and Camp Boemi on the left, were in the middle of a large kampong, a village. That’s why that little pig there is happily living in freedom. Camp Solo had a hospital, kitchens, and so on, while the barracks were in Camp Boemi. Each barracks had its own number. We were in number 25, near the coconut palms. There were approximately 3,890 people in Camp Boemi.’
‘The wood-chopping crew worked from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., outside the camp. They were expected to chop 2,800 kilograms of wood a day for the kitchen stoves, hot water, and so on. It was back-breaking work. My mother once brought me along, because there was hot tea with sugar, a real treat. I still remember sitting on a woodpile and drinking tea with sugar.’
‘Work crews. There were different crews for the different kinds of work that had to be done. The garden crew (tuinploeg) planted katjang (peanuts), maize, ketela (cassava), tomatoes, and leeks. There was also a crew for the cesspit (beerput), the sewage system.’
‘Our barracks, kumi in Japanese, and nidjoego means “25”. There we slept, all 152 of us. Here is a floor plan of the interior of the barracks. Each of us had about 65 to 70 centimetres of space. Fat people had no problem. Within a year, they had lost so much weight that 20 centimetres would have been plenty. We slept in the lodge, so we didn't have neighbours to the left.’
‘Between Camp Boemi and Camp Solo, there were coconut palms and a well. One night my mother was keeping watch, and I was with her. We heard a thud, “boom”. It was a coconut, but how could we find it in the pitch dark? Then a whole series of meteors lit up the sky for a few seconds, as bright as daylight. So we saw the coconut. I still remember my mother opening it up: “Odeed, drink!”’
‘The first watch of the night was from ten p.m. to one a.m., then from one to four and from four to seven a.m. Two women kept watch, and when they saw the commander, they had to bow and say in Japanese that everything was in order: “Dai nidjogo kumi no fushinban fuku muchu ino arimasen”. In the kampong, the village that bordered on the camp, life went on much as it had before. We could hear someone shouting, “Saté ajam!” (‘Chicken satay!’). Can you imagine, when you’re sick with hunger? The whole situation was absurd.’
‘They would always sound a big gong, “boom”, and then everybody had to come out for roll call. “Hormat, kiotske, kere, naore,” that was the ritual of bowing to the Japanese. And there were all sorts of rules: by nine p.m. everyone had to be inside the barracks with the lights out. We weren’t allowed to play cards, sing, or smoke. Chickens, money, gold, and books had to be handed over. On the left is a kind of lizard, a tokay gecko, which always made noise at night: “tokay, tokay, tokay”. And then women would say, “Yes, no, yes . . . will this horror ever end, yes or no?”’
‘This was where the laundry was hung and chickens were raised. There was a chicken, which was kept in a basket, because chickens were so valuable. And a little boy is teasing them, just poking them with a twig. We had a cat, Roemba, who loyally came with us to the camp. The words at the top say, “Six o’clock: bring in the laundry!” And in brackets: “Four-thirty”. [The difference between Japanese and Dutch East Indies time was an hour and a half.]
‘Food was picked up from Camp Solo, where the kitchen was, and then distributed. There was not much to eat. Each of us got a half coconut shell full of food. I don’t remember whether I was hungry. But I do know that once there was a large wasp on my rice, and I had no intention of sharing my food with it. So I carefully picked up the rice with the wasp on it, using my spoon, put it in my mouth, and crushed it between my teeth – a survival technique. So I think I must have been hungry. In the morning we were given sludgy porridge that smelled like paste, terrible. For years afterwards, I never wanted to eat porridge again.
‘My mother is feeding me outside the barracks. There are a few other boys–Wim, Jan, Albert, and Rudie – and a little boy, Pinokio.At one point we heard the loudspeaker: “Come and get vitamins! Come and get extra sambal [chili paste]!!” I remember that my mother still had some instant coffee. When you mixed it with water and sugar, it turned into a kind of sweet. I can still see her sitting with two other women, whisking it with a fork to make it thick and stiff. Time to eat.’