Throughout 2012, From the Archives has shared portions of S. Elisa Ackerman’s history, Our Sisters in Indonesia in the Years 1940-1945: In Particular the Internment Camps from 1942-1945. Because of S. Elisa’s research we have learned something of the "causes, the nature and the extent of the internment." We have read some of the particulars of individual camps and individual sisters.
This month we return, as it were, to the camp at Bangkong. Sisters from St. Elisabeth Hospital in Semarang had been divided into groups and sent to several camps. On August 3, 1943, the final group found themselves delivered to their own convent in Bangkong in another area of Semarang.
They hardly recognized their own house: they found it almost in ruins, with crying infants and shouting and screaming boys and girls everywhere. It was not exactly a happy arrival. They were each given a cell and together a communal room overlooking the street at the front. . . . The windows had even been boarded up, but if the Nip was away, they managed to peep through some cracks. On 1 September they saw the sisters of Gedangan with their goods and chattels passing by, traveling in open trucks . . . on their way to the camps . . ..
At the beginning it seemed not too bad. The sisters could even "follow Holy Mass from a distance, take Communion, and ‘celebrate’ a profession or name day feast." However, conditions soon worsened and they watched as the "contents of their convent were demolished under their own eyes." Even the chapel pews were sawn into camp beds and trestles. Punishment was frequent, ranging from beatings to being kept in total darkness from 6pm. ‘til the next morning. Soon their space was reduced and all the sisters were squeezed into the space that had been allotted for a common area.
[They lived] in that one room with 20 sisters from then on. . . . They made makeshift beds by placing the tour legs of each bed on top of their cabin trunks to build bunk beds. Soon there were ten beds in the air and underneath them, between the cabin trunks, they had created another ten sleeping spaces. . . . There was no room left to sit together, so each sister would sit in her own narrow corridor, on or next to the bed. . . . When the food was served, they would call out: "Dinner for Corridor A," followed by corridor B and then everybody would disappear into [her] own narrow corridor. They got used to everything, including this discomfort, but when somebody fell ill, she would have to lie amidst this circus, which was far from pleasant.
Bangkong was the camp where many 10 years old boys were transferred to. Boys were brutally separated from their mothers as soon as they reached the age of ten. The sisters took them under their wings and care for them like a second mother. Many contacts originating during that period far outlasted the war.
So life continued until September 10, 1944, when it was determined that most of the sisters would be transferred to camp Halmaheira, one of the worst and where, as we learned in an earlier article, nine sisters died between September 1944 and August 1945.