We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Diary of Prisoner 17326

A Boy's Life in a Japanese Labor Camp

John Stutterheim

Publication Year: 2009

In this moving memoir a young man comes of age in an age of violence, brutality, and war. Recounting his experiences during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, this account brings to life the shocking day-to-day conditions in a Japanese labor camp and provides an intimate look at the collapse of Dutch colonial rule.As a boy growing up on the island of Java, John Stutterheim spent hours exploring his exotic surroundings, taking walks with his younger brother and dachshund along winding jungle roads. His father, a government accountant, would grumble at the pro-German newspaper and from time to time entertain the family with his singing. It was a fairly typical life for a colonial family in the Dutch East Indies, and a peaceful and happy childhood for young John. But at the age of 14 it would all be irrevocably shattered by the Japanese invasion.With the surrender of Java in 1942, John's father was taken prisoner. For over three years the family would not know if he was alive or dead. Soon thereafter, John, his younger brother, and his mother were imprisoned. A year later he and his brother were moved to a forced labor camp for boys, where they toiled under the fierce sun while disease and starvation slowly took their toll, all the while suspecting they would soon be killed.Throughout all of these travails, John kept a secret diary hidden in his handmade mattress, and his memories now offer a unique perspective on an often overlooked episode of World War II. What emerges is a compelling story of a young man caught up in the machinations of a global war-struggling to survive in the face of horrible brutality, struggling to care for his disease-wracked brother, and struggling to put his family back together. It is a story that must not be forgotten.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (33.0 KB)
pp. i-iv


pdf iconDownload PDF (26.7 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (64.3 KB)
pp. vii-xviii

World War II ended sixty-five years ago, and yet more and more works on the subject are appearing in bookstores all the time, many of them personal memoirs such as the present volume. One is tempted to ask what is to be gained by spilling more ink and killing...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (144.8 KB)
pp. xix-xxiv

My first wife, Loekie Smit, who died on Christmas 1999, always encouraged me during our last years of marriage to get my story off the ground. She herself grew up in Medan, Sumatra, only to be moved during the war to Camp Tjideng in Batavia, Java. Loekie...

read more

Chapter 1: A Teenaged Prisoner of Japan, no. 17326

pdf iconDownload PDF (35.6 KB)
pp. 1-3

Near noon on the last day of February 1942, a crowd of people waited on the platform of the railroad station at Gubeng in southern Surabaja, Java, for a train going to Malang, a mountain town to the south. With no wind blowing and the sun standing at...

read more

Chapter 2: Discovering Java

pdf iconDownload PDF (68.2 KB)
pp. 28-16

Both my parents were born and raised in Amsterdam. Grandpa Stutterheim was a diamond cutter, but lost his job at the end of World War I, when the diamond industry moved to Antwerp, Belgium. As a result, my Dad had to drop out of high school and...

read more

Chapter 3: Malang

pdf iconDownload PDF (39.9 KB)
pp. 17-21

In those days, a mail ship took four weeks to get to Europe. My brother and I experienced Holland as totally foreign and very cold. After eight months, when Dad became very worried about Hitler’s annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland, he decided...

read more

Chapter 4: Merbaboe Park

pdf iconDownload PDF (55.4 KB)
pp. 22-30

After our return from the trip to Europe, my parents established a comfortable new home for us at 27 Djalan Guntur in Malang, Java, opposite Merbaboe Park. This park and the pasar, the market, were next to a bridge over the river Oro Oro Dowo. It followed the same route downhill as the important road by that name leading...

read more

Chapter 5: War

pdf iconDownload PDF (38.7 KB)
pp. 31-35

Close to the sugar cane tracks lived the family Bruinvis, very good friends of our family. Wim Bruinvis taught gymnastics at the high school. He was tall and skinny and had a good sense of humor. Annie, his wife, and Mother were very close friends. She had two...

read more

Chapter 6: Uncertain Times in Malang

pdf iconDownload PDF (40.0 KB)
pp. 36-40

One day at the end of March Dad returned from Surabaja by train. He had lost his job, which was not surprising, since the Japanese were replacing Europeans with their own staff. As the train entered the Malang station, it slowed down and Dad noticed that the platform...

read more

Chapter 7: Kesilir

pdf iconDownload PDF (50.4 KB)
pp. 41-48

In October 1942, Mother told us that she had obtained a permit for the three of us to travel to Kesilir, where Dad was imprisoned. At last we were allowed to visit him....

read more

Chapter 8: The Final Days of De Wijk

pdf iconDownload PDF (46.3 KB)
pp. 49-55

Once several women approached Ikada about the increase of restrictions in our camp. They called the place ‘‘our concentration camp.’’ Ikada smiled and said, ‘‘You do not know what a concentration camp is!’’ He also stated that he received word from Batavia’s leaders about the internment of the Japanese civilians in...

read more

Chapter 9: The Transport

pdf iconDownload PDF (39.9 KB)
pp. 56-60

We were packed in like sardines. After helping the others I was the last one to come aboard, which gave me a good view of the passing surroundings. The trucks drove at a good clip, not slowing down going through the curves, so that our tightly packed group...

read more

Chapter 10: Lampersari

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.3 KB)
pp. 61-78

Lampersari was like Malang only in that it was a holding area for thousands of prisoners, most of us Caucasian, but including many Indos. Many other women and children had arrived in this camp before we did, and they had already faced the necessity of creating some kind of tolerable situation for themselves. There was...

read more

Chapter 11: The Benteng

pdf iconDownload PDF (58.0 KB)
pp. 79-88

The Benteng, the storage area and food depot, was the nucleus of Camp Lampersari. Located on a hill, it was some sort of military barracks or warehouse out of the previous century. The Benteng was almost square, with a large atrium in the center of the wooden structures. On the roadside was a huge entry door, opening...

read more

Chapter 12: Camp Bangkong

pdf iconDownload PDF (70.0 KB)
pp. 89-102

When we marched through the gate of Lampersari, the older boys first and the ten-year-olds in the rear, we had no idea what our destination was. A ten-year-old who looked far younger then his stated age was the very last one. Before he got into motion he discovered his teenage sister, who worked at that early hour at the fireplace...

read more

Chapter 13: Horseplay

pdf iconDownload PDF (36.1 KB)
pp. 103-106

Tjiandi, with Camp Bangkong just below it, was a suburb in the foothills, which came down like a crescent on the swamps where the oebie fields were located. The marshlands ended at the only road, where the old high school was located. From there the city...

read more

Chapter 14: The Diary

pdf iconDownload PDF (81.3 KB)
pp. 107-123

The guards at Bangkong exercised a great deal of sadistic control over our young lives. Besides the forty Hei-Hos in Japanese service, there were about eleven Japanese, although some of them in reality were Korean. These soldiers rotated through the various camps, especially...

read more

Chapter 15: The Disease of Despair

pdf iconDownload PDF (74.6 KB)
pp. 124-138

In the Indies there is a small and generally welcome nocturnal lizard, called a tokè, or gecko, a harmless tropical insectivore, six to ten inches long, with a beak reminiscent of a miniature crocodile. Its name describes its odd, croaking mating call, and if you hear this animal say toke` seven times, luck will drift your way. It...

read more

Chapter 16: Bleak Prospects

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.3 KB)
pp. 139-152

My own brother was very ill by now and in bed most of the time, seldom getting up except to get food. He did take daily showers, which I considered a must. In the evenings we talked a little, but most of the time we listened to the conversations of all the other kids, in order to try to stay informed about developments in...

read more

Chapter 17: Death and Unexpected Freedom

pdf iconDownload PDF (36.6 KB)
pp. 153-156

At the end of the first week of August, an air raid alarm went off while the evening was still young. The alarm was shocking enough, but we had had some insignificant air raid alarms before. This one, however, was real and electrifying. At first there was a deep...

read more

Chapter 18: Hidden Dangers

pdf iconDownload PDF (87.4 KB)
pp. 157-175

When we got up on the morning of August 24, we found the main gate open and no guards in sight. The atmosphere in the camp was eerie. Many of us walked to the gaping opening in that high fence, which now allowed us a view of the outside world. We were all...

read more

Chapter 19: The British

pdf iconDownload PDF (41.2 KB)
pp. 176-180

Finally, after many weeks, the British landed in significant numbers. Immediately it became clear that they were there to protect the camps and disarm the Japanese, but they disassociated themselves completely from taking sides between the Dutch and the Indonesians...

read more

Chapter 20: Escape from Hell

pdf iconDownload PDF (65.3 KB)
pp. 181-192

What was once a very peaceful country had erupted into a lawless land. The revolution made even routine activities dangerous for anybody suspected of not supporting the uprising. Many Indos, or Eurasians, were arrested and jailed or, worse, killed. This...

read more

Chapter 21: A Family Again

pdf iconDownload PDF (50.2 KB)
pp. 193-200

During the war the Europeans in Bandung had been imprisoned in Camp Tjihapit, located on the outskirts of the city. After their liberation the Europeans, for their protection, remained restricted to that camp, which was still encircled by barbed wire. The...

read more

Chapter 22: Time to Fly

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.3 KB)
pp. 201-211

After all this time in November and December without any sense of progress, suddenly the pace of our family’s life picked up with Dad’s call to Surabaja. We needed no time to reflect on the sudden change facing us, and as little to prepare for the...

read more

Chapter 23: Surabaja Restored

pdf iconDownload PDF (50.8 KB)
pp. 212-219

We spent the first seven months of 1946 in Hotel Brantas. Mother and Dad tried to restore a normal family life and daily routine for us, although we were still surrounded by the revolution. Dad went daily to work. At first a jeep picked him up, and later on a...

read more

Chapter 24: To Holland on Oranje

pdf iconDownload PDF (50.1 KB)
pp. 220-227

One day in August 1946, Dad called us boys and asked us to sit down. By then Anton was fifteen and I eighteen years old. Dad explained that in his opinion our education was extremely inadequate. He thought it would take years before the schools in Surabaja would be back to...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (40.2 KB)
pp. 228-232

History repeats itself. An excellent example is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor without prior declaration of war. The Russo-Japanese war of February 10, 1904, also started with a sudden torpedo attack on the Russian navy at daybreak off Port Arthur, a Russian-occupied city...


pdf iconDownload PDF (24.5 MB)
pp. Image 1-Image 22


pdf iconDownload PDF (32.2 KB)
pp. 233-236

Further Reading

pdf iconDownload PDF (29.1 KB)
pp. 237-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247707
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823231508
Print-ISBN-10: 082323150X

Page Count: 228
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Stutterheim, John K., 1928- -- Childhood and youth.
  • Stutterheim, John K., 1928- -- Diaries.
  • Prisoners of war -- Indonesia -- Java -- Diaries.
  • Boys -- Indonesia -- Java -- Diaries.
  • Dutch -- Indonesia -- Java -- Diaries.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, Dutch.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, Indonesian.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Indonesia -- Java.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Prisoners and prisons, Japanese.
  • Java (Indonesia) -- Biography.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access