In Japanese Captivity: Story of a Teenager in Wartime Java – part 2

Vera Radó:

When the Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 I was fifteen years old and lived with my family, consisting of my mother, father and brother Ivan, in Surabaya on the island of Java, in the former Dutch East Indies – now Indonesia. Surabaya was the Dutch naval base, and consequently, became a target for Japanese air raids. They started in early February 1942, and the first one, aimed directly at the heart of the city, caused many deaths and a lot of damage.

 By this time there were air raid shelters built in most private backyards and also in public places, and soon, with sirens wailing often twice a day, we were spending more time in the shelters than anywhere else. It was an anxious time, spent listening to the hum of the bombers, the whistle and thud of falling bombs, and wondering whether we were going to survive yet another day. School was suspended and soon all outdoor activity, such as swimming, playing tennis, etc. ceased.

Halfway through February came the shocking news that Singapore had fallen, and my mother urged my father to pack up and leave. But he could not be persuaded. Broadcasts remained optimistic – to boost morale – even when the Japanese marched through Sumatra, beating back every resistance, and then landed on the shores of Java. By then it was too late to flee. Within a matter of days the Japanese Imperial Army came marching into Surabaya.

It was a black day, that 8th of March 1942, in more than one sense. The oil tanks on the southwestern edge of the city were being blown up by the Dutch to prevent the precious fuel from falling into enemy hands. From early morning there was a huge pall of smoke hanging over the city, and against this ominous backdrop we watched the occupying army’s progress through our street. First we saw tanks with the red-on-white flags flying, then trucks and armored cars, then masses of soldiers on foot and on bicycles. They looked triumphant, but we were trembling with apprehension at what was in store for us, whilst peeking through the louvers of our locked front door.Immediately after the occupation we had to register at the Town Hall and obtain identity cards, which we had to carry on us all the time and show on demand. Whenever we met Japanese military personnel in the street, we had to stop and bow deeply. If we were on our bikes, we had to step off, and bow – or risk having our bikes confiscated. Cars, including doctors’, were requisitioned, radios had to be handed in to be sealed, so that only the local stations could be received. Very soon all public servants were rounded up and imprisoned – from the Governor General down to the most junior clerk. This included all male teachers. So school ceased altogether. Some school buildings were used as POW camps, and some continued with native teachers teaching native children. Whenever I passed my old school I could near the kids singing “Asia Raya”, the song of Free Asia, and there were posters everywhere proclaiming “Asia for the Asians”. The Japanese were out to extinguish all European influence in Asia, and establish their own ‘Greater South East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’ with Japan as supreme leader. It was part of their ideal to establish Japan as the dominant power in our part of the world and to eradicate all white colonialism. To be replaced by Japanese colonialism one presumes!

© 1995

To be continued…

I welcome your comments and additions: please let me know your thoughts.

Until next time,

Ronny

In Japanese Captivity: Story of a Teenager in Wartime Java

When you read my Memoir Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: A Story of Love, Survival and Joy, you will hear two voices. The voice of my mother describes  in letters to her parents in the Netherlands the traumatic years in Japanese captivity when I was a little girl . The second voice is mine, describing the fate of my father who escaped the camps and cameos of my life after the camps.

Recently, through emails, I met a lady who contacted me after she had read my book. She now lives in Australia and has an amazing story to tell. She is twelve years older than I and when the war started she lived in Soerabaja, as did I. Not only that, she was imprisoned with her mother in a Soerabaja jail during the second year of the war and was sent to another part of the island the year thereafter, as were we. Being a teenager when the war started, she remembers everything vividly to this day. The gruesome memories haunted her for many years, but finally she was able to take charge of her life again and she wrote her memoir in 1995.

Her name is Vera Radó. She gave me permission to relate her experiences in my weekly blog, as a comparison with and addition to my Mamma’s experiences of the camps which you will find in her journal upon which part of my book is based. Please read along with me; these are Vera’s (copyrighted) words:

It’s August 1995, and I am sufficiently far removed from the traumas I suffered as a teenage prisoner of the Japanese more than fifty years ago to tell about my experiences.

The process of rehabilitation and healing I went through can be visualized as a very long, stony, winding, uphill path, full of obstacles over which I kept tripping, stumbling and falling, only to scramble up and limp on – at times too depressed and despairing to want to continue. But at times also buoyed up by an understanding, caring remark.

I have made that weary journey, and I have reached the top, and, although nothing will ever erase the memories, deeply etched as they are within me – within all of us who were part of it – I can now walk reasonably erect and even with a measure of stability. Pain and distress will never fail to strike me again and again at recalling this period of my life, but the all-consuming terror, the continual feeling of crisis, the anxiety, have left me. I am in calmer waters now and almost daily find myself thanking that universal force of which I am a tiny fraction for steering me safely through the tempests of my earlier life…
© 1995

To be continued…

I welcome your comments and additions: please let me know your thoughts.

Until next time,

Ronny

 

 

A Better Career through the Study of History

A person who is capable of critical thinking, creative problem solving and technological and communication skills has a far greater chance of being employed today than someone without those skills. The ability to think broadly and read and write clearly can provide better positions in all branches of society.

Public elementary and high schools can develop those skills in their students through an education in history where critical thinking and research are emphasized in addition to memorizing facts.

Studies show that through historical research students become critical thinkers who can absorb and evaluate information and articulate their feelings. These skills in turn create better performance in other skills like math, science and economics, which altogether improve one’s chances to advance in life.

I am offering my readers a small but important part of history: an eyewitness account of the conditions of life in Japanese concentration camps for women and children during World War II in the Pacific. My new book, Rising from the Shadow of the Sun, A Story of Love, Survival and Joy is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in print and electronic versions. Check it out!

Until next time,

Ronny

 

 

Childhood Memories of a Japanese Concentration Camp

People sometimes ask me what I remember of those four years in the camps. “Surely,” they say, “a five-year-old is old enough to remember things.” But no matter how hard I think, there are only a few moments, a few occasions that I do remember. Mamma kept Paula and me away from all the scary things, all the cruelties that took place on a daily basis.

The moments I remember had to do with intense fright, jubilant joy or physical pain.

The first one: a soldier pierced the bamboo fence right next to my face with his bayonet. I screamed for Mamma. I was four.

Number two: one of the old men that were transported into our camp during the last months of the war gave me a little brown metal truck, like a Dinky toy. Oh joy! A real truck! I can remember the place on the square where we stood when he gave that truck to me, smiled and walked away. I was five.

Number three: when the lights went out in our little room one night because of curfew and I, on the top bunk, had just undressed my doll, bed bugs crawled out of her clothes and onto my body. Mamma gave me a rag to kill them with. It was during the final months of the war and because of edema in her legs she could no longer climb on the bunk bed to help me. In the dark of the night I could not find all of them. The following morning I was covered in welts.

This incident came with a lasting memory of the smell of dead bed bugs. Three years later, the copper front door bell at my grandmother’s house in the Netherlands had an identical smell. Twenty eight years later, when we lived in California, I smelled dead bed bugs in the supermarket and discovered cilantro. It took years to get accustomed to the taste and smell and use it in cooking

Do you have any memories, good or bad, of your childhood years? Did you know what a dead bed bug smells like?  Leave me a comment!

Until next time,

Ronny