In Japanese Captivity: Story of a Teenager in Wartime Java – part 5

Vera Radó:

The most distressing part of our jail existence was the witnessing of the torture of political prisoners, sometimes by sight, but mostly by sound. Opposite our enclosure was a row of small cells. Men were taken daily from there to another part of the jail back of our compound. We could clearly hear the bellowing of the Japanese and the men’s terrible screams. One man kept shouting for his mother. After the interrogation, having been beaten unconscious, the men were taken away on a stretcher and thrown back into their cells. We could not escape this horror. It went on incessantly and relentlessly.

Once, we saw above the top of our wall, a man being tortured on the upper gallery of the administration building opposite. This poor unfortunate had his wrists tied behind his back, and had been hoisted up by his hands until he stood on tiptoe. A Japanese soldier was barking at him, stabbing him repeatedly with a burning cigarette. I quickly turned away my eyes, but the picture will always remain with me. At another time, a woman, who had been locked up in a dark cell in solitary confinement for some weeks, was released into our section and promptly committed suicide by hanging herself in her cell. It was left to her young son to cut her loose. These events unnerved us all.

© 1995

 

To be continued…

I welcome your comments or additions; please let me know your thoughts.

Until next time,

Ronny

In Japanese Captivity: Story of a Teenager in Wartime Java – part 4

Vera Radó:

The compound to which we were taken was surrounded by high stone walls topped with broken glass. There were six large cells with barred doors and big copper padlocks. Each cell was meant for ten to twelve persons, but we were pushed into them with about forty women and children. At the back of the cell was a hole in one corner for a squat-toilet, and there were mats on the stone floor for us to sleep on. At 6 p.m. the doors were banged shut, and with the sharp click of the key in the padlock we were left in no doubt as to our status. We were prisoners of the Japanese. For how long?  

None of slept much that night on the cold stone floor. The noise of children crying and mothers shouting and wailing was like something out of a nightmare. The mothers were deeply traumatized, and the children inconsolable. All they wanted was to “go-o-o h-o-o-me”! There was no privacy at all, so when someone had to use the toilet, we stood with two or three together as a shield in front of her. The single toilet soon became a source of continuing stench. IN the morning we were let out for a bath in a nearby block, and it was a relief to be able to move around and get away from the ruckus. We were mixed in with Iraqi women and children, whose standards of hygiene were not quite the same as ours. After a week, at our request, our group of about one hundred European women and children was moved to another part of the jail. It had a more pleasant aspect – for a jail, that is. It even boasted a few trees. There were two rows of ten one-person cells, separated by a cyclone fence with open gate, two bathrooms in a separate block opposite the cells, and the whole of it was enclosed by high walls of rough woven bamboo reinforced by barbed wire. We called it “The Paradise”.

At this stage of our prison life we had enough to eat. The food was cooked in the prison kitchen and was meant for mainly native prisoners. There was an unchanging menu of boiled rice, vegetable soup, tofu, a bit of chili paste and occasionally a banana for each. The vegetables were never cleaned; they were just thrown into the pot roots and all, and the bottom of the food drum always contained a layer of sand, bits of string, wire, and – sometimes – a cockroach or other unidentifiable bit of protein.

© 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 – part 3

Vera Radó:

A women’s camp was set up in one of the suburbs of Surabaya, called the “Darmo Camp”. It held about 6000 women, whose husbands had been interned, and their children. The gates finally closed on them in January 1943. My father, along with a small number of other Europeans who worked in essential industries and services, was still needed, so we were still free. The Japanese had no army doctors with them, so they imposed on my father and about a dozen other physicians at all times of the day, mostly to treat them for venereal diseases. However, as the last of the white population was clapped into prison, our turn came too.

Doomsday arrived on 31st August 1943, the Dutch queen’s birthday. My brother and I had to go to Council Chambers in the morning on official business, and when we returned at lunchtime, my father had already been taken away by Japanese soldiers. They had ordered my mother to pack for herself and us and be ready to be interned in a couple of hours. The time lapse had given my Mum a spell to figure out what to pack, and to this day I have to praise her for her presence of mind. I watched her as she pulled out the bottom drawer of her dressing table, and upended it into her suitcase. It was full of patent medicines. By this act of foresight she saved my life – and that of a few others.

Presently, the Japanese returned, and we were taken by ‘dokkar’ (horse-drawn carriage) to Werfstraat Jail, a regular jail for criminals, murderers, thieves and what-have-you, which also served to house political prisoners. At the gate we had to say goodbye to Ivan, who was led away to the men’s section. We joined a queue of women and children, amongst whom we recognized friends and acquaintances. We were registered, stripped of money and jewelry, and led away in small groups.

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 – 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