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

6 thoughts on “Childhood Memories of a Japanese Concentration Camp

  1. Aloha Ronny and Mike,

    You were seated in front of us at the Nazarene Church Easter Drama presentation. We did not get a chance to say hi. I was sitting next to a lady, Joyce, who is a member of the Sweet Adelines singing group in Prescott, a friend of Judy Dutco, a Republican Women of Prescott member and Sweet Adeline member also. Anyway, we started talking and I mentioned your WW2 experiences and told her about your book. She wrote it down, so hopefully she will get one.
    No, I don’t remember the smell of dead bedbugs, have seen a few, but never enough to smell them I guess. My childhood during WW2 was pretty long ago, and not having a situation like yours, don’t remember too much. I was very fortunate.

    I wonder what the Hassayampa group is going to do now. They obviously don’t have enough interested parties to get it going again, so it is up in the air. I have heard a rumor that they are considering selling it to the Yavapai Indian tribe! What have you guys heard?

    We are playing golf occasionally at Antelope Hills and other places, but we miss the Hassayampa club and hope something positive comes to pass soon.

    All the best to you guys,

    Don Broadston

    • Aloha Don,

      Thank you for your comments. I am always curious about other people’s experiences and, in this case, memories. This is my first blog on my brand new website. Take a look at it – some things are the same, others are much, much better.
      If you or Noel want to subscribe, type your email address in the space at the right top of the page and click Submit.

      The only thing we have heard is that the Club will remain closed for now. Sad case.

      Take care,
      Ronny
      Ronny@ronnyhermandejong.com

  2. I’ve never even seen a bedbug..cockroaches..yes. When I came to Arizona they were my first and most memorable very-large-insect. There were numerous crickets too. We were in Glendale, and at that time there were bountiful agricultural fields.
    Reading your post, I pondered if dead bedbugs were being compared to cilantro. I have never acquired a test for either one…

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