Survivors Of WWII In The Pacific
Comments by Vera Radó
October 13, 2014
The introduction and description of the author’s emotions on board the USS Missouri were great. Alas, peace on Earth looks to be a bit of a forlorn hope!
No ballroom dancing for a while. On 20 Aug. my body gave me a warning by subjecting me to a heart attack. I have known for some time that I had a leaky mitral valve, but it must have deteriorated over the years. Anyway, I have recovered very well, and – hopefully – don’t need an operation.
De Jong must have found the info on my bequest to Macquarie University on the Internet. I stipulated that the interest on my bequest is annually awarded as a scholarship to a student in the Humanities, preferably Philosophy. It seemed to me to be a good counterbalance to studying Science, Economics and Commerce (the practical side of life). We need to widen our perspective from time to time, and look at the full picture to prevent us falling into depression about “the human condition”. There is still so much that is good and lovely and full of enjoyment, isn’t there?
He is a bit younger than I; his memories of the Japanese occupation are still very clear and precise and many are very similar to mine. He also mentions Sonei, the lunatic, but apparently didn’t witness his brutal punishments of innocent women. That picture remains burnt in my memory forever. I feel for Walter being separated from his mother and sent to a boys’ camp at such an early age. I know of another man who was taken away from his mother at the age of ten, only for her to die two weeks after he was reunited with her (and his younger sisters). It entirely ruined his adult life. He became an alcoholic. Being thrown into a men’s or boys’ camp did make these young boys into adults very fast – ones who could cheat and lie with a bland face just to survive. Kassian, die jongens!
He is about my age, and – apart from the Japanese imprisonment – also lived through the “Bersiap” time without getting murdered by the Indonesian fanatics. He is truly a survivor. I think those of my generation who are still alive today all are!
Corrie den Hoed
How lovely to have a friend who has such beautiful memories of your mother and younger sister. It’s a shame that your sister Paula is no longer alive, but I’m sure that your mother’s loving care – as evidenced by her carefully maintained diary – got you through and gave you the joy for living.
What a fascinating account of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour by someone who was there, and has a brilliantly clear memory of it!
Jack C. Harper
What an adventurous young fellow! He and his fellow Naval men deserve our thanks for defeating the Japs at sea. I can’t imagine why the Japs ever thought they could beat the US Navy plus the US Air Force plus the US Army, even though they (the Japs) attacked without declaring war, and sank most of the US fleet stationed at Pearl Harbour.
What a fascinating story by a fascinating man. I’ve never heard of a knee mortar, but it must make a very unusual souvenir. He is quite right – “war is hell”. Yet, there a re always men willing to fight against a ruthless enemy. Thank Heavens!
The Navajo Code Talkers
They all deserve medals instead of being almost forgotten. I’m glad that at least some of them were honored 56 years after the war. This reminds me of the war career of a very good friend of mine (no longer alive), who was a radio operator with the Royal Australian Air Force, involved with code breaking. They were joined by some Japanese American colleagues, who listened in on Japanese bomber crews exchanging information under the wrongful illusion that nobody could understand their language. Having Japanese-speaking members amongst the Australian crew had the huge advantage that the Australian defense forces – and later General MacArthur, who joined them – knew exactly where the Japanese bombers were heading and what their further plans were. It cut the war by two years, according to MacArthur and the author of the book “The Eavesdroppers”, who was this outfit’s commander-in-chief.
The contributions of special people, such as the Navajo Code Talkers and the Australian-American Code Breakers are absolutely invaluable in wars with relentless enemies, and it’s necessary for their stories to be told, so that all of us can appreciate fully how much gratitude we owe them. To me, it’s unthinkable that we would have had to suffer two years(!) longer under Japanese brutality without such marvelous people to release us from our miserable existence in those prison camps.
Another distinguished serviceman, but one that helped to “mop up” after the war with some interesting descriptions of the post-war Naval world.
The descriptive pieces from Jeanette Herman-Louwerse were also well-placed to add to the overall picture of what wars do to people, those caught by the enemy in prison camps and those who fought for that enemy’s defeat and the prisoners’ release and sweet freedom.
This is what history is about. Not a series of dates and battles, but the stories of human beings caught up and experiencing and processing the events, and describing them in their own words. Such stories should be required reading in schools by upcoming generations. Perhaps it will prevent wars in future, wars in which everybody suffers and nobody triumphs.
* * * * *
A Story of Boundless Courage
D. G. reviewed Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: A Story of Love, Survival and Joy
August 14, 2014
The sub-title of this most wonderful book is A Story of Love, Survival and Joy. The word survival seems a contradiction placed between words such as love and joy, but the mother and her daughters did survive the most hopeless of conditions. There was joy both before and following the story of their extraordinary survival at the hands of merciless Japanese captors during World War II.
The author and her younger sister had a mother who would see them through daily deprivation and fear and yet she kept a diary that spoke of courage, even optimism. I’ve given her much thought and wondered if Nettie was able to do so because this was a journal meant for the eyes of the father and grandparents who were forced to miss the early years of her two daughters. It was a lesson in the importance of journaling so that specific periods in our lives are not forgotten nor the lessons lost. Written mostly in first person, the story and images came alive for me. These are the stories which need sharing, the truth of our history.
I was reminded of how resilient children can be—even while living with starvation, insecurity, and constant fear—as long as they feel secure while enveloped in a parent’s love. Many survivors are unable to relive the painful memories long enough to write about them. Such is the case of a dear friend of mine who spent four year of her young life in a prison camp. But Ronny Herman was very young during those traumatic years. Nettie’s first-person account takes the reader into the midst of horror. In a far different time period and setting, Nettie also might have become an author.
This is a story not to be missed—one exhibiting the remarkable strength of the human spirit, of one mother’s determination to win the battle she faced daily to protect her two daughters.
* * * * *
War and a Mother’s Love and a Daughter’s Remembrance
Book Review by H. F. “Foster” Corbin (TOP 500 REVIEWER), December 2, 2013
“Sticking his bayonet through the gedek (bamboo fence), the Japanese soldier aimed to kill me. He missed.” With those two stunning and memorable first sentences, Ronny Herman de Jong begins her narrative of the time that she, her mother Netty Herman-Louwerse and her sister Paula, who were citizens of the Netherlands, spent in a Japanese concentration camp on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies from March, 1942 until they were freed in August, 1945. Her beloved father Fokko spent the time away in the Dutch Naval Air Force not knowing if his wife and children were alive or dead. RISING FROM THE SHADOW OF THE SUN is this amazing family’s story. Aided by her mother’s secret diary (published here in its entirety) that she kept during this awful times, written in Dutch of course that Ms. de Jong later translated into English, the author tells this harrowing little-known story, another from World War Two, that is a horrific picture of life in a concentration camp but, much more importantly, a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.
In Part One (In the Shadow of the Sun) Ms. de Jong, using her mother’s diary and memoirs in addition to the diary, tells of her parents’ marriage, the births of her and her sister Paula, the invasion by the Japanese of Java, the years of living in the camps away from her father and their happy reunion with him at the end of the war. Part Two is the author’s autobiography and memoir. After the war, she got a degree in English literature, married her husband Mike in 1961, and is the mother of three children. She and her family have lived in California, Hawaii and now Arizona. She has worn many hats: a deacon in the Presbyterian Church, an actress (appearing on TV in “Archie Bunker”), a hospice volunteer, a hula dancer, an author of course, and lastly someone dedicated to keeping alive and teaching the world the story of one brave woman as well as the 100,000 or so other Dutch citizens who were detained by the Japanese in internment camps, many of whom perished. Ms. de Jong became a U. S. citizen in 2005. We welcome her!
As the saying goes, an apple does not fall far from the tree. Netty Herman-Louwerse was no slouch as a writer herself. Her secret dairy, although certainly never intended for publication, is beautifully written. As I read it, I kept thinking of the dairy of Anne Frank that I read many years ago. Netty gives a day-by-day account of the lives of her and her small daughters: what they ate, what they wore, the games the children played as well as her own feelings and her own isolation from her husband and parents. (Even in these direst of circumstances, however, she rarely complains.) “I never looked at the moon so much in my life. . . I can count with it, and know that another month has gone by. It is the only thing we wish for: that time may go by quickly.”
Netty works diligently to make life as normal as possible for her young daughters. They celebrate birthdays. Ronny learns cross-stitching. And– putting a lump in this reader’s throat– this little girl sometimes saves her peppermint candy for her “Pappa” until he returns home and puts it by his photograph. Netty sometimes sleeps in her husband Fokko’s pajamas, “which gives me a nice feeling.” But I had to smile when she complains about the expensive “bad-tasting American margarine. (My own beloved grandmother in East Tennessee was a staunch opponent of the “awful stuff,” preferring to churn her own delicious and beautifully yellow fresh butter.) And this strongest of women, who apparently could do most anything, wasn’t sure she could fry chicken that a friend in the hospital had requested so she got someone else for that task and fried potatoes and made rhubarb sauce for him.
Of course there are the many illnesses and hospitalizations that Netty and her girls endured, many of them caused by malnutrition: Ronny’s diphtheria, Netty’s amoebae dysentery, the measles, the flu, and hunger edema. The children were skeletal and near death when they and their mother were happily reunited in November, 1945 with Fokko whom the children did not remember as he had been separated from his family since March, 1942.
Ms. de Jong ends her must-be-read narrative with the celebration of her beautiful mother Netty’s 101 birthday. I wish I could have given her a dozen tulips for the occasion. I am grateful that through the efforts of another beautiful woman, her daughter Ronny, I got to get a glimpse of this amazing woman. I suspect, however, that she would just have seen herself as an ordinary person just doing what she had to do in a time of great adversity. And finally, surely you have to love anyone who says at the age of 101 “I will sleep like a rose.”
* * * * *
Book Review by Benjamin Candelaria, June 12, 2013
I cannot express how much I appreciated and liked Rising from the Shadow of the Sun. I have never been on such an emotional ride from any book I have ever read as I did while reading this book. And I must confess that, though I am a veteran of three wars, it did bring tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. De Jong’s mother’s courageousness, fearlessness and extreme love of family was shown throughout the book. She was a fighter and that was clearly demonstrated through the surviving tactics she employed while getting her two daughters through the horror and heart-pounding experiences of the Japanese concentration camps. I was so impressed!
At one time I myself did quite well in French, German, Turkish, Japanese and Spanish but my memory of those languages has faded; so it was amazing to me that when de Jong and her husband Mike returned to Indonesia forty years later, she was still able to reach back through her memory disc and bring back the language of her childhood!
The emotional peak for me was the reunion de Jong’s father made with his family for the first time since he had left them when he was sent on his military assignment. It verily choked me up and I had to pause before I could continue. Whew! De Jong moved to the Netherlands in 1955 and the roller coaster rolled on to Hawaii in 1990. Her description of the fauna and marine life in Hawaii is outstanding, bringing to my attention things I had never known even though I lived there for three years when I was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu. It seems anti-climatic for me to say ‘Well done!’ when her book has been recognized and applauded by many experts in the literary field.
As I was nearing the end, I began to wonder how the Japanese would receive this book and the author handled that quite well. I can see and understand why the Japanese would attempt to discredit her writings since they revealed their conduct during the war, but their efforts clearly could not succeed given the revelations years earlier of their conduct in Manchuria and the horror they brought on the Chinese! I highly recommend this book and will read it again!
CMSgt Benjamin Candelaria, USAF Retired
Chief Master Sergant Candelaria was an active duty participant in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam.
* * * * *
Book Review by Nancy Owen Nelson, PhD, May 2013
A Lesson in Human Endurance
Ronny Herman de Jong’s book, Rising from the Shadow of the Sun, is many things: a journal of a mother, Netty (Jeannette Herman-Louwerse), who survived a Japanese extermination camp, her husband’s military story, and their daughter, Ronny’s reflections on her own life in context of her parents’. These three major “characters” bring unique points of view about the experiences of a family during the Japanese invasion of the island of Java, in the Dutch East Indies. However, the combination of the three in one book is like looking into a prism with many faces. In the final analysis the stories blend into one another and the reader gains a much fuller, richer view than she would with only one perspective.
Part One, In the Shadow of the Sun, is Netty’s first-hand account of her four-year experience in the camp, with added information about her husband Fokko. Ronny de Jong herself was only three years old when the Japanese invaded. She, her mother Netty, and her sister Paula were imprisoned for most of four years, from just after Netty’s journal begins in November, 1941, until August, 1945, when the Japanese capitulated. Thus Ronny is a character in her mother’s story.
While de Jong does not bring direct memories of this period to her autobiographical piece, we often see her in Part One through the eyes of her mother. This double perspective gives even greater depth to the story. One portion in particular near the end of the journal shows Ronny as “now six years old … the long years of living in a camp and malnutrition had put their stamp on her. She, too, showed signs of edema” (210). Despite Ronny’s own physical weakness, she is seen on the same page as helping her little sister, Paula, who is even more malnourished, to stand. In fact, Netty writes about both of her daughters through the passing days—birthdays, games with friends, the ordinary turned frightening and stark as the little girls grow up in imprisonment. Throughout the journal we see Netty’s strength and resilience in the face of hunger, edema, bed bugs, skin infections, lice, maggots, and malaria. We also see the development of both daughters, and we witness Ronny’s emergence as a sensitive and stalwart girl who loved her mother and sister and longed for the return of her father and the reconstruction of her family.
De Jong’s autobiographical account in Part Two, Rising from the Shadow of the Sun, describes her life after the war as a “roller coaster” ride. Ultimately she moves to the United States with her husband and three children. This section is punctuated with the repeated refrain “Life couldn’t be better.”
All told, this is an important work which provides significant stories about the victims of a lesser-known part of World War II in Southeast Asia. As with The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night, we marvel at Netty’s courage and strength in caring for her daughters throughout this catastrophic period. We experience her husband’s enduring love, and after the horror has passed, their daughter Ronny’s affirmation of life. Rising from the Shadow of the Sun is an important account of courage and hope.
Nancy Owen Nelson, PhD
Memoirist, poet, college professor
Book Review by Author Linda Goetz Holmes, March 2013
Ronny Herman de Jong uses her mother’s letters to her parents about her time in captivity as a civilian in the Dutch East Indies during WWII, along with her two little daughters, together with recollections of her father’s story during that time to tell a remarkable tale of courage, patience, horror at behavior by Japanese captors, and finally, release. It is a story familiar to those who also lived through that time, but not to the rest of us; it is a tale which must be told and retold, especially because the government of Japan has yet to apologize to its victims or their descendants.
Mrs. De Jong, in Part II, tells of her own marriage, children and travels, often ending a section with “Life couldn’t be better.” We see a woman who savors every day of her freedom, especially in contrast to her early years. Everyone should read and reflect on this well-told story.
Linda Goetz Holmes
Author, Guests of the Emperor, Unjust Enrichment, and 4000 Bowls of Rice
Review October 2012 door Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich, Producent/Filmmaker
Wat uitzonderlijk mooi gedetailleerd (is alles) beschreven in Rising from the Shadow of the Sun. Er zijn over het kampleven al veel boeken in het Nederlands geschreven maar wat mooi is aan Ronny Herman de Jong’s boek is is dat het zo volledig is. Het bestrijkt bijna een heel mensenleven. Als lezer word je in het verhaal gezogen.
De Jong bewijst een grote dienst aan alle Engelstalige lezers. Vooral die van de 2e en 3e generatie in de Engelstalige landen hebben veel behoefte aan dit boek. Dat weet ik zeker.
Ik denk dat het potentieel heeft om verfilmd te worden. Helaas doe ik alleen documentaires en geen speelfilms. Dat is andere business. Ik heb een heel aantal documentaires geproduceerd in de afgelopen 22 jaar o.a. in New York, Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco en Hawai’i.
Better than some Bestsellers
Book Review of In the Shadow of the Sun
by Pauline Lutkenhouse, Hilo, Hawai’i – June 29, 1992
I read the book, a true story, put it down, but could not forget it. In my opinion – and I do make time to read all the worthy bestsellers on the market – it is a much better story than the phenomenally successful bestsellers by Amy Tan written about Chinese mothers and their culture.
De Jong’s book is a celebration of all women, and particularly the extraordinary devotion of a young mother for her little girls, within a very harrowing experience. Although its overtones seem politically European and Japanese, as I became immersed in its context, that all vanished for me and it became rather a story of love; a diminutive, seemingly-abandoned young mother’s hopes, love and strength that sustained her beyond human endurance.
Book Review, February 2012, Moesson, Het Indisch Maandblad, The Netherlands