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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Traces of violence on a railway of steel.

On September 16, 1942 the brutal work on this 415 kilometer long railway began, and ended 16 months later in October 1944. Sixteen thousand prisoners of war and some 100.0000 forced laborers from Thailand, Indonesian Romusha, Burma and Malaysia died from exhaustion,diseases, malnutrition, beatings and worse.This past history must not be forgotten, because it can teach us an important lesson and ensure that such acts of violence will never be repeated.

Prior to the war my father was training in the Dutch East Indies, and was employed with the KNIL(Dutch Indies Army). The Dutch East Indies was in the process of reequipping when the war broke out.My parents were originally from the Netherlands.They lived in Bandoeng, where I was born. My mothers sister with her husband lived in Soerabaja.My uncle Tobias van Driel was a sergeant machinist on the 016, a submarine, which struck a mine on their way home from a mission which had been very successful. They had torpedoed 4 Japanese transport ships.All but one man Cornelis de Wolf died, their submarine sank to the bottom of the ocean..In 2005 the wreck was discovered and a Dutch flag and a small plague with all their names was installed on what was left of the submarine.Their tomb is the 016 on the bottom of the ocean.It was December 14, 1941, just seven days after the attack on Pearl Harbor
I was born on June 3th, 1941.In March 1942 the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies (now called Indonesia) and all so called white (blandas) people were put in so called Interned camps. The Japanese told us that this were protected camps. Well it turned out that we were prisoners of war and they had other plans for us.They abused the women and their children,and the women were forced into slave labor.We were totally disconnected from the outside world. I was only one and halve years old when we were put in these camps.We were locked up in these camps for nearly four years, with thousands other women and children.My father was taken prison by the Japanese and spend some time in a prison camp in Bandoeng, after which he was taken to Soerabaja.My mother received one postcard from my father and he was obliged to write in English.She had traveled to Soerabaja to be with her sister when they received the bad news that her sisters husband had died. My mother was never able to return to her home in Bandoeng,she received this card and this was the last time she ever heard from her husband.

It says:

Dear Sietske and Thea.
I am always wishing that this miserable war would be over, and that I should return home again.
I am constantly thinking of you
It will be wonderful when we meet again.Good bye. God bless you. I am waiting for your reply earnestly
If permitted do send me a photograph of you and Thea
Good luck
Yours Klaas 

From this camp he and his mates were shipped to Batavia where they had to board a ship in Tandjong Priok and were shipped to Burma (Thailand). After three days on the ship, packed as sardines in a tin, they arrived in Singapore. From there they were put on a train, and after four days in these box wagons, they arrived in Ban Pong in Siam. During the day in these box wagons it was unbearable hot and during the nights it was freezing.It was January 1943 and during that time the nights are very cold because of  the north Himalaya-winds.In Ban Pong they were loaded onto trucks and transported to Kinsayok. From there they had to walk about 15 km to Rin Tin. It was brutal.From what I heard there were about 250 men. They had to walk through a jungle so dense between bamboo bushes and trees through a very mountainous terrain.Some men were too tired to walk and feeling sick with dysentery, so their mates were helping them as much as they good. Falling down on the spot would be their death, the Japs would leave them behind to die. They struggled on, helped by their mates.

They were taken here to work as prisoners of war on a railway track which the Japanese were planning to build through the jungle. This brutal work on this 415 kilometer-long railway began on September 16, 1942 and ended 16 months later in 1944.My father did not survive this brutal ordeal and died on September 18, 1943 in Kuie, at the very young age of twenty six. He was buried along side a section of the railway line,in the middle of the jungle in Kuie, beside the River Kwai. He had a simple wooden cross,made from sticks with his name on it. After the war these graves were dug up and transferred to Kanchanaburi , a memorial war cemetery in Kanchanaburi, Thailand,were he and his friends are resting in peace. They will forever be remembered.

                         These cards were in the file from the Japanese military.
It tells when he was captured and in which camps he was as a prisoner of war and when he died and where he died.

I am trying to trace my fathers footsteps on this terrible railroad line of steel.
My fathers name was Klaas van der Wal. He was only 21 years old when he was send to the Dutch East Indies in 1938.He and my mother Sietske were sweethearts from the age of sixteen.They had a wonderful life and lived in the province of Friesland.Klaas owned a sailboat and loved being on the water. Every weekend they would sail the lakes of Friesland, and set up their small tent on the side of the waterways.
They loved sailing.

My mom, happier times.

My mom on the left and my dad on the right.

He was in the military army when he was told that he was going to be stationed in the Dutch East Indies.Before he left they were engaged,it was March 9, 1938 and a couple of days later Klaas left for the Dutch East Indies.
A few months later my mothers father received a letter from Klaas, asking for my mothers hand. This letter, (which I have in my possession) was kept by her parents, my Opa and Opa (grandmother and grandfather)and given to my mother in 1947 when she had returned to the Netherlands,and in it he writes that he would very much like it if he could become their son in law.My grand parents liked him very much so they gave him permission to marry their daughter.

On June 1943, the Japanese commandant of a jungle camp, situated at Kuie,( Bangpong-Tambeziat railway) handed over 55 British to Sgt: E.C. Tates.They were all members of the ill fated F and M Forces, which left Changi: (Singapore) in March-April 1943.
When handed over to Yates the men were badly exhausted by marching and lack of food. They had been collected at a small jungle camp some 4 km from Kuie on the jungle road. They were covered in mud and filth from head to toe, and had reached a state of physical exhaustion, very near collapse.

Arriving at Kuie the "accommodation" was meager "25 men to each hut, designed for 6 men.This is where my father was,Klaas van der Wal, a young man in the prime of his life, now a total wreck.He struggled on and off with dysentery and exhaustion.

Each step took out his light
Each step to stay alive was a fight
The cost of each nail was blood
He worked on this railway, knee high in mud.

Each night there was death all around
Men crying out in agony in the compound.
Men were coiling just like aunts
With only a cloth to wear as pants.

Despair formed on their faces
Each men dreamed of beautiful places
They suffered day in and day out
But the sky turned pitch black with clouds.

Each night they hoped for freedom.
Each stone was costing pain
Each day they fought to stay alive
But for my father and many men peace came too late.

This poem is for my father, who I never got to know, and for all the men who suffered an agonizing death under the regime of the Japanese, during Word War2.
Tetske T. van der Wal.
Kanchanaburi, Thailand where my father rest in peace. His remains were transferred from Kuie in the jungle on the River Kwai to Kanchanaburi.

My father and his friend E.Veenstra ( mr. Veenstra survived this brutal ordeal) had arrived in Kuie POW camp around the beginning of May, 1943. They called this camp; No. 6 Branch Camp of Thai POW Camp. They had been transferred from Rin Tin, a camp just a little further down the jungle tracks. This camp the Japanese closed in May 1943,too many men died in a short time, it was so filthy and disgusting. The Japanese closed this camp officially. They called this camp Rin Tin  "Valley of Death."
When the British arrived they  were mixed with the Dutch men already there, to share these already cramped quarters. One here and one there. Through 5 months of continues rain fall and despite every sort of petty and worse interference from the Japs, cholera struck the camp on July 15th 1943. Many men died.

During the construction of Hell Fire Pass about 13.0000 prisoners of war died (one of them was my father Klaas), mainly of sickness, malnutrition,and exhaustion. They died in the thousands, twelve months earlier they were fit healthy men. Now they were like walking skeletons.
The brutal work on this 415 kilometer long railway began in September,1942 and ended 16 months later in 1944. Sixteen thousand prisoners of war and some 100.000 forced laborers from Thailand, Indonesia Romushas, Burma and Malaysia died during the making of this railway line. This past of history must not be forgotten, because it can teach us an important lesson and ensure that such acts of violence are never repeated.

The other day someone asked me; do you really think that it was necessary  to drop the A-Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I looked at the person and tears were welling up in my eyes as I told her that our lives were saved, and those of millions of other people. The Japanese intended to kill all prisoners, women and children alike, for it is a documented fact.
This is the secret document, which was found around the year of the millennium and showed that the POW's  had been right.

These are the documents, any Japanese can read these.

 They knew if Japan would loose the war , they would all be killed. Later it was found out that in lots of places POW's were murdered. The Bataan death march in the Philippines was one example, where thousands of Americans and Filipinos were executed and the Sandarkan death march on Borneo, which was the most horrible. It was a 250 kilometer forced march, and from the 2.500 POW's only six survived.Those who could not walk anymore were shot.This was in store for thousands and thousands POW's in Thailand and Burma.

People don't know, because they have not been told about the thousands of POW's sufferings, diseases and starvation . Packed like sardines into ships,and trains, they were taken to Japan, Burma as slave laborers. The ones who became sick, callously tossed over the side of the ship, or just thrown out of the train, and left to die. No service, no memorial, just bait for the sharks, or just rotting away on the side of the train tracks.
People don't know about the appalling conditions under which they were forced to work for companies such as; Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Nissan.
People might have heard some stories of the infamous"Burma Railway, but have they heard about the unbelievable cruel conditions, under which these men were forced to try to survive?

Have they ever heard about the cages in which they were put as punishment for some 'petty crime' to literally cook to death in the hot sun?
I know for sure that they have never heard of the bestial forms of torture the Japanese inflicted on them.
Can anyone imagine that those who survived had racking nightmares, corrosive memories, black depression, festered hatred, desolating loneliness, because there was no-one who understood and no one to share their pain?
Hardly anyone knew about my mothers past and mine. We never spoke about it. But the hurt and pain was in my mothers heart. I will never forget the things I have seen and it will always be in my head. I was young, only 4 years old, but I remember the horrible things and will never forget.Children in Japanese concentration camps grew up quickly.Later in life when I tried to get some information about things which were in my head, my mother always silenced me. It seemed to be a big secret, and my half-brother and half-sister were not supposed to know about our past in the Dutch East Indies.Why was this happening in those days? Why was it not allowed to talk about our past?Was it because it was too traumatic? Why was it my mother always said to me: "try to forget it."I was not able to forget about the things which were in my head and I could still see. I liked to know if it was real, if it had really happened.My mother always told me that I had a nightmare, and I had to try to forget about the things I had seen in my dreams.I knew I was not a sleep when I was thinking about the things I thought I had seen.But my mother was very convincing and I believed her.They must have been bad dreams, things like that don't happen in real life.

That's why I feel I have to keep writing about the atrocities the Japanese inflicted on human beings, and how these war atrocities affected the survivors the rest of their lives, is not to describe.
This is a memorial for my mother, my father, my uncle and my aunt and their two children. Most of all this is for all the people who suffered during the Japanese occupancy in World War Two.
Specially because Japan keeps denying about what their military have done. They are looked upon as if they suffered the most with the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Emperor Hirohito sacrificed his own people.He was warned, surrender or.....yes it killed 200.000 human beings,but nothing is to compare how many the Japanese military had killed already and how many still would have been killed, if these A-Bombs would not have been dropped.All in the name of the emperor of Japan, Hirohito.Perceived failure, or insufficient devotion to the Emperor Hirohito would attract punishment frequently of the physical kind.
And this man was invited to the Palace by Queen Juliana of The Netherlands in 1971. Unbelievable! He never was punished for the criminal orders he gave. He was a bigger War criminal then Hitler. I wonder;if Hitler had not committed suicide if he would have been invited to sit at their table at the palace, eating from beautiful plates, and telling all these horror stories to the Queen, talking about how they starved people to death, even children. Oh... wow.. how cozy would that have been.What a nice conversation to talk about the slavery on the rail road tracks, and that every sleeper laid, had cost a life, while they were stuffing themselves.My father and thousands of others were starved to death.
How was it possible that Queen Juliana did not understand how my mother and all those other survivors felt. When Hirohito arrived at Schiphol in Amsterdam ,big rocks were thrown at the windows of the Japanese Embassy.On the walls was painted 'Hirohito War Criminal'. It was so unbelievable hard for my mother, she was so sad, it went beyond her understanding. But it was nice to hear that he was not welcome by the Dutch people. The Emperors visit was a fiasco, and the Queen had made a fool of her self.

I will never be able to understand, that she stood there on her balcony with a War Criminal waving at the cameras, as if Hirohito was a hero.I believe that day all who had died and had been killed, murdered, and slaughtered during the Japanese occupation turned around in their graves.
Juliana, Klaus and Hirohito.
October,1971.On the left Klaus, Hirohito, Beatrix, Hirohito's wife, Princess Margriet and Pieter van Vollenhoeven.

The Japanese executed people and their heads were impaired on bamboo sticks, all in the name of the Emperor of Japan Hirohito.
The Japanese were beating people to death, hung people on trees slowly dying in the hot sun.Locking them in cages and let them slowly roast in the burning tropical sun. Raping women and young girls ( my mother and her sister were raped by these creatures) and brutally beaten by their rapists, while they were in Camp Moentilan. I saw my mother coming out of a Church,she was crying and throwing up and had blood all over her. It is something that is always in my head.This church was located on the property where we were held, and the Japanese used this church as their office. Horrible things happened in that church.I will always see this picture in my mind, my mother sitting on a sort of white pillar concrete fence, telling me she fell, that's why she was crying. Being only 4 years old it is amazing how you can remember.. I often asked my mother about this incident, and she kept telling me that she had fallen and scraped her knees.She must have looked awful and  now I understand....
Another problem which had a serious affect on day to day life in the camps was the food.
The food became uneatable,then a year later there was hardly anything to eat, except a sort of watery wall paper paste.
It became steadily worse, it became so bad that we were forced to eat rats, weeds or anything vaguely edible.The Japanese military were starving us to death. This was one way for them to get rid of us.
Our living quarters. 
Washing by the well. Moentilan prison camp.
Train transport, women and children, like sardines in a tin.
Each a pail of water, Moentilan Camp.
Nothing stopped Japanese doctors experimenting on POW's, or on civilians, or on natives.
They' the so called doctors ' enjoyed seeing pain. Prisoners experimentally: tourniquets for hours, followed by shock death when they were removed: injections of streptococcus bacteria to cause blood poisoning, death by dynamite and bamboo spears. Bodies were dissected, the heads cut off and boiled. It's too gruesome to write about what other things they did to POW's while they were still alive.
Prisoners were used in Japanese home island Kyushu as guinea pigs to see if they could live with parts of their brains and liver cut out. They were brutal and Japan still as of today denies all these atrocities, even say it is not true!!
Well it was the Kempeitai who brought them prisoners for guinea pigs, men, women and children, Asians and Caucasians.
They called them ' maruta' meaning logs of wood.
Read the book.
Prisoner of Japanese; written by Gavan Daws,it is a heartbraking reading....
A moving saga of human endurance in the face of slavery, torture, murder, starvation and disease. It may-be the rawest, harshest book about the truth what the Japanese had done in World War Two. The Japanese government should read this, it will sears their memory with unforgettable images.
Images the survivors had to live with for the rest of their lives.

The Japanese military during the 1930s and 1940s, is often compared to the military of Nazi Germany during 1933-1945 because of the sheer scale of suffering. Much of the controversy regarding Japan's role in World War Two revolves around the death rates of prisoners of war and civilians under Japanese occupation.
Chalmers Johnson has written:' It may be pointless to try to establish which World War Two Axis aggressor, Germany or Japan, was the more brutal to people it victimised.
The Germans killed six million Jews and 20 million Russians (Soviet Citizens) That is 26 million people.

The Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians, and Burmese, and at least 23 millions of them ethnic Chinese.
 Both nations looted the countries they conquered on a monumental scale, though Japan
plundered more, over a long period, than the Nazi's.(And by the way, they picked up the loot after the war was over, which was hidden.) Both conquerors enslaved millions and exploited them as forced laborers-and, in the case of the Japanese, as forced prostitutes for front line troops.
If you were a Nazi prisoner of war from Britain, America, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (but not the Soviet Union) you faced 4% chance of not surviving the war: by comparison the death rate for Allied POWs held by the Japanese was nearly 30%. According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal the death rate among POWs from Asian countries held by Japan was 27.1%. The death rate of Chinese POWs was much higher because- under a directive ratified on August 5, 1937 the Emperor Hirohito- the constraints of international law on treatment of those POWs were released after the surrender of Japan. After March 20, 1943, the Japanese Navy was under strict order to execute all prisoners taken at sea.
The brutal Japanese soldiers who butchered 20.0000 Allied seaman in cold blood.

Bill Young,a POW said: Sometimes when crimes have been committed it is necessary to go back to mark the spot.

I am determined not to allow my parents sacrifices fade away into the mists of time.
I am determined to let my children and their children know what their mother, grandparents and great grandparents went through in that horrible World War 2, as prisoners of war of the Japanese military.
I am determined to let them know about my stepfather, who served on a merchant ship in the Pacific during world war two, and never talked about the horrible things he had seen.
I am determined to let them know about all the things they went through and the sacrifices they made so we can live in freedom.
I hope they never will be forgotten, and that they can live on and serve as an inspiration to others.
I hope my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren can learn from this. And I hope it will teach them, that in this world we live, nothing is for granted.
Live each day and every day to the fullest.

Demands for an apology and compensation have been a recurring topic in South Korea, Chinese politics, and from the Dutch from the former Dutch East Indies. Every second Tuesday of the month a petition is handed over to the Prime Minister of Japan at the Embassy in The Hague in The Netherlands.
Many people, including high-ranking officials and scholars, criticized Japan, saying that those apologies, which are usually made followed by denial of war crimes by the Japanese lawmakers, as inadequate and insincere.

In October 2006 PM Shinzo Abe's apology was followed on the same day by a group of 80 Japanese lawmakers' visit to the Yasukuni Shrine which enshrines more than 10000 convicted war criminals.
Two years after the apology Shinzo Abe also denied that the Imperial Japanese military had forced 'comfort women' into sexual slavery during World War 2.He had said:"No proof of WW2 sex slaves."

Historians and governments of some countries hold Japanese military forces, namely the Imperial Japanese Army, the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the Emperor Hirohito responsible for killings and other crimes committed against millions of civilians and prisoners of war.
Some Japanese soldiers had admitted to committing these crimes.

R.J. Rummel, a Professor of Political science at the University of Hawaii, states that between 1937 and 1945 the Japanese military murdered from nearly 3.000.000 to over 10.000.000 people. Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos,and Indochinese, among others, including Western prisoners of War.

Traces of the railroad.1942-1945

Traces of the past.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand.


  1. Thank you for sharing. I learned something that answered some of my curiosity. According to family stories, I had 5 uncles that worked on the Burma railroad as well. They all returned home after the war but suffered terrible health problems throughout their adult lives.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. The horrors of the Thai-Burma railway are too important to be forgotten.

    1. Indeed it's very important that this tragedy should never be forgotten. It's unbelievable how people can do such things to one another. When I sometimes asked my mother questions about things I had seen, She always told me that I must have dreamed it, and she always said that mankind would not do such things to one another. She protected me all her life, and tried so hard to erase the things I had seen.But these horrors should never be forgotten, and one day mankind will hopefully learn that wars has no winners only sinners.