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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dutch Women interned by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies..

Many, many stories have been told about the war with Germany. Many movies have been made about the Nazi's. And many movies and stories have been told about the Jews who were in concentration camps.But just like them the Dutch women , children and men who were living in the Dutch Indies (now called Indonesia) were put behind barb wire by the Japanese and many of them were killed in their separate camps. Just like American POW's of the Japanese during World War2 are getting older and dying, the Dutch men and women who barely survived the war in Indonesian  POW camps are aging and passing away. My mother Sietske van der Wal-Sijtsma,and I her daughter Tetske T. van der Wal, her sister Eke van Driel-Sijtsma and her two children were one of these women, who were locked up by the Japanese. My father and my uncle both were killed. My uncle, who served on the 016 submarine was killed only 7 days after Pearl Harbor was bombed and Indonesia was at war with Japan. My father died a terrible death on the infamous Burma railroad tracks as a Dutch POW of the Japanese.
My mother and her sister passed away a couple of years ago. They never had a change to talk about the atrocities, and cruelties they experienced in these concentration camps in the Dutch Indies (now called Indonesia).

The sons from the country of the Rising Sun, the Japanese military in the Dutch Indies,were cruel despotic rulers.They did not respect anybody, they were rude and very mean, unbelievable quick-tempered and rigid
For everybody the Japanese code was a must to bow for every representative of the Emperor of Japan.For a guard you had to stand still and facing him you had to bow correctly. The smallest mistake in this ritual was enough to molest the victim with the butt of his rifle on the head and body,  with a stick, kicking, or squad in front of him with a wooden stick in your knee-joint, etc, etc. They loved to inflict pain.No matter how old you were you had to bow.We as toddlers mastered this ritual quickly, because if we did not do it correctly or if we forgot, our mothers would pay for it dearly. They would receive a beating right in front of our eyes.It's one thing I can never forget, seeing my mom getting beaten by this little man in uniform and these boots they wore scared me to death.They would kick my mother with these enormous boots.You never knew when a 'Jap' would lose his temper. The Japanese had a strange way to show their anger.When they were hitting a victim they would scream with a very scary throat sound and with all their fit of temper, they screamed themselves to unbelievable unmeasured heights and kicked with all their strength their victim.The Japanese were quick-tempered and worked themselves into such an angry fit of temper.I am still getting goose bumps when a person goes into a fit of temper. It scares me. These Japanese men were strange, strangely enough to beat each other as well. If a soldier did not hit a civilian victim hard enough he would receive a beating himself from his superiors and would be merciless beaten to pulp.They would tell him;'This is the way to do it'. All her life my mother was never able to understand this. What kind of men were these 'Japs'.I have never heard her say Japanese, when she talked about Japan it was always 'Japs". How was it possible to beat a women, sometimes so badly, that she would die. How could a human being be so mean.We, the
camp children underwent these traumatic experiences daily.We were very sensitive to the atmosphere of 'danger' in the camp.As young as we were we would follow unconscious the Japanese rules.We would stand quietly at roll-calls, even during penalty roll-calls which sometimes lasted for half the night, we kept deathly quiet.Forever we were asking when our Daddies would come back and when we could go back home.It must have been very hard for our mothers to make us at ease.But how could they if we children could feel that they were scared as well.The change we had to go through, chased from our comfortable houses to overcrowded barracks, under horrible conditions. Our mothers had to deal with bed bugs, lice, cockroaches, etc, etc. It's a miracle how we lasted for three and a half year. Our mothers must have felt hopelessly helplessness.The sleeping space was no more than 55 to 60 cm. This place was not only our sleeping place it was our dining room our living room our playroom.There was no privacy.There was a lack of food supplies and a deficiency of proteins, vitamins and calories. We were forever hungry. Punishments were applied to the whole camp including the children,withholding food, longer roll-calls in the fierce heat. Always afraid that maybe the Kempetai (Japanese Gestapo) would come for one of them. If they took you for interrogation or punishment; your return was uncertain.For my mother and my aunt the psychological trauma has continued its influence right up to their deaths. My mother tried to climb the wall, she clawed at it, when she was on her death bed. We had to hold her down, she was in a total panic.

My personal experiences are very hazy, and sometimes they come back with so much force.All who have been in the camps in the Dutch East Indies encountered similar things.The personal encounters from my two cousins are similar but still different. My cousin who is two years older than me refuses to talk about it. His recollection and his digestion of the experiences has left big scars.For him it has not been possible to talk about it. At one time when I just started to write my book, he promised me to tell me how he had experienced our camp life. He was not able to do it, it was too disturbing. Camp life had left him with psychological disturbances. The trauma's he underwent as a toddler during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch Indies must have left their roots from the camp experiences.For me it has been good to write about it, I am more able to talk about it without bursting into tears. I think it was because I always felt the pain of my mother. The pain she must have felt for never be able to talk about her experiences. She and her sister received not only beatings from these little yellow men (that's how they named them) they were raped.They had only told their youngest sister when they arrived back in The Netherlands in 1946. My aunt told me when I was working on my book.Never in my wildest dreams did I have any idea that's what my mother and her sister had endured. Now I understand what must have happened to my mother in that horrible church which the Japanese used as their offices.This was camp Moentilan, formerly a catholic training college for teacher. It was very difficult for my aunt to tell me, she became very emotional. She had promised never to talk about it. But because lately more women have come forward she decided it was time to let go of this big secret.My aunt is 85 years old now and when my mother and I arrived in the Netherlands in 1946 I always felt that she was my big sister.We even shared a room in the attic for a little while, until she married. The man she married is my favored uncle, and has always been. I have spend many holidays at their house when we moved away to another town. 
More than ever I can feel how my mother and her sister must have struggled the rest of their lives to live with this secret.How can a person overcome such atrocities inflicted on them without hatred.I don't think they ever forgave Japan what had been done to them.We escaped death through the A-Bomb, if they had not been dropped we would have died. The Emperor Hirohito of Japan (Yes this guy who was invited by Queen Juliana in 1972, this smiling little Japanese man, who came to visit Holland in 1972) he was the one who had given the order that all who were in these camps had to be liquidated.Every thing was in place and ready. He had said make sure there are no traces left. The date was set for 26 August,1945. Just a few days before the A-bombs were dropped. Can you believe this murderer stands there on the balcony of our Queen Juliana. It felt like she betrayed their country men.But we will never understand politics.My mother was in disbelieve, and than she was so disappointed.How could the Queen invite a murderer to the palace.

My cousins mother had just given birth to his sister in 1942 when we were put in these camps.He had lost his father, only seven days into this war. His life was uprooted with too many happenings, which he could not understand.All of a sudden he had a baby sister but his father was never ever going to come home. Bombs were falling in Soerabaja, and all of us were laying under the bed . Our mothers pretended this was a game, but we were oh so scared.The sounds of the explosions were deafening.My cousins and I still do not like fire works, it's about the same sound. For month's my cousin Fop was asking when his father would come back to him.Why is my father not coming to see me and my new little baby sister? His mother, my aunt, had a terrible difficult time after the birth of her daughter. Her behavioral problems disturbed my mother, and my mother had to constantly watch her. Thank God they were in the same camp Moentilan at the time, otherwise we do not know what would have happened to her.At one time she had left her son in the hot mid afternoon sun. When my mother asked why she was doing this, she said:"Nothing makes sense, we all are going to die, I might as well speed it up a little". She also had tried to kill herself, when my mother and my aunt were working in the fields, my aunt had asked the Japanese guard time out for going to the bathroom. She did not come back and my mother got nervous.She asked permission for a bathroom brake and luckily the Japanese guard had not noticed that my mother's sister had not returned. My mother found her sister stretched out laying on her back in the field not understanding anymore what she was doing.She told my mother that she just wished she would die. Seeing his mother and his aunt (my mother) getting beatings in front of his eyes must have left him with deep wounds.
My aunt with my cousin, just before the war.

These traumatic experiences must have been a susceptible phase in my cousins life. All he did was sitting in a little corner sucking his thumb and stare in the distance, he was like a living skeleton. My mother told me that sucking his thumb had saved his life, she truly believed that.
It has been said that children at the ages 0-5 years retain few conscious reliable memories of the camps, but must have absorbed like a sponge the feelings, of the people surrounding them and the atmosphere of the camp community. Well I can tell you that I was 5 years old when we were freed from these tyrants and many scenes are imprinted in my memory which I will never forget.I often described to my mother how the camp looked like. I was able to give her a description of the lay out of the camp which surprised her.How can one forget when you as a 4 year old had to stand for hours in line with a bottle in your small hands which had to be filled with water. I can see one of the Japanese standing on a table, behind him was a fence and he was shouting and screaming. When I told my mother years later about this scene, she even made a joke about it. She said: " Oh, yes, you remembered that well, this 'Jap' always climbed on this wooden structure, so he could look down on us, we women were so much taller than these 'Japs' they were very small men, we always made fun of them".

This memory is one of my scariest moments during my camp life. Seeing this man shouting and screaming so loud, it felt like any moment he would jump down from this table and grab me.Another scary memory I will never forget was when they ( the Japanese guards) came screaming and running through our rooms and took everything apart.This was house search.We children would be so shattered and so upset.The few toys we had would be scattered all over the floors. These were our few possessions.My mother would tell me that we would hold on to this little toy so tightly and would cry and cry, we were so relieved the 'Japs" had not broken it. Of course it happened many times that a child's toy was broken. That child was not to be comforted and would look at these Japanese with so much hatred in their eyes.The women in camp were humiliated by these men and my mother told me; 'you would never know when a 'Jap' would lose his temper and why, the best thing was to try to keep low profile'. They often were told that they belonged to their Emperor of Japan, we were nobodies and we did not belong to any country and were not the owners of our houses anymore.Little was known what was going on outside these camp walls.The uncertainties were killing us.She often said to me;' it felt like we were abandoned.'
After 3 and a half year the war ended, but the struggle to stay alive was not over. The war for my mother and her sister never ended. It ended when they passed away. I hope they are at peace and in a better place.
summer 1946, just back from Indonesia.We were reunited. My cousins on the left of me.

We in The Netherlands will have our monthly demonstration again February 12. Petion 219 will be handed over to His Excellency Shinzo ABE, Prime Minister of Japan. I will write this on my blog, soon as I receive it.On May 14, I will be joining the demonstration in The Hague again with my husband, my sister in law and friends from England.We are still asking for justice from Japan, we ask for a suitable redress of the damages done to victims of this horrible war, and we are hoping that this problem will soon be solved.

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