The WWII generation impacted our entire world, and for Dutch-American-Canadian-Australian-Indonesian baby-boomers, many of us grew up with: pride of surviving, love, up-rootedness, our parents’ temper outbursts, tensions, depressions, and our own yearning to one day hear the complete story which never came. So
Secrets, a mandate for success, and our parents’ and grandparents’ anxiety was not left behind in War time for most of us.
Children and grandchildren of war often have a lovely closeness, constant worry, and mistrust. In a very real way we “inherit” our parents’ anxiety.
To grow up with parents who have lost all in war is to grow up with fear of: lines, waiting, “wasting” food, “running out,” and the worst case scenario of every situation.
I believe we are invited to find deep meaning and to contemplate all of the tough questions of faith and love. A deeper intimacy, trust, the “never again” commitment, and a quest for peace and spirituality is our reward, for not giving up, just as our parents did not give up.
“We need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation.
Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow,
but also a cup of joy, will we be able to drink it.”
Dear readers, I know you already feel compassion for those who lost everything and managed to keep the spirit within alive, when all else was broken. As the Indisch War Monument for civilian survivors in Den Haag (The Hague) tells us, The Spirit Overcomes,
To help understand the lost years… In pictures
Lost family years, lost childhoods, lost educations, lost careers,
Lost health, lost loved ones
one can absorb
of hurt souls,
endless waiting and hope
Long ago, I realized we children and grandchildren can’t absorb the full reality of war—with or without photos. Most photographs were taken five to six weeks after the camps were liberated. So these pictures were after the liberation of the Japanese Concentrations Camps located in the Dutch East Indies/Indie (now Indonesia), after more than a month of more adequate care and food.
And yet with these images, we can see that the camps had become camps of death, starvation, and brutality. Civilian prisoners (infants up to adulthood…children, men, women) were often treated as severely as the POW camps (for the KNL—Royal Dutch Military, and other Allied soldiers).
And yet with these images, we can intuit that children, women, men and soldiers were not yet safe. The Bersiap period when Indonesian Merkado fighters fought for Indonesian independence, were times of swift cruelty and confusion. The Japanese, as per the terms of surrender, became protectors, as local peoples became dangerous. In the light of this danger, Dutch survivors of concentration camps were repatriated to the Netherlands slowly…very slowly. The first rescuers were British, and devastated Nederland—the Netherlands could not provide quick support, transportation and safety for its citizens in the colony of the Dutch East Indies. Deaths still occurred, home was not available.
The hypervigilance necessary to evade Japanese brutality became the hypervigilance necessary to avoid attack. Civilians were attacked, and often held, whether still residing in camps, trying to travel by train, or trying to return “home.”
Finally, trips by ship home occurred slowly… late Fall 1945, December 1945, as late as 1946. Most were never able to return to the Indonesian islands which they considered home. For many especially those born in Indonesia, they were returning to a mother country, which felt alien and cold. And, no one wished to hear the stories of those returning.
This series of diverse WWII era photos shows:
The conditions in women’s/children’s concentration camps such as Tjideng. The severe starvation, which tells us why so many died in the final months of the war and after liberation. The boys and men at Camp Ambarawa, free, but nowhere near home. Japanese forced Romushas (term for laborers) to work to the point of quick death. These laborers were recruited or sent to their deaths. Ironically, Indonesians has been promised by the Japanese that Indonesia would become “Asia for Asians,” yet millions died due to the invasion of the Japanese, starvation and forced labor. We see “Comfort Women,” forced into brothels for systematic rape and treated as prostitutes. Indonesian women, European Women, Australian women, Koreans, and many others survived the forced rape experiences over and over again.
Compassion vs Comparison
Along with realizing that we can never fully understand, I have learned about compassion. Compassion for any loss and trauma saves us all. I used to hesitate to tell my dear parents, who gave up so much to find a safe world for my sister and I, my problems and true life stories. I knew that to see me in pain, pained them. And, I wished to spare them pain. Now I know that any family, any people hearing each other’s’ stories with compassion and without comparison gift each other deeply. Ultimately it is respecting each other’s stories bring us healing.
Telling our Stories
We all need to know someone was and is with us.
When I tell you my story, and you listen, it is as if you were there during my most painful times. A terrible lonely aloneness is gone. And if I tell you my story, and ask you where was God in all of this, and you then tell me the story which made you ask “Where was God?” Then our spirits find solace.
And if we tell each other our stories, and neither of us talks of God, we cannot find that greater power in the universe, still our spirits are unbroken. The Spirit Overcomes.