Dutch-Canadian Survivors of Japanese Prison Camps

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An Everlasting Painful Experience

by Marius van Dijk van Nooten

This contribution is based on a paper delivered by the author,
through invitation, at the 1993 World Conference for Mental Health in Tokyo

On August 6 and 9, 1945, the atom bombs were dropped on Japan. The Japanese commander of our concentration camp, Bangkong in the city of Semarang on the island of Java in Indonesia, herded and rounded up all of us young boys and old men to the convent square of the camp. After much shouting and pushing us into groups of 10 x 5 rectangles, the camp commander in full dress uniform and swinging his samurai sword above his head, addressed and informed us that the war was over and that he, unfortunately, did not know who won the war but that we prisoners were now free to go home.

Beaten, tortured and starved for about three and a half years as a child slave labourer without wages and fed three times a day only a cup of watery starch, sweet potato leaf and a sliver of cow gut or watery rice, I was now free. I did not know where the rest of my family was. Therefore, I had no sense of belonging and was lonely and desperate.

The chaos after the Second World War in Asia and Europe lasted for some time but, finally, I was able to emigrate as an unskilled labourer to Canada, where I had a chance of doing something with my life. I could hardly speak or write the English language. However, my dream since the age of four to become a sailor was realized. I worked my way up from ship's potato peeler to ship's captain on Canadian and American merchant marine vessels and, believe me, that was not easy!

In the eighties, the nightmares and flashbacks had become so bad that I had to retire from sailing. I was diagnosed to have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from my experiences during the Second World War in Southeast Asia.

Looking back, the atrocities committed by the infamous Imperial Japanese Army during those years have been hidden from the history books and have yet to be told to the ordinary man and woman in the streets of Japan and Canada.

For instance, there have always been rumours to the effect that all prisoners (babies, children, women and men) under the Imperial Japanese military regime were to be mass executed in the event Japan was in danger of losing the war! The fact that these extermination plans were not put into effect can probably be attributed to the unexpected quick ending of the war. The atom bomb thus saved the life of me, an innocent child!

I learned from the war that Japan was conducting its war against children, women and unarmed men as much as against the enemy military. While six million innocent Europeans were exterminated in gas chambers and crematoriums in Europe, 35 million innocent victims in the Pacific and Southeast Asia were killed, many by methods such as cutting out human baby livers to be used as appetizers for the Japanese military, by decapitation as a sort of Olympic sport, by medical experiments without anæsthetics, and by biological and chemical warfare. Moreover, there was the continuous raping of ten-year-old girls used as comfort girls, sex slaves or forced prostitutes to comfort the officers and men of the Imperial Japanese military regime. They forced young girls and boys less than nine years old into slave labour and committed many more unimaginable acts. Japan was conducting a war policy of gradual extermination of its prisoners as soon as their economical value decreased. It was ruthlessly exploiting the Southeast Asians it had "liberated" by forcing them to work until they died by the thousands, if not millions!

During the Japanese military occupation, I was abducted from my home by the Japanese secret police or Kempetai — the equivalent of the German Gestapo — in 1942, when I was only 11 years old. At that time, I was tortured for refusing to give information on a young lady accused of spying and hiding Allied soldiers. I wet my pants from fear. After beatings and bashings over my head and body, I was tied up outside in the burning tropical sun for the red ants to find and bite me. The red fire ants were all over my body that was already bleeding from numerous cuts. Thirst, the open wounds from the beatings, the bites by the fire ants and the heat of the burning sun were all too much for me, an 11-year-old boy. I made a vow not to marry and have children. I passed out.

Today, I am still on a quest for inner peace, while peace came too late for those 35 million slaughtered innocent human beings. Every year on August 15, the day that Japan unconditionally surrendered, I mourn at the White Rock cenotaph while some Japanese high officials pray and pay tribute at Shinto Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine to more than a thousand war criminals convicted by the Allied courts. These war criminals are not only regarded as heroes but as deities, not only deserving of respect but worshipped and that bothers me. Can you imagine the uproar among Canadian citizens if high officials of the German government were to pray for and pay tribute to German war criminals like Hitler?

So, therefore, I cannot forgive and forget! I do not accept personal apologies from the Japanese Emperor nor from the Japanese Prime Ministers, but will accept an apology from the Japanese Diet, or parliament, and the Japanese citizens through legislation. However, when legislation for a formal apology was introduced into the Japanese Parliament to be signed into law, the effort failed and so no formal apology was made. A refused apology is an "aggressive offense" towards the victim survivor and will continue to "harm" that individual victim survivor! But, if Japan apologizes and pays restitution, then I, the victim survivor, can reconcile and trust will be restored. In the meantime, I do not buy any Japanese products or accept Japanese presents and will ask in a press conference to remove all Japanese cameras or other electronic instruments, for the Japanese injustice still prevails.

One must remember that the victim survivors of Southeast Asia and the Pacific who were babies and children at that time, including me, paid a very high price for peace and freedom! The freedom you enjoy today! Furthermore, I seek justice this many years after the Treaty of Peace "shut" me out. It is most unfair that the treaty rehabilitated Japan's economy on the backs of wartime victims like me. A child victim of war crimes deserves better than this.

The Canadian Hong Kong veterans who were POWs of the Imperial Japanese military regime during the Second World War in Southeast Asia finally received their "Slave Labour Pay" from the Canadian government and NOT, I repeat, NOT from the Japanese government! You and I have to pay for that through our income tax. I have tried to get an exemption credit on my income tax from the federal government but failed. It is not so much the money as the principle behind it. It means that Japan is controlling the Canadian government and keeps smiling. It is very ironic, isn't it? What an impact on Canadian society today.

Canadian citizens of Japanese descent who were wrongfully put into concentration camps during the Second World War received an apology with restitution and rightly so. It is perhaps that these people could convince the Japanese government to apologize and pay restitution to its victims?

I wrote to the United Nations Secretary-General asking the world community to reject Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council until it has fulfilled its "legal and moral" obligations to the world, to the 35 million slaughtered babies, children, women and men, all victims of the Pacific and Southeast Asia, viz. from Korea, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Canada, Great Britain, the United Sates and New Zealand. "No" for Japan with regard to a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

About the Author

Marius van Dijk van Nooten was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, but lived in Batavia (Djakarta) in the Dutch East Indies when the war broke out. He spent the war in the following camps: Kempetai (Heetjansweg) and Tjihapit (both in Bandung), as well as in the following boys camps: Tjimahi, Baros 6 and Bangkong. After the Japanese surrender he was in camp Tjideng (Batavia), Wilhelmina camp Tjangi in Singapore,Wellington (New Zealand) and Brisbane (Australia). Marius had been with his mother and two brothers until 19 July 1944, when he was taken away to Tjimahi. His father spent the war in Tjimahi, while his mother and brothers went to Tjihapit (see also stories by Bart van Nooten and John van Nooten). Marius returned to the Netherlands on the MS Sibajak, arriving in Rotterdam late 1946. He arrived in Canada by himself in Gander, Newfoundland, in 1954. He remained single and lived in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, St. John (Nfld) and Vancouver. In 1993, he was invited to speak to the World Conference for Mental Health in Tokyo about his time in the Japanese boys camps and his experience as an 11-year old, when he was tortured by the Kempetai. In 1995, he organized a trip to the USS Missouri, moored in Bremerton, Washington. This was the site where fifty years earlier the Japanese signed an agreement with the Allied Forces, restoring peace.

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