Dutch-Canadian Survivors of Japanese Prison Camps

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Survivor Stories

"Those hurts and pains that we experience in childhood don't just magically evaporate as we grow older. They rumble around in us, and when we have reached a level of strength, maturity, insight and awareness to handle them, they come up to be worked through. This is one of the ways our inner being is loving to us. It gives us every opportunity to heal the hurts we need to heal, and it gives us that opportunity when we are strong enough to handle it."

— Author Unknown

Why do we do it? Why does a group of people, who did not really know each other until they were well into their middle age, come together almost every month and travel long distances to meet for a few hours, just to talk and have a good meal together?

This is what the members of our group, the Kumpulan Djempol, do and probably will continue to do, until they are at their last breath. We are a group of people who live between Ottawa and Montreal, survivors of the war in the Far East which raged from 1942 to 1945. We and our friends and relatives have found great comfort in meeting with each other the way we have done for more than ten years.

When we get together, we reminisce about the times that we lived in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) where we grew up in what looks to us now as a tropical paradise. Maybe our glasses are slightly rose-tinted, but we can still see very clearly through them at the peace and tranquillity that existed in the pre-war Dutch Indies. There may have been more unpleasant sides to our pre-war existence, but the good and the bad all disappeared in the cataclysm of the Japanese invasion and the following horrors in and out of the concentration camps.

In our meetings, we recalled these stories and had set apart a time to give each member an opportunity to recount some experience of theirs. Some of these talks have been written down here, and Ria Koster, with a great deal of work, has produced this memorable little collection. Maybe there are more stories about the concentration camps than about the pre-war years, but that is only natural in view of the scars that most of us still carry with us.

These are only some twenty testimonies of the possible thousands that other war survivors from Indonesia carry around with them. Because walking around with experiences which no one else but another camp survivor can understand is a lonely business, what happened with us in the Ottawa-Montreal area, has taken place all over the world where camp survivors lived. In the Netherlands, the Americas, and Australia, the same thing happened as happened to us. People got together when they heard of other Indische mensen, meetings were organized and new friendships were formed.

And why do we do this? In the first place, because of personal needs, of course, talking with people who have a similar background, but also because we realize that unless we tell others what things were really like, no one will ever know. Professional historians have written thick books, but these people are often one-dimensional in their thinking and try to squeeze the facts to fit their own thought-patterns, and the result is a narrative that you can not even recognize as being anything like your own. Writers from the Dutch East Indies such as E. du Perron and Tjalie Robinson have been very successful in recounting their own personal experiences in the East Indies, as well as giving them a more universal meaning.

The people who wrote this website are a lot more modest in their aims. They wrote down their experiences as they remembered them, because they are true, and because they want their friends and other generations to know what happened. Our group is a witness to a bygone time. But we have something to say about a wonderful world and a hideous world, in both of which our experiences are rooted. We know peace and war, and this is one of the ties that binds us together and that makes the group Kumpulan Djempol survive.

In this website, you will find our stories. We don't tell them as well as Tjalie Robinson, the voice of the Dutch Indonesians after the war, but in a small way this is our contribution to the times that most of us remember vividly, in a loving way or otherwise.

Unless we write, who will remember?

John van Nooten
Glen Robertson, Ontario, Canada, 2010

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