FLOWERS BLOOM IN THE DESERT

I would like to share an opinion of someone who, like me, spent almost 4 years in Japanese concentration camps during WW II. I’ve done my best to paraphrase into English but in simply she states:

“When your body experiences the cruelty of a Japanese concentration camp, you will carry a scar on your soul for the rest of your life.”

 She went on:

“The simplest little thing can set you off. For instance my good Japanese friend became so irritated and furious with me that he ended our conversation by smashing the phone down. He provided no excuses, not to someone 30 years older—just a little e-mail: “what do you want from me, I’m not Mother Theresa or Gandhi!”

 Both the past and the camps; and now my friend treating me the same way the Japanese soldiers treated us prisoners: with contempt and arrogance; like we were some sort of vermin – all take me back to that moment in time. We couldn’t say or do anything; we were powerless! I wanted a strong stick to whack him over his face; I wanted a gun to shoot him in both his legs. This means ‘war’ for me!

 But the only weapon I had was learning how to manage my negative feelings and the hate for those men with slanted eyes who spoke a language I didn’t know. Those men, who had the power to break, and rape, and kill.

 Seventy years later, I now understand how important and forming those years were for me. Teaching me how to identify with all these feelings, how to conquer the art of surviving and learning how to control the negative state of my mind.

 If I can pass this to my children and grandchildren, then perhaps I haven’t lived in vain during this long war.

 Three years, when you are fourteen is a long time.”

Do I agree with those feelings? Do I consider those years forming and necessary in order to teach me control over my negative state of mind? Have the seventy past years been enough for me to forget and forgive?

 

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Esabella’s Daily Bread

If you are wondering why it’s taken me so long to add to this blog, it’s because one of my sisters from Holland paid us a visit. She comes every year; and each year I prepare weeks in advance of her arrival. She is a lady we call TINKA’S in Indonesia. She is a ‘redhead’ (now grey), with all the idiosyncrasies ‘redheads’ are famous for.

Her diet is based solely on the sheer desire not to gain a single pound. This means for breakfast: two little pieces of melon, one large juicy kiwi and six little blueberries. She refuses tea or coffee, but accepts a wineglass filled with orange-grapefruit juice, which she uses to rinse down eleven pills of varying shapes and sizes.

Around 10:00 a.m. she starts to yawn – a clear sign of “feeling weak” and I hurry to make her a cup of coffee. The coffee we drink – strong, black, sugar-free Starbucks coffee has long ago been determined by her to be “undrinkable garbage”. So I know better than to offer this. Her choice is the dry powdered Tim Horton’s Cappuccino coffee. Not something we usually buy – it is purchased ahead of time in anticipation of her arrival. With the coffee comes only the smallest piece of cake or cookie, no matter how delicious or tempting.

Twelve o’clock sharp: I large tablet which has to be sucked on till it disappears. Too early still to enjoy lunch.

As time passes her facial color gradually turns from pale to paler to deadly pale. Another series of yawns warns us that lunch would be welcome around 1:00 o’clock.

There are limitations for her diet. She eats only chicken, turkey and occasionally salmon. The rest of the fish according to my dear sister are “inferior”. I need to safe one of these choices for diner, so that leaves me cheese, tomatoes or cucumber, scrambled eggs, and vegetable tacos as lunch options. The tacos pleased her only once and promptly discarded after that: too greasy! (I have to tell the taco shop). Bread has it’s own category of objections. None of our beautiful store breadbox varieties is good enough. It has to be organic rye bread and it has to have nuts or dried veggies visible in it. Once again no coffee, no tea; only juice or water.

I used to feel guilty offering the same dish each day for lunch, but struggled to find more variety. Anything else was welcomed with a grimace.

Dinners are the easiest as by then she has developed an appetite – unless of course we’ve hit a local mall and sat down to enjoy a delicious cinnamon roll with extra white cream on top. That always means “no supper” – perhaps a cup of sago pudding if I was lucky.

All I wish for during her stay with us is to send her home weighing exactly as much as she came with.

And she comes – bringing along with her numerous gifts and surprises – not leaving any of us (and our family count is now twenty-five). I’m certain she spends weeks searching for just the right gift for her nieces and nephews; looking for presents and funny toys for the little ones.

She continues to come, looking forward to all the invitations from each of my children and their families – who go out of their way to make her visit warm and eventful. She inundates them with her stories, already told before, but she has forgotten that. The stories are slightly different versions from the last time she told them, but the family smile and nod – they don’t mind.

During the three weeks she was with us, each week was different, very different in many ways. When she returned home we missed her. Her chair is empty. The puzzle book she brought to keep upstairs in case she woke up before us and didn’t want to make noise was never opened – because she always slept in.

Life is different now, easier now, less complicated now, and August is around the corner. I love my sister and everyone in the family enjoys her visits. She has returned home after a fine flight and feels good falling back into her own routine. She has stories to bring back and tell the rest of the family in Holland. And at the beginning of next year she will start planning again as to what to buy or pack when she visits us here again in Canada.

Until then, stay healthy dear sister, eat to your hearts content and next year when you come again, we will be there to meet you at the Airport.

REMORSE – BUT NO EXCUSES (PART II)

2015 could potentially be an interesting year for World War II survivors, which ended exactly 70 years ago – almost a generation ago.

There is no simple way to provide accurate representation of what occurred during that war. Purposeful destruction of the majority of Japanese Imperial army archives made that inevitable, yet there remains enough documentation to proof inhuman treatment at the hands of Japanese soldiers during that time in history.

Despite innumerable cries for recognition from Japan to take responsibility for what occurred during those years; it took the writings and signatures of nearly 200 prominent lecturers and professors for Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe to finally take actions. With a spirit of courage and determination those letters encouraged Abe to promote the importance of human rights and safety; and finally confront the grief and sorrow caused by Japan.

Abe’s resolution would be an historic movement towards equality of women and men in Japan, East Asia and the world. The current generation could be able to live with the past Japan left behind and at the same time help them build a world free of sexual violence and human trade.

This year – seventy years later – the Japanese government has a chance to show leadership by addressing the history of the colonial oppression and aggression during this period of war. Not just with fancy speeches, but with action.

Would this finally make a difference?

Would this make healing possible?

Would we be able to forgive and forget?

I truly don’t know; but It would certainly be a start.

REMORSE – BUT NO EXCUSE (PART I)

Too often, it seems there are situations or coincidences that take me back to those years so long ago – years of war, prison, terror and sickness – permanently engraved in my memory.

Why, I ask myself, do I feel so uncomfortable with this continual barrage of past happenings, more hidden than known to folks in this century?

I wonder if I should, at this time in my life, be able to forgive and forget?

I am free now after all; and time is the infamous healer of all wounds.

Truth is, we can and will never forget. There are too many of us who continue to suffer the shame of it all. We remain bitter and angry, for Japan has yet to admit the atrocities and cruelty as they murdered and butchered and starved.

South Korea and several American members of government have continued to provide Japanese premier Shinzo Abe with undeniable proof of these unspeakable events. Abe is the first premier who spoke to Congress – he did it to be part of the remembrance celebration to the end of the seventy-year-old war in Asia. But instead of admitting to the darkness of Japan’s actions in WWII, Abe simply voiced “regret”.

Is regret an admission of guilt? Not really.

Approximately 200,000 girls and women were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers. Abe explained this by stating “Armed conflicts have always caused the most hardship to women. Our actions have caused a lot of suffering among the peoples of the Atlantic countries. In this age we have to stand firm for a world in which women finally are freed from damage and violation of human rights”.

And that was the end of it!

His profound statement left his critics with hopeless raging fury.

Can we ever feel differently?

Will we ever heal? Or forgive? Or forget?

A HISTORY OF PAIN

In one of my previous blogs I wrote about the Dutch Royal couple visiting the Japanese Emperor and his wife. The last section of that blog contained questions – eight serious questions for which I as a survivor of WW II have only one answer.

My answer is “no!”

I thought long and hard, struggling to find a different answer for even one of those questions but I was unable to.

One of my followers agreed with me and also declared “No. Japanese and Netherland Royals visiting each other’s countries is simply not enough”. Not by far!

Will it ever be enough?

Will the survivors and victims ever be able to forget or forgive what was done to them during those years under Hitler’s bullwhip and the Japanese terror in the South Pacific concentration camps?

I wrote “The Remains of War” a few years ago and received numerous reactions from women, older but still alive, who still remember and suffer the nightmares – filled with sadistic behavior and brutal punishment.

I received innumerable e-mails from their children thanking me for this book, for now they understood their parent’s withdrawal into silence as they grew up in a lonely, introverted environment.

The book I received commemorating the seventy years of World War II survivors compiles the stories of war victims and resistance fighters imprisoned in Europe, Burma-Siam, and Indonesia.

Stories of pain and death; of terror and punishment; of hunger and deceit.

Stories of courage and heroism; of cruelty and betrayal; of sacrifice and everlasting damage.

The stories are all very different, like fragments from a puzzle, yet all fit together to paint a very tragic picture – a diorama of pain, forever translucent in their quest for truth, understanding and justice.

I will return to this incredible book of raw and painful memories in future blogs. But for now I leave you with four lines that grace the cover of this unforgettable book:

Come tonight with stories

                               How the war has disappeared

                               And repeat them a hundred times

                               Each and every time I will weep.

                                                             – Leo Vroman-Vrede

SILENCE

“Silence” is a concept that instills many emotions for me. Abstract emotions, but often also very real and concrete.

I love silence ‑ just slumbering away in peace without noise, without nagging urges of pressing duties pushed aside. The silence of the sky, a forest, a large stretch of water as it gently flows from shade to sunshine. I love that silence, for it is temporarily mine, and I heal within it.

I forget for a time the other kind of silence; which purposefully keeps in check everything I want to forget. I know that this is impossible. This kind of silence is shared by many—far too many.

That kind of silence is bitter, darkened by memories of shame or regret or hate. Many will never find a cure for this kind of silence.

I shared the space of those WW II concentration camps with so many other prisoners – all struggling with their own memories, knowing there is no forgetting – those recollections will remain forever tainted by that dark bitter kind of silence.

But then a few months ago I received a book of survival stories, collected in commemoration of the “70 year Remembrance” of the end of the WW II. Each survivor alive today received one of those memorial books as a gift, a celebration of stories for every survivor to read, and remember.

This book helped tremendously.

I am not alone when I feel forgotten and abandoned.

Others do understand.

When I once again relive and return to those years of hate and loss, perhaps it will be silence that allows my to heal. Make me strong enough to continue sharing my story, my message, in my blogs, in my books.

JEANNE

JEANNE

One of my few very dear friends is dying. She has been dying for quite some time, fighting against the debilitating, consuming enemy, who robbed her from all things beautiful and independent. She fought for years, but now, sadly, is losing the battle.

Before I can’t reach her anymore, I need to tell her how important she is (and will always remain) to me. I need to tell her this – because I never really did before.

The affectionate, sympathetic, and sometimes tender wishes and conversations between us seem today, almost banal; but I know they were never that. Thinking back over the years, they really never were banal. We are friends and soon she will be leaving.

We understood each other’s quiet pain. Me, struggling to become “normal” following the years in concentration camps, and she coping with a dominating and often cruel mother while her father stood by silent. I have to let her know how very much I needed and enjoyed her during those difficult years in boarding school. She never knew because I never told her. Telling her would have exposed both of us.

I don’t have to remind her of this.

But I will remind her of the coach we had back then – the one who belittled her each time she couldn’t finish his exercises. My friend was physically frail and often failed. I would speak up for her, and then later, we’d laugh, imitating his behavior and the way he spit when he spoke.

I will remind her of this and we will laugh again.

I have to tell her how I looked up to her as she consistently searched for God. She studied books of theology, and went to universities, hoping to find who God was and the meaning of His existence in a world He allows us to live in.

My perspective was and is so much simpler – perhaps someone long ago helped me with this, before she surrendered her life never knowing how much she meant to so many.

I have to remind her of the day the priest told them their son would not be welcome in his church, because he was gay. She told that priest that it was he who would not be welcomed by God at the end of his life and then promptly moved to a different city where all were welcome. A response so classy, I will never forget.

I have to remind her of many more things I admire her for: her deep intelligence, her patience with me, her gentleness for someone in pain, her dedication for the ones she was responsible for, her open heart, always welcoming the ones in need.

And I am thankful, my dear friend, for we followed each other along paths of living, sometimes difficult and unbearably painful and other times full of joy and support and gratefulness.

And I promise you, morning and night, I will be talking about you to the God I belief in, the one you have always found so mysterious. And one day, I know, we will meet again when all questions and doubts and mysteries are answered and clear. And there will be no more suffering.

Because my friend, suddenly I will not have another chance to tell you all this – I want you to know how valuable and respected you are in my life.

I love you.