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Dutch Woman Writes of WWII Experiences in Indonesia

Just as American POWs of the Japanese during World War II are aging and dying, there are numerous, now elderly, Dutch men and women who barely survived the war in Indonesian POW camps. They were the wives and children of Dutch colonial officials and businessmen, many of whom were killed in their separate camps. Elizabeth van Kampen is one of these women, born in 1927, who spent an idyllic childhood in Indonesia, only to see it destroyed and her father and uncle killed. After the war she returned briefly to Holland, but then went to work in England, where she married and moved to South Africa. She later lived in the U.S., France, and Switzerland, before returning to Holland. Because of her knowledge of English, she decided to write her memoir in that language. She writes:

"The Netherlands had two enemies during World War Two, Germany and Japan. But the Dutch people only speak about the Germans. I can't even remember how many books I have read about the enemy Germany. It was only in 1995 that I really began to read about the other enemy, Japan. Mostly written in English of course, because the Netherlands doesn't really see Japan as their former enemy. That is also the very reason why I wrote this web site in English, with many mistakes and all. I tried to tell the story of the Japanese occupation in the former Dutch East Indies, because it is a quite unknown story. I tried to tell about the consequences of that very cruel Japanese military occupation of the former Dutch East Indies. There are many traumas people had and still have from that occupation. What made it worse, is that Japan doesn't acknowledge its atrocities from during World War Two and that the Netherlands is absolutely not interested in what the Japanese did to the Dutch in the former Dutch East Indies."

Despite her experiences, she harbors no lasting bitterness toward the Japanese and in 1996 visited both Indonesia and Japan. She now devotes herself to helping poor Indonesian children gain an education, and in documenting the treatment of POWs in Indonesia during World War II. One of the more interesting aspects of her web site, is her collection of eye-witness accounts by people who saw Australian and Dutch men being transported by the Kempeitai (the Japanese military police) in bamboo baskets ordinarily used to carry pigs to market. Many of these men were simply thrown into the ocean to drown in their baskets.

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Japan Policy Research Institute
University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim
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Last updated 30 September, 2009
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