Thursday, May 6, 2010

Instruments of Terror

I've always been interested in my family history. I loved hearing the stories of the experiences my generations of family went through. From them I've gained insight, inspiration, understanding and knowledge. Now that Stephen and I have added on to our family trees, I find myself wanting to gather more stories, more information, especially about those members that have already left us, so my own children can gain their own insight, inspiration, understanding and knowledge. Fortunately we live in a time where our family journals or diaries can easily be documented and saved...blogged. Kristin, the sister of Spence cousin Mickie, shared on her blog of an actual hard bound book she created for her children from special blog entries - a keepsake for her children when they get older. Yes, they could probably just read them on the computer but there's something special about flipping through a journal/diary/photo album from our family members. One day I hope to make a book for Madeline and James, and this entry will definitely make it in the book.

So with Madeline starting school, the subjects of our American and World History have caught my interest once again. When she asks me questions about these subjects, I love to tell her how our families were involved in these times in History. For Veterans Day, Madeline proudly shared and displayed photos of her Opa and Poppi at school, both veterans serving in the Army and Navy. This, along with the fact that Stephen and I have caught several WWII related movies on Netflix sparked my interest in hearing more about the experiences my grandparents went through being in internment concentration camps. Since all of my grandparents have left us, I sought my parents, their siblings and cousin to recall any stories they remember of the experiences my grandparents went through.

My mother's father, my Opa (left) with his brother, my great-Oom Rob. 1954

During WWII both my mom and dad's fathers were taken and put in Japanese-run military prisoner of war internment camps. And their wives (my Oma's) and children born already (my Oom Folly and my Dad and his sister, my Tante Friedl) were taken and put in civilian internment camps. At the time of the war they were all in the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) which was invaded by the Japanese. Any men of Dutch descent were put in concentration camps from 1941-1945 (my family of course is a mix of Dutch and Indonesian descent). Since the Netherlands were being invaded by German occupation at this time, the Dutch had little ability to defend their colony against the Japanese. Initially the Indonesian people were optimistically and even joyfully welcoming the Japanese as liberators from their Dutch colonial masters. This sentiment quickly changed as the occupation turned out to be the most oppressive and ruinous colonial regime in Indonesian history. During this time I also had great-grandparents and an Oom (pictured above) who were in the Netherlands who helped the Jews hide and also went into hiding since the German Nazis were invading. Below are the stories from my family...

Memories from my mom:
Well Opa was not part of the Holocaust, which was in Germany during WWII. He was in Indonesia during WWII which was invaded by the Japanese, and the men of Dutch decent were put in concentration camps from 1941 to 1945. A lot of women and children like Oma and oom Folly were put in separate concentration camps. My Opa and Oma were living in Holland at the time and had their youngest Robert with them who was studying at the university to become a lawyer. But the Germans also invaded Holland and he (Robert) had to go into hiding, like Ann Frank. He hid in a crawl space in between the closets, don't know exactly why he had to hide. In the yellow INDO booklet there are some stories of people who went through that period, and some have written books from that time, there are some that are in English and since you are interested in it I'll order it. I don't think Opa and Oma had any pictures from that period, because they had to sell most of their possessions for food. The Japanese were not as cruel as the Germans against the Jews, but after the war several years later they apologized and monetarily compensated the Dutch people who were in Indonesia during WWII. Opa and Oma Nix were in the same situation.

Me: "Mom, Do you know the names of the camps they were held in?"
Mom: "Well I've heard them talk about the communities Tanjjung Priok and Tjideng, not sure if they were in the camps there."
Me: "So was it 3-4 years Oma and Oom Folly did not see Opa? I wonder if Oom Rob knows more about his father's situation and hiding during the war?"
Mom: "Yup, Opa did not see much of oom Folly as a baby."

Memories from my Oom Rob, son of great-Oom Rob (yes same name) pictured above:
"My dad and them darn war stories... I do not remember much of the ones my parents told me. I remember odd things such as how my mom to the day she died went into a major panic every time she heard sirens ( police, fire trucks). They reminded her of the sirens that went off when airplanes went over head dropping bombs.
I do know that my dad was in Leiden studying law. He was 23 when the war started. They (my mom and he) met at a mutual friend sometime during the war. I believe my mom was baby sitting for them at the time. Also, both he and my mom and her family were involved in hiding Jews and towards the end of the war my dad had to go into hiding as well. Not really sure as to the reason why. May have had something to do with his young age and the possibility that he would have been drafted to go fight at the front lines. After D-day (I believe May 5) they got married on Jun 17 and a month later he signed up with the KNIL (Koningelijk Nederlands Indish Leger) and was shipped out to Indonesia where he assisted liberating folks from the Japs refugee camps. As I correctly remember my history the war ended there in Aug '45. I remember my dad mentioned that he met up with my mom's oldest sister and her 2 kids."

Memories from my Oom Folly (my mom's brother who was put in an interment camp with his mom):
"My father being in the police force was apprehended at once when the Japanese infiltrated Batavia now known as Jakarta in 1941. I was born the following year on March 26, 1942. It was a bumpy ride to the hospital in my mother's tummy riding in a horse drawn cabby (dokkar). The camp where my father was situated is not known to me. Fortunately he had some friends in there helping each other trying to stay alive. Torture was a big thing in my father's camp; bamboo slivers under the nails and lit up. Lock them up in an under sized out house, and their favorite thing was to cut the stomach skin and you would be walking with your guts in your hands. This is only a few of the tortures going on during their stay. My grandmother was very protective of my mother protecting her from the Japanese soldiers who constantly try to hit on my 19 year old mom. They even killed our dog and chopped his head of because of his constant barking. My grandfather De Jong past away in camp because he refused to eat rice and Indonesian food, he only liked potatoes. I barely remembered him and he was so proud of me, poor Opa!. My father F.A.Z Tengbergen came back from camp when I almost turned 4 years old; this was the first time he seen me.
The first thing my mother and grandmother did is shaved his head and bathed him in D.D.T. to kill all the uku's (lice), fleas and bed bugs. My father went back to the police force after the war but things were not going to great because the Indonesian people were trying to get their independence and wanted all the Dutch people to leave Indonesia or become an Indonesian citizen. My grandmother and Uncle Koos stayed in Indonesia and became citizens from that country, which was a mistake."

My mom found some paperwork that she submitted for her father. Above is an excerpt from it. From just the stories told above from my family I can begin to picture the terror my family went through in these camps and in hiding. Hitler referred to his concentration camps as "instruments of terror". During this research I came across some blogging of a man's memory of his experiences in a Japanese-run concentration camp in the Dutch East Indies, what he shares painted an even bigger picture of what my family went through...

"In June 1942 my father was picked up to be interned in a concentration camp for men...When we (him, his mom and sister) reached KARANGPANAS camp I was mentally so affected by this journey that I was brought to a make-shift “hospital”. This “hospital” was just an empty room without any furniture. Since our other luggage never arrived, I and many others, had to lay on the cement floor. After three weeks I was allowed to leave the “hospital” and join my mother and sister in a barrack. In the barrack there was a long continuous plank bed alongside both walls. Each person was allocated 20 inch (50 cm) of space. The food situation was terrible and you never knew when food would be next handed out... In June 1944 we were transferred by bus to CIC 256: CAMP 6 AMBARAWA - (Central Java). Space per person was now 18 inches (45 cm)... This was the only camp where I had to work. The hardest job was cutting grass between the barracks which was done by using a kitchen knife. The lightest but most frightening job was sweeping the Japanese quarters near the gate. Not only were the Dutch inmates punished there but also Indonesians from outside the camp. One day while I was sweeping, two Japanese were beating an Indonesian gentleman with bamboo sticks. When the blood was pouring out of his mouth one Japanese got an old food tin to collect the blood. They then forced the man to drink his own blood... My mother became seriously ill and had given up. My sister and I had to fend for ourselves... He (the camp commander ) told us that the Emperor of Japan had the pleasure in telling us that he had decided to end the war... My father managed to reach our camp thanks to the Red Cross... On the 5th of May 1946 we arrived in Amsterdam. We consider this date our Liberation Day." by Johan Rijkee

What I've come to understand through these stories is that my family had faith and perseverance of inspiring measures. I try to picture in my mind how I would feel (terrified for sure!) if Stephen was taken away to be put in a concentration camp and the kids and I put in a camp as well. No doubt one must go into survival mode. But one also must have faith and hope in our Lord to get through something as inhuman and evil as these historical events. I'll end this post with a quote I found to be so inspiring on how to hold our attitudes in times of trial...

'We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.' - Viktor Frankl


Andria said...

The ending quote is great, Melissa. Wow, I cannot imagine what your family and the others in the camps went through during these times, but yes, faith in our Lord and Savior is definitely needed in any trial.

Anonymous said...

I can't even image what Your FAMILY went Through..By You and your Children. You can keep all Your Ancestors Alive..Tell there stories. Thank God for their Love and Strength. I'm so PROUD You are taking the time and exploring your Ancestory.
Remind your children the sacrivice they made..WOW..I LOVE IT.. Thank-You Lord..

Robert said...

What a GREAT story or is it called 'blog' these days ;o)
Just love how you put it all together. You got talent my dear. You should think of becoming a freelance writer. I printed it to send to Jason. By the by, where on earth did you get that pic of your opa & my dad? What a handsome bunch they izz haha.
Thank you for doing this. It is awesome to keep these family memories alive while at the same time illustrating so well what our ancestors had to endure. Makes you feel humble thinking about it when faced with adversities in our own lives. You are providing the glue that keeps this amazing (extended) family close. I can't express how proud I am of you and of the fact to be part of this across-the-world-scattered group of wonderful relatives.
Proudly your oom Rob.