Lost Childhood: My Life in a Japanese Prison Camp During World War II – a TIP Book Review

By Willem ten Wolde

I was researching books written in English about the Japanese prison or internment camps in the former Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, when I found Annelex Hofstra Layson’s autobiography Lost Childhood: My Life in a Japanese Prison Camp During World War II. I was intrigued because it was—so far—the only one that targeted a younger, middle school aged audience. I was surprised to read that Annelex had been in several of the same camps I had been in with my mother and baby brother (specifically Surabaya, Gedangan and Halmaheira). Annelex is a bit younger than I, but she still remembers a lot.

The book starts with her peaceful life, in 1941 before the Pearl Harbor attack, in Surabaya where she lived with her father a navy pilot, mother, older brother, grandmother, and servants. When the Japanese invaded, her father was sent away on a mission. Soon after, they were evicted from their home and sent to prison camps in Surabaya, Gedangan, Halmaheira, and Semarang. As a little girl she did not understand why her pretty childhood was disturbed for four and a half years. Her older brother was separated from the family and brought to an all male camp. She describes the horrors of camp life in clear and vivid details. For example, she notes the lack of food and alternative foods like cats, other small animals, and vermin. She describes the punishments of women that did not obey or stole vegetables from the Japanese soldiers, in addition to the rampant diseases, the sick, and steps for taking care of the deceased.

Annelx illustrates the short moment of freedom after the capitulation, immediately followed by another war. The book follows the uprising of local Indonesian youth armed by the Japanese forces and the murder of POWs. I gave this book to my oldest grandson, who had asked me about the camps in the Dutch East Indies, because he was writing a high school project about it. My other grandchildren will eventually receive this book, as well a short intro from me.

On a personal note:

“When I read the book about the sufferings and courage of her mother, it reminded me that my mother and all mothers were the greatest heroes and victims of all. They were the ones who gave us children the reassurance to continue to live! Besides that, they also worried about the children taken away from them and their husbands. We, as children, didn’t have to take care of the family although we did our bit. My mother told me that I had saved her from dying one time. We were younger and I sometimes better adapt to these situations because we didn’t think like adults! I personally thought that I could not afford losing my mother, because orphan children are more vulnerable.”

lost-childhood

 

13 Comments on “Lost Childhood: My Life in a Japanese Prison Camp During World War II – a TIP Book Review

  1. I’m still amazed at the strength if our mothers, the courage if our brothers and sisters, and of course the heroics of our fathers.

  2. Hello Willem,

    We were classmates in high school in Soerabaja, remember? I wonder if you and your mom were in the same camps we were in? Darmo camp, Halmahera?

    Have you read my memoir, based on my courageous mother’s secret camp diary: RISING FROM THE SHADOW OF THE SUN, A Story of Love, Survival and Joy.

    I just published the second edition, following the thread of her life to almost 102 years old.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihda5ziPQvo

    I will check out LOST CHILDHOOD. Every story about the courage and suffering of our families is important.

    Thanks!

    • Hello Ronny, I will have to obtain a copy of your books. Very interesting. My family also were in these camps. My granfmother Elizabeth Welter, who married Gerhard Henri Droste, my mother Ingrid Droste was about your age in the same camps I believe and my uncle Robert Droste. We live just north of Brisbane, Australia. Weis was also the sister of Elizabeth.

      My father and his brothers also were in camps but not sure of which ones. He passed away in 2007, his name Robert Leonard Mattheij and he had a sister who would have been in her teens and a younger brother, they would have been 10 and 12 years old. Eric Mattheij was my uncles name on my fathers side.

      I’m very curious and found your story by doing a search on Darmo camp in Soerabaja.

      Hopefully this message finds you well.

      Rds, Jason Matthey

      • Hi Jason

        Thanks for posting your story. Fascinating read. I’m writing a paper on Gerhard Droste, particularly exploring his escape from Java on the Dornier X-28. Droste gives an account of the loss of his flying boat in Broome, which had never been told before, in John Thompson-Gray’s book ‘Love, Luck and Larceny’ (2015). I’m giving the paper at the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) conference in Adelaide next month. Do you have any further information on your grandfather, any photos of him in the MLD? Do you have any photos of the Dornier X-28? There are no photos of that machine. Thank you, Dr. Silvano Jung.

  3. Hello Ronny
    Yes I read the book based on your mothers diary. How great she could keep her diary for you and your siblings and as a source for writing your book!.

    We were almost immediately put in the Surabaya camp and very quick per (the infamous) train to Gedangan in Semarang. After a while we were marched from Gedangan to Halmaheira, where my mother and I and baby brother.

    Later we flew to Bandung and then to Batavia where an aunt of my mam lived and waited for my father to come from Birma and when he arrived we flew to Surabaya.

    Yes we were at the SSV. There is still a SSV reunion every year.

  4. Hi Willem,
    One of your statements hit profoundly home for me, ” All mothers were the true heroes and victims” My father was in camp Halmahera as well during the entire war. My mother and 5 young children were buiten kampers. Hell on earth have been recorded for the history books by many, and I do not want to belabor that point. Sufficient to say that my mother did not survive the mental stress of that hell, and spent the rest of her life (after the war) more than 30 years, in the mental institution of Sumber Porong. I salute my mom, a true hero, who gave up her life of sanity for her children. My autobiography ” Journey to Paradise” by Paula Zina, is more about how I survived and refused to stay a victim of the devastation of an unspeakable war. Thank you for your contribution.

    • Paula your book is a refection of a great story and adventure I can highly recommend it.

    • Dear Paula,
      Thank you for writing. I’m so touched! My heart and prayers always for war victims… any war. I can only imagine. While we chose not to live in victim mentality, it is medically important for both physical and psychological well-being of many who have been exposed to war atrocities to find some ways for resolution and healing to be able to move forward. And it looks like for some Indos by writing their experience, while many others are still struggling to find theirs. This is a cause dear to my heart as my parents & grandparents had gone through similar ordeal. I personally hope that in my small contribution, I can help those who needs help. While the physical battle and war and their effects may have ceased, the psychological effects can devastatingly echoes through out the generations.

  5. Dear Paula,
    I am pleased to have read your comments. Thank you!
    Wow, that your father was also in Halmaheira. That must have been before we came marching in from Gedangan.
    I know that it used to be a male camp, but when we came in it was already a women’s camp, where we were reunited with my mother’s youngest unmarried sister with three orphaned children of their oldest sister who had died while the japs put us in prison camps. Like you said, it was hell. I feel strongly with you about your poor mother! These are the sufferings that are considered so called “collateral damage” and / or not known and ever mentioned. We all agree that the mothers had the heavy additional burden to try to save their children.

    I did visit my mam a couple times a year in NL and a couple of years before my mam passed on she said: I must to tell you something very important. I was very sick in Halmaheira, and thought I would die, but you saved my life. I thought, what’s going on that she suddenly brings this up? Yes, I did remember that time. I had to prevent her from “leaving” me and my 4 year younger brother. I realized that my baby brother and I had no chance in the world to survive without her. By that time I had developed already into a “street” kid and “organized” whatever was needed to preventing mam from slipping away from us.

    Like your mother, many mothers were “damaged” for life! Like the mother who on her way to the harbor of Surabaya, transported in one of the trucks in the infamous Gubeng Transport lost her two beautiful teenage girls, murdered in front of her eyes by Pemoeda’s. Her son heavily wounded. Instead of the four of them arriving in Holland, it were only the two of them. The father had been murdered by the japs a couple of months before the end of war. Inez Hollander told their stories in her book Silenced Voices.

    The boy, Harry was my best friend and brother. His parents were best friends of my parents. Harry and his mother had to carry the demons of war on their backs for the rest of their lives! I was invited to speak at Harry’s cremation on January 2012. We were both born in Jember in 1937 and we played as babies in the same playpen at their plantation in Kali Jompo.

    In 1955 when my brother and I were sent to Holland, we lived at Harry’s and tante Fre’s house for two years and had a happy time together.

    Like you said, “ I survived and refused to stay a victim of the devastation of an unspeakable war.”

    When I consider what happened to so many people, it makes me the luckiest man in the world!

    But I am still fighting to get Japan to acknowledge and tell their own people what really happened.

    Paula, I will add your book, Journey To Paradise, to my still growing list of books that I want to read.

    Paula, again thanks for your interest,

    Willem

    • Thank you Linda for dedicating heart, mind and soul to a cause, that without your (and all members of the Indo project) efforts, will undoubtedly disappear in the short memory field of humanity, lost forever without a trace. Yours are not small contributions, the consequences of what you do are profound and lasting.
      Thank you again and my compliments to the entire team. As I wrote to Willem, it is a miracle that thousands of victims, living more than thousand of miles apart, are connected through these common tragedies, a connection that gave many of us solace in the effort of our mutual survival. Another salute to our mothers!!
      Loves from Ecuador.

  6. To the readers of The Indo Project, perhaps many of my family residing in “The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave”; don’t expect a dime from Japan.While browsing through(old)U.S.Library of Congress articles re this subject , I came to the conclusion the Japanese lower(Tokyo) and even the Japanese Supreme Court threw out all ” Western Powers Court Cases” ( British,Dutch and Australians sued) in 2004 (!). And regarding “back-pay”(from the Dutch Government); As Inez Hollander wrote on 21/08/2015 on the site “Archief van Tranen”; de Dutch PM (Rutte) “only uttered empty words relating to this subject……” While only a handful of former Neth.East Indies Govt.Employees and military are still alive, the Government is reluctant(emphasize this word)to pay the wages not being paid during the period early 1942-1945,while I found this same PM paid out the sum of 12 BILLION euros (=700 euros per Dutch citizen to the GREEKS) to support Greece from collapsing. Were we “written off”(history books), as “something of our (distant, and darker(?)past”? I rest my case, awating your verdict.

  7. Made a quick calculation with regards to (possible) ” Back-pay” payments to be made to those -1100- N.I.Government employees and ex-military still alive (how many at this very moment?).They would get,if I may believe the numbers floating around, 25000 (!) euros p.person.We are not even talking about 28 million euros.
    What about the many,many thousands who died between early 1942 and august 15, 1945? As draftees of ” The Far Eastern part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands” ( as our Govt,maintained over the years), were they, during that time, paid by the Govt of Japan? Billions are to be made available to foreign people/countries.Our own citizens left with their sorrow for their beloved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.

  8. A phone call from my cousin in California yesterday evening, made me aware few-if any- were aware the ” Western Powers (British,Dutch,Australians, americans withdrew their cases) Cases were rejected.I advised them to study the US Library of Congress site http://www.loc.gov./law “Japan WWII POW and forced labor cases” (421 KB PDF).And while talking , I remembered(vaguely)other nations paid their(Japanse)POW’s.I found-for all of you- http://www.aph.gov.au ” Compensation(Japanese internment)Bill 2001 number 6 2001-02.” It states: British Government paid 10.000 Pound Sterling to each fromer Japanse POW (= 12800 euro in maart 2016). So the british (ex)POW’s were paid some 15 years ago by their government! Uncertain was if next of kin were also compensated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *