Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dutch Comfort Women and the Consequences

Thea Bisenberger-van der Wal
On July 30th two Korean former Comfort Women had extended meetings with White House and the State Department staff. They had traveled to Washington to celebrate the 7th anniversary of House Resolution 121 recognizing their sexual slavery to Imperial Japan's military and asking for an unequivocal apology from Japan's government.

As the Abe Government protests that their tales are fabricated, the rest of the world believes them more. This is reinforced by more scholarship and efforts of daughters and granddaughters to tell their mother's story.

Little, however, is said of the non-Korean victims of Japan's Comfort Women scheme. Most of the women, girls, and boys pressed to service and"comfort" the Imperial Japan's military were opportunities of war and occupation. The victims came from every city, plantation, territory and island occupied by Imperial Japan's military. The accounts of the brutal subjugation cemented by rape and pillage are amazingly similar whether they are told by Andaman Islanders or Singapore urbanites; Filipino peasants or Borneo headhunters.

Moentilan, Xavier College
 None were more vulnerable than the women and girls who became prisoners in Japanese concentration camps in the Dutch East Indies. In the camps the Japanese officers chose at will, yet with deliberation, the women they wanted. Some, mainly British and Australian women, were survivors of ships bombed by Japan off the coast of Sumatra. They recall being given a choice: starve or submit.

Most, however, were Dutch girls and young mothers who had been forced from their homes into squalid and overcrowded locations, often former convents or schools. They were shut off from the world, with little food, limited sanitation, and surrounded by guards and barbed wire. The men and boys over 10 were sent off to slave on Burma-Thai Death Railway or other military projects. It is was never clear what was the intent or when would be the end of the internment. In late July and early August 1945, the consolidation of these internment camps and rumors from sympathetic guards suggested that the internees were all to be killed.

With some notable exceptions most of the hundreds of women forced to prostitute themselves for the Emperor never spoke of their experience or came forward to ask for compensation. The shame was too raw, too deep. It is therefore impossible to confirm the numbers of women subjected to this sexual abuse. Only 35 women were included in the 1946-47 Batavia War Crimes trial that charged 12 Japanese Army officers of having committed war crimes that included, for the first time "forced prostitution." The full records of these proceedings are sealed as are the names of the women involved until 2025.

Thus, the following news is unusual and deeply from the heart.

Dutch Woman Speaks About Mother's Experiences Of Sexual Slavery

By Chang Jae-soon, correspondent

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (Yonhap) -- Thea Bisenberger-van der Wal says she still remembers sitting on the steps of a church in Indonesia back in 1944 while waiting for her mother to come out. Her mother always cried but only told her, then aged 4, that she had fallen.

The mother never spoke to her of what really happened in the church for the rest of her life until she died 10 years ago, Bisenberger said, though she constantly suffered from nightmares because of the indelible experiences: sexual slavery by Japanese troops.

Bisenberger, now living in Canada, provided some details of what her mother went through in a letter to the Asia Policy Point, a nonprofit research center studying the U.S. policy on Northeast Asia. Mindy Kotler, director of the center, disclosed the letter to Yonhap News Agency on Monday.

Bisenberger has been calling for an apology from Japan.

It is not new news that Dutch women were among the victims of Japan's sexual enslavement during World War II, but the case shows the issue still remains unresolved not only for Korean victims but for victims of other countries as well.

At least 65 Dutch women were believed to be among the victims, known euphemistically as "comfort women." [NB: 79 women and men were willing to accept Japanese medical payments in the late 1990s]

"Not all the comfort women were Korean," Kotler said. "They were pressed into service on every island and territory invaded by Japan. The rapes were proof of victory and power for the Japanese and loss and humiliation for the conquered people."

Monthly Dutch Demonstration at the
Japanese Embassy in The Hague 
Bisenberger said she learned of her mother's experiences in 2009 when a younger sister of her mother told her about it. The aunt was the only one to whom the mother revealed what happened because she wanted to spare her mother about the tragic story, Bisenberger said.

"My mother and her sister were raped while in a concentration camp in Moentilan. There was a church on this property and it was the former Xavier college. In this church happened the most horrible things during our captivity," Bisenberger said in the letter of what happened in January 1944.

The horrible experiences left deep scars on their hearts, she said. Her mother's sister even attempted suicide while in the concentration camp, but her mother saved the sister, Bisenberger said.

Bisenberger said that once a year she attends a rally that a group of Dutch people hold every second Tuesday of the month in front of the Japanese Embassy in The Hague.

"After the war, my mother always had nightmares, which never went away," she said. "When a war is over, it's never over for the victims who survive, which is very sad. Even the children will always wonder if the things they have in their heads were real. My mother always tried to erase them." 

APP Editor: You can read more about Thea Bisenberger van der Wal's experiences on her blog, Coconut Connections.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so very much for posting my story. I hope a day will come that Japan takes responsibility about the atrocities their military committed during World War Two. Its sad that the real victims were forgotten.The real victims who suffered for three and half year at the hands of these barbaric Japanese Forces.Hundreds of thousands lost their lives. Please I am asking to honor those who gave their life and those who are still alive today and still suffer and relive the most horrendous atrocities which the Japanese inflicted on them.Lest we forget! We need recognition from Japan, and not denial. Take the blame Japan for what happened during World War Two and remove the shame.


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