Join me in welcoming Ronny Herman de Jong to Highlighted Author.
Ronny Herman de Jong, author of two books and featured in a 2013 Anthology, currently lives in Prescott, AZ, is a survivor of the World War Two Japanese concentration camps on the island of Java. The very first books she owned, she received after the war for her ninth birthday from her grandmother and her third-grade teacher. She still has them. Writing became the joy of her life in fifth grade. When she lived in Hawai’i, she loved to swim, snorkel and dance hula. Now, living in Arizona, she likes to hike with her Rottweiler, Isabelle, read, write, and practice yoga and Pilates. Her motto is Reach for the Stars!
A member of the Professional Writers of Prescott and the Society of Southwestern Authors, Ronny holds a BA in English Literature from Leiden University in the Netherlands.
She’s with us this week sharing her book, Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: A Story of Love, Survival and Joy.
Interview with Morning Scramble
What they are saying:
“Aided by her mother’s secret diary (published here in its entirety) that she kept during this awful time, written in Dutch of course that Ms. de Jong later translated into English, the author tells this harrowing little-known story, another from World War Two, that is a horrific picture of life in a concentration camp but, much more importantly, a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.”—H. F. Corbin “Foster Corbin”
“Ronny Herman de Jong’s book, “Rising from the Shadow of the Sun,” is many things: a journal of a mother, Netty (Jeannette Herman-Louwerse) who survived a Japanese extermination camp, her husband’s military story, and their daughter, Ronny’s reflections on her own life in context of her parents’. These three major “characters” bring unique points of view about the experiences of a family during the Japanese invasion of the island of Java, in the Dutch East Indies. However, the combination of the three in one book is like looking into a prism with many faces. In the final analysis, the stories blend into one another and the reader gains a much fuller, richer view than she would with only one perspective. “Rising from the Shadow of the Sun” is an important account of courage and hope.”—Nancy Owen Nelson, PhD, Memoirist, poet, college professor
“Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: what an incredibly beautifully detailed account it is. Many books have been written in the Dutch language (about the Japanese concentration camps in the Dutch East Indies), but what is so special about this book is that it gives such a complete overview. It covers almost a whole life span. The reader is pulled into the story (from the very beginning).
De Jong provides an important service to all English-language readers. I know for certain that there is a need among readers of the second and third generation in English-language countries to read this book.
I think it has the potential for a movie. Sadly, I only produce documentaries.”—Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich, Producer http://www.scarabeefilms.com
Rising from the Shadow of the Sun
The story of a mother’s love and courage during World War Two in the Pacific and the journey of her little girl from the horrors of life in Japanese concentration camps on Java in the 1940s to peace and prosperity in the United States in the 21st century.
In the Shadow of the Sun
Sticking his bayonet through the gedèk (bamboo fence), the Japanese soldier aimed to kill me. He missed. A little girl with blond braids, I was only five years old in March of 1944. The bayonet sliced through the air over my head. “Mamma!” I cried.
“Ronny, come here!” cried Mamma. Dropping my flowers I scrambled across the slokan (ditch) and into Mamma’s arms. “Oh Ron!” said Mamma. “I am so glad you could run so fast through the slokan! You’re such a big girl!”
“What was that, Mamma?”
“You probably came too close to the gedèk. On the other side is a soldier. He thought you were running away and put a stick through the gedèk to scare you.”
“Can you get my flowers, Mam? They are for you.”
Mamma took my hand. “We will get them later, when the soldier is gone. All right?”
That morning, Mamma and I were walking along the edge of the camp. I was picking wildflowers for Mamma across the slokan. On the other side of the gedèk, a Japanese guard heard voices and intended to kill me. It is one of the bad memories I have of those three and a half years in Japanese concentration camps. At that time, Mamma, my little sister Paula and I were incarcerated in Halmahera, a Japanese concentration camp outside of Semarang, on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. The war had gone on for two years.
The Japanese Army had conquered our island in March of 1942. Civilians—men, women and children—were put into concentration camps. Our captors withheld food and medication and treated the prisoners in the most inhumane way. Many were tortured and raped and beheaded. The Imperial Japanese Army’s instructions were to exterminate the Western Race in the islands at all costs so Japan could achieve a monopoly in Southeast Asia.
It was a near miss. I did not die at the hands of that Japanese soldier in 1944 because I was too small. I could have died a year later from hunger edema. In August of 1945, I was six. My legs were like sticks, my tummy was bloated and my cheeks were puffy. I was in the last stages of beri-beri, hunger edema. Paula, then four years old, had dry edema and was a mere skeleton. She could not walk or sit anymore. I imagined how it would happen. Paula would die first. Mamma had “wet” edema, like me, and she would die soon after Paula. I would have a month, perhaps two, before it was my turn. The Japanese would throw me into a mass grave outside the camp; a large hole in the ground dug especially for this purpose. When the war was over, allied rescue troops would unearth my body with all the others and bury it properly in the cemetery outside of town. They would top my grave with a nameless white cross. They put white crosses on thousands of graves in memory of the women and children who perished under the cruel treatment of the Japanese.
Forty-nine years later, I stood at that cemetery and wept. I wept tears of sorrow for all those mothers and children who had perished, and I wept tears of joy because I was alive.
I did not die in 1945 from hunger edema, because on August 15, 1945, the Japanese Empire abruptly surrendered and the war was over.
The world knows a lot about the war in Europe, the German occupation and the Holocaust. This book captures an aspect of WWII that is unknown to many: the torture and deaths that took place in civilian concentration camps all over Asia under Japanese occupation: the Asian Holocaust.
March 8, 1942
They are here. The Japs came marching in today. I heard the sound of many motorcars, a heavy droning sound, along a wide avenue near our street. I ventured to look around the corner and saw the Japanese army, marching and driving. On both sides of the street many of the natives were waving small Japanese flags. I felt they were betraying us and hurried back home.
Yesterday, our next door neighbor, who lives in the large home on the corner, didn’t come home from the office. He works in City Hall. He left in the morning, as usual, but didn’t return in the afternoon. A telephone call notified his wife to take a small suitcase with some clothing and toiletries to the prison. The prison! She came to talk to me today, totally upset. Her husband, a high government official, had been imprisoned. She didn’t know why.
Fokko has gone. I don’t know anything about him. I don’t even know where he is, whether he is still alive or whether we’ll ever see each other again. You can understand how I feel. This is the worst thing that could happen to me, because as long as you have each other you can endure anything. I’ll try to tell you everything that happened since March 1st, now exactly a week ago, also a Sunday.
Fokko had to work that day and wouldn’t be back until Monday night. When Ronny and I said goodbye that morning at the gate I said, “See you tomorrow night.” The funny thing was that we said goodbye twice, which had never happened before, and I thought, How strange. I hope nothing happens to him. I’d always have to think about this. We had our daily bombardments and around 11 our neighbor came over with a telephone message from Fokko. He’d called to ask if everything was all right. An hour later I was called to the phone (we didn’t have one of our own) and Fokko asked me the address of Jos’ wife’s parents in Malang, where I was to go if we had to be evacuated. He said, “Just in case we don’t see each other before you have to be evacuated, I need to know where I can find you.”
That telephone call frightened me. I went home, only to be called over again an hour later, and there it was: he had been assigned to a group of men who had to evacuate to Tjilatjap, a harbor town on the south coast. That’s all he knew. He asked me to pack a suitcase and didn’t even know whether he would have time to pick it up himself.
“And what about me?” I asked.
“You are staying here,” he said and he gave me an address where I would get money every month, part of his salary.
I went home to pack Fokko’s suitcase. All kinds of horrifying thoughts went through my mind. In the afternoon I went to a phone booth to call him. He said he didn’t know anything yet, but he was almost sure he’d have time to come by before he had to leave. “Say goodbye to Ron and little Paula.” I got home just in time for the next alarm. That night Fokko called me again at the neighbor’s and we had a good, long talk. He cheered me up again, but I didn’t sleep much that night. Early the next morning, while I was sorting out some pictures for Fokko to take, I heard from one of the neighbors that the base would be destroyed around 9 a.m. When we heard the terrible explosions, tears started running down my face. You should have heard Ronny trying to cheer me up. Stroking my arm she said, “Please don’t cry, Mam. Maybe Pappa will come home to pick up his suitcase.”
When that didn’t have any results, she said, “Maybe Pappa will stay with us for a little while longer.”
“No, Pappa really has to leave.”
“Do you love Pappa so much? Maybe then we’ll get another Pappa,” she finally said.
At noon the radio broadcast the news that the Japanese had invaded Java’s north coast. A little later Fokko drove into the driveway for the last time. Of course he was depressed too. They had each received some money and a lifebelt (did that mean he would go overseas?), and the train would be leaving at 7 p.m. that night. We spent some time talking, while Fokko looked through the papers he wanted to take with him. Kokki kept the girls occupied, but we didn’t feel like dinner that afternoon. At five Fokko and I left for the tram, which would take him to the train. It cut me through my soul when I heard him say, “Pappa has to leave now. Be good, girls.”
He took them in his arms, hugged them and kissed them goodbye. They couldn’t understand that it possibly meant goodbye for a long time. He had to leave them just like that. How terrible.
Get your copy of Rising from the Shadow of the Sun here:
Amazon.com | BarnesandNoble.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk
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