A heartrending memoir that tells the story of life in the internment camps of World War II Indonesia.
Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese military forces swept through Indonesia–then made up of Dutch colonies–in an attempt to secure control over the islands of Southeast Asia. Intoning the racist slogan â€œAsia for Asians,” the invaders set to punishing members of the European cultural and economic elite living there, seizing land and property and sending many of the islands’ Dutch inhabitants to prison camps. As a child, Wiederhold–the son of a Dutch factory manager in Java–suffered just this fate, and here he tells of his time in three internment facilities. Conditions grew worse as he and members of his family were shuffled from camp to camp, with Wiederhold witnessing unspeakable horrors, from deadly malnutrition to dehumanizing disease to torture and death. The author offers a sober assessment of the increasingly dreadful environment of the camps. His evocations of their dangers are poignant and often painful, but they are never hyperbolic. It is clear that he wishes only to accurately describe the violence of the camps, and he scrupulously avoids exploiting such violence for dramatic (or melodramatic) ends. Outside of the Netherlands, few have heard of Japan’s wartime brutality in Indonesia, and Wiederhold considers it a duty to tell his story to the English-speaking world. Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that he devotes less than half his book to recounting his time in the camps. He devotes fully three of its five movements to family history, descriptions of life before the war and details on his eventual emigration to the U.S. These sections are instructive and eloquently written, but their very length has the effect of diluting the power of the harrowing story whose retelling is Wiederhold’s central aim.
Despite its flaws, this is a moving tale nobly brought to light.