International Human Rights Day Student Symposium, December 5 2014
Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia (ALPHA).
Vancouver Technical Secondary School, Vancouver, Canada
Presented by Selma van Halder
My name is Sakura Takahashi, I’m from Japan. When the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, my grandmother was your age. She was on her way to school. She was at a train station with her girlfriends when in the distance the biggest bomb in history destroyed an entire city. Planes that drop bombs never come alone, so in this case too, another plane flew over the train station and started shooting at my grandmother and her friends. They tried to run. My grandmother fell down and covered her head. Around her some of her friends were shot and killed. Thankfully only a few days later, Japan surrendered and the war was over. Thankfully, she survived, otherwise, I would never have been born.
My name is Selma van Halder, I’m from Holland. When the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, my grandmother was your age. She was very ill. She was kept prisoner in a concentration camp in the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia. She had been put in this camp because of where she was born. She was Dutch. There was nothing she could do about that, so she and her little sister and her mom were put in a camp. Their brother was taken away to work under awful circumstances. He would never see his sisters again. For several years they suffered in the camp. They had very little to eat. So my grandmother got sick, and so did her mom. Really, very sick. The bomb dropping on Hiroshima was life saving for her. Within days, the Japanese surrendered and the suffering in the camps ended. Without the bomb on Hiroshima, my grandmother would have died. She wouldn’t have traveled back to Holland, and raised my mother. I would never have been born.
I was 15 when I asked Sakura about her grandmother’s story. It was the first time I fully realized that the word ‘enemy’ is a very strange one. Both our grandmothers were only children when these things happened. They had nothing to do with politics, or the military, but still they were involved in this war. They both experienced horrific things that would change their lives forever. Were they each other’s enemy? Just because of where they were born? If they had met under different circumstances, might they not have found out that they had a lot in common? That maybe they liked the same kind of music, or enjoyed the same foods? Could they have been friends? Like me and Sakura? Having this conversation sparked my interest in history. It inspired me to learn more about war, about politics, about human rights.
It got me involved with The Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts; an organization that looks after the interests of the Dutch citizens who were victims of the Japanese military during the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands East Indies. In March 1942 the Japanese military commenced their occupation of what is now Indonesia.
Japan wanted to get rid of Western influences there and immediately enforced discriminatory measures against the Dutch. Dutch citizens were subjected to organized terror by the military, including enforced slavery, torture, intimidation, harsh disciplines, systematic starvation and denial of medicine. Many died. Of the surviving victims many suffered from incurable disorders. They and their families cannot forget and continue to live with traumas and other health problems.
War is a terrible thing. We all know this. But why exactly? What starts a war? And what ends it?
Can you imagine what would happen if no one talked about the bad things that happened before you were born? If people decided that talking about it or writing about it was too painful, or shameful. You know, maybe it would just be easier to be quiet, because then we can all just forget about it and pretend it never happened. Right? Wouldn’t that be easier?
But then if we didn’t talk about it, I would never have had this conversation with Sakura. Neither of us would have realized that both our families had been through things that I thought only happened in movies. Neither of us would have started thinking about the other as human, instead of an abstract ‘enemy’.
Furthermore: pretending that something didn’t happen doesn’t make it go away. There will still be people who remember it and who will feel extremely insulted and left out by you pretending it didn’t happen. We all know the value of saying I’m sorry, after you’ve done something wrong.
A perfect example of this happening on a large scale is something that happened last week. The largest newspaper in Japan, the Yomiuri Shimbun retracted their articles on Comfort Women. They basically apologized for using the word ‘sex slave’ in referring to the approximately two hundred thousand women that were used as play things for Japanese soldiers during the second world war, because, according to them, it has never been proven they were forced into it.
Here you can see history denying forces at work. It doesn’t matter that there are hundreds of women, coming forward in their old age to finally speak out about the horrific experiences they went though, from ages as low as twelve, being forced to receive dozens of soldiers a day. Never mind that these women got pregnant, that they raised children that looked suspiciously Japanese after the war. That they never received reparation, or actual recognition. They will all be dead in ten years.
It’s too painful to admit, so it didn’t happen.
I’m not trying to bash the current Japanese government specifically. I’m giving you an example of the wrong way to deal with black pages in your countries history. We all have these black pages. For instance: Holland has slavery, North America has the eradication of native peoples.
These are all things that we need to look at in all their horrific detail to fully understand them, before we can distance ourselves from them in an appropriate manner, and move on. Looking away because it is too painful is not an option.
The most important reason for looking at history, however painful it may be, is that you can learn from it. If you don’t know what happened, you can’t learn from it. You won’t understand why exactly war is a terrible thing. And you won’t know how to stop it from happening again.
So what can we do to prevent something terrible like that from happening again? That question is not easily answered. But I think the first step to take is days like these. It’s your responsibility, as a young person, to educate yourself on what went on in the world before you were born. I’m not saying you should know everything, because you can’t. But you could start within your own family. Where did your grandparents or great grandparents come from? Do you know what their childhoods were like? What was happening in the countries they’re from when they were your age? Maybe they will want to talk to you about it, or you could ask your parents. Maybe ask one of your friends about their family history and see if you can find similarities, or interesting differences. Spend an afternoon on news websites and Wikipedia, looking up things that raised questions in your head during history class or social studies at school, or when you were watching tv.
Thankfully most of us have not experienced anything like my grandmother did. But you never know, right? People may forget what war is like and decide it’s a good idea to do again. It’s your job to remember. It’s hard, because you’ve never been through it, and let’s hope you never will. But you can educate yourself, you can stand up for people that have gone through it or are going through it right now. Because lets also not forget that war is not something from the past. Right now many kids of your age are going through what my grandma went through. What about them? Will they have to stand up and talk about what happened to them 70 years from now? Will you believe them, or will you deny it? Or will you already know?
I’d like to encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open today. Most of what you will hear will be pretty depressing. But try to remember that knowing is always better than being in the dark. And know that you can do something. You can share what you hear today with others. You can reach out to someone in your community that, for whatever reason, you may have perceived as being your ‘enemy’. You can continue your studies of human rights, of international politics or history, all extremely important things in making sure these atrocities never happen again. I hope you’ll be inspired today, because you can make the world a little bit better.
Thank you for your attention.
Justice to the Survivors of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery
and Stop Violence against Women in Armed Conflicts
Paris, November 2014
Presented by Brigitte van Halder
War crimes by the Japanese military during the 1942-1945 occupation of Dutch East Indies
Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts
The Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts was established in 1990 in The Hague, The Netherlands, with the purpose to look after the interests of the Dutch citizens who, during the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), were victims of the Japanese military.
On behalf of the victims we demand acknowledgement from the Japanese authorities of the gross violations of human rights and we seek redress for the damage done to the individual victims still alive or their next of kin for those who passed away. These damages were inflicted on them by the Japanese military on behalf of the Japanese government, as well as on their own accord.
The Netherlands is a victim country of the Japanese war terror during the military occupation of the Dutch East Indies from 1942 to 1945.
March 1942 the Japanese military commenced to occupy the Netherlands East Indies. Japan wanted to get rid of Western influences in the Netherlands East Indies and immediately instituted discriminatory measures against the Dutch. Of the around 300,000 people with the Dutch nationality 40,000 were POW’s, 100,000 interned in concentration camps and 160,000 were oppressed outside of the concentration camps. 45,000 died and 75,000 of the surviving Dutch nationals suffered incurable disorders. The Dutch were included, with the other Allied POW’s, in the order by the Japanese military, on instructions from Tokyo, to be disposed of by the end of the War (the order to “Kill All, Leave no Traces”). In 1943 the Dutch civilian internees – men, women and children- became POW’s too as the concentration camps were included in the Japanese Military Ordonnance. Of the original 300,000 victims it is estimated that now (2014) about 60,000 are still alive. Around 400 girls and women are known to have been forced into sexual slavery; many more have been abused, including young boys. Those who survived were left with permanent trauma’s. Only a few of them are still alive. The continuous denial of the war facts by the Japanese authorities is shameful. The coercion into prostitution of Dutch girls and women from concentration camps, the systematic maltreatment in those camps, the torture of Dutch civilians and military and the deliberate discrimination and denial of the existence of the Dutch outside the camps are hard, concrete facts. They are all war crimes under the then accepted conventions of which Japan was a signatory. The historic facts are proven by the Courts-Martial set up immediately after Japan’s capitulation 15th August 1945. Between 1945 and 1951 Allied Military Courts-Martial throughout the Far East condemned 920 Japanese military to death and sentenced some 3,000 others to prison terms. The accused had been found guilty of war crimes. From 1946 to 1948 the International Military Tribunal of Tokyo tried and sentenced 25 “major” Japanese war criminals – Tojo and company – for plotting and waging the Pacific War. In the Dutch East Indies during 1946 – 1948 the Temporary Courts-Martial tried 986 persons excluding minor war criminals. The Temporary Court-Martial of Batavia tried 111 war criminal cases with 352 defendants. 64 received the death penalty. The former President of this court Mr. L.F de Groot reviewed in his book “Court- Martial of Japanese war criminals in the Dutch East Indies 1946-1949” the majority of the cases of the Batavia Court-Martial. His impressive book reports on the many cases he presided. It made clear the evil inhumanity and total lack of respect by the Japanese military for internationally accepted conventions and the customs of war. Many cases were tried by the Batavia Court Martial including the well-known Semarang case: coercion into prostitution of Dutch girls and women recruited by the Japanese military from concentration camps. A substantial number of cases concern the way in which Japanese military commanders administrated a regime of terror and maltreatment in the POW and civilian camps. When the end of the war came in sight Tokyo Headquarters issued the order to kill all, leave no traces. Another set of cases concern the Kempeitai Java. Their prime objective was through systematic terror and torture to enforce confessions from arrested suspects and involve local people in the process. The Martial-Court Batavia spent considerable time on the Kempeitai Bondowoso/Djember case. 18 members of the Kempeitai Djember were accused. 2 were acquitted, the others were declared guilty. 6 were condemned to the death penalty and the other 10 got long prison sentences. The Djember Kempeitai investigated espionage and the preparation for a possible landing by Allied Forces in East Java. They rounded up some 30 suspects, who were interrogated by the Kempeitai. At the same time the Kempeitai in Djember investigated alleged espionage by a number of planters (owners or employees of agricultural enterprises). The results of both investigations were delivered to the Kempeitai headquarters and the headquarters of the 16th Japanese army both in Batavia. Shortly thereafter the commanding officer of the Kempeitai in Djember received the order to execute them all. The Kempeitai used the most horrendous methods of torture and intimidation to extract confessions. The Court concluded that the Kempeitai Djember was the worst of all the Kempeitai offices. They violated the laws and customs of war and the internationally accepted conventions and routinely committed war crimes of the worst kind.
Immediately after the unconditional transfer of power to General Douglas McArthur (Supreme Commander Allied Powers) on 2nd September 1945 in Tokyo some Japanese expressed a feeling of guilt; regrettably this feeling faded away quickly. The present Japanese government appears now to question Japan’s Pacific War history and in particular how war crimes were established and culprits pointed out. As widely known, the Japanese government is even deliberately trying to whitewash clean its own children’s school books. Hence our message to the government of Japan and in particular to the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe: Acknowledge the facts, thoroughly investigated by professional judges; be ashamed of what the Japanese military routinely did to the Dutch and others in Dutch East Indies and come forward with genuine excuses and a solatium for the victims who still live with traumas and bad memories. The Japanese government has the moral and social responsibility to rectify the wrongdoings of the Japanese Imperial Army and has to extend the so called settlements made in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Stikker-Yoshida agreement later. Considering the history and the position of the Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts as an accepted Non-Governmental Organization by the United Nations in consultative status (Roster) with ECOSOC, it has the position and the will to continue the fight for justice and redress on moral and social grounds.
His Excellency Shinzo ABE
Prime Minister of Japan
The Hague, 9 December 2014
Subject: Coercion by Japanese military of women and girls into sexual slavery is an undeniable fact and a war crime of the worst kind.
It is unbelievable that the Yomiuri Shimbun deemed it necessary to apologize in reporting the truth about the coercion into sexual slavery of women and girls by the Japanese military. The Military Court Martial of Batavia, Dutch East Indies, concluded in 1947 without any doubt that officers of the Japanese Imperial Army were guilty of coercing into prostitution Dutch women and girls from concentration camps under management by the Japanese army. The women and girls were kept and treated as slaves for the pleasures of Japanese officers. It is an undeniable fact and resulted in severe punishments including the death penalty of the main culprit. Documents available to the Court, which are kept in Dutch archives, established without doubt the coercion of the women and girls kept as sex slaves for the Japanese military.
Denying the coercion because of lack of proof in existing official Japanese documents begs the question whether these documents were not destroyed along with many other documents hiding the Japanese war crimes. You cannot change history by pretending that it did not exist. The denial of Japan’s war past is equivalent to the denial of the Holocaust. On behalf of Japan you must acknowledge the past and take responsibility for it.
Yomiuri Shimbun printed the truth and had no need to apologize for it.
The world media know this and assume the reasons. Only you can rectify this by a genuine personal acknowledgment.
Repent and take responsibility for it in accepting the consequences of these and other horrendous Japanese war crimes.
On behalf of the Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts,
J.F. van Wagtendonk