My Mother’s Story: Sylvia Ruiz
Editor’s note: Thank you, Sylvia. We will look for your father’s story.As my mother told me:
She was born in Bandung,a child of Dutch- Indonesian father and Dutch- Italian mother. She met my father at the age of seventeen, he was from a pure Dutch father and Dutch-Chinese-Indonesian mother. They married and had seven children. My father was KNIL.When the Japanese conquered Java, my father was taken prisoner, and was transferred first to Sumatra into hard labor on the railroad, he was further transferred by boat to Burma, again to work the railroad.
The Japanese officers took control of all living quarters, including my parents’ house. My mom and her six children had to leave, all she could take was what fit in a bed sheet. She was not imprisoned since she only had one sixth Dutch blood. Her solution was to disappear into the local population with two of her sisters, their children and mother. She lost her twin girls of sickness and no medication that year.
They moved into the desa(Javanese village) and found a room in a small hut. The Indonesian family was pro Dutch so it was safe.The first year they used whatever money they had left on food . The adults rationed their food to once a day, the children received food twice a day. The second year my mother lost a baby boy; he was also buried on the land by their village. That second year they ran out of money, and started bartering all their belongings. This lasted another year. They planted vegetables, but those were gone as soon as a leaf grew large enough to eat. They ate young papaya leaves, certain roots, and grasses. The women ate every other day, all the people were so hungry, there wasn’t an animal they had not eaten.The Japanese army allowed everyone once a week cup of rice, and salt. They told the women, they had to work for them, knit socks for the troops out of sugar bags (jute)/ The bags had to be unraveled and out of these they had to knit the socks. For each pair they received a quarter of Japanese currency. All the women started at that job, their hands bled and it took a week to knit four pairs, my oma would unravel the bags, my mother, my sister and aunts would knit.When that work dried up they moved on to another village. My mother’s younger sister disappeared one day looking for food. Everyone thought she had died, but she turned up three weeks later bleeding and broken in many parts of her body; she was all black and blue. The Japanese found her steeling rice and took her prisoner, she was beaten and raped many times over. She didn’t talk for a long time. The sisters were desperate for food for there was nothing more to eat. They kept on moving; local people helped with whatever they had. The women ate once a week, what they had was given to their children. My oldest brother was ten at the time and the Japanese took him. My mother had two children left.They somehow survived untill the allies came to liberate the people of Indonesia. My parents didn’t see each other for another year, my father was not aware (along with the troops imprissonned with him) that the war was over untill 1946.) The Red Cross brought the family together in 1946.I was born in 1947. My parents are gone now, they never spoke of the horrors they encountered, it was always “pukul terus”aka: keep on going, work hard, be positive, keep smiling, for life is better they told me a hundred times. Late in their lives, my son, born in the US, questioned all the strange missing links in our lives. He is the reason they started telling their stories.
Thank you Ilse, you are my mother’s story and thank you Dorothy for telling it. Many of us children, grandchildren and great grandchildren need to hear the story of our exodus as it was. Next time my father’s story.