With her book "Salto to life", Berthe Korvinus explains the life of hunger and fear in the Japanese camp. (Xinhua/Liu Fang)
HEEMSTEDE, The Netherlands, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- For Berthe Korvinus, a 77-year-old Dutch woman who spent more than four years of her early childhood in Japanese concentration camps in Indonesia, her experiences during the war have become a driving force to fight for justice for all victims.
"In the year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, I hope Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will finally recognize, acknowledge and apologize for what the Japanese Imperial Army has done to the Asian people during the war," said the survivor-turned-activist in an interview with Xinhua.
Berthe was born in 1938 in Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies), where her father worked as a missionary. In March 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army occupied the Dutch East Indies. "My father was sent to a prisoners of war camp in Bandung. My mother, my two sisters and I were sent to Muntilan, an internment camp for women and children," recalled Berthe.
Hundreds of such camps were set up in the Dutch East Indies during the Japanese occupation. About 100,000 citizens of the Allied Powers and other western countries were interned, according to figures from "Memory of the Netherlands," an organization coordinated by the National Library of the Netherlands.
Adults were subjected to forced labor. Children suffered from hunger and fear. "If a child did something wrong, his mother would be beaten. It was so difficult for a child. On day one, A was not allowed, day two B was not allowed. So you tried to do nothing. You tried to stay invisible all the time, surviving was all you could do," said Berthe.
More than half a century later, Berthe still remembers the details of many particular events during her "heavy time" in the camp. "In January 1944, the Japanese came to confiscate 15 young women, some of them were only 14 or 15 years old. The women protested but the Japanese threatened with their Samurai swords. I hid under a bed so I did not have to see it, but I still heard what happened."
Photo of little Berthe before being sent to the concentration camp in Indonesia. (Xinhua/Liu Fang)
Only later on did Berthe gradually understand what she saw was one of darkest pages in the Second World War (WWII). Those women forcibly taken away are known as "comfort women," an euphemism for sex slaves abused by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during the war.
Dutch historian Marguerite Hamer estimates that about 250 Dutch women were among the total of 200,000 who have been abused in the inhumane Japanese military brothels during WWII. Berthe was one of the witnesses interviewed when Hamer did research for her book "Geknakte bloem [Bruised flower]" on lost stories of Dutch comfort women, published in 2013.
The stories collected by Hamer are included in the archives of the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, which can only be viewed by the public in 2078.
Berthe would not wait that long to speak out. Ever since her university days, she has always been active in works to help the developing world, to battle against the trafficking of women and other causes that would contribute to justice for victims. "Drawing from my war experiences, I tried to do positive things," she told Xinhua.
She felt obliged to speak for the Dutch war victims in Japan-occupied Indonesia. "In Europe, certain people do not include Asia when talking about WWII. As Europeans who have suffered in Asia, we are fighting to put that part of the history together with what happened in Europe," she said.
The Netherlands was invaded on the morning of May 10, 1940. Five days later, the Dutch forces surrendered. By the end of the war, over 200,000 Dutch men and women had died of war-related causes. More than half of them were Holocaust victims, deported and murdered Jews. Another 30,000 died in the Dutch East Indies, either while fighting the Japanese or in camps as Japanese prisoners of war.
Berthe Korvinus holds the photo of the Korvinus family after the war. (Xinhua/Liu Fang)
Nowadays, each year on May 4, the Netherlands commemorates those who died in WWII and other conflicts. A day later, it celebrates its liberation from Nazi Germany. On Aug. 15, the country also holds a memorial of the ending of war in Asia.
What Berthe resents the most is the denial of historical facts. Up till now, the Japanese government has neither admitted responsibility for creating the "comfort station" system nor officially apologized to former "comfort women."
In March 2007, when Abe claimed that "the Japanese army during World War II had not forced women into prostitution," Berthe published a protest letter in the Dutch newspaper Trouw.
In plain and factual language, Berthe narrated what she saw with her own eyes in the Indonesian camp, and what Korean and Philippine former "comfort women" told her at numerous conferences she had participated in.
She also cited Japanese Professor Yoshimi Yoshiaki, who had provided a wealth of documentation and testimony to prove the existence of some 2,000 Japanese military brothels in Asia.
"I met Yoshimi at a conference on violence against women at Waseda University in Tokyo in 1994. He represents the other side of Japan. In Japan there are also people who are trying to do something," Berthe told Xinhua. "If you do not know your history and do not respect the victims, it is difficult to make peace and friendship."
In 2012, Berthe published "Salto naar het leven [Salto to life]," an autobiography on her struggle starting from the concentration camp.
"As long as Abe does not recognize and acknowledge what his country has done, such as in Nanjing where hundreds of thousands of Chinese were massacred, and also in other places in Asia, there will not be forgiveness. At this 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II, there must be recognition and acknowledgement, and saying sorry anyhow," said Berthe.