Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Ronny Herman de Jong author of Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: A Story of Love, Survival and Joy. Ronny was born in Surabaya on the Island of Java in the Dutch East Indies, and is a survivor of Japanese concentration camps on Java with her mother and little sister during WWII in the Pacific. She has written two other books on the eyewitness account of living conditions and brutal treatment by the Japanese in her mother's journal smuggled through the camps and individual interviews with WWII survivors.
Norm: Good day Ronny
and thanks for participating in our interview.
Ronny: Hello Norm, this is a good day.
Norm: What was your first reaction when you received your mother's journal of your family's experiences during World War II in the Japanese concentration camps?
Ronny: I received my mother’s journal in 1985, after my grandparents in the Netherlands had passed away - they were the ones the journal was meant for initially.
My first reaction was surprise. I did not remember having seen the journal or having heard about it.
Norm: How difficult emotionally was it to read the journal?
Ronny: It was amazing at first, to read about the early years in the Darmo Camp and before the war. They were stories about my earliest childhood described in such great detail that memories came flooding back. Then, when I continued to read about the Japanese occupation, the heart wrenching experiences my mother went through, the diseases, the hunger, the anxiety she had to live with, her love for my little sister and me, making air raids fun by hiding with us under the heavy dining room table and by imitating the sounds of bombardments with aplomb, as if they were not scary at all, when I read all that, I was moved to tears. I did not remember much forty years later...
Norm: How easy or difficult was it to translate the journal from Dutch to English? Did you add anything or leave out anything before publishing it?
Ronny: It was wonderful, an absolute joy to go over the stories and translate them into English. I do have a degree in English, but it actually is my third language, Dutch and Indonesian being the first two. I left out some things in the beginning that were not important for others, like my mother’s stories about the time we were growing up before the war.
Norm: You were very young at the time. Do you remember anything about these experiences?
Ronny: I don’t remember much because Mamma kept us away from watching brutal treatments of the women. But a few memories will be with me forever.
The first one is a happy one: walking on the square close to our little house, one of the old men that had come to our women’s camp gave me a little brown metal truck. A toy! We did not have any toys.
The second one is related to the arrival of the old men: they brought thousands of bed bugs with them. When we were in bed one night, when the lights were already out, I was stung over and over and the bugs were everywhere. The only thing Mamma could do was give me a rag to kill them with. The smell of dead bed bugs came back to me many years later when I lived in California and our neighbor treated us to Mexican food with cilantro. It took a long time to get used to that, but now I do use cilantro when I cook Mexican food.
The third one is a memory of a heart-stopping scary moment: the bayonet that sliced through the bamboo fence and almost killed me when I was picking wildflowers on the other side.
Norm: Were you aware when you were in the camps that your mother had kept a journal?
Ronny: No, I had no idea that she was keeping a journal. As long as I can remember she had been writing letters to her parents in the Netherlands, our Oma and Opa, but she usually did it at night, when we were asleep.
Norm: How difficult was it for you to adjust after the war was over?
Ronny: Other than getting used to the presence of my father, who had been absent during the war, having barely escaped Japanese captivity, the changes were gradual for us. Bombardments were still going on in close proximity and it was dangerous to go out because of the second war that had ensued, the Bersiap, the fight for independence from the Dutch by the young nationals, who killed hundreds of thousands of white and Indo people while roaming through towns and the countryside.
But everything else was really wonderful, getting delicious food, nice clothes, shoes, books and more, a house, a real bed to sleep in, and we all reveled in it and adjusted easily: for us girls the memories of the camp years faded soon. We were one happy little family again.
Norm: What motivated you to publish the journal and what do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
Ronny: Initially I translated the journal for my children, but when friends in California, who read the manuscript, said they had never heard about women and children’s camps in WWII, I had it professionally edited and found a publisher in Canada in 1992 for the first book, based on the Journal, In the Shadow of the Sun. It is out of print, as is the first edition of the sequel, Rising from the Shadow of the Sun, which was published in the United States. The second edition, The Complete Story, is the one we are discussing here.
I hope that readers of my book will be inspired by the life and love of my mother Nettie and that they will share the book with everyone they know.
I urge my readers to understand the difference between the detention camps for Japanese Americans in the United States and the concentration camps for civilians incarcerated by the Japanese in Asia.
And I hope that everyone will realize that the Japanese have never apologized and have never offered compensation for all the suffering and deaths they caused.
Norm: Do you worry about the human race?
Ronny: I don’t worry much, because worrying does not get me anywhere. I am very sorry that the human race, occupying this beautiful world, continues to damage it and has never learned from all the brutal wars in the past.
Norm: Are you a religious person and if so, how has it affected your life?
Ronny: Yes, I am. I believe that God is directing my course in life to make it the most wonderful life ever. And I am thankful. From the survival of World War Two to my degree in the English language (instead of going to Med School, which my father wanted me to do) to my emigration to the United States and the translation of my mother’s Journal, it all makes sense. Because I studied acting in California I learned to deeply listen to people and could be an effective Hospice Volunteer for the people I helped through the dying process for six years. Because I have my mother’s positive outlook on life, her love and her joye de vivre, I am able to bring joy to others who are hurting. And I love doing that.
Norm: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Ronny: I have had wonderful phone calls, letters, emails and reviews. The readers who are especially thankful are those of the 2nd and 3rd generation whose parents were incarcerated by the Japanese, but who never wanted to talk about it. “We want to know what happened, but our parents never told us and now they are gone” is what I frequently hear.
One film producer in the Netherlands wrote, “Your book, with all the intricate details about the Japanese concentration camps has historical value and definitely has potential for a movie. Too bad I am specializing in documentaries, a different kind of movie making.”
Following are a few quotes:
"Rising from the Shadow of the Sun is many things: a journal of a mother who survived a Japanese extermination camp, her husband’s military story, and their daughter Ronny’s reflections on her own life in the context of her parents’. These three major “characters” bring unique points of view about the experiences of a family during the Japanese occupation 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."
And another one: ..."a remarkable tale, together with recollections of her father’s story during that time, of courage, patience, horror at the behavior of Japanese captors, and finally, release. This is a story not to be missed - a tale that must be told and retold, especially because the government of Japan has yet to apologize to its victims or their descendants."
One more: "The author has worn many hats, she is someone dedicated to keeping alive and teaching the world the story of one brave woman as well as of the 100,000 or so other civilians who were detained by the Japanese in concentration camps, many of whom perished."
Norm: I understand you have published other books, could you briefly tell our readers about these books?
Ronny: Starting from the beginning, In the Shadow of the Sun (1992) the Journal; Rising from the Shadow of the Sun (First Edition, 2011) the Journal with my autobiographical memories in Part Two; an Anthology in 2014, Survivors of WWII in the Pacific, with stories by teenage survivors, Navy men and the Navajo Code Talkers;
Rising from the Shadow of the Sun (Second Edition, 2015) with the Japanese War Crimes files added and ending with my mother’s passing at almost 102 years old; Anguished (2017) a Memoir about the abuse of vulnerable seniors in nursing homes (in this case my mother). The Audiobook of Rising from the Shadow of the Sun was distributed in January 2018.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: A Story of Love, Survival and Joy?
Norm: What is next for Ronny Herman de Jong?
Ronny: Good question! Too many wonderful things are in my future! I will continue writing weekly Blog Posts on my Website about Retirement at its Best, that’s one. Then, I will continue giving the Keynote Presentations about my books and WWII experiences that I have been doing since I lived in Arizona, and now in North Carolina. I do them for book groups with as few as 20 members, for Service organizations and churches of about 60, for Colleges and high schools.
And my husband and I are diving into a totally new adventure: we are getting a miniature Golden Doodle puppy before the year is up. I will never have a dull moment in my life!
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Ronny: Ah yes! I wish that someone would ask me: “Ronny, do you have more pictures of your parents’ early years and more memories of your own so that we could make a movie of your book Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: A Story of Love, Survival and Joy?
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Ronny: It was a pleasure, Norm, thank you.