My childhood years in the internment camp on Java
Translated from Dutch by Ingrid Ostermann
© 2023 Baobab Books
52 pages, hardcover, 17 x 25 cm
CHF 25.00 / € [D] 22,00 / € [A] 22,70
Ages 9 and up
When Anne-Ruth Wertheim was born in Jakarta in 1934 to a Dutch family, Indonesia was a Dutch colony. The Dutch had placed themselves at the top of society, with Chinese merchants in the middle and the native Indonesian population at the bottom.
This dubious hierarchy changed abruptly when Japanese troops invaded in 1942. They put virtually the entire Dutch population in internment camps, and the Indonesians had to serve as guards. The Jewish inmates were put into separate camps, following the Nazi ideology. So was the Wertheim family, because father Wertheim was of Jewish descent.
That was in 1943, Anne-Ruth was eight years old. Together with her siblings, she recorded the gloomy and dehumanising daily life in the camp in detail in small drawings barely the size of a palm – her mother had managed to smuggle a little paper and pencils into the camp. A board game she made herself was an additional pastime: «Das Gänsespiel».
After Japan's surrender in 1945, the Wertheim family left for the Netherlands. Against the backdrop of her own experience, Anne-Ruth Wertheim is still vehemently committed to dialogue between people and against any kind of discrimination and racism. Her book, which shows historical documents alongside the narrative and the children's drawings, also stands for this dialogue. The childlike view shows unsparingly direct everyday life in prison and at the same time reminds us how important it is to remain human even under adverse circumstances – and never to divide people into categories.
Anne-Ruth Wertheim (*1934) was born to Dutch parents in Jakarta. She was eight years old when she was sent to a Japanese internment camp. All inmates had a number pinned on them on arrival, and violence and humiliation were part of the daily routine. After Japan's surrender, the Wertheim family left for the Netherlands. Anne-Ruth Wertheim studied biology and worked as a biology teacher for many years. Her experience in the camp was the starting point of her intensive and lifelong confrontation with racism. To this day, she visits schools to talk to children and young people about the causes and consequences of racism. Anne-Ruth Wertheim lives in Amsterdam.