“Children see and hear what is there; adults see and hear what they are expected to and mainly remember what they think they ought to remember,” David Lowenthal wrote in The Past Is a Foreign Country. It is on this fraught foundation that Fred Lanzing builds this memoir of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp for Dutch colonialists in the East Indies during the World War II.
When published in the Netherlands in 2007, the book triggered controversy, if not vitriol, for Lanzing’s assertion that his time in the camp was not the compendium of horrors commonly associated with the Dutch internment experience. Despite the angry reception, Lanzing’s account corresponds more closely with the scant historical record than do most camp memoirs. In this way, Lanzing’s work is a substantial addition to ongoing discussions of the politics of memory and the powerful—if contentious—contributions that subjective accounts make to historiography and to the legacies of the past.
Lanzing relates an aspect of the war in the Pacific seldom discussed outside the Netherlands and, by focusing on the experiences of ordinary people, expands our understanding of World War II in general. His compact, beautifully detailed account will be accessible to undergraduate students and a general readership and, together with the introduction by William H. Frederick, is a significant contribution to literature on World War II, the Dutch colonial experience, the history of childhood, and Southeast Asian history.
Fred Lanzing was born in 1933 in the city of Bandung, Java, then part of the Netherlands East Indies. He is now retired from a long career as a teacher and administrator in the Amsterdam schools. He is the author of numerous articles and books on World War II and other topics. More info →
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Eldest daughter of eight children, the author grew up in Surakarta, Java, in what is now Indonesia. In the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, Dutch nationals were rounded up by Japanese soldiers and put in internment camps. Her father and brother were sent to separate men’s camps, leaving the author, her mother, and the five younger children in the women’s camp.
Like a number of Netherlanders in the post–World War II era, Inez Hollander only gradually became aware of her family’s connections with its Dutch colonial past, including a Creole great-grandmother. For the most part, such personal stories have been, if not entirely silenced, at least only whispered about in Holland, where society has remained uncomfortable with many aspects of the country’s relationship with its colonial empire.
Phu Rieng was one of many French rubber plantations in colonial Vietnam; Tran Tu Binh was one of 17,606 laborers brought to work there in 1927, and his memoir is a straightforward, emotionally searing account of how one Vietnamese youth became involved in revolutionary politics. The connection between this early experience and later activities of the author becomes clear as we learn that Tran Tu Binh survived imprisonment on Con Son island to help engineer the general uprising in Hanoi in 1945.