As the war continued to drag on in the South Pacific we learn from S. Elisa Ackermans’ work that our sisters were gradually moved from camp to camp and became concentrated in the camps of Ambarawa.
S. Marie-Joseph Donsen had been the director of the hospital in Tjandi where she seems to have gained a reputation as one who was willing to take great risks. Although the Japanese did not accept protests, when she was asked to sign a request to be allowed to resign from the hospital she categorically refused, saying, “I do not sign lies.” Despite their “annoyance” at this, the Japanese realized her worth and allowed her to remain until a capable alternative could be found. S. Marie-Joseph thus became the last sister to be interned and when she arrived in Ambarawa she found a pitiable situation. S. Didima, who had been severely traumatized, would not be left alone for even a minute—how to care for her? The need for nursing care was great and she found herself in constant demand. She cared especially for the old, sick men and was also a confidant for the young girls. Because the Japanese came to the camp to choose their “comfort girls,” S. Marie-Joseph spoke to the camp commander and urged that he not allow this—all in vain.
One evening 10 girls were collected in her presence: despite all her efforts she was unable to prevent it. The girls were taken away by force. They were little more than children and did not even realize what was hanging over their heads. Before going, they prayed in their childish innocence to Our Lady that they might keep their chastity. Later, Sr. Marie-Joseph learned that five of them were pregnant and one had committed suicide.
Harassment was the order of the day, lack of sleep, little and poor food rations, no medicine—conditions continued to worsen as the weeks dragged on. One day S. Marie-Joseph requested quinine that had come in so that she could treat the many suffering with malaria. The guard “took two bottles, poured the contents on the floor and crushed the bottles under his big boots. ‘Help yourself,’ he said.”
By mid August 1945 even those who had somehow managed to survive all the hardships and remain relatively able were now felled by fevers and infections. Everyone knew that they could not last much longer and yet they believed that the end could not be far off. Then, suddenly they were joined at Ambarawa by the sisters from the Muntilan camp and, a few days later, by those from Solo, Mendut and Magelang. Although this meant that conditions were even more crowded, there was great rejoicing at the reunion. Rumors that Japan had capitulated reached the camp by August 22 and the next day the camp leaders announced that the peace treaty had been signed on August 15. The war was over!
S. Theophile wrote:
It is impossible to describe the joy and gratitude this news was greeted with. The Dutch flag was hoisted, the national anthem was sung . . . The rice rations were doubled that day. The commander turned like a leaf on a tree, all oriental courtesy and affability. The camp gates were opened wide, we were free to move around Ambarawa and passar (go to the market.)
But, as you will read in the next column, “normalcy” was still a long way off.