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I even shaved my head to ward off Japanese soldiers

Posted February. 09, 2007 06:46,   


“How did I overcome this terrifying experience? It is impossible to suppress such a horrific nightmare. It still haunts me and will for the rest of my life. For me, the war is far from over.”

On February 15, a white Dutch woman, along with two Korean women, testified before the U.S. congress at the first ever hearing on ‘Sex slaves under Japanese colonial rule.’

Jan Ruff-O`Herne (84), a Dutch national living in Kingswood, Australia, was taken by the Japanese at the tender age of 19 to become ‘comfort women’ – a sex slave in military brothels in Japanese-occupied countries.

In a telephone interview with this paper, she told a detailed story of the horrendous experience that was forced upon her more than 60 years ago, and of the scars and trauma that she suffers to this day. Given that people usually think comfort women are Asian, including Koreans, her testimony came as a tremendous shock to many.

O`Herne was born in Java, Indonesia, a former colony of the Netherlands. Her father was an engineer working at a sugar plantation. She was a beautiful young woman leading a happy life with her family, until she was taken with her mother to Ambarawa prison camp in March 1942, after the Japanese invasion of the island. Three and a half years later, in 1944, she was sent to a ‘comfort station’.

“For a woman, her first sexual experience means a lot. Mine was a rape in a military brothel. It left me with untold scars,” she recalled.

She thought that shaving her head would make her unattractive and ugly, thereby warding off Japanese soldiers. However, this made the soldiers curious and they raped her even more. Even the camp doctors joined the rapist mobs.

Three and a half months in the Station proved devastating to her body and mind, and she was no longer able to offer sex. She was sent to another camp where a hundred Dutch comfort women like her were being held. Her days in the camp marked by rape, violence and hunger were over when the Japanese lost in the war. Their Japanese captors threatened to kill them if they revealed the atrocities that they had suffered.

O`Herne told her story to her mother. Heartbroken, her mother told her to keep it a secret, and she agreed.

However, she revealing her secret in 1992, a time when the world was outraged by the news that many women had been violently raped in Yugoslavian civil war and when three Korean comfort women commenced legal action against the Japanese government over their suffering.

The former comfort woman mailed a diary that she wrote while in the military brothel to her two daughters, who immediately paid her a tearful visit. Since then, she has played an active role in revealing the atrocities committed by the Japanese and has devoted her life to helping the victims of war-time rape. When the Japanese government established the Asia Women’s Fund in atonement of its crimes, O’Herne dismissed it, saying, “we do not want money, just the restoration of human dignity.” She said, “I was shocked when I visited Japan two years ago, because high school students there are blissfully unaware of their country’s crimes. The Japanese government should formally apologize and teach its young people the truths of its history.”

O`Herne, who has never visited Korea, said proudly “I have many Korean friends. A few months ago a group of former Korean comfort women visited me. Although we spoke different languages, we were able to sympathize with each other.”

The U.S. congress asked her to testify last week. When asked if her husband accompanied her to the U.S., she replied “He passed away 11 years ago.” She met her husband at the prison camp right after the war. He was a British soldier deployed to guard the camp. They lived together in the Britain before emigrating down under in 1960. We asked her a very difficult question “Did you tell your husband you were a comfort woman?”

She said “I told him before we were married. It was a tearful conversation. After that moment, we never spoke of it again.”