|By Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff
Nearly 70 years later, the memories of her time in World War II
concentration camps still are so painful they give her nightmares two
weeks before and two weeks after she speaks about them.
But Danneke A. Schallig, a survivor of World War II Japanese
concentration camps who lives in Westby, Wis., continues to speak to
groups so that time isn’t forgotten. Schallig spoke to a Fort McCoy
audience April 19 at a Holocaust Days of Remembrance observance.
Danneke A. Schallig addresses the
audience at Fort McCoy’s Holocaust Days of Remembrance
observance. (Photo by Allan
“I feel it’s worth it (having the nightmares),” Schallig said. “If
you don’t know, you can’t prevent it. Soldiers like yourselves have to
realize that the one person you help may be like me and can speak up,”
she said. “I am grateful for what (your counterparts) did for me.”
Schallig and her Dutch Family members were medical missionaries and
teachers when Japan invaded Sumatra in 1942 and she was taken prisoner.
About 2 years old at the time, she remembers a truck pulling up to their
residence and her grandmother being given time to pack only a small
valise of necessities. Her mother and brothers and aunts and uncles were
taken to different concentration camps.
For the next few years, Schallig and her family members lived through
countless atrocities. They endured hunger as they watched their meager
rations continually cut. To help stave off hunger, many of the prisoners
chewed on bamboo or bark from trees, she said.
Each day they were lined up in front of barracks-type facilities and
counted off — no names, just numbers, she said. Nothing stopped it,
including weather conditions. If something was done wrong during the
roll call, the count started again from the beginning. The prisoners
were abused if something went wrong, and anyone who tried to help them
was beaten as well.
They continually were dehumanized and moved from camp to camp so they
couldn’t adjust to the changes and were kept off guard, Schallig said.
Beatings, humiliation, illness due to the close living quarters,
starvation, and death were commonplace, she added.
“When women and children experienced harsh treatment, and I’m sure it’s
true for men and boys, too, they turned to things that were most
familiar, their faith, their songs and their memories,” Schallig said.
“I learned many of the songs I know in those camps.”
The Japanese assigned Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Malaysians, and
Laotians to guard them. Schallig said she remains uncomfortable around
people of these ethnic backgrounds.
At the last camp she was at, she escaped under the wire to go find a
lush jungle area she could see in the distance. Schallig was captured by
a Korean guard as she went under the wire. The guard assaulted her and
then stabbed her in the chest. The guard was beaten to death, but
Schallig survived and was taken to a jungle hospital for treatment.
“I always thought it was my fault for the guard being beaten to death,”
she said. “My guilt finally lessened when my son was little, and I
learned that children take adverse situations upon themselves.”
Toward the end of the war, the prisoners heard the fighting was more
intense, and things weren’t going well for the Japanese. They began to
see fewer and fewer Japanese in the camps, and airplanes would fly over
and bombardments would follow. However, the planes weren’t strafing them
as before. And then the Red Cross started dropping in items and packages
Eventually, the prisoners at her camp were rescued by British and
American military forces and taken to a relocation center. Most were in
a state of starvation and were given broth until their physical
condition improved enough to eat solid food. Schallig said she was
reunited with the rest of her family members.
She didn’t see her father until she was about 7 years old. He had gone
to the U.S. for medical supplies shortly before her birth. His boat was
torpedoed by the Japanese and he was held in a Japanese prison camp.
The experience caused an estrangement with her father that would last
until a reconciliation years later.
The missionary work of her family also was destroyed by the war, as
other members were detained in European prison camps, she said.
Schallig said her family eventually immigrated to the U.S.
Because of her experiences, she doesn’t do well in confined areas and
she doesn’t like the governments of the people who held her captive,
although she harbors no ill will toward the people of those countries.
“I don’t like politics,” Schallig said. “But I vote because I want
someone in office I know and like.”
For more information about ethnic observances in the Fort McCoy
community, call the Equal Opportunity Office at 608-388-3246.