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May 13, 2011


Survivor of Japanese prison camps remembers Holocaust period

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.
PHOTO: Danneke A. Schallig addresses the audience at Fort McCoy’s Holocaust Days of Remembrance observance. Photo by Allan Harding
Danneke A. Schallig addresses the audience at Fort McCoy’s Holocaust Days of Remembrance observance. (Photo by Allan Harding)

“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 from planes.

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.

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