Evil runs in cycles. With a strong men cult around the world and the right hardening and winning in places where liberalism and freedom once reigned, I lie awake at night, worrying about the possibility of a world spinning out of control.
And this is why it’s so important to take a moment and remember the ending of WWII. The victims can no longer speak which is why we, the relatives of those victims, need to speak out for them when we see the world moving in a direction that builds on the fear and irrational hatred of certain population groups.
This country was based on freedom from tyranny but when you grow up in a free society you only start to miss it when it’s taken away from you.
As many of you know, I have written extensively about the fate of my relatives in the Dutch East Indies during WWII (see Silenced Voices), but I had relatives on Java as well as in The Netherlands. This year I want to remember my Jewish greataunt and illustrator Nora Schnitzler. I never met her but because my greatuncle (and artist) Gerard Huijsser kept an extensive diary, we know a little more.
Thus we know that her parents’ house in Laren was confiscated by the Nazis early on, upon which they were soon transported to Westerbork and Auschwitz where they found their death in the gas chambers.
Through her marriage to Gerard, Nora was kept out of the camps but, as we realized many years later, while the Nazis allowed so-called “mixed marriages”, all Jewish women in those marriages were forced to get sterilized. Nora loved children and would have wanted childen, of that I am sure: When you look her work up online, you’ll notice that children are the prime focus of her work. Here’s an example:
After the war, Nora found out about the fate of her parents and was thrown into a deep depression. She had a brother in the Dutch Antilles, but not much of an extended family, except for Gerard’s (my) family. Their experience of the war had not been easy either but their fate and outcome of the war could not be compared to her family’s (except maybe for the other branch of my family who went through Japanese starvation, internment and the Bersiap in Indonesia).
Nora found herself alone. She grieved in silence. And she never had any children.
Recently, I was contacted by a descendant of Nora’s brother. He told me how he, as a small boy, had sat on Nora’s lap in her garden in Laren, right before her death. He was small but remembered the incident clearly and when he told me about it, I couldn’t help but think that the symbolism of that moment had possibly made such an impression on him because Nora, unconsciously, had impressed upon him the burden of her family history, which he tried to uncover so many years later, in 2019.
Nora survived the war, but her survivor’s guilt and the loss of family, aggravated by the inability to start her own family would darken the rest of her days. If it weren’t for my greatuncle’s diary, this history would have vanished from the record, which is why I’m putting it down here, once more, in this blog.
There are many other forgotten female victims of wars started by men and male egos, but another group I do want to mention here is the so-called “comfort women victims”. When Japan invaded most of Asia, they recruited young women from their occupied territories and put them in soldiers’ brothels all over Asia where they were forced to have sex with soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army.
An estimated 400,000 victims with more than 15 different nationalities were forced into sexual slavery. This has been considered the largest sex slave operation in world history.
It was the perfect crime against humanity because when these women picked up their lives after the war and started their own families, many of them could not and would not talk about what they had been through, which was very convenient for the Japanese who still suppress and silence this story at every opportunity they get.
Prime Minister Abe, whose own grandfather was complicit in war crimes, would like to move on but we can’t if these victims have not been acknowledged. I call upon the new emperor of Japan, whose own grandfather, Emperor Hirohito, sanctioned these crimes against humanity, to come clean before it’s too late.
I imagine emperors and royalty cannot become overtly political or speak out due to constitutional constraints but giving up the throne to honor and recognize these women would be a truly noble act and worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.
It would align Japan with a country like Germany, that, unlike Japan, has truly done everything in their power to make sure the Holocaust is fully documented, part of the school curriculum and remembered. The importance of this cannot be underestimated as it becomes a crucial reference point when fascist and autocratic tendencies in countries like our own resurface.
The new Japanese emperor will never do this, I know, but like Anne Frank, I’m not yet willing to give up on the idea that there are still plenty of good people in the world whose wisdom and goodness form the points of light we need to hold on to and reinforce, so that light and truth can win from darkness (and the dark web of propaganda and lies) again.
I ask and plead with you to be truly woke so that women like Nora, and the countless faceless and nameless sexual slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army can rest in peace with the knowledge that their suffering wasn’t in vain but a flashing beacon and warning sign that we can never take that path again.