Today’s post was written by library student ambassador America Negrete. America is a third-year Marketing major with a strong interest in Accounting. She works at two separate departments in the library and loves every bit!
The latest installment of the William H. Hannon Library’s Faculty Pub Night featured Michael Berg, professor of mathematics, and Theresia de Vroom, professor of English and director of the Marymount Institute for Faith, Culture, and the Arts. On this evening, the esteemed professors discussed their publication, The Past Is A Foreign Country: Accounts of Life in the Japanese Concentration Camps in Occupied Indonesia 1942-1945, with the LMU community.
Before they began their presentation, Berg and de Vroom were animatedly mingling with the audience. One colleague of theirs was excited to be in attendance, as he believes it is important to support fellow faculty and their publications, even in a field that is not his own. Another guest, a student, was looking forward to yet another Faculty Pub Night. Having enjoyed other installments of the series before, he was eagerly anticipating the night’s conversation. Guests chatted amongst each other for a few final moments as they prepared for the discussion to begin.
Berg and de Vroom began by giving a brief history of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during World War II. During this time, Berg’s grandfather was a resistance fighter who was ultimately tortured to death. Berg’s father and uncles were drafted at only 17 years old. Japanese forces “tricked” Indonesians into concentration camps by claiming that because both groups of people were Asian, they were only trying to help each other. These concentration camps were located deep in the jungle and therefore, there was no need for heavy security. Running away was very dangerous. The speakers continued to speak about their families’ experiences. De Vroom showed the audience a photograph of an intricately made coconut shell container. Her family made money by crafting these shells and selling them to Japanese soldiers. Berg and de Vroom also spoke about their childhood feelings of not belonging. De Vroom was born in Indonesia while Berg was born in Brazil. Both later lived in the Netherlands and then eventually made their way to the United States. As immigrants, they didn’t always feel like they had a home.
After speaking about their families’ personal experiences, the professors spoke about the translations in the book. One documented experience was that of Wouter Keus. He was 9 years old when he and his family were taken from their home and placed in a concentration camp. During his last of many interviews with Berg and de Vroom, Keus shared something deeply personal: an old, beat up Mickey Mouse figurine he had owned since he was a boy in the camps. He shared that this little toy had been his friend, companion, and confidant during his experience. The figurine continues to be his friend and perhaps his “savior,” the thing that kept him going in those camps. Other accounts of life in the camps include that of Andrew A. van Dijk and Theresia Weber Makhuli, de Vroom’s aunt.
To wrap up, Berg and de Vroom gave some final thoughts about entire book experience. De Vroom’s mother refused to speak about her experiences, while Berg’s mother embraced the book. In fact, she claimed her experience with the book to be a cathartic one. Although de Vroom’s aunt struggled to relive her experiences and contribute to the book, she did so successfully. Finally, Berg stated that the entire process, from his translation in the book to speaking about these events, was more psychologically tiring for him than getting his PhD.
Why tell these stories now, though? Berg and de Vroom had a great answer to this question. Not much is written, especially truthfully written, about the historic events that occurred in Indonesia during World War II. In addition, the ethnic group that survived those experiences in the Indonesian concentration camps is dying out, and their stories and history must be kept alive.
We can all agree that no matter how much history we think we know, there is always more to learn and there are always new experiences to hear about. Don’t miss out on our next Faculty Pub Night!
Thank you, America, for sharing your perspective with us! If you are a student interested in being an event correspondent at a library event, contact John Jackson, Head of Outreach and Communications for the William H. Hannon Library.