The Remains of War: Surviving the Other Concentration Camps of World War II

The Remains of War: Surviving the Other Concentration Camps of World War II

by G. Pauline Kok-Schurgers
iUniverse, Inc (2011), 186 pp., $17.95

 

“I closed my eyes, trying to block out the sounds around me. There had to be hundreds of us in this barrack…I wondered if we would spend the rest of our lives like this going from camp to camp. Would we ever be free?” (83)

Books on nearly every aspect of World War II crowd the history section of bookstores, but there are some pockets of war history that have remained relatively unexplored until now.

Based on Woodstock, Ontario author G. Pauline Kok-Schurgers' own experience in a WWII concentration camp in Sumatra, The Remains of War follows the story of Sofia, her two younger sisters and brother and their mother, as they are taken from their home after the defeat of the Dutch Army in Indonesia and sent to a prison camp.

When Japan conquered the Dutch colony of Indonesia in 1942, the country was already in turmoil. Siding with anti-colonial factions of native Indonesians, the Japanese army imprisoned thousands of colonial Dutch men, women and children in prison camps. While the men were sent to work in labour camps in Japan and Burma, the women and children stayed in concentration camps across the country, unaware of the “ultimate elimination plan” that was in place for them.
The horrors of war and the strength of the human spirit are equally explored in this book. Along with the brutality of Japanese prison guards and wretchedness of disease, the reader also learns of the strength and faith among women POWS who worked as nurses and leaders to keep their fellow prisoners’ hopes alive.

Kok-Schurgers is particularly adept at exploring how the pressures of starvation, disease and despair exacerbated the pre-existing family tensions and fears of normal life. Despite the horrors surrounding her, Sofia still worries about her marble collection, argues with her mother about her siblings and wishes for birthday presents.

The story is well-written, without giving in to pathos or appealing to guilt, nor demonizing the Japanese. Sofia’s hatred of her captors and their treatment of her is mediated through a child’s confined understanding of the war as a whole. While this story has wide resonance and impact, Kok-Schurgers never strays from her child narrator’s perspective, which lends itself well to honest, blunt narrative.

The ending, however, does not follow Sofia’s story after her release from the camps, leaving the reader to wonder how her experiences continued to affect her through her adulthood, and especially wondering about her relationship with her parents.

With haunting and visceral descriptions of life in the concentration camps, The Remains of War lingers in the reader’s mind long after the book is closed.

You can learn more about G. Pauline Kok-Schurgers by visiting http://gertrudpaulinekok.com/

(Out of 4)

Sarah Needles is a freelance writer, playwright and avid canoeist.


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