Good doctor’s story of survival

Dr. Andrew Ansingh discovered that little has been discussed or written about those victimized in Indonesia during World War II.

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2008 12:00am
  • News
After outlasting four harsh years of imprisonment during World War II

After outlasting four harsh years of imprisonment during World War II

Untold stories,

forgotten faces

Dr. Andrew Ansingh discovered that little has been discussed or written about those victimized in Indonesia during World War II.

“I also contacted friends who spent time in concentration camps and now live in Washington state. I phoned friends in Holland,” Ansingh said. “We all agreed – too little is known about what atrocities happened in the Far East.

“Europe has its museums and memorials about the Holocaust,” he added, “but we know very little about the 130,000 Americans, Australians, Dutch and British who were captured by the Japanese and interned.”

The doctor also found:

• The worse fate befell the Indonesian laborers: 300,000 died, only 70,000 survived.

• Of the 114 listed concentration camps on Java, only 30 remained in August of 1945, as well as those on other islands.

• After the allied capitulation in 1940, the policy of the Japanese was to get the civilians off the streets and to deny them any contact with the outside world. When the war lasted longer than expected, an internment policy finally was started and the internees were to fend for themselves.

yet he prevailed – not as a soldier on a European or South Pacific battlefield, but as a boy who outlasted the agony of imprisonment in his native Indonesia.

“The big fear was the unknown,” Ansingh said. “What’s going to happen to me? Where are you going to go? Are they going to kill us? What are they going to do? That was the big fear.

“Otherwise, once you are there in a station camp, it didn’t matter so much because you would get used to it. And you survived,” Ansingh said.

As was true for his Dutch father, English-born mother and younger brother, separated and interned elsewhere during Japan’s occupation of Southeast Asia, Herman did not know if he would see his loved ones again.

Ansingh’s ordeal is one of many untold stories that make up a neglected chapter in World War II’s history. Many soldiers and civilians – men, women and children – from many countries were killed, lost or interned in the Dutch East Indies. Inexplicably, their stories from the war-torn Southeast Asian theater have been lost, ignored or forgotten, Ansingh contends. In Holland, there are no memorials honoring that part of its past.

“People like us become very irritated with that,” Ansingh said. “When I go back to Holland, I can’t find much information. Few people know about it, or they just forgot about it. Somehow we need to bring that to light.”

Ansingh has not forgotten this important part of his life, and he willingly shares it with those who will listen.

Ansingh was born on the Indonesian island of Borneo, where his family flourished before the outbreak of war. Ansingh’s father, Max, worked in the oil business tied to the reserve-rich region. His company transferred him to the island of Java, which Japanese forces invaded and conquered in 1942.

Civilians and families were seized, grouped, and sent to station camps. Men were separated from their families and sent away. From the start, Ansingh stayed with his mother, Hilda, and brother, Barry. He would not see his father again for four years.

The Japanese shipped the family by cattle train to an internment camp on the outskirts of Jakarta in western Java. The prisoners were marched into a former insane asylum turned camp, equipped with a first-aid center and kitchen.

“We were fortunate to have that,” Ansingh said.

Some people were assigned bunk beds, others lay on the floor on bug-infested straw mats.

Ansingh was 11, Barry 7.

Supplies dwindled quickly. The Japanese gave the prisoners a daily staple of starch soup, a bit of cabbage and some bug-laced rice. They allowed some prisoners to make their own tea.

At the morning roll call, each prisoner hoisted the Japanese flag. They were ordered to stand in “kjotski” (line), taught to “kere” (bow) after inspection and “nore” (stand at ease) before being “jasme” (dismissed.)

In the tropical heat of the day, prisoners worked the rice patty fields. A fortunate few drew kitchen detail. Some prisoners planted and grew vegetables. Others caught insects, and rats and other rodents.

“It was quite difficult,” Ansingh said. “If you’re hungry, you eat anything you can get your hands on. Let’s face it, the dog? He would not be alive for very long.”

Occasionally, the Japanese would set a pig loose inside the camp, letting the prisoners catch and prepare the beast.

In time, disease and other health problems permeated the camp. Ansingh and his family, like many others, dealt with maladies, notably malaria, which was successfully treated with quinine.

Other diseases were not as treatable. Many of Ansingh’s friends grew too sick to survive. Several hundred prisoners died each year.

The Japanese later separated Ansingh from his mother and brother and sent him to larger camp for men only, where he would remain until the end of the war in August 1945. It was at this old army base that Ansingh met his future wife’s brother.

Having avoided serious illness and able to secure his freedom, Ansingh was eventually reunited with his family after Japan’s surrender. They would return to Holland, leaving behind the civil unrest of post-war Java.

Ansingh began to put his life back together, picking up in the classroom where he left off. While he received limited instruction during internment, he slowly regained his academic feet in the Dutch school system and eventually passed his final high school exams with the help of a private tutor.

Eligible for an engineering scholarship, Ansingh chose instead a career in medicine. He graduated from medical school in Holland, where he met his wife, Yoka, who was born in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Barry became a lawyer. He lives today in the Netherlands.

Opportunity eventually brought Ansingh to the United States, where he established and built a career as a reputable general surgeon. He completed his internship at Tacoma General Hospital and his residency at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital before first practicing in Auburn in 1962.

He and his wife raised four boys and were active in the community.

Ansingh has devoted considerable time and work to civic causes, notably the arts. He helped establish the Auburn Symphony Orchestra and was one of the original forces behind the foundation of the Auburn Arts Commission.

“He’s passionate about the arts and how important they are in the community,” said Nancy Colson, a longtime friend and member of the commission. “His contributions (to the local arts) are immeasurable.”

Well read and well rounded, Ansingh collects art, enjoys music and shares books and stories with his friends. He likes to question things, seeking out details and understanding processes. His thirst for knowledge is never slaked.

He sets a good example for others to follow.

“He knows who he is, and he knows what he believes in,” Colson said. “He’s fearless in speaking out in what he thinks is important.”

“You appreciate him for so many things,” said Barbie Sharrard, a longtime friend and arts community colleague. “You appreciate the way he raised his family.

“He’s down to earth and diversified,” Sharrard added. “He’s always interested in things, in people and life. He’s a very good person.”

Today Ansingh lives alone at home, but he is rich in friends. Yoka, 78, is now under care at an Alzheimer’s home.

Although he is retired, he continues to carry his license and help others in need. He is there to answer a friend’s call.

Having witnessed and endured so much hardship and pain, Ansingh went on to a rewarding career, helping others ease their pain. Through his work, he welcomed the challenge and experienced the joy of healing the sick.

“I just knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he said. “Medicine is a wonderful profession.”

A profession that includes one good doctor who persevered through the darkest of days.

“I am a survivor,” Ansingh said. “I survived, and I’m glad I did.”

From misery of internment camp, Ansingh molds

a life of healing

He grew quickly inside the guarded fences of a harrowing Japanese internment camp, an innocent boy removed from his parents, left to pursue whatever means of self-survival came to hand.

Dr. Herman Ansingh learned resourcefulness and independence early.

“You come out of it changed,” Ansingh said of his ordeal with captivity and despair on the Japanese-occupied Indonesian island of Java during World War II. “It’s like water running off you; you sort of don’t care anymore what happens. What happens to you next doesn’t seem to be all that important as long as you survive.”

To survive he leaned on friends, some his own age. He snatched at the faintest rumors of rescue and hope, ate anything he could get his hands on, and somehow prevailed over the ravages of malaria and malnutrition.

Many of his friends – victims of disease, starvation and brutality – never came home, but Ansingh survived four years of civilian concentration camps to rejoin his family at age 15 and resume the bright hopes of a promising life.

Caught in the pincers of war as a boy, Ansingh emerged a compassionate man. He has been Auburn’s good doctor since 1962.

Ansingh – retired but still sharp and active in the community at 77 – often plays back those terrible days as a captive of Imperial Japan.

It was an abrupt turn, a

horrible detour in his life,

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