My name is Jan Ruff-O’Herne. I was born on January 18th, 1923 in Bandung, Dutch East Indies, now a city in Indonesia. Growing up, I was a happiest child surrounded by talented, artistic family members. I nourished my deep Catholic faith, and hoped to become a nun one day. My joy and hope came to an end in 1942, when Japan invaded our town. I was imprisoned by the Japanese during the WWII, along with my family and many other Dutch civilians. In the prison camp, a lot of us got infected and sick from the poor environment. I don’t remember one day being a happy child I used to be after all this happened. However, not one day I missed praying to God to return us to a happy place. I believed that we will be all okay.
One day in 1944, all girls were called to be lined up for Japanese officers. The officers were checking our figures, bodies, and faces with glaring eyes. They picked ten girls of their choosing, including me, and we were taken away from everybody. I thought we were taken to a factory they will force us work for them. I did not realize how evil those eyes were, the eyes that were piercing through our souls.
The darkness of fear started eating me up once I realized that we were placed in a military brothel. The first night tortured my mind and soul all of my life. The Japanese soldier yelled at me that he will kill me with his sword if I do not listen to him. I begged him, please allow me to say my prayers first. He gave me some time and I started talking to God. Father, please let me still be dependent on you and love you after this. The soldier soon started throwing me around, ripping my clothes off, then invaded me. Again, again, and again until the sun came up in the morning. This soul-crushing torture continued for three months, day and night.
I was released back to the prison camp with the body that wasn’t mine anymore. I broke down when a priest told me it would be better that I don’t become a nun because of my past. Even after the defeat of Japanese military, I still had to keep living in the dark – why should I suffer for the things I didn’t want? However, I did not lose my faith in God and continued praying, seeking hope. Then, my heart bloomed again when I saw my fellow Korean sisters, speaking out of our past.