The Diary of Prisoner 17326: A Boy's Life in a Japanese Labor Camp

The Diary of Prisoner 17326: A Boy's Life in a Japanese Labor Camp

The Diary of Prisoner 17326: A Boy's Life in a Japanese Labor Camp

The Diary of Prisoner 17326: A Boy's Life in a Japanese Labor Camp


In this moving memoir a young man comes of age in an age of violence, brutality, and war. Recounting his experiences during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, this account brings to life the shocking day-to-day conditions in a Japanese labor camp and provides an intimate look atthe collapse of Dutch colonial rule.As a boy growing up on the island of Java, John Stutterheim spent hours exploring his exotic surroundings, taking walks with his younger brother and dachshund along winding jungle roads. His father, a government accountant, would grumble at the pro-German newspaper and from time to time entertainthe family with his singing. It was a fairly typical life for a colonial family in the Dutch East Indies, and a peaceful and happy childhood for young John. But at the age of 14 it would all be irrevocably shattered by the Japanese invasion.With the surrender of Java in 1942, John's father was taken prisoner. For over three years the family would not know if he was alive or dead. Soon thereafter, John, his younger brother, and his mother were imprisoned. A year later he and his brother were moved to a forced labor camp for boys, wherethey toiled under the fierce sun while disease and starvation slowly took their toll, all the while suspecting they would soon be killed. Throughout all of these travails, John kept a secret diary hidden in his handmade mattress, and his memories now offer a unique perspective on an often overlooked episode of World War II. What emerges is a compelling story of a young man caught up in the machinations of a global war - struggling tosurvive in the face of horrible brutality, struggling to care for his disease-wracked brother, and struggling to put his family back together. It is a story that must not be forgotten.


Mark Parillo

World War II ended sixty-five years ago, and yet more and more works on the subject are appearing in bookstores all the time, many of them personal memoirs such as the present volume. One is tempted to ask what is to be gained by spilling more ink and killing more trees to present such stories to the twenty-first-century reader. It is a fair question.

A good part of the answer lies in the impact World War II has had on world history. Indeed, we are still dealing with the fallout. In 1945, much of Europe, master of the globe for centuries, lay in physical and economic tatters. From east and west the Soviets and Americans, linked in an uneasy alliance, swarmed across the continent to dominate the remains of ruined empires. The story of the erstwhile Allies’ falling out and their subsequent bitter, if mostly indirect, hostility forms the backbone of much of the rest of the history of the twentieth century.

Yet it is to Asia that the war has bequeathed its most profound legacy. Japan, like its Axis partners, experienced a smashing defeat that brought with it tremendous loss of life and property, foreign occupation, and the scrapping of the old sociopolitical order. But it was Japan’s early victories rather than its ultimate defeat that irrevocably altered the face of East Asia.

Japan’s appetite for markets and resources, an appetite that had been growing by leaps and bounds when the government began forcing the nation to industrialize in the late nineteenth century, touched off the war in Asia. Friction with the West, especially the United States, over Japan’s aggressive foreign policy measures, including outright war with China, to gain access to those markets and resources eventually prompted the Japanese to seize control of the resource areas themselves.

The most vital resource of all was oil, a commodity in which the Japanese home islands were noticeably poor, while other areas, including most especially the Dutch colony in the East Indies, were remarkably rich. The attack on Pearl Harbor, spectacular though it was in military and psychological terms, was but the prelude to the real Japanese tide of victory. The . . .

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