Wartime Childhood Experiences – Sharing Stories: Father to son to granddaughter

My father passed away in 1989. Today (June 23, 2015) would have been his 80th birthday. He died of cancer when I was 21.

My father was born in the Netherlands and moved to Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia) in 1937 at age 2. In 1938 his brother (my uncle) was born. By late 1941 the threat of invasion loomed, and the family moved from Batavia (now known as Jakarta) to a remote region. In early 1942 there were dogfights between Japanese and Dutch airplanes overhead, and a few weeks later Japanese soldiers arrived at their house to take them away. My father, his younger brother and mother were sent to a prisoner of war camp, while his father, an eye doctor in the Dutch Army, was sent to a military hospital to treat Japanese soldiers.

As a child I always wanted to learn more about life in the prisoner of war camps. To my young mind, the stories my father told gave me the impression he was like a superhero in a comic book, with thrilling an exciting tales of sneaking out of the camp to steal food, being chased by Japanese guards, endlessly outwitting the guards, and more. In reality, it was not a fun time. There were many horrors in the camp. Captives were tortured, starved, beaten, or raped. Although, not always directed at my father and his family, they had to watch. Sickness (malaria, dysentery), due to malnutrition also took its toll on the captives. The stories my father told me, were few and far between, and would always end abruptly. Only years later, did I learn how much sugar coating he actually added to the stories. He (thankfully) did not want to expose his children to the real details.

My father, his brother and his mother returned to the Netherlands in 1946. En route, his brother contracted pneumonia and was close to death. Thankfully, he survived. It was challenging adjusting to a new life in the Netherlands in the years following the war. Even though the language was the same, there were different customs and different views of hardship during the war. The newcomers were not accepted by those that had lived in the Netherlands during the war – believing that they had suffered greatly during the Nazi occupation. Although, this was certainly a difficult time in the Netherlands, living in a Japanese controlled prisoner of war camp was worse. During adulthood, my father hid the emotional pain by pushing it to the back of his brain, whereas his younger brother had a bout with depression and sought medical help.

This month I am in the Netherlands. I want to know how his years in prisoner of war camps affected him, how it changed his life, and how his experience was passed on to his children. Without a doubt, my father’s war-time experience, either intentional or by behavior or habits has been passed on to me, and my brother and sister. I know that some of these prisoner of war camp related habits affect me in my day-to-day life, and I know that some of these habits are unintentionally being passed on to my own children. Most likely, when my children are grown up and have their own families, some of the very same habits and behaviors will be passed on their children.

For myself, now at almost the same age that my father was when he died and my children are now the same age as my father was during those years in the prisoner of war camps – I desperately want to learn more about him, his experiences, and how his life was shaped by those horrible years in the camps.

A week ago, I went to visit my uncle, at his invitation to talk – to talk about things I had previously been told not to ask about. It was not easy for either of us – for him to dig deep in to his memories of those years in prisoner of war camps and to re-live and tell those stories, some of which he had never told anyone before. It was also hard for me to listen to someone who had been there and had lived those experiences – the very same experiences that my father carried silently for all those years.

Today, June 23 would have been his 80th birthday. After that long conversation with his brother, a few more pieces of the puzzle are now in place, and, if my father were alive today, I would truly know my own superhero.

Dynamic Amsterdam

One of the disadvantages of photography is that it is a snapshot in time based on the shutter speed. As photographers, we can choose freeze time by using a very fast shutter speed, or slow down time by using a slow shutter speed.
This is a composite image, of three sets of three photos (slow, medium and fast shutter speed ie: HDR) all combined together into one.

 

Why ?. The advantage of combining image is to record the static (non-moving objects) and the blur of objects that moved based on the the speed of movement.

 

 
All photos taken with a Fuji X-E1 and XF14mm, at various shutter speeds with a Hoya 8xND and Hoya Polarizer, and processed in PhotoMatrixPro. Click on any image in the gallery to see it bigger, click on the small black arrows to scroll to the next image.

 

Amsterdam – a ‘soft’ Gallery

Amsterdam. Yes, the photos are all a touch soft (‘blurry’), maybe even a bit over or under exposed. Does it matter – you decide. To me, they show Amsterdam in a new way, without the insane sharpness of a modern autofocus lens. The slight blurriness seems to bring out the atmosphere of a classic Amsterdam ‘Coffee shop’, where you are handed a menu with drugs of the day. All photos were taken with a Fujifilm X-Pro and Russian made Helios 44-2 58mm manual focus lens.

 

Round the World Traveling – Taking it all in

Taking it all in. By now – they are looking forward to being home. In ten months, they have traveled through 10 countries, they have experienced almost everything that the local culture has to offer, they have hiked on the highest mountains, crawled through caves, swam in Indian Ocean, ate fresh croissants in Paris, and deep fried grasshoppers in Cambodia. They have made many friends along the way, and have already made plans to visit those friends in another 8 years. During that time, they have visited many extraordinary places – the temples in Angor, seen re-creations of Roman era battles in a Roman era arena, have seen 1500 year old churches/mosques, visited the sites of ancient battles, and the beaches of Normandy. They have seen the best in human civilization and have seen some of the worst at the Killing Fields in Cambodia. The past 10 months have been an extraordinary journey. Soon we head back to our home in Yellowknife and settle back into a routine to work and school. It simply won’t be the same. They have changed – their world now extends beyond the border of Yellowknife, and most importantly, it includes an understanding of other cultures, other people, other languages, other foods, and how they all blend and work together in our daily lives.

 

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France in Film

Memories of France


These photos were taken a month ago, in Nimes, southern France. While in France, I used a film camera – a crazy idea based on the thought of ‘France in Film’. In a month, used 8 rolls of film – lots of out-of focus photos, lots of too dark or too bright photos (there is no light meter in the camera). The photos that turned out OK are my treasures; no crazy photoshop editing, no multi-photo HDR photo combinations. These are the the natural images – the way it really is. Looking at the photos, I can still smell the Roquefort cheeze, meat sausages, fresh white bread and the herbs.

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The Canadian beach at Juno (Courseulles-sur-Mer)

The Canadian beach at Juno (Courseulles-sur-Mer)

 

It seems like any sandy beach; peaceful and calm. Even the sand dunes and the nearby village – it could be anywhere.

This beach and the beaches along 80km of coastline are the beaches of D-day – June 6th, 1944, the day when Allied Forces attacked Nazi controlled Fortress Europe and began the Liberation of France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Now, there isn’t much to see; all the guns have been removed, the barbed wire, land mines, and beach obstacles have been cleared, the villages re-built – it all seems to normal, so quiet, so peaceful.

On that day, June 6th, 1944 – there was no peace here. At dawn the barrage began, with navy ships firing at the beach, and airplanes dropping bombs on German positions.

Off shore from the beaches in Normandy, soldiers loaded into small landing craft to take them to the beaches. They were soaked, seasick and no doubt scared. Many drowned under the weight of their heavy gear after their boats were hit by German artillery, and machine gun bullets, or their boats impaled on the posts in the shallow water. Those that did make it to the beach had to run up the beach at low tide with no protection from the bullets to attack the German machine gun and artillery positions.

Some beaches were ‘relatively’ easy and re-captured (‘liberated’ with few casualties), where as other beaches were heavily defended or required climbing up a steep cliff and many casualties. The Canadians landed at Juno Beach. Within a few hours they had control of the beach and the inland towns. On those early hours of June 6th, 1944 – 359 Canadians lost their lives, and over 700 wounded.

A few weeks ago , I was here with my children (age 9 and 12). A
pilgrimage of sort, for those that were here on that historic day, for those that lost a family member that day, and for those like my family that have no direct connection to the battle – other than it was Canadian soldiers that arrived at this beach, and Canadian soldiers that liberated the Netherlands in May 1945 (and liberated my grandparents and their 10 year old daughter whom was later to be my mother). It is Possible – some of the very same soldiers that survived the attach on this beach on June 6th 1944 also liberated the Netherlands in May 1945 !.

It is impossible to image what was going through the minds of the young Canadian soldiers as they risked their lives on this beach 71 years ago. Today, those that are living, and those that are not, would certainly appreciate what they see – flags, monuments and streets named in their Honor. The Liberated people of France and the Netherlands have not forgotten the dedication and sacrifice of those Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen that fought and died so that others can live free.

They still say “Merci” or “Dankjewel”, and I do too.

Hot Air Balloons in Goreme (Turkey)

Selected photos of hot air balloons in Goreme, Cappadiccia (Turkey).  All photos taken either while in a hot air balloon, or balloons in-flight – me on Terra Firma.  If you get the chance – do it !

Click on a photo to make it bigger, then click on the small arrows to move to the next photo.

 

 

National Geographic Daily Dozen for April 24, 2015

One of my favorite photos, chosen by National Geographic editors.

Enjoying the sunrise a thousand feet up.

During a hot air balloon ride in Cappadoccia (Turkey) with my family, the kids were on the sunny side of the balloon. With my camera strap wrapped around my wrist, I leaned over the side of the basket and composed this photo.
Enjoying the sunrise a thousand feet up.
Enjoying the sunrise a thousand feet up.

Street Photography – the fleeting moments real life.

Street Photography in Konya, Turkey. The photos are nothing special – not a sunrise or sunset, not a glorious landscape, and not a slow-motion photo of waves on a beach. To some people, these photos are boring, where as to others, those that take the time to slow down, and appreciate the world around us – these photos are the fleeting moments real life.

 

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Call Me ‘Old School’

It is 2015 – and I bought a film camera. Most readers won’t even know what a film camera is. let me put it this way – it is ‘Old School’, just like the rotary telephone, VHS tapes, the ‘walkman’ and LP records.

Yes – I am ‘Old school’. I used all those things as a kid, and now in my adulthood, there is a certain pleasure in using them again.

The camera I bought is as old as I am; there is no autofocus, no flash, no light meter and no batteries. It is a simple, though incredibly heavy – all metal and glass rangefinder camera. There isn’t even any plastic, and not even a place to attach a neck strap – it weights as much as a brick !.

It was made in the USSR, again, most readers won’t even know where that is, unless that happen to have heard the Beatles song…’Back in the USSR…’ (Dad – Who are the Beatles?). The USSR no longer exists, a legacy of the Cold War, and the camera (Revue-3) is based on the German Leica cameras from designed and built before World War 2.

Although I do not expect to get professional quality results from this camera

I do expect to have fun, to play, and feel youthful even a bit nostalgic…