Jan Ruff-O'Herne

Source:  The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 17 | Issue 19 | Number 1 | Oct 01, 2019

In Memory of Jan Ruff-O’Herne

Yuki Tanaka

A shorter Japanese version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2019 issue of the weekly journal, Shukan Kinyobi (Weekly Friday) in Japan.

On August 19, 2019, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, a Dutch “ianfu” (Japanese military sex slave during the Asia-Pacific War), died in Adelaide, South Australia, aged 96. She was born in 1923 to a wealthy family who owned a sugar-cane plantation and sugar factory near Semarang in central Java in the Dutch East Indies (presently Indonesia). She had spent happy times there up until her late teens, raised by cultured parents and a grandfather who had a rich knowledge of art, music and literature. The sudden invasion of Japanese military forces in March 1942, however, changed everything. At the time, Jan was a student at a Teachers’ College in Semarang.

Her father was drafted into the Dutch military forces in the Dutch East Indies several months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. On Java Island, the Dutch forces soon surrendered to the Japanese and on March 8 about 100,000 Dutch people were detained in either POW camps or civilian internment camps. About 47,000 women and children were separated from the rest of the people and interned in several different camps set up outside Semarang. Jan was sent to one of these - Ambarawa No. 6 Camp - together with her mother and two younger sisters. From then on until the end of the war in August 1945, these internees were forced to live in difficult conditions, with insufficient food and medicine in an extremely unhygienic environment. ...

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