The book that took me two days to read…

The Book Fifty days of Silence (2008 updated)

Author (s) Jan Ruff  – O’ Herne

What it says on the back cover

How can you tell your daughters? Your grandchildren? I mean, the shame, the shame was still so great. I knew I had to tell them but I couldn’t tell them face to face so I decided to write all down.

Jan Ruff O’ Herne’s idyllic childhood in Dutch colonial Indonesia ended when the Japanese invaded Java in 1942. She was interned in Ambarawa Prison Camp along with her mother and two younger sisters.

In February 1944, when Jan (pronounced as Yon) was just twenty-one, she was taken from the camp and forced into sexual slavery in a brothel for the Japanese military where she was repeatedly beaten and raped for a period of three months. She was then returned the prison camp with threats that her family would be killed if she revealed the truth about the atrocities inflicted upon her.

For fifty years, Jan told no-one  of her wartime experiences, but in 1992, after seeing Korean war rape victims making appeals for justice on television, she decided to speak out and support them. Before she could testify publicly, though. she had to find a way to tell her family and friends about all that she had suffered.

Jan’s survival is a tribute to her inner strength and deep faith. For the past fifteen years, she has worked tirelessly to protect the rights of women in war and armed conflict.

This is a moving and emotional account of the trauma and terror Jan Ruff- O’Herne endured as a young ‘comfort woman’. Her story conveys the pain and humiliation of sexual servitude. – THE AGE

This is an important book … Do read it, – THE CANBERRA TIMES

What made me book up this book

Recently I was asked to write-up a number of letters that a WW1 solider had written to his wife while at war. After researching this man’s journey and having the opportunity to do this for the veteran I found myself more and more interested in what went on in both wars one and two.

This book is set in WW2 and in a time when Indonesia was dominated by the Dutch people of Holland.Both the Indonesians and the Dutch people lived together harmoniously before it was invaded by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies in 1942. Many like Jan, had been brought up in Java one of the islands in Japan and it was home to many from as early as the late sixteenth century which made Java and other Indonesian islands their home. Jan’s family was one of many, and Jan herself a fourth generation of a Dutch colonial family.

About the book

This book takes us back to a time when Japan occupied Indonesia in the 1942 and where many Dutch were sent away to prison camps and lost their lives and homes to Japanese occupation. Being of a nice family and having an idyllic childhood, Jan was accustomed to having servants working in her household who were like family to her own. Sadly that was all about to change and Jan’s life came crashing down when she and her mother and two younger sisters were sent to a prison camp and later Jan to a brothel which was known as the House of the Seven Seas which she was held against her will for a period of three months.

Jan’s story talks about the her life inside the prison known as Ambarawa and how those that were held survived on little and did whatever was necessary to survive. One day Jan and her fellow inmates were given spades in order to grow vegetables for a garden but the ground and soil was so hard that it was hardly a ground that would show much chance of success of growing anything and plants often would wither up and hardly have a chance to grow properly due to the lack of food.  Vegetables such as cabbages that were planted and were pulled out by those who were hungry  even before the they could reach their full growth and size.

Fifty years of Silence was an easy book for me to read and maybe it was because of my love of this history and learning of people who have suffered hardship and lives that have shaped the way they are. I enjoyed this book despite it horrific contents as it showed me another side of war, another side to the women, that was somewhat unlike the War Brides book I have reviewed recently.  Jan shows us that war is something we never think will happen in our own worlds yet when it is inflicted on us, we make the best out of the situation and although what she went through and endured over those three months was horrific, Jan was able to forgive the Japanese but never forget. It was her faith that kept her strong, it was also a strong belief that she would be reunited with her family again. For me it was kept me turning page after page much in the way I did in Judith Kelly’s book I reviewed in Rock me Gently.

Is this book worth buying?

As I have a rather well established ‘library’ of my own I try not to buy too many books now days or at least get rid of some that are ones that I have not touched after purchasing them at a book fair etc… and are selecting books from my local library.

This book however is a book that is worth purchasing if you have a deep connection to war and would like a book which views it from a woman and of a part of war crime that is unthinkable, unbelievable and hard to imagine could happen to anyone. But this is no ordinary book, it is as if Jan is talking to you as you read it and much of what she discusses in her book, she explains in the documentary that I recommend that you watch after reading my review. Jan’s book opened my eyes again to the trauma of war, the reality of what went on and the stories that many of us did not or at least did not want to know what really went on. Jan’s book is tender, it is also emotional and it is filled with love for Christ and her family and friends.

There are so many points in it that she makes seem positive in such a negative atmosphere as she speaks of fondness for her family, her friends, the other “comfort” women that she embraced and met from other parts of the world.  Jan did not want to inflict pain onto her family when she wrote her story, she wanted to let go of something that she held onto for almost fifty years. To keep a secret for that long is something which needed to be heard, and I can appreciate why she reached out to the Korean women when she heard their own stories of what happened to them and the so-called ‘comfort’ women who were used as sex slaves throughout this war. Jan had forgiveness in her heart, but never forgot the atrocities and suffering she and many others endured, whether as a ‘comfort’ women or as a person who went to, lived through, or was somehow connected with yet another world war.

To watch Jan’s story please refer to this clip from You Tube


“The Japanese never seemed to talk to us when giving orders, they always had to shout… no reasons were given… we were not told where we were going. We were terrified” ( Jan Ruff O’ Herne- Fifty Years of Silence, 2008)

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