Pensacola NewsJournal (www.pnj.com), Published – September, 13, 2007 A survivor’s story
When she was 2, Hetty Krucke and her family were taken captive by the Japanese. Hetty Krucke’s “terrible twos” were more terrible than you could dream. The skinny little Dutch girl grew up afraid and hungry. There was no kindergarten or first grade for her, nor the soothing security of home and hearth. Krucke grew up in a World War II prison camp.
Never mind that she was not quite 3 years old when she, her missionary parents and two older siblings were taken captive by Japanese troops in Indonesia, where she remained in a prison camp until she was nearly 7 years old. Never mind that the little girl couldn’t understand war, much less even spell the word. The horrors of war didn’t just hit home. War stole her home. Stole her childhood. Stole her innocence. And the emotional scars remain today.
“I just remember being hungry,” said Krucke, 68, from her home on Perdido Bay. “After a while, it wasn’t even hunger. It was just the lack of energy and always being tired. And that still comes back, that tiredness, like a flashback. Like this luncheon. I’ll have to take a day off afterward just because of the strain.”
The luncheon Krucke talks about is today’s ninth annual POW Luncheon at the Mustin Beach Officers Club at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Krucke is the president of the Pensacola Chapter of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, which is organizing the luncheon along with the Pensacola Council of the Navy League. Krucke doesn’t claim to be a hero because of her captivity. Just a little girl whose family was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The heroes, she said, are the Allied troops who came to liberate her. And the military prisoners of war who had to endure torture and interrogations that she never did.
“What happened to them was much worse,” Krucke said. “The gratitude I feel for those men who fought and suffered and who paid the extra price by being in prison camps . I’m just so grateful. I hate that they had to go through what they did.”
She was Hetty Konemann then. Born in 1939 in Indonesia, she was the third and youngest child of the Rev. Willem and Mien Konemann, Dutch missionaries who had moved from the Netherlands to Indonesia , then a Dutch colony in 1937. In 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and soon after Japanese forces landed in the Dutch-controlled Indies. Fearing confinement or worse, the Rev. Konemann sent his family by boat from their home island of Lombok to Java, thinking that the family would be reunited when the situation was safer.
“The Japanese were already in Java,” she said. “We walked right into it.” The Red Cross was in Java also, and put Hetty, her mother, and her brother and sister up in the home of another Dutch family for safety. Soon, the Japanese had enclosed the neighborhood and confined all movement in and out. They started confiscating money and property from residents. By 1943, the Japanese were rounding residents up and placing them in prison camps.
“It was a chicken-coop type of place,” Krucke said. “There were no mattresses, and had bamboo coverings on the side. It looked like a long barn.”
The family wasn’t alone. There were about 80 others in her barracks. She did have her mother and siblings, and she also had the care and love of her adopted “aunt,” Stans Buning, the Dutch woman who took the Konemann family in when they first arrived in Java. Her father was placed in another prison camp, though at the time the rest of the family had no word on his condition or whereabouts. Throughout her years in captivity, Krucke said her family was moved to four different camps.
“I was just a little girl and very afraid,” she said. “When the Japanese came around, I bowed. I bowed the moment they came in.”
Things were worse for her older brother, Bill, and her adopted “cousin,” Eric Buning, Stans Buning’s son.
“When Bill was 11, he was taken away from the women’s camp, and taken to the men’s camp,” Krucke said. “He had the worst of it. Eric, too. Bill had to bury the dead at his camp. That was his job. Can you imagine an 11-year-old having to bury the dead? He never got over it.”
For years, she lived as a prisoner. Her only toy was a doll her mother and Buning made for her, bartering sugar with another prisoner for the doll’s head, and then making the clothes themselves. If she wanted a dollhouse for her toy, she would make one out of clay.
Allied troops arrived in the Indies near the end of World War II, ending Japanese control of the country. But there were more hardships to bear. Newly liberated from Japan, Indonesian nationalists declared the existence of the Republic of Indonesia and the country’s troubled time known as the Bersiap period began. Indonesians fought for independence from the Netherlands, and most of the Dutch on the islands were confined again. Krucke and her family spent another year in captivity.
In 1946, the family was finally granted freedom. But the confinement had taken its toll. Krucke’s teeth never truly developed, and she lost them all at age 22. She had worms. Her sister, Metty, had beriberi. Her brother came back from the men’s camp with boils covering his body.
“My parents were never normal after that,” she said. “When you see your kids go through these kinds of things. … There were these big blowups with my parents, and that’s not how they were.”
She eventually traveled to the United States on a student visa, and met her future husband, Hans Krucke, while studying at Nyack College in New York. The couple married in 1961 and soon moved to Key West, where Hans Krucke was stationed while serving in the Navy. The Kruckes went on to have three children, all grown and living outside of Pensacola, even though a doctor told her she might not be able to have children because her reproductive organs hadn’t matured enough due to the hardships of her captivity. Hans later became a civil service worker, and the couple settled in Pensacola in 1970.
“I saw her as a strong woman,” Hans Krucke said. “She never complained about her physical condition, even though it was such that she could never hold a full-time job. But she persevered and got through a lot of issues over the years.” And she finally did get some good food, a big change from the slimy, gooey gruel that was a prison camp staple.
“I stayed sick for years,” she said. “Now I have a very good husband who feeds me very well.” “I overdid it,” he said. Both just laughed.
Hetty Krucke’s father died years ago, and her brother died five years ago. Her mother died in the 1980s, and sister Metty lives in the Netherlands. Krucke became a U.S. citizen in 1965. And though she is far removed from those terrible years in captivity, she can never forget.