Video: Internment camp survivor in Penticton forgives to heal

Bill Bogaardt and his mother and brother struggled to survive for five years in a Japanese internment camp.

Internment camp survivor Bill Bogaardt with grandchildren Graydon Kulak

Internment camp survivor Bill Bogaardt with grandchildren Graydon Kulak

Bill Bogaardt still bears the scars of the atrocities he endured from his years in Japanese internment camps.

Images of the trucks stopping to pick up the bodies of the children who had died from disease and malnutrition still linger.

Some of those kids were his friends.

The horrific memories of his mother being beaten and tortured while he watched also still haunt him.

That was war through the eyes of a five year old.

Bill was just six months old when he, older brother Ben and mom Louisa were forced to live in the camp after the Japanese occupation of the country in 1942 at the start of the Second World War.

His father Willy, who he would not see again for years, or even recognize when he did, was sent to work in the coal mines of Japan as a prisoner of war.

“I remember always being hungry. We were literally starved very regularly,” recalled Bogaardt. “One of the horrible things I remember most is being fed a little bit of starch like the kind you put in your shirt collar. That was put in a little tin can with bit of brown sugar and that was your meal. Sometimes they starved us for three or four days at a time.”

There were 27 families (women and children) living in the house in the camp where they stayed.

“I also remember the Japanese would open the gates to the camp and a truck would come through with fresh bread and all the children would be swarming behind it thinking they were going to get fed but then the truck would exit the camp and they would close the gates,” said Bogaardt. “It was very difficult seeing the children dying around us, we didn’t understand at the time. The difficulty was with our little friends, we were all running around the houses in the camp and then all of a sudden the little boy or little girl that was your friend wasn’t there any more.

“That was probably the hardest thing and it impacted me psychologically for years after the war.”

In the book, Dark Skies Over Paradise she wrote years later at her son’s urging Louisa recalled one time when she became very ill and was “tired of fighting for life.”

“I remember the innocent, sad looking face of my little one, Wim (Bill) standing in front of me holding his dish with the little extra portion of rice that he had received. He was struggling with feelings of happiness for the extra food and the worry about his mother.

“He looked at Nel (her friend) and said: ‘Is mommy going to die?’”

But Louisa did not die that night and somehow, almost miraculously, the family survived in tact until the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Red Cross reconnected mom and sons with Willy and the three eventually returned to Holland for awhile before moving to Canada three years later in 1957.

Since that time Bogaardt has largely come to terms with the demons of the past, partly through his music but also by doing something much more important.

“You have to forgive,” he said thoughtfully. “It’s very difficult, it’s extremely difficult but you have to let it go, I can’t explain it but it’s something you have to do. You cannot hate if you want to heal.”

His mother and Ben both passed away in 2009 and his father before that.

He and wife Patricia of 47 years, currently have two daughters and enough grandchildren to keep them busy. Plus the reunited (sadly without Ben) Brothers Bogaardt are once again on the music circuit.

Bogaardt’s wish for all children on this Remembrance Day: “To think of the people who died for our freedom. To be respectful of what Canada stands for, to breath the free air, freedom of speech, freedom of movement without bombs falling all around us.

“And rather than think of war I would like our children and grandchildren to think of becoming warriors of peace. That is the legacy I want to leave.”