Mother's Christianity* helped Centerville woman survive war in Java
BY LOUISE SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
BOUNTIFUL — Her story was heart-wrenching at times, heart-warming at others.
She told of the horrors of war mixed with the beauties of human goodness.
She told of the deep sorrow at seeing a life lost and the sublime joy of being free after years in a concentration camp.
For an hour and a half, Centerville resident Kitty deRuyter-Bons shared the story of her life with women gathered for a Relief Society meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bountiful.
It was a story of hardships mixed with kindnesses, of losses mixed with miracles.
Her journey began in Java, which was then in the Dutch East Indies and is now Indonesia.
When the Japanese took over the island during World War II, her family was placed under house arrest and then moved to a concentration camp.
Much of the story of her early years is a tribute to her mother, Anna, whose foresight, courage and fortitude protected her family and taught them valuable lessons.
Because of a dream, deRuyter-Bons’ mother had put supplies of food and clothing in a hidden bomb shelter with a passage to her home, enabling the family to survive when they were under house arrest.
Natives of the island, who had benefited from the generosity of deRuyter-Bons’ parents in teaching them to read and write, also supplied food and information surreptitiously to the family.
When deRuyter-Bons’ was eight and a half years old, her family was sent to a concentration camp, each child prepared with a packet of supplies in a pillowcase. Her mother, who had been trained in pharmaceuticals, took a medical kit.
While behind barbed wire, her mother “continued to teach us the ways of God by her example of righteous living,” she said.
Scripture reading continued despite threats, and prayers of gratitude for life, food and water and pleas for the protection of other family members were offered morning and night.
“People asked why we were so foolish to risk our lives and pray to a God who apparently did not hear us,” said deRuyter-Bons. But the prayers continued, and when the prisoners were forced to watch atrocities, the children would turn to face their mother, who would tell them stories of Jesus.
“She took us from the reality of the moment to a wonderful place where Jesus had taught and prayed,” she said, “a holy place, a place of peace.”
Her mother taught them not to judge, even when they saw people taking food from their own children.
“Only God has the power to know what is in their minds,” she told her children.
She taught them to love their enemies.
“How she knew her scriptures and was able to get real strength from them in her time of need,” said Kitty.
One time of need came when Anna was asked to select girls between the ages of 14 and 18 to be used as prostitutes for a retreat of their captors.
DeRuyter-Bons’ mother took scissors and a razor from her medical kit and shaved the hair of 60 young women, then covered their bodies with an odorous, poisonous plant, dirt and mud.
“Punishment was inevitable,” said Kitty, and it was horrific.
After her public torture, a bullhorn was put to her mother’s lips.
“My God has sanctified some things in our lives and virtue is one of them,” she said.
She was then placed in a narrow pit for two weeks, but thanks to unseasonable rain, she survived.
DeRuyter-Bons told of how her mother grasped a drawn sword between her hands to save her daughter’s life. She told of a sacrifice from her nanny that later saved her family from destitution.
Finally, she told of the ultimate sacrifice of an American soldier who had parachuted in with other Americans to free the camp, and the tender care her mother gave to him as he died.
One of her brothers died in captivity. Her father survived but died from injuries received at the hands of his captors shortly after their family was reunited.
“Teach your children about the precious gift of freedom,” she told the women gathered. “Freedom is never free. Someone always has to pay the price for it.”
She challenged the women to respect the flag and the Constitution and to treasure their American citizenship.
“True democracy is a gift from God,” she said. “This is the land of the free because of the brave.”