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"I Ceased to Be A Human Being" -- A WWII Veteran's Ordeal in Japanese POW Camp
   2014-08-15 02:58:30    Xinhua      Web Editor: Guo

WWII veteran Fred Seiker shows a picture of the Thai-Myanmar railway, and a photo taken right after he returned to his home in Worcester, UK, on February 25, 2014. [Photo: Xinhua/Yin Gang]

by Xinhua writer Zhang Jianhua

Nearly 70 years after being freed from a Japanese prisoners of war (POW) camp in the Far East, Fred Seiker is still haunted by nightmares about the atrocities the Japanese military did to him and his fellow POWs.

"You think you have forgotten, but the memories keep flooding back," said the 98-year-old veteran.

Seiker, who now lives with his wife, Elizabeth, in Worcester, England, served in the Dutch Merchant Navy before and during World War II as a qualified Marine engineer.

In 1942, he became a POW of the Japanese military in Bandoeng, Java, soon after the Japanese invaded the island.

Seiker was sent to Thailand to work as a slave laborer to build the notorious Thai-Burma Railway, known as the "Railway of Death," which cost the lives of nearly 18,000 POWs from Britain, the Netherlands, Australia and the United States.

"I don't forgive, for it is not my right to forgive in the name of Harry, Bob, John, Kees, Digger, Lofty, Taffy, Shorty, Texas, Scotty, Paddy, my friends then, my friends still. They have a voice no more."

Thousands of Seiker's fellow POWs were butchered or tortured to death in appalling ways by the Japanese kempeitai (military police) during the building of the Thai-Burma Railway.

The 415-km-long railway was built by the Japanese between June 1942 and October 1943. It was used to transport Japanese supplies and troops to Burma, now known as Myanmar, by connecting Bangkok, Thailand, to Rangoon, now the Myanmar capital of Yangon.

Nearly 62,000 Allied POWs and about 180,000 Asian civilian laborers were forced to work on the railway. An estimated 90,000 Asians and 12,399 POWs died in the course of the project, meaning that one POW perished every 23 meters along the railway track, according to statistics acquired at the end of war.

 

RAILWAY BARBARITIES

The barbarities which occurred during the construction included killing, bayoneting, starvation, sexual abuse and various other harrowing forms of torture as means to punish the POWs and "amuse" the Japanese guards.

"Beheadings of POWs were exercised by the Japanese as a stage show in the camp," Seiker recalled. "The entire camp would be forced to witness these executions, always under threat of armed Japanese guards."

The Japanese would threaten to decapitate a POW if he was found "stealing" so-called Japanese property, "offending" a Japanese officer or trying to escape, among other cases.

Among the most loathsome of tortures a human being can contrive, Seiker found, was being sexually abused by the Japanese guards for their amusement.

The Japanese would send some nude female "nurses" to bathe in the river and make lewd gestures in front of the POWs, while a POW was forced to wash the women's backs.

"If the POW showed even the slightest sign of sexual excitement, the guard would hit his penis with a slender pliable bamboo. The extreme pain and mental humiliation for the POWs was complete, often resulting in permanent physical problems," Seiker explained.

There were also constant fears over epidemics like cholera during which the Japanese guards would retreat to a safe distance while the POWs were locked in the camp to face the disease.

Cholera could kill the POWs in less than 24 hours. Those who died from the epidemic were dumped into fire and incinerated within the confined camp area.

"It was macabre and frightening at first. A corpse would suddenly sit up amidst flames or an arm or a leg would extend jerkily, but even this horror soon became a routine job," the veteran narrated.

Three days after Japan's unconditional surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, some Thai natives told the POWs that the war had ended and the Japanese had gone overnight.

According to Seiker, many of the surviving POWs were plagued by the aftermath of the railway atrocities, some being crippled for the rest of their lives, others suffering mental problems or committing suicide, and many left blind by years of malnutrition and vitamin deficiency.

"My remaining problems are an enlarged spleen, enlarged liver and a permanent disorder of the digestive system as a result of years of dysentery," the survivor said, voicing a measure of luck over his relatively smooth transition to normal life.

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