A dear friend of mine, born in Indonesia of Dutch parents, was caught with her mother in years of concentration camp during her childhood. She missed out on a whole period of life, not only in education and childhood toys and games but in basic nutrition.

A particularly horrifying practice in this particular Japanese camp had to do with the “food” served in bowls to the prisoners. What was offered day by day was a mixture. There was a certain amount of grain, meal, or rice, so that if anyone asked it could be said that enough basic food was being given to prevent starvation. But, as I said, this “food” was a mixture. Castor oil was mixed with all the bowls of mush; the food would therefore he expelled from the body before much nourishment could be absorbed into the system. One by one people died because the castor oil made it impossible for the food to accomplish what it would have accomplished had it been given in its original state.

How was it that this girl, her mother, and some others lived to tell the tale? There was a variety of work to be done, and some people worked in the gardens or in the kitchens, weeding lettuce or peeling vegetables for the non-prisoner’s meals. The little girl’s mother (and others) were able to put bits of food into their mouths and to hide a few leaves of lettuce or scraps of things to share later in the day. At the end of the time they were malnourished and depleted in every way, skin and bones devoid of energy, but they were still aliye and able slowly to gain a measure of health when proper food was provided. The lost years, however, could never be given back in this life, and the physical and psychological scars will never be entirely erased.

“Did you have a good day of prayer?” I asked a ...

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