Sunday, November 17, 2013
Changi Museum and Chapel - Singapore
I've been honoured to meet WWII soldiers who fought the Japanese in Asia. I have even been honoured to have personally met those who were interred in this infamous Changi Prison. In my work with Veterans Affairs Canada I heard the stories of several vets, one who had been tortured horribly tortured in Changi. King Rat, the James Clavell novel, was written about Changi Prison.
The British garrison at Singapore was made up of Australians, English, East Indians and local Malay. Some Canadians were there too. The Japanese were particularly brutal to the Chinese. The museum was well organized and set up. Both disturbing and uplifting I couldn't help but remember the man who I'd seen who said he'd found Jesus as a prisoner of the Japanese. There were pictures of the camps and the POWs, with notes and even the makings of an illegal radio used to hear the BBC. Women were incarcerated there too and quilted. The quilts were a way for them to get their names out so someone knew they were still alive. Only a few of the quilts remain today.
I had the audio tour machine which was keyed by number to different exhibits. Listening, I heard the actual recordings of those who'd survived, as I looked at evidence of the horros they'd lived through. These were amazing men and women told their own story in their own words. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I looked and listened. All manner of things were made in the prison, tin boxes, crosses, shoes, etc. People just got by. All were starving.
The chapels was especially inspiring. A man dying of malaria had painted the story of Christ's birth and resurrection. One painting done for the chapel wall by this fellow, who miraculously survived, showed Jesus on the cross with the words , Forgive them for they know not what they do.
I prayed alone there for all the men and women who survived and died.
I was particularly disturbed though by a Japanese exhibit of paper foldings for a girl with leukaemia there in the chapel. It had supposedly been donated to the Changi Prison exhibit for 'peace'. These gaudy loud paper strings were all over the altar and the chapel. I couldn't help but think it was evidence of the Japanese becoming again violent and intrusive with no respect for others.
I thought of the Japanese shrine at Suicide Cliff in Saipan. The Japanese had killed themselves rather than be captured, believing that allies would treat their prisoners as they'd treated theirs. I wondered how they'd feel if put up a Daffy Duck there, so one could rub his belly for luck. I wonder what the Jews would think if the Germans put up signs in Auschwitz celebrating German superstitions. I'd just read Tom Clancy's, Debt of Honor ,about the Japanese again attacking their neighbours, while claiming they were victims. Well here they were in Changi Chapel bullying their way into the limelight just as Clancy had feared.
I couldn't think any of the survivors, no matter how tolerant they are, the Chinese especially, or the gentle East Indians, the Christian Brits and the camaraderie Aussies, would be if they recognized the political arrogance made in this supposedly innocent 'gesture'. The rewriting of history is diabolical and insidious. I understand seeing this Japanese affront to the memories of the dead, the message of Remembrance Day "lest we forget". It won't be long before the Nazis and Japanese Imperialists have everyone believing that they were the victims. No surprise nations do as humans do. We like to whitewash those places in history where we misbehaved badly. I just wish people would someday learn not to shit where they eat.
I love that the world is getting along and we're all forgiving each other. Peace is wonderful. I was part of an organization of doctors who got the Nobel Prize for our work on peace and against nuclear war. I just think that Heavy Metal bands don't belong in the Library and that silly Japanese sentimentalism has no place in the chapel of soldiers who died or survived the most brutal of torture.
I loved most the picture of "Two Malarias and a Cholera". It's Australian POW Ray Parker that painted this after begging the Japanese to let him help the worst men back from the work camp. Finally the commandant agreed to allow the sick to help the sick. 2 men with malaria tried carrying their worse off mate with cholera back to the camp. The three of them fell over until eventually a stretcher party brought back the cholera victim.
The Japanese policy was to let the soldiers have 2 weeks of "fun" when they took over a town. The killings, rape, and bedlam terrorized the survivors. Then they'd restore strict order. The women were violated repeatedly. One exhibit was of the girls who, all virgins, had been put to work as prostitutes for the Japanese army.
The happiest saddest picture was of a British soldier and his wife who had been interred in separate camps but survived and were reunited. So many people died of the cruelty.
The paintings done in the chapel had been painted over and found when someone noticed the colour when this overlay of paint chipped away. A search then began for the painter who was eventually found. He was involved in the restoration though died during this process.
Even now I have tears thinking of those people who rise above the terrors and sorrow. Victor Frankl, psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, spoke to this. I struggle some days with my own little burdens but these men and women have raised the bar and show us what is possible. I want to love and endure as they have, with faith and perseverance.
I"m so thankful for the opportunity to have known some of those. I'm so grateful to have been able to come to this wonderful chapel and museum.
The staff were so helpful. I loved the gift shop to with books there of the history of Changi. There was artwork too of those who turned to art to deal with the pain and suffering. It was amazing to see what those who survived had accomplished after this horror. All things are possible in God's world.
(They didn't allow photographing in the museum. I took a picture of the cross that was made