The true and remarkable story of her family’s internment by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies during World War II.
Survivor Helen Colijn’s account of her war time experiences is a window into a largely over looked dimension of World War IIthe imprisonment of women and children in Southeast Asia by the Japanese and how these prisoners of war responded to their dire circumstances. Held in captivity for nearly four years, more than a third of the women in Helen’s camp died of disease or starvation.
Yet their courage, faith, resiliency, ingenuity, and camaraderie provide us with enduring lessons on living. Though they had no musical instruments, the women had their voices, and from memory scored classical works for symphony and piano. The music that helped sustain them while in captivity is a lasting and precious gift of these women to a world that has witnessed far too much war.
Song of Survival inspired the motion picture Paradise Road, starring Glenn Close and a soundtrack of the movie Paradise Road Soundtrack
ENDORSEMENTS & REVIEWS
“The story is about extraordinary women whose lives still influence us.” ~ Glenn Close
“Her account grips the reader from the very first pages.” ~ Library Journal
“An engrossing and inspiring story.” ~ Parade
“A remarkable story of the courage of women who endured and of music’s healing powers.” ~ San Francisco Chronicle
“Song of Survival: Women Interned is less a litany of mistreatment and the horrors of deprivation, and more a remarkable story of the courage of the women who endured, and of music’s healing powers. Colijn, then 21, and her family were swept up in Sumatra by invading Japanese troops right after Pearl Harbor. They were captured after the boat they were trying to escape in was sunk by Japanese fighter planes. Colijn and hers sisters Alette, 15, and Antoinette, 19, were separated from their father, an oil company lawyer, who later died a prisoner, and their mother, a Red Cross nurse.
Eventually, they were crowded into a barracks camp with 600 other Dutch, British, and Australian women and children. The prisoners included the wives of government officials, military personnel and businessmen, as well as teachers, nurses, missionaries and nuns.
More than 200 died before the camp was liberated at war’s end in 1945. Colijn, a tall, thin, reserved woman who favors the long wool stockings and knitted print sweaters of her Dutch heritage, says that from the first days of captivity, many of the women sang or hummed songs together to keep up their spirits.
Before long, a choir of 30 prisoners had formed, and for two years they performed classical music a cappella, simulating the sounds of an orchestra, for the other prisoners. Vocal arrangements were scratched down from memory on smuggled copy books. “It seemed a miracle that among the bedbugs, the cockroaches and the rats, among the smells of the latrines, among the fever, the boils and the hunger pangs, women’s voices could recreate the surging glorious music of Debussy, Beethoven, and Chopin,” recalls Colijn.
The camp guards were furious when they stumbled onto a secret rehearsal. But soon, even some of the Japanese officers were sitting in on the makeshift concerts.
After the war, Colijn wound up in the Bay Area, married and divorced a diplomat, translated and tutored in German and French and led European student tours before she took on her magazine editing job. In 1983, her sister, Antoinette Mayer, of Washington, DC, who had saved the arrangements of the captive choir, donated the frayed manuscript to Stanford University’s music archives. That began a series of events that led to a reunion of nine of the surviving choir members in the Bay Area, largely arranged by Colijn; a recording of the original concert selections by the Peninsula Women’s Chorus, and the filming of a 1986 TV documentary on the choir’s internment in Indonesia, with Colijn as consultant.”
~ Bill Workman, Writer, The San Francisco Chronicle, “Celebrating the Will to Survive”