Veteran Stories:
John Franken


  • Both John Franken and his wife Sonja were POWs during the Second World War. John was held in captivity in Japan, and Sonja survived the horrors of Auschwitz.

    John Franken
  • When Japan was offered a place in the UN Security Council, many Canadian and American veterans called for an apology from the Japanese government for the attrocities committed in POW camps.

    John Franken
  • John Franken's Medals (Left to Right): Star for Order and Peace ("Orde-Vrede") for service in the Dutch West Indies; the War Commemorative Cross 1941-1942; Decoration for Devoted Service.

    John Franken
  • Liberated POWs on a boat from Manilla to Makassar, Indonesia, September 30, 1945.

    John Franken
  • 1946, having been liberated, Mr. Franken marches with the Dutch Navy Airforce.

    John Franken
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"You know, every time the Americans did something very drastic, we’re celebrating, we know the, that freedom was coming soon."


Well, I born as Jacob Herman Franken, but they always called me John because it was for in the Far East too hard to pronounce, so they just called me John. So always I have been John Franken. I born in Semarang in Indonesia but I didn’t grow up there, I grew up in a little place by the name of Purworejo.

I was conscripted in July 1941 and the war broke out on the 7th of December 1941. So I was already in the air force when the war broke out. The war was broken out on the 8th of December, 7th of December 1941 and in March 1942, we got the sign that the war was going to be ended, because the Japanese were much stronger; we were to be evacuated to Australia, to finish our mechanical course. And we were put with 18 guys in the middle of a dog fight above the airport to bring 600 kilometres away to a little harbour from where we would be boarding a boat to bring us to Australia to finish our course.

Big warships came across with big torpedoes right pointed at us and the men standing at the rear and, facing us. Because we were just a merchant marine boat, you know, like with one little canon in the front and the rest was just a merchant marine. So we had nothing aboard for fighting or anything like that so we thought, well this is it. So then we said, okay, we were four of us, let’s go to the other side of the boat and jump overboard. When we came on the other side, there were also big cruisers waiting, looking at us. But also the sea was full of sharks, so that was no good to swim there too.

And we were about 300 people aboard, all the burners, mechanics with officers and not officers. And in the morning, 11:00, a plane came over, a Japanese plane, so we know we were recorded that there is a boat there and soon we were just, when we saw the cruisers coming up, we sat, and praying that they were Americans but it was not, it was Japanese. They came aboard and they said, no, you are not anymore in the forces, you are prisoners of war.

I only recall that the Japanese commander ordered from below deck a box with liquor, wine I think it was and he said, everybody will get a cup and drink a cup of wine. So we said, hey, what’s going on here. So when we drink the wine, the commander said, now you have just drunk to the fall of the Dutch East Indies. So a lot of people throwed away the wine or spit it out. And we landed in Makassar. There we were put to work, slave labour. Clean up the buildings what the Americans destroyed with their bombings. We were once sent to the, the commander, as they needed some telegraphists. So a whole lot of people said, oh, listen, telegraphists, maybe we can get some news from outside, you know. After the group was assembled, he said, okay, now you can carry telegraph poles. So we had to carry poles, wooden poles, where we make wires to telegraph installation.

We landed in Makassar. We were taken to … Oh, they were really beating us up, you know, like if you don’t follow and counting and counting and counting all over. We were brought to a women’s prison for the first three nights. I think I forgot, it was maybe a week. Anyway, we were at a women’s prison and one room for 30 people, we were 180 people. So there was no room to, to sit, you know, like somebody have to stand up. We were just packed together, body to body. There was one big pail to urinate and we were just waiting for the following day, because it was around midnight. And we would then have three or four days, I think we were in that camp there where people coming in from other boats who were captured from another war, sea fight, what do you call it? You know, they had to fight, the other boats were fighting. And those prisoners of war crime came also in. And then an officer, Japanese officer came by and he said something and one of the prisoners said, you look at those bastards or something like that in English. It happened that this Japanese officer understood English, he took the guy out and he beat him up.

Well we were working outside and we were building schools for the sex slaves, well, we were ordered to work in schools to make partitions so that the girls have a little privacy. And the girls were picked up from the street. So we were just working with the school. They brought to the hospital for checkup for venereal disease and then they were put in those schools, waiting for the soldiers to come. And my job was to... put up a, a towel about 15 feet long, made of very soft material, across the room and after every soldier, the woman or the girl then has to walk across it to wipe off the semen and waiting for the next soldier. It was, and they were crying for help, you cannot describe those things. It’s beyond imagination. This is what people do to other people.

Three months before the end of the war, we were working there at a shipyard, day in and day out and on punishment if you don’t, you have to work, really work. If you don’t, they come down and beat you up. And we were in Nagasaki in the shipyard; we were allowed only one bath a week. Because if you’re dirty and you go in the bath, the first people get the clean water and the rest of them get the rest. We have about 1,000 people in the camp so you know, like it’s not funny. So we shift every week another room will get the first to be in the bath. So now when we heard it was a coal mine, where they can have a bath every day because you’re completely black of the coal, we said, well, we said, why not, we’ll work in the coal mine. So they asked for volunteers, so I volunteered to go to the coal mine. Just for the bath.

But I was in the coal mines down below and we did know nothing about the atomic bombs. We know it was bombs, they were bombing day and night and we know the planes are flying over. But when the bombs hit Nagasaki, I was on the nightshift. And I think it was 11:00 or something like that. So when we came up, we didn’t see much, we were too far away from the atomic bomb. But we saw the, the smoke in the distance and we said, my gosh, so they must have hit an ammunition dump and we were enjoying it. You know, every time the Americans did something very drastic, we’re celebrating, we know the, that freedom was coming soon.

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