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What a Concentration Camp cost me personally

Identical twins Maria and Kommie were separated in life first by marriage and then by war. My grandfather, a young Architectural-Engineering graduate of the Indonesian University sent for his sweetheart in Holland to follow him to Indonesia in the 1930's. Together they established a family and my grandfather project-managed many buildings, runways, bridges and other infrastructure until he was captured by the Japanese and placed into a concentration camp just after blowing up a strategic runway that the Japanese had hoped to use to capture Indonesia.


Marina Shearer speaking at the Refill your Cup Day in the Hurunui about the importance of knowing your story and the loss of her grandmother Kommie deVries aged 30.


Shortly after my grandfather was taken to the first camp my father was born, and his mother was placed into a Japanese supervised hospital where there was no medication to treat her Rheumatoid Arthritis. After a few weeks all the patients were transferred to a camp at Ambarawa where the doctor was expected to run a hospital of sorts within the camp. Here my grandmother was cared for to the best of the doctor's capacity and her other two children were overseen by other women in the camp.


Sadly just before the announcement of their liberty came through my grandmother died and when the Red Cross were charged with the job of reconnecting families a 12 year old daughter, an 8 year old son and my father aged 4 were sent with two Indian soldiers for a 2 day trip that involved a train, a plane, and a ship to reunite the children with their father who had survived his internment in another camp.


What came next were several years of recovery; emotional, physical and mental. My father was sent to his grandparents farm in the north of Holland to recover his strength; deemed too weak to attend school his only goal was to eat, drink milk and build strength. His eyes had suffered, his bones had suffered and he was deemed to be underweight and under-developed.


What happened next would become the next level of trauma; his father decided to relocate his surviving family to Tasmania to begin a new life, my father was now deemed well enough to begin his first experience of schooling at the age of 8. On his first day at school he spoke only Dutch and was caned by the Principal for not speaking English. Consequently he learned English very fast but not quite fast enough to respond quickly enough to his first snake warning.


My father's childhood in Tasmania was a mixture of trauma and survival; his father spent his life rebuilding his own shattered world and attempting to gain credibility in Australia with credentials that were not acknowledged there. The quote "every man for himself" could be used to describe the survival story of this family; each member attempting to make the best of their lives without their mother. At 26 he met my Mother and they were married in 1968 and I came along in 1969.


Many children lose their mothers in tragic circumstances and many people experience trauma at every stage of their childhood. What I know is that the trauma that is experienced at childhood impacts the life of the adult and the parent that they become is deeply affected by their own trauma and loss. Post second world war did anyone qualify for counselling? Did anyone think that soldiers or children or mothers or parents dealing with loss needed help? This was the age of "pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile smile smile." In other words toughen up and move on. What I know for sure is that this is a disaster of a concept. Not talking about the past, not acknowledging grief, not mentioning the names of those who had died - these were strategies that did nothing but add to the trauma.


As adults we are all making sense of our own childhoods, our own parenting journeys, our own careers and our own mental, social, spiritual and physical wellbeing. We are responsible for who we become as a result of what we have experienced. We might have experienced and survived devastating situations but surviving does not mean thriving. Because we are alive it does not mean we are well. Each of us is needs to consider the level at which we want to operate; do I want to survive my life? Or do I want to do better than this? As for me; I want to thrive not just survive.


As a result of my experiences and the training I have received I have created a "Thrive and Revive" workshop that I now offer to organisations where I dig into our personal responsibility, our body budget and the requirements of Thriving that trump surviving. On completion of the workshop participants have an action plan of what they need to address so that they can Thrive and Revive in all aspects of their lives.



BSc.psychology, Diploma Professional Coaching, Master Trainer

Marina is a coach, professional development expert, and facilitator who specialises in helping people develop themselves so they can be the best version of themselves and conduct their personal and professional lives more effectively.

Learn more about her HERE


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