IN 1942, the Japanese invaded Malaya, and thus began three-and-a half years under the rule of a nationalistic and iron-fi sted army. This year is the 70th anniversary of the fall of Malaya to the Japanese. Stories abound of how Malayans at that time were treated and how many escaped the suffering and torture under the Japanese. MICHELLE CHUN speaks to four people who lived to tell their stories.
Chye … I will never forgive the Japanese.
His entire family was massacred that day but he managed to survive, all because his quickthinking mother – who was heavily pregnant at that time – shielded him with her body.
It was her act of sacrifice that saved his life. “My mother threw herself on top of me, and as the soldier stabbed her, the knife went through her and into me too. After the third stab, which was to my side, I fainted.
“When I woke up, an old man from the village who had found me told me to follow him, so I turned to my mother and pulled her arm, telling her it was time to go.
“But the old man said, ‘Your mother is dead, we must leave her’,” he said with glistening eyes.
Clad in a patterned shirt and black trousers, Seow sat on a plastic stool next to his mixed rice stall in Section 19 as he recalled the events as if they had happened just yesterday. Of the 600 villagers bayoneted that day, only five survived.
“We wanted to make a run for the hills, but suddenly heard the footsteps of Japanese soldiers, and quickly played dead until they left.”
Another survivor who lived to tell his tale is Chye Kooi Loong, who was 12 years old when the war broke out.
“It seemed like a dream when we heard the Japanese had reached Malaya, we always thought the war would stay in China. My father was an accountant, a rare profession in those days, so we were evacuated to the hills of Kampar,” the 83-year-old said in a phone interview.
He attended a Japanese school because all students who attended were given weekly rations of rice, sugar, and coconut oil.
“In school, we were taught that people from the Land of the Rising Sun were very courteous, but it was the exact opposite – there was a lot of violence and killing. One thing I cannot forget is when a village ‘aunty’ objected to Japanese soldiers taking her chickens, and was killed. Killed over chickens!” he said.
However, not all Malayans experienced the hardship Chye and Seow faced at the hands of the Japanese. One of them is Datuk Zainul Aziz, who worked as an assistant at the Japanese Naval Hospital in Penang.
“At that time, all of us had to attend Japanese school, and everybody had to work otherwise there would be no food on the table.
“I went for an interview at the hospital, and even though I was 13 the doctors employed me to help treat the wounds of Japanese soldiers and learn about medicine,” the 84-year-old said in a phone interview.
Zainul said that he has no ill-feelings towards the Japanese because he did not suffer much at their hands, having been given food and rations while working in the hospital.
“My family members also did not suffer much as they went to work for the Japanese,repairing ships and such.”
Another survivor, Elijah Tay, 79, also did not bear the brunt of the Japanese army’s violence throughout the
“The Japanese invaded Malaya when I was about eight; we hid in a rubber estate for three months before coming out,” he told the Sun in his Malacca home on Feb 4.
“My mother would play the piano in my father’s Chinese school, which had closed down, and a Japanese soldier heard her playing one day and came in to listen.
“He became a friend of my father’s, helping him to open a private school in Labis, where my mother taught the students Japanese songs for the annual concert,” he said.
When the Japanese army heard the students sing, Tay recalled, they were so impressed the captain ordered that no one was to enter the school without his permission.
“Elsewhere, the Japanese were killing, looting and raping.
“What happened to us was nothing less than a miracle,” Tay said.
It is because of the atrocities committed by the Japanese that forgiveness is difficult for many survivors, even today.
“I will never forgive the Japanese; I cannot be friendly with them because I cannot forget what they did,” Chye said.
Seow, on the other hand, said today’s eneration cannot be blamed for the acts of those in the past.
“I have forgiven them, I suppose. We cannot blame the Japanese today for what was done before, and many have shown remorse. When I visited Japan, four ex-soldiers who were part of the Japanese army to Malaya knelt in front of me and begged for forgiveness,” he said.
But for Chye and many others, an official apology from the Japanese government is a necessary first step towards closure.
“The Japanese need to formally acknowledge and admit they committed atrocious crimes during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, and not that we were treated well as is currently written in their history books,” he said.
For the first time ever, eyewitness accounts of the events that occurred in Malaya during Japanese
rule have been preserved in a video documentary, produced by History Asia in conjunction with FINAS, Novista and Primeworks Studio. The documentary, Rising Sun over Malaya, will premiere
on History Channel (Astro Channel 555) on Feb 15 at 10pm.