I wish for you my friend
This happiness that I’ve found;
You can depend on God
It matters not where you’re bound,
I’ll shout it from the mountain top
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on.
I struggled to come up with an introduction for sweet Miss Olga’s story. Nothing I write could possibly do her story justice; a story of tragedy, war, love, uncertainty, and redemption. The only way that I can think to preface it, is by explaining how Olga started the interview.
I had only briefly explained to her what I was trying to accomplish when I set up our meeting over the phone. But when I arrived at her house that day, she had already prayed about our time together, and shared the lyrics to the above hymn with me. Her face lit up when sharing how passionate she is about “passing it on” to the next generation. I then sat riveted in my seat for the next hour as she told her life story, in the sweetest Dutch accent one could imagine…
Olga was born in Indonesia in 1925. At that time, Indonesia was a Dutch colony. Olga’s family had lived there for as far back as she knew.
She was the middle child, having a sister four years older, and a brother four years younger. She had an unconventional childhood, much of which was spent in a home run by the Salvation Army. Her father had been an alcoholic, and her mother had left the family after, in a drunken rage, he had attempted to kill her.
Olga described the Salvation Army home as a place where, while they were well taken care of, she often felt lonely. She, her brother and sister all lived in separate buildings, so while they were all in the same area, she never felt like she grew up with them.
“I was six years old when we arrived at the Salvation Army. And at first I couldn’t fall asleep without a good night kiss. So my sister and I, we would get together at a certain place…I just couldn’t sleep, I cried. So she would come and give me a goodnight kiss.”
I asked Olga what they did for fun growing up there. She paused for a long time, almost as if at first she couldn’t think of anything.
“My sister was into dolls and sewing. But that was not for me. I was an observer. By nature, a researcher. As young as I was, I would look out from our playground and observe the surrounding homes and would think of what it would be like to live in a home like that with a father and a mother.”
She then sat for another moment and let out a huge belly laugh and said:
“I loved Sunday school. I took it all in, couldn’t wait for it. Then I started preaching. If I saw a little dead bug, I started to have a funeral. That was my fun. Have a funeral for a dead bug.”
While the home of the Salvation Army had provided a good, safe place for Olga to grow up, it didn’t give her what she needed to continue with school. After elementary school, one needed money to attend private school in order to pursue an education. This seemed like a hopeless possibility for Olga; until her grandmother passed away, and God intervened.
At her grandmother’s funeral, she met aunts and uncles that she had never met before. They took an interest in her, and ultimately two of her uncles agreed to pay for private school. In addition to now having school paid for, another aunt and uncle agreed to take her in.
For the first time, Olga finally had a home. Something that at least resembled what she had pictured in her mind. To top it off, attending private school gave her more opportunities than she could ever dream.
“In school, I had the minimum of everything. Clothes and what not. But I befriended two filthy rich friends…I became the third daughter of the very wealthy family. They took me on airplane rides, on business trips, they took me to their mountain retreat with swimming pools and tennis courts. I sat with them in their limousine.”
From giving a funeral for a dead bug for fun, to riding in a limousine, the restoration of Olga’s childhood could almost be a scene from Annie. And for a while, Olga could have a “normal” childhood, until the start of World War II.
“Our world was completely devastated.”
Olga was 17 years old at the start of the war. Indonesia was isolated from much of the rest of the world. Making it, as Olga described, a hopeless place.
Indonesia was controlled by the Japanese. And all of the men were taken away, including all boys age 13 and above, followed by women and children who were European born.
For four years, Olga’s community survived in desperate, and dire conditions. When looking back on it, she couldn’t even tell me how they managed to live through it.
Ultimately, the Japanese surrendered, but while the war was over, the struggle for Olga and her family was not. The fall of the Japanese brought a time of instability to the region while they waited for the command to be taken over by the Allies. A group of Indonesian rebels, on a mission for Indonesian independence, rose up, and they were targeting the Dutch.
“They came from door to door. We had to turn in our scissors and knives. In the meantime, we saw the parade through our street with machetes. We thought that maybe they were waiting for dark to kill us. So my aunt took me aside, she said ‘If they kill us, we go home to our heavenly home, so don’t be afraid.’ Well, I was petrified.”
Olga and her family had already been prepared for the possibility of being taken. She went and got her bag, filled with her diploma, birth certificate and toothbrush, and helped her aunt push what little furniture they had left in front of the door.
“We heard shooting and shouting. We saw a little open pick up truck with Japanese, and they were shooting those rebels away. We saw some neighbors running to the truck. The Japanese didn’t want us, they only came to shoot the rebels away. But the neighbors thought ‘Hey, you won’t get rid of us.’ So they climbed on the truck. The three of us, we were ready to be taken anyway and had our little bag, and we ran with our neighbors to the truck. And don’t ask how but we got on there. We assembled a human haystack.”
In an ironic turn of events, the allied forces had sent the Japanese to defend the Dutch.
“The Japanese, who killed four men in my life, saved my uncle, my aunt and myself.”
Olga was 21 when she was saved by the Japanese, and while she had already lived through more than most of us will in a life time, her story was just beginning.
This is part one of a two part story. Click here to read more; including Olga’s rescue from a refugee camp, finding and losing love, and ultimately discovering a place of her own in America.