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Jan O'Herne and Tom Ruff

Jan O’Herne was one of thousands of Dutch colonists interned when the Japanese conquered Java on 8 March 1942. On 26 February 1944, Jan and seven other young women from her camp were forcibly installed at a brothel called 'The House of the Seven Seas' at Semarang. She was 21.    

Jan was reunited with her mother and sisters some months later but remained close-lipped about her experiences. The O’Hernes were finally liberated at Batavia (Jakarta) on 15 August 1945.    

Jan emigrated to Australia in 1960 with her husband Tom Ruff, one of the British soldiers who had liberated her family. The public testimony of former Korean ‘Comfort Women’ in the early 1990s finally emboldened Jan to speak out after decades of trauma.    

Jan testified at an International Public Hearing of Japanese War Crimes in Tokyo on 10 December 1992. In 1994, Ruff-O'Herne published her memoir Fifty Years of Silence. She continued to share her story until her death on 19 August 2019. 

Reproduced courtesy of Australian War Memorial 

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