Lost Childhood is the vivid, first-hand account of the horrors of war through the eyes of a child. This real-life memoir breaks a 60-year silence to tell one woman’s riveting story of prisoner life during World War II. As a little Dutch girl in Indonesia, Annelex Hofstra’s comfortable world was torn apart when she and her family were sent to Japanese prison camps for three and a half years.
The story begins in 1942 when four-year-old Annelex is living on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Her grandfather is a successful planter, and her father is a pilot instructor in the Royal Netherlands Navy. But her carefree childhood ends as the Japanese invade Java, and along with 10,000 other Dutch residents, Annelex’s family is rounded up. With few belongings, they are shipped off to interment camps, to a helpless, unknown future.
In a shockingly honest narrative, we learn of the tactics used by their captors to dehumanize the Dutch prisoners. We learn of the grinding daily routine of the prisoners, the food rations, the sleeping arrangements, and the awful sanitary conditions. We share in Annelex’s near-death bout with malaria. We also share some of the awful things she witnessed—extracting parasitic worms from a fellow-prisoner’s throat; the agonizing death by starvation of women punished for stealing food; and the sight of bodies being piled high on a truck.
Eventually the hell ends and the family is liberated. But the girl’s personal hell plagues her in freedom. Just days after she is reunited with her father, he is killed in an explosion. World war is replaced by civil war in Indonesia, forcing the family to flee first to Holland and then to the U.S., where the family tries to mend their broken lives.
For 60 years Annelex Hofstra Layson has repressed her early memories, shielding even her husband and children from the horrors of her past. With Lost Childhood, her harrowing ordeal is finally revealed. The author shares her story now to provide hope in young lives torn apart by war, and to inspire future generations to work for peace.