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Deported of Indochina: "We Are Forgotten Ones of History"

Jérôme Jadot, Cécile Mimaut
www.franceinfo.fr "Les déportés oubliés d'Indochine"
(April 21, 2016)

National Remembrance Day of the Deportation will honor the victims of Nazi concentration camps this Sunday, but it does not officially concern other deported victims of World War II, whom we have hardly heard about.  Between March and September 1945, 15,000 French were imprisoned in Japanese camps in Indochina.  Interview with a survivor of those camps.

According to the Federation of the Networks of the Resistance in Indochina, he is the last survivor of the Japanese camps where torture was practiced. Raymond Bonnet is 93 years old. Little grey mustache put atop a slender figure with long bony arms. Since the death of his wife last year, he lives alone in a pretty pavilion in Antibes with memories that sometimes brutally escape and then recall, especially some sketches of the camp where he was detained.

“Here is the kind of cell where we were; the big wooden bars, a room that was four meters by three or so.  These were cages.  We got in through a wicket which was about 50 centimeters.  We went in and out on all fours in there.  We did not have the right to lie down; we did not have the right to have our backs against the wall.  We had to stay in the middle of the room.  We had the right to have two rice balls per day, the size of an egg. That's all we had to eat.  I lost 25 or 30 kilos, I think,” said Raymond Bonnet.

When he was released in September 1945 after the Japanese capitulation, the 23 year-old young man weighed about 40 kilos.

The former lawyer François Cartigny pressed a case for the two former Indochina combatants to be recognized as “dead during the deportation.”  He asks that the Day in Remembrance of the Victims of the Deportation to be namely extended to the deported of Indochina.

Raymond Bonnet was arrested in March 1945.  When Japan took control of Indochina, almost all 22,000 French civilians living there were put under house arrest and another 15,000, many of them, soldiers, were jailed.  It was the case of Raymond Bonnet.  The young Resistance fighter had been parachuted only a few days earlier to help to mount a network. Betrayed, he fell into the hands of the Japanese political police, the dreaded Kempeitai, the equivalent of the German Gestapo.  He was beaten, tortured.  He particularly underwent several waterboarding.

“I was tied to a ladder and they had a cloth which they put on my face. I remember very well, a faucet, a water pipe, and the guy who was pouring the water permanently until we were strangled, drowned with water... it was very hard,” recalls painfully Raymond Bonnet.

Then, they changed his detention place several times.  Unlike at least 350 other deportees, he survived, despite festering wounds, dysentery, malaria, and even a death sentence which had no time to be executed.

Today, Raymond Bonnet feels that he has been forgotten. Yet he has received several decorations, medal of the Resistance, Cross of War.  But in the evening of his life, after a career in the car dealership, the old man has the impression that this part of History has been discarded, he says. A few years ago, therefore, he strongly wanted to tell about his deportation in a book.*

“I wanted to write because people do not know what happened in Indochina.  I wanted people to know what happened.  People did not care because it was the end of the war in Europe.  People had suffered from it.  They probably wanted to leave all of it behind,” says Raymond Bonnet.

According to historians, a lack of interest accentuated by the fact that the postwar period was dominated by gaullo-communists [Charles de Gaulles and Communist partisans]; it was not well considered to feel sorry for the fate of the French people in Indochina, as often being perceived as partisans of the [collaborationist] Vichy regime. The colonial lobby was the best to come to their defense, either.

The reasons for oblivion decrypted by Jean-Louis Margolin, historian specialist of Asia, lecturer at Aix Marseille University.

According to the National Board of Veterans, more than 1,000 titles of deportees have, however, been issued for the period in Indochina.  On the other hand, only two mentions of “dead during the deportation” were granted for this region and only very recently, in February.  Two over 78,000.  The State Secretary of Veterans has also just dismissed the idea of extending the entitlement to the Day in Remembrance of the Deportation to the victims of the Japanese Empire.

Daniel Arnaud, head of the Department for Recognition and Compensation at the ONACVG believes that the deportees of Indochina have not been forgotten.

Bibliographic references

  • Raymond BONNET. Condamné à mort par les japonais (Condemned to death by the Japanese). published by Editions du Bailli, 2014.
  • Jean-Louis MARGOLIN. Violences et crimes du Japon en guerre 1937-1945 (Violence and Japan war crimes in 1937-1945). published by Hachette

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