'Life is still wonderful' after concentration camp

Published: Sunday, Oct. 31 2010 4:00 a.m. MDT

When 8-year-old Kitty de Ruyter-Bons was interned by the Japanese with her family members in a World War II concentration camp, her wise mother told her that because they were given so little food and water, their energy levels would be very low. Her mother told Kitty and her siblings that they could choose to use their limited energy in hating their captors or in loving God and their fellow men — or at least in trying to find the good in their fellow men.

Her mother told her she had a sunny personality, and Kitty chose to try to find the good in her life, doing so ever since. Now a vivacious Mormon great-grandmother, author and speaker living in Utah, she has lived a full and rich life, despite her early hardships.

Born on the island of Java, Indonesia, Kitty grew up in a loving, well-to-do family. Her parentage was Dutch and Indonesian, and her early years on Java were lived in an idyllic paradise. But her life quickly became the opposite when the Japanese put her family, along with all Dutch people or Dutch sympathizers, in concentration camps.

Kitty's mother, sisters and little brother were interned together, and her father and other brothers were in separate camps. During the years of incarceration, Kitty witnessed many atrocities from their captors.

When Kitty's beloved nanny, a native Indonesian, came to the camp's barbed-wire fence to bring Kitty her precious rag doll, the nanny was killed while Kitty watched. Many years later, after the family had evacuated to Holland, Kitty discovered that the nanny had put many of the family's jewels inside the doll. The money that came from selling these jewels helped her and her siblings to get higher education.

Kitty's Christian mother had an enormous reservoir of faith in God and courage to stand up for the right, which was a great example to her and many others. Kitty learned from her mother to thank God in all circumstances.

Kitty survived her 3½-year ordeal in the camp by hoping always that the war would end and freedom would come.

"My mother told us always to hope that tomorrow or next week or next month, we would leave camp and be free and go home," Kitty said.

Kitty wrote "As I Have Loved You," a book that details her experiences. She told the story of her nanny and rag doll in the article "Baboe Kit's Gift," which was co-written with Kathie Johnston Brough and appeared in the June 1986 Liahona magazine and the February 1987 Ensign.

"I want people to know that Heavenly Father loves them and that even though adversity comes, life is still wonderful," she said of the message she wants to convey to the groups she speaks to. "Life is a test — we are to overcome adversity with dignity. You need to be humble and really ask Heavenly Father for help."

Kitty also wants people to appreciate the sacrifices of those in the military who purchased our freedoms, such as the Americans and Allied Forces who liberated her from her concentration camp.

She talked with President Ezra Taft Benson in 1989. She told him she was finished with speaking to groups, and he said, "You need to speak about patriotism. You need to convey your love for this country and awaken the love of patriotism in the people of America." She has followed his counsel ever since, speaking several times a month to groups, including Relief Society, youth, civic and military organizations.

Her hero is Captain Moroni. "The struggle for liberty is still with us today. The war is not being waged with weapons, but with words, in the courts," Kitty said. "We need to continually pray to the Lord to bless us with wisdom and to help us so that we can maintain our liberty."

A brother of Kitty died during the war, and her father died soon after. The rest of the family evacuated to Holland, where years later, Kitty met her future husband, Bob de Ruyter. He met the missionaries and joined the LDS Church while he was waiting for his visa in Holland, after she and her family had already moved America.

It took two years of study and friendshipping before Kitty joined. She was married to Bob for 42 years, living in Connecticut and California, and they had four children. She was widowed in 1999 and remarried in 2002 to Paul Bons, a retired member of the military. They served a in the Brussels Belgium/Netherlands mission from 2006-2008.

Today, Kitty and Paul live in Utah. She walks and does water aerobics. She gardens, likes to prepare and eat Indonesian food, travels and enjoys visiting children and grandchildren. She and Paul have 10 children, 41 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren between them.

Kitty says that her biggest hobby now is just enjoying life.

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