When Tamara Fielding was not yet 11, a guard at a concentration camp operated by Japanese soldiers on the isle of Java accused her of using a magnifying glass to send signals to potential rescuers.
Fielding was marched to a central courtyard and tied to a post that morning. For the rest of the day she sagged in the blistering tropical sun, her mother and sister forbidden to approach her with food or water, or to allay her fears.
"I think it was the lowest point in my life," said Fielding, 81, a performing artist living in Huntington. "I was broken. I don't think at that point I cared if I lived or died. My whole body was shaking."Photos26 surprising relics from WWIIPhotosLI veterans then and nowPhotosPearl Harbor anniversary: Newsday during WWII
Fielding, whose family was arrested when Japanese troops occupied the Dutch East Indies in the weeks after the attack at Pearl Harbor, was among the tens of millions of people who were forced from their homes during World War II.
World War II created one of the largest refugee movements in history, uprooting upward of 40 million people in Europe alone, and tens of millions more across Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. About 10,000 people -- most of them Europeans, or their Indo-European descendants like Fielding -- were marched into Japanese prison camps on the island of Java alone.
Earlier this month, as World Refugee Day approached on June 20, Fielding reflected on the life of a war refugee -- on what it was like to be torn from home, family and familiarity, and cast into an uncertain future.
"We thought we would be able to go home and everything would go back to normal," Fielding said of her hopes during her time in the camp. "But we never got back to normal."
Fielding, who is of mixed Dutch and Indonesian heritage, was the stepdaughter of a Dutch rubber plantation owner when war broke out.
Japan, hungry for oil and rubber to maintain its war effort against the United States, swept into the Dutch East Indies to capture oil fields and rubber plantations there. Her family, which lived the comfortable lives of European colonials, were marched from their home and sent to prison camps in early 1942.
She said her mother and older sister were forced to work in the camp, and lived in fear that their Japanese captors would use them as prostitutes.
"We were sleeping in bunks two and three high, with rats that would crawl on you at night," she recalled. "Everyone had diarrhea and there was very little food. Illness was rampant."
"If you were pretty, you were removed and made a comfort woman," she said. "My mother was always worried about my sister."
She spent more than three years in captivity, battling disease and hunger. She escaped from their Japanese captors with her mother and sister amid pandemonium that broke out when British warplanes dropped food and leaflets announcing the end of the war.
But as was true for tens of millions of World War II refugees, the end of fighting did not restore her old life.
Her family returned to their home, which had been occupied by Japanese soldiers. But with the Japanese gone, Indonesian nationalists turned their wrath on their former colonial masters.
She said for weeks her family slept with guns near their beds. But it soon became obvious they had no future there. With terrifying reports of the killing of Europeans swirling around them, her parents decided they would have to leave behind the idyllic life Fielding had grown up in.
"Being a child and seeing all this horror and not being able to do anything, the powerless of a child in war make them war's real victims," Fielding said. "We had only anger and despair."
When Dutch ships offered to evacuate the remaining Europeans, she and her family fled, leaving everything they owned behind.
"I literally walked up the gangplank with no shoes and the shreds of clothes we had on our backs," she said of her forced departure. "We never got anything back."
"But we were happy," she said. "Because we were alive."