For 50 years, Eduard Still has gratefully made annual gifts to the American Red Cross. "I think I owe the organization a lot more than that," the Marin County resident says.
To fully understand Still's Red Cross loyalty is to begin to grasp the impact that World War II had on so many individuals and families living in Indonesia — or as the country was called back then, the Dutch East Indies.
Still was a part of one of those families. He had been born on the island of West Java in December 1930, the only child of a Dutch father and a mother who was half Dutch and half Javanese. "I grew up there during the colonial period of Indonesia's history, and we lived a very good life with a beautiful home," Still says. "My father, Rudolf, operated a very successful import business."
The family's world began to crumble on December 7, 1941, when Japanese pilots launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, officially catapulting the Pacific into World War II. "I was born on Christmas day, so I was only a few weeks shy of my 11th birthday when that attack happened," Still recalls.
Within months, Japanese troops — emboldened by their successful sneak attack on the "day that will live in infamy" — invaded Indonesia. "As Dutch citizens, 800,000 of us were put in camps," Still says. "My dad was taken to Siam [now Thailand], where he was imprisoned."
The senior Still's Japanese captors later forced him to work on the infamous Burma Railway, the 250-mile line that would be the final transportation link between Thailand and Burma. (The railway, known then as the "Death Railway" because nearly 200,000 laborers lost their lives constructing it, was made famous by the movie, the Bridge over River Kwai.")
Young Eduard and his mother, Augusta, fared only slightly better than did Rudolf, as they were transported to a "women's and children's camp" in Bandung, located in the mountains of West Java. The camp would be their prison for three long years.
"In the camp during the war, we were expected to provide for ourselves, so we grew what food we could just so that we could survive," Still recalls.
Unlike the 4 million people — colonial and native citizens alike — who are believed to have died in Indonesia as a result of famine and forced labor during the Japanese occupation, the mother and her young son did survive. "Our imprisonment came to a sudden end in August 1945 with Japan's unconditional surrender in World War II," Still says. "We were released within hours of that."
But Eduard and Augusta Still were about to re-enter a world that had changed in every imaginable way since the Japanese occupation. Not only did the pair not know the fate of Rudolf Still, they soon discovered they had no home to return to.
"Before our capture, we had been living in a nice area of West Java, but that part of the island was quickly taken over by the native Indonesians seeking independence as soon as Japan left," he says. "The Indonesians wanted to get rid of colonials, and our home was one of many that had been burned to the ground."
After seeking refuge in a local hospital, Still and his mother were rescued by British and British Indian troops, stationed in Indonesia to seize weapons from Japanese soldiers before sending the soldiers back to Japan.
Still in desperate need of help, the mother and son turned to the Red Cross, which transported them to safekeeping in the capital city of Jakarta, still occupied by Allied troops. "Eventually, the Red Cross helped us get to Bangkok [the capital of Thailand] because they had learned that my father was there," Still recalls.
"The Red Cross really helped us when we were coming out of the Japanese camp," Still recalls. "Most importantly, they knew where my father was, and they literally put our family back together again."
By August of 1946, the three Stills had relocated to San Francisco. "My father had contacted friends there, who helped us get to the United States," Still says.
Eduard Still took full advantage of the opportunity he had been given in the United States. Enrolling at San Francisco's Lowell High School as a sophomore, he graduated in June of 1949. "I didn't know how to speak English at first, but I knew some French, some German, and of course I was fluent in Dutch," he says.
Attending San Francisco State, Still graduated in 1953, before serving a two-year hitch in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957. By 1958, he had earned a master's degree in international business at UC Berkeley — and Still and his parents had become U.S. citizens.
In 1960, 14 years after he first set foot in San Francisco, Still launched his own business. His company, Partition Specialties Inc., "produced the concept of putting in removable partitions in commercial buildings" — and the business was positioned perfectly to grow as part of California's economic boom. "By the time I sold my company in 1998, we had 450 employees in eight offices throughout the state," Still says.
But Still didn't need to wait until his business sold to support the organization that had helped him and his parents so impactfully. "I actually got to a place where I could afford to support the Red Cross back in the 1960s," he says. And he's been a regular donor ever since.
His mother, Augusta, also volunteered for the Red Cross at San Francisco's Veterans Hospital for some 20 years.
"We have so much debt to the Red Cross for saving our lives all of those years ago," Still says. "They were incredible to us after the war. What they did in reconnecting our family in the Pacific is exactly what they did during that era for so many other people in Europe."
About the photo: Longtime Red Cross donor Eduard Still, upper left, will forever be grateful to the organization for the support the Red Cross provided to him and his parents immediately following World War II. Eduard's mother, Augusta, was also thankful, repaying the Red Cross with years of volunteer service at San Francisco's Veterans Hospital. Augusta, upper right, is honored by the hospital in March 1955 for her service as a Red Cross nurse.