Harry benda's association with Asian studies stemmed from bitter accident, for he had been of a Prague Jewish family; when Hitler took over Czechoslovakia, his father arranged for Harry's exodus by getting him a job in a Dutch trading firm in the East Indies. A brother was the only other member of the family to escape death under Nazi rule. In Java, Benda settled down to learn the life of a European merchant, but he had too lively a mind to be content with latter-day colonial society. He saw the remnants of a great indigenous tradition around him, and the stirrings of a new life; he began to meet scholars who were interested in Indonesian culture and from them developed a broad intellectual interest in the people of Java. Many of these intellectuals vanished into concentration camps with the coming of the Japanese; and in 1943 Benda joined them, when the Japanese decided to intern Jews. For many of those intellectuals who survived the camps, the experience was a time of learning and reorientation; so also for Benda, whose interest in Indonesian society deepened into the determination to pursue its study as a career.
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