World War II: Indonesia (Dutch East Indies): Japanese Internment of Dutch Civilians (1942-45)


Figure 1.--Here are two Dutch children at the in Tjideng Internment Camp. Tjideng was a camp for women and children, in Batavia. The boys upon reaching a certain age (I think 12 years) were moved to a male camp. We are not sure when this photograph was taken, but would guess about 1943.

The Japanese interned the Dutch military and civilians and both were treated outrageously. About 170,000 civilians were interned. Of those internees about 25,000 died. [Rummel] The Japanese treated the civilians taken in the Dutch and British colonies much more severely than the mostly American civilians taken in the Philippines. It is unclear just why this difference occurred, most likely it was the vageries of individual command decessions. The Dutch civilians in the DEI were treated similarly to the POWs, except the Japanese appear refrained to have murdered the civiklians as they did to some POWs, both upon the initial invasion and then at the ebd of the War. The liberation of the DEI camps was not a uniform or easy process. Many camps were liberated as the forces were recapturing territory. The DWI was, however, a huge archepeligo. There were countless islands and the Allies had limited resources to get to all of them quickly. The Allies used their expanding air power to strike at Japanese military targets in the DEI. One by one the camps were liberating, but quite a number were still in Japanese hands when Emperor Horohito announced the surrender. The Americans dropped supplies by air in camps in Japan and China in an effort to get food and medical supplies to POWs and civilian internees before recovery teams could reach them. As far as we know, there was no similar effort in the DEI, although this needs to be confirmed. The Allies did not have the shipping to both get to the internees and to deploy troops to take over from the surrendering Japanese. And the Dutch internees faced the additiomal uncertainty of the Indonesian war of independence. many wished to return to the Netherlands. Here again there was only limited transport available and many needs to be met.

Japanese Invasion (February-March 1942)

While the United States had embargoed oil, DEI officials complied with Japanese demands that they export oil. Even so the Japanese after the fall of the British bastion at Singapore (February 1942) invaded the DEI (March 1942). The whole purpose of the Pearl Harbor attack was to clear the way for Japan to seize the resources of Southeat Asia and none were more important than the DEI oil. The U.S. Pacific Fleet still reeling from Pearl Harbor was unable to effectively resist the Japanese invasion. There were naval actions in DEI waters, but the powerful Imperial Fleet inflicted heavy losses on Allied naval forces. The Navy ordered American fleet units out of the Philippines to join up with British, Australian, and Dutch units in the DEI. The Allied forces were woefully inferior to the powerful Imperial fleet. In addition, there had been no joint maneuvers before the War. The different navies could not reach each other signal flags so a coordiated action against the well-drilled Imperial Navy was impossible. U.S. destroyers attempted to stop the Japanese in the Madagascar Straits between Borneo and Celebes (January 24, 1942). An Allied naval force engaged the Japanese in Bandoeng Straits in an effort to protect Bali (February 19-20, 1942). The final Allied action to save the DEI was fought in the Java Sea (February 27, 1942). The Allied loses there left them without the strength to mount continued organized naval resistance to the Japanese in the DEI. Following Java Sea Action, the Allies order two surviving cruisrs (Houston and Perth) to evacuate and retire to Australia. They refueled at Batavia and sail south. While moving through the Soenda Strait (March 1, 1942) the cruisers find themselves in the middle of a Japanese landing. The last message picked up at Corregidor was "Enemy forces engaged". That was the last report on the ships until after the War. [Hornfischer] The details of the battle are largely lost to history. One survivor reports a Japanese destroyer lost, but the Japanese records do not confirm this. The Japanese Army quickly occupied the major DEI islands. The Japanese seized the Sumatran oil fields intact through a daring parachute operation.

Civilians Under Japanese Control

Japan after Pearl Harbor (December 1941) rapidly conquered south-east Asia in a rapid series of campaigns. The Japanese carrier strike imobilized the American Pacific fleet, the only major Allied military force in the Pacific. The Japanese Forst Air Fleet allowed the Japanse to occupy American, British, and Dutch colonies without serious opposition. This dominnce did not change wutil Midway (June 1942), but by this time most of Southeast Asia was in Japanese hands. It was widely preceived that the Japanese might attack, but less well understood at the time was the competence and effectiveness of the Imperial Navy. As a result, many westernern civilians did not evauate in 1941 while it was still possible. Most shocking of all was the Japanese conquests was the fall of Singapore, the great British bastion at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. The defense of Malayia, the Dutch East Indies, and Australia were all premised on Singaporte. The Japanese victories broufht large numbers of Western POWs and civilans into Japanese hands. The civilians were interned by the Japanese, but in separate camps from the POWs. The Japanese in some areas immediately interned all westeners immediately after the invasion. In other areas the Japanese took several months to set up the camps and intern the westerners. No one knows precisely how many were interned. The Japanese did not keep precise records and many of the recordds they did keep were either lost or destroyed. A generally accepted number is about 130,000 internees during the Pacific War. The composition varied. The camps in Malayia were mostly British, in the Philippines American, and in the Dutch East Indies mostly Dutch. There wre also a number of Australians and various other nationalities. The individual included colonial administrators, teachers, military dependants, businessmen, farmers, missionaries, medical persinnel, and others.

Japanese Internment

The Dutch and other Westerners at first had their bank accounts frozen. Then they hasd to pay a registratioin fee. Assetts like cars were seized. Radios were modified so they could not receive foreogn broadcasts. Finally they were interned. The Japanese interned the Dutch military and civilians. About 170,000 civilians were interned, this apparently includes some Indonesians. We do not yet have precices details on the number of internees.

Japanese Policies

While the Japanese adopted a policy of interning Western civilians throughout its new empire, neither civilian or military authories issued any regulations about how the internment camps should be operated and the internees treated. As a result, what occurred in these camps varies from region to region and the vageries of the camp commanders. The internees ran the camps under strict Japanese supervision. The civilians worked in the camps, butbunlike the POWs were not employed for military construction projects. The almost universal experience, however, was malnutrition, disease, harsh discipline, and brutality. Some internees were held at the same camp for the duration of the war, and others were moved about. The buildings used to house internees were generally whatever was available, including schools, warehouses, universities, hospitals, and prisons.

Camps

The Japanese internment camps varied substantially in size. The Pangkalpinang in Sumatra held only four people. Tjihapit in Java held 14,000 people. Some camps were were segregated by gender or race. Other camps had mixed genders.

Treatment

The Japanese treated both Dutch POWs and civiilians outrageously. Of the civilians internees about 25,000 died. [Rummel] The Japanese treated the civilians taken in the Dutch and British colonies much more severely than the mostly American civilians taken in the Philippines. It is unclear just why this difference occurred, most likely it was the vageries of individual command decessions. The Dutch civilians in the DEI were treated similarly to the POWS. A reader writes, "I had some relatives myself who were interned. One of my mother's brothers used to live in the Dutch East Indies with his wife and four young children. I met my uncle and his family for the first time in Jakarta when I went to work for a Dutch company in Indonesia in 1949, the year the country became officially independent. The capital Batavia became Jakarta. My uncle did not say much about his treatment by the Japanese. He had been sent to Japan to work as a slave laborer in the coal mines together with many other Dutch prisoners. Many died, but he survived. My aunt and the children (one girl and three boys) were interned in the notorious Ambarawa Camp on the island of Java. It was a women's camp, but boys under 10 years of age were allowed to stay with their mothers. All I know is that they nearly died of malnutrition. Whenever they saw a Japanese officer they were forced to bow for him. If they did not do that they were beaten or got nothing to eat that day. The family returned to the Netherlands in 1956. I stayed 9 years in Indonesia and returned in 1958 to Europe. As a matter of fact all Dutch citizens were forced to leave at that time. More than 200,000 went to Holland. This included many mixed- blooded people, who never made any trouble after settling in the Netherlands. They integrated and assimilated very well in Dutch society, unlike the Turkish and Moroccan guest workers, or the Antillian and Surinam immigrants from the ex-Dutch possessions in the Caribbean and South America." [Stueck]

Japanese Occupation

The Japanese established a military government and divided the DEI into three administrative zones (Sumatra, central islands, and eastern islands). Sumatra where most of the oil was located was joined with the military jurisdiction of Malaya with Singapore as its administrative center. Java and a number of other islands were also administered by the Japanese Army. The other two Japanese administrative areas centred on Borneo (British and Dutch) and on the Celebes, the Moluccas, and Dutch New Guinea, were controlled by the Japanese Navy. The Japanese released nationalist leaders (Sukarno and Hatta) and allowed them to set up puppet political organizations. The Japanese promised independence to the Indonesians (1943). They never actually delivered on that promise.

Liberation (1944-45)

The liberation of the DEI camps was not a uniform or easy process. Many camps were liberated as the forces were recapturing territory. The DWI was, however, a huge archepeligo. There were countless islands and the Allies had limited resources to get to all of them quickly. The Allies used their expanding air power to strike at Japanese military targets in the DEI. Allied forces (Australian, Dutch, and Acehnese rebels) began to retake islands. The first islands taken were in the east, but the Allied eventually reached Sumatra. The Allied campaign included: Hollandia (April 22, 1944), Morotai (September 15 1944), Tarakan (April 30, 1945), Halmahera and northern Sumatra (June 1945). Btritish Indian troops reached the infamous Tjideng camp in Batavia/Jakarta (September 1945). One by one the camps were liberating, but quite a number were still in Japanese hands when Emperor Horohito announced the surrender. For these internees in the DEI, freedom did not occur until months after the Japanese surrender. The Americans dropped supplies by air in camps in Japan and China in an effort to get food and medical supplies to POWs and civilian internees before recovery teams could reach them. As far as we know, there was no similar effort in the DEI, although this needs to be confirmed. The Allies did not have the shipping to both get to the internees and to deploy troops to take over from the surrendering Japanese. And the Dutch internees faced the additiomal uncertainty of the Indonesian war of independence. many wished to return to the Netherlands. Here again there was only limited transport available and many needs to be met.

Personal Accounts

Some of the internees have left accounts of their life in the Dutch East Indies nefore and during the Japanese occupation. One account by Elizabeth van Kampen provides a wonderful account of her enchanted life in the DEI before the War and the horrifying experiences at the hands of the Japanese. [Note: This is an interesting site, but unfortunaklely the auyhir has chosen to allow pop-ups and who knows what codeing.] We note another personal account. "My mother, my younger sister and I spent 3 1/2 years in Japanese internment camps on the island of Java in what was then known as the Dutch East Indies and is today the nation of Indonesia. We were among the 70,000 women and children of Dutch background who were imprisoned there. I was just 10 when we were summoned to the church grounds in Bogor, where we were processed for shipment to the first of the five camps -- each worse than the other -- that would be 'home' until the war ended. My father had already been taken away to a men's camp, and my two brothers, Will and Rob, would soon follow to another camp. My mother was faced with a hard choice: hold onto Rob, the younger one, until our captors deemed him too old to remain with us; or send him with Will, on the chance that both might survive in each other's company. She let him go. She cried for days afterward. We were liberated by the British. I had a halter and a pair of panties for clothes and a hole eaten through my ankle by jungle rot. My mother, who had once been the gayest of women, had lost her joie de vivre. My sister had stopped growing. My father, with whom we were eventually reunited, had turned inward. My two brothers had indeed supported one another, but the horrors they had seen in the men's camps had aged them beyond their years. Yet together and apart, we had managed the near-impossible; we had all lived, able to begin life over again. [Brown]

Sources

Archer, B.E. A Study of Civilian Internment by the Japanese in the Far East 194145 (Essex: 1999).

Brown, Emilie Halewijn. "The Agonies of Internment", The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W11.

Dower. John. War Without Mercy (1986). Dower cites a UN report estimating 4 million civilan deaths.

Hornfischer, James. Ship of Ghosts (2006). The author here describes the harrowing experiences of the survivors of the U.S. Houston. It had been the flag ship of the U.S. Asiatic fleet and a fleet often used by President Roosevelt for various cruises.

Rummel R.J. Statistics of Genocide : Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900 (1998).

Stueck, Rudi. E-mail message, March 28, 2006.

"Japanese in Java," Time (December 30, 1940).






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Created: 8:45 AM 5/10/2009
Last updated: 6:45 AM 12/13/2013