Nederlands / Dutch
Types of camps Print

Prisoner of war camps

The prisoner of war camps can be divided into ‘regular’ camps that remained in operation during the entire period, for example a few large camps on Java, and the temporary and/or improvised work camps, such as the camps for the construction of airfields in the Moluccas and the Pakanbaru Railway on Sumatra.

The POWs were also distinguished according to rank, nationality, and Asian or non-Asian origin. Most of the Javanese, Sundanese and Timorese KNIL soldiers were released fairly quickly. The Ambonese and Menadonese servicemen, who had a reputation of being very pro-Dutch, remained in captivity, as did the native officers and non-commissioned officers of the KNIL.

Both among the released and among the captive native KNIL soldiers the Japanese recruited so-called heihos – native auxiliary soldiers in the Japanese army. Some Ambonese and ex-KNIL soldiers were even heavily pressured to come forward and apply as heihos. Many heihos were sent overseas. Possibly half of the estimated 15,000 ex-KNIL soldiers who became heihos on Java, did not survive.

As a rule Dutch and Indo-European prisoners of war were placed in the same camps, although in one camp in Tjimahi the two groups were separated for several months in 1942, and in camp Lawesigalaga in North Sumatra the Indo-European POWs and the native KNIL soldiers were locked up together.

Civilian camps

The camps for civilian internees can be divided into camps for men, camps for women and children (which sometimes also accommodated old men), and – starting mid-1944 – camps for boys aged 10 and older.

At the start of the internment the Japanese generally drew the line between boys and men at the age of 17 to 18. Until they reached this age, the boys were interned with their mothers and sisters in a women’s camp, after that they went to the men’s camps. When the camps came under military administration in April 1944 the rule to separate older boys from the women became more stringent. From then on only those who had not yet reached the age of 10 were considered children.

As a result from July 1944 boys aged 10 and older on Java were separated from their mothers in the women’s camps. Some of them were taken to men’s camps. Others, however, ended up in especially established boys’ camps in Batavia, Tjimahi, Semarang, and Ambarawa. In August 1945 a total of approximately 3,600 boys of the youngest age category were housed here. Some sick and elderly men were also put up in these boys’ camps.

There were also several ‘special’ camps for separate categories of civilians. For example, the Japanese set up a few men’s camps especially for ‘prominent’ figures. One very different type of camp was the experimental agricultural camp of Kesilir in East Java, where from July 1942 to September 1943 more than 3,000 Dutch and Indo men and boys by order of the Japanese tried to provide for themselves by means of agriculture and horticulture. When this was unsuccessful, the boys and men were taken (back) to regular internment camps.

Other 'special' camps were intended for the so-called 'Nippon workers' - Dutchmen who for the time being were maintained in their positions by the Japanese because of their knowledge and expertise - and their families. In these privileged camps the people were generally adequately housed and given enough to eat. Over the course of 1944 these camps were nearly all closed down and the occupants were transported to regular internment camps.

From May to November 1944 more than one hundred Dutch women and girls, who had worked voluntarily or involuntarily in one of the Japanese army brothels on Java were placed in camp Kota Paris at Buitenzorg.

Finally, in 1944-1945 the women’s camp at Tangerang, some 28 kilometres west of Batavia, was used as a separate internment location for Jewish women and children. In a few other camps on West Java Jewish internees were housed in separate barracks during this period.

Relief camps and agricultural labour camps

Of quite a different nature were the many reception and relief camps on Java for non-interned, destitute Indo-Europeans and native women and children, especially for families of KNIL soldiers in captivity. These needy women and children were concentrated by the Japanese and/or the Indonesian authorities on these locations to minimize the cost of the support and the cost of living.

Furthermore, at the end of 1944 and in the course of 1945 unemployed Indo-European boys and impoverished Indo families from the large cities were put to work in agricultural camps and colonies, for example Sumber Gesing near Dampit in East Java, and Gunung Halu, Pasar Benteng and Kelapanunggal in West Java. On the southern tip of Sumatra there was also an agricultural camp for Indo-European families, the Giesting. For the people who had to live there the difference between this type of reception or agricultural camp and a ‘regular’ internment camp was and is not always clear.

Read more: Daily life in the camps.