World War II

By Jan Krancher, California, USA

Overview of the Japanese Imprisonment Experience

The Japanese High Command on Java attempted to coerce the Indo-European members of the former Royal Netherlands-Indies Army, Navy and Air Force to enlist in the Japanese army.  A goodly number of Indos who refused were summarily executed and many ended up in camps.  Additionally, the Japanese tried to force the Indo-Europeans to renounce their allegiance to the Dutch queen and to become Indonesian citizens.  Those who refused were thrown into enslavement camps.  By early April 1942, there were a variety of enslavement centers in operation throughout the Dutch East Indies, and they could be classified in eight types:

1.   Prisoner for war (POW) camps

These camps held members of armed forces of Allied nations, including Dutch, British and other commonwealth forces, Australians and Americans in addition to other nationalities such as Africans, Canadians, South Africans, Chinese, Arabs and Malays.  These men were billeted by nation of origin and service.  Later on, many civilians were imported to maintain the numbers for organized work parties after the majority of POWs were sent overseas to work on the infamous Burma-Thailand railroad, to Formosa (now Taiwan), to Hainan and to Japan itself to perform labor on docks and in the coal mines.

Every POW had to perform manual labor, either inside camp or on the outside.  It did not take long for clothing to deteriorate, and the majority of the prisoners soon wore only the military green shorts, Indonesian style clogs, and some kind of hat, often one formerly used by the military service. They made their own eating utensils.

2.  VIP camps

Several camps housed inmates who were holders of high office in the former colony’s government, such as governor-general, members of parliament, commissioners, residents, administrators, lawyers, doctors, professors, clergymen, industrialists, officers of the rank of general and other dignitaries.  However, it was not long before they too were dispersed to other islands, such as Formosa, Hainan and Japan.

3.  Boys’ camps

These held boys between the age of nine and thirteen.  After they turned fourteen, they were usually moved to civilian internment camps.  In Cimahi, there was Camp 6 for this purpose in which the author of the original article by the same title (Andrew (Andre) A. van Dyk) in “The Defining Years…..”, spent one year.

4.  Civilian internment camps

Here males age fourteen and upwards were held. These inmates were continually transferred between camps throughout the three and one half years of captivity. Working parties were assembled each and every day, every month of every year.  Such working parties labored on construction projects at various distances away from camps.  When the job was in close proximity, the group marched on foot to reach it, escorted by one or two Japanese soldiers for every 40 to 50 inmates.  However, when the job was far away, the working group was transported by army truck, some 70 men packed standing up on the flat bed, escorted by two to three guards.

5.  Jahat camps

These camps were for the “bad” enemy.  They held captured guerrilla fighters, many of whom had been betrayed by the Indonesian for cash awards; escaped and recaptured POWs; members of certain Allied units which caused Japanese invasion forces much grief, such as demolition and special forces units; and captured civilians who were allegedly discovered as being spies.  Eventually all of these people were eliminated, usually by means of decapitation, after interrogation by the infamous Japanese military police, the Kempetai.

6.  Prisons and jails

These institutions held criminals already held by the Dutch before the surrender as well as persons suspected of running black market operations as go-between trafficking in medicines, food and cigaretts between Indonesians and inmates.  Also incarcerated here were members of clandestine newspapers, resistance group members, and persons who hid or otherwise aided escapted Allied servicemen.  These unfortunates would be tortured by the Kempeitai and later disposed of. Examples of these facilities were Struiswijk, Glodok and Sukamiskin.

7.  Protection (Bersiap) camps

In these camps, billeted for their own safety and protection, were members of Axis countries-German, Italians, Hungarians, Rumanians, and others-as well as some citizens of neutral countries such as Switzerland and Sweden.  These camps are not to be confused with camps by the same designation after the war, during the Bersiap period, which housed persons who were in need of protection from marauding Indonesian youth.

8.  Concentration camps

Here, all females except those held for interrogation in other institutions, boys under age 12 and, in some early cases, very old men were interned.  These camps held inmate population between 100 and 18,000 and were found on nearly every island all over the Indies, primarily Java and Sulawesi.

The most frequently discussed camps were the so-called Cihapit camps in Bandung, West Java, which took up most of the city and held nearly 18,000 persons.  The other infamous camp was Cideng camp in Jakarta, capital of the Indies, located on the north coast of West Java.  In this camp a brutal Japanese camp commander, Capt. Kenichi Sonei, held sway during the last years of the war.  After the war, he was executed as a war criminal for his action while in charge of this camp.

All concentration camp inmates had to be part of working parties.  Even women up to age 60 had to perform manual labor.  Inmates were used as garbage and junk collectors, sewer and drain cleaners, kitchen workers, furniture removers, clerical workers, grass cutters, and laborers to perform other chores outside camp jobs.

(Excerpts from Chapter 1 – The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies, 1942-1949:  Survivors’ Accounts of Japanese Invasion and Enslavement of Europeans and the Revolution That Created Free Indonesia – 2003 [1996], Edited by Jan A. Krancher, used by permission of McFarland&Co, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640 –


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  1. My mother-in-law, who recently passed away was in Tjideng camp for over three years. Our family will be traveling to Indonesia this December, and I was wondering if anyone has recommendations of where we should visit to learn more about this history. Please let me know if there are any tours, museums, or places to visit where we can learn more. Thank you!

  2. Hello Jean-Paul Ebe,
    Unfortunately, the author of this articles has since passed away and The Indo Project does not have the capacity to help people with their searches.
    For those who want to do more research, here are some suggestions:
    1. Post your inquiry on the Indo Facebook Pages where it will be read by many people with a background in Dutch East history.
    (in the acebook Search box insert the word “Indo Groups” and you will see a range of FB pages pop up).
    2. (Jean-Paul, look under the British POWs section on this page)

    Wishing you much success.

  3. My grandfather Edgar Charles Bothwell Pratt was interned in Palembang from 1942 through his liberation and ultimate repatriation to England in November 1945. I would welcome any assistance fleshing out his personal history, particularly given that my grandparents and parents have now passed away. I do recall my grandmother telling me that my grandfather received a pension from the Dutch government and suspect that they may have some records on file. Is there a site you can direct me to where I can make further inquiries. many thanks in advance

  4. Hello,
    my father, Rudolf Joon, and his brothers were imprisoned in the Camp Poendoeng (Pundang) in Java by the Japanese and at the end of the war were not released as the Independence of Indonesia was being fought.
    He has tried to get recognition by the Dutch government yet they are not able to find him on any list. He was finally released when the Swiss Red Cross facilitated a trade of 100 POW’s with 100 Indonesian POW’s.

    How can I find a record of his years in the camp?

  5. Dear Laksmi,

    Yes, many Dutch Indos (Indonesian/Dutch mixed heritage) were taken as POWs by the Japanese and sent to the Burma Death Railway as well as to Japan. A great number died in Burma and Japan as prisoners of war.

  6. hi can i ask if someone of mixed heritage like dutch-indonesian will be taken as pow during that time or not?

    • Yes, as the article states, most foreigners (non-Indonesians) (this includes Indos) were taken and interned in camps.

  7. I am trying to find anyone who was interned in camp De Wijk, Malang.
    Specifically those that were in this camp from April 1944 till the end of the war.
    If you can give me any references about this camp i.e stories from internees in this camp, I would greatly appreciate it.


    Robbert Macare

    • Robert,
      I just discovered less than 10 minutes ago that De Wijk was the camp my oma lived at for 3 years. She did not refer to the name of this camp ever, so it is a revelation that she was here. Please respond to this comment if you are still around so that I can exchange e-mails with you. I have found information on both a map of De Wijk as well as detailed dates of transports. I can share any stories from my oma as well.

  8. My aunt and grandmother were thrown in concentration camps during WWII. They returned to Holland after being freed. How can I find records?

  9. My great grandfather, Gijbertus Motshagen, died 1953 in Bandung ‘slachtoffer van de oorlong’ in a record we found online. He served in the military. My grandfather, Gijbertus Motshagen, was born in 1916 in Batavia. Is there any more information to confirm this?

  10. My friend and mentor, Randall Whetzel, was interred during the war. Randall was in several camps, longest in Pare Pare. His wife and daughter were in another. They did not know the other was alive until freed. He is still living in Portland, Oregon — spry and alert. A missionary, he spent many post-war years in leadership in Indonesia. His book, “In Imperial Custody” by F. Randall Whetzel, is available from Amazon.

  11. My grandfather was Ferdinand J. VanAgteren a lieutenant colonel in the Dutch Army when Indonesia was taken by the Japanese he and my grandmother was interned in concentration camps for three and a half years my mother and her two sisters also interned ages 2 4 + 6 I would love to know more about my family history as I understand my grandfather had escaped the men’s Camp 3 times to deliver medicine and money to the women’s camp he is the only known officer to escape his camp and end of the women’s Camp 3 times he is mentioned in a book somewhere I would love to know more about his exploits
    My grandmother just celebrated her 99th birthday my grandfather has been gone since 1995

  12. I am travelling to Indonesia this year. I was wondering if there were any of the civilian Japanese concentration camps of World War 2, that were still worth visiting. My Dutch family survived several of these camps and it would be interesting to get some idea of what they were like, where they were located, etc. eg: Grogol, Cimahi, Cideng.
    Thanks in anticipation
    Bill Versteegh

  13. The family on my mother’s side were in different concentration camps across Indonesia and my grandfather, Johanus Lambertus Van Bommel, was sent to Bandung. I’ve put one of our painting’s, which was made during the war, on a public website for all of you to see. Also, I would like to congratulate and thank the Indo Project team for sharing all of this information.

    Best Regards,



  14. My father, Robert Halliday, was RAPWI #5 medical officer in Ambarawa area for the evacuation, under Commander Tull. I will be visiting Amsterdam in April/May 2015. If there are any interested survivors, I would like to meet you.

    Richard Halliday

  15. Hi, I am looking for information about my father Klaas van der Wal. We lived in Bandoeng, my father was with KNIL in Bandoeng. I also would like to know if my mother and I were taken to Jihapit. Is there a list of civilians taken to this camp? All I know is that we had a number, my mother’s number ( Sietske van der Wal-Sijtsma) was 546, and mine:Tetske Trijntje van der Wal was 547. I am still confused if we were first in a camp in Bandoen and were later transferred to Moentilan. I know we have been in Moentilan (Xavier College) and were again transferred to Banjoebiroe 10 at the beginning of August. Looking forward to know if there is a camplist with names of the civilians.

    • Thea,

      My Mother Renee v Moerkerken and her step mother and 2 sisters Agatha, Edith, and bother Roel where in Tihapit in Bandong and then moved to Moentilaan and the to Amabrawa, Banjoebiroe just before the end of the war.Sounds like you may have been in the same groups being transferred.There is a website that shows some of the names not all. For instance the family travelled togther, but I can only find my mother being transported from Moentilaan to Amabrawa
      the link is :

      Good luck


    • Hallo! Ik ben weer bezig met onderzoek doen (eindelijk) en vraag me af of er nog iemand is geweest die naar mijn verzoek heeft kunnen kijken?

      [Hello! I am busy again doing research (finally) and wonder if someone was able to look at (and respond to) my request?

      Thank you.

  16. My grandfather Tan Tjin Liong was taken into a camp in Bandung we think, most probably Tjimahi. Hij was wijkmeester in kabupaten Garoet/Garut. His wife’s name was Tjoa Sip Nio.

    Would he be on a list of camp prisoners?

    • Hi Terry,
      Thanks for the question! Someone will get back to you soon in regards to your inquiry. Keep visiting The Indo Project.

      • Mijn excuses, ik heb mijn briefje beneden bij de verkeerde correspondentie gepost. Dus hier een herhaling:

        Hallo! Ik ben weer bezig met onderzoek doen (eindelijk) en vraag me af of er nog iemand is geweest die naar mijn verzoek heeft kunnen kijken?
        Alvast bedankt.

        [Hello! I am busy again doing research (finally) and wonder if someone was able to look at (and respond to) my request?
        Thank you in advance]

  17. My Farther, Uncle and Grandparents were intervened inJava during the war.
    The family name is Kruss. I am trying to trace my family history .
    My parents divorced when I was 3, my Father returned to Holland.
    The only details that I can find are below. Can you help me find my families history?

    Carl Johann KRüSS
    * 06.01.1931 in Djember Indonesien
    + 23.12.1977 in Den Haag,NL
    getauft: 1931 in Djember
    Konfession: EV
    Familien (families) Kinder (children)
    Keine Familie gefunden!
    (No family found!) Keine Kinder gefunden!
    (No children found!)
    Eltern (parents) Geschwister (siblings)
    (father) Willem Pierre Carl KRüSS
    * 05.01.1904 in Bajoeng Palembang NOI
    + 14.11.1977 in Den Haag,NL
    Willem Peter KRüSS * 1932 in Kedira NOI, + 1966 in Den Haag NL
    (mother) Anna Maria Barbara SCHRöDER
    * 05.08.1903 in Duisburg

  18. I began researching my family history shortly after my mother,brother and father passed within the year 2013.
    I wish to learn and preserve the history of my family before and during WWll. I have been trying to find out which camps they where kept and the timeline of their travels throughout their time in Concentration camps as well as internment camp. I am also hoping to find information of the ship they were on from Indonesia to Holland. My mothers family had been in Indonesia since the late 1700’s on my mothers side. Opa Gus was a De Vries, Opa Bes was a Versteegh. Her mother was a Douwes Dekker. I truly wish to preserve all that I can for my children. I wish to help educate children and others of the History of the events in Indonesia and Holland during and after WWll. I was shocked at how little is taught or known. My mother rarely spoke of these times. “The Past is Past” was her Motto and yet as an artist the past trickled out. I have many journals she has written since as well as a sculpture. Any information you may be able to provide will be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Babette

    • Hello Babette, I don’t know if other camps have the same records . You might like to investigate other camp sites but my Mother and i were interned in Tjideng camp ( the present day name is spelt “Cideng” If you look up Tjideng , there are listed every person , the mothers anyway , their age and the age of the children . Ours are their . It is incredible that these records exist. My father was taken the the Burma Railway , survived and the transported to Japan and worked in the coal mines untill the end of the war and witnessed the Nagasaki bomb. His name is also listed in the camp’s records . Best of luck Erik

      • Hello Erik, do you know where you searched for the records from the Burma Railway? I am having trouble finding records lists of internees and I am looking for my Grandfather and his brother.

    • Hi:
      You should try to enter the names of the individuals you seek shipping info on in Delpher:
      Although in Dutch, you are essentially searching through newspapers from the era you designate – I Was able to almost completely reconstruct my grandparents movements throughout Indonesia because shipping rosters (passenger lists) were published in the Dutch and Indonesian newspapers.
      Further, IF the individual was a Dutch national at the time of release and had worked for the Dutch government, you may want to contact the Stichting Administratie Indische Pensioenen: via email or in writing. I was able to retrieve an actual copy of my grandfather’s pension application which included documentation of his movements during WW II as part of the application process.
      IF the individual was repatriated to Europe (For much of Dutch folks on British ships), there is likely a Red Cross card for each designating some health facts on the reverse. After contacting tehm (I believe in Amsterdam) I received a copy of his Red Cross card from them (original text includes Japanese info and a prisoner ID #). Although NO information remains in Japan, the prisoner ID number will provide useful information for some individuals. It will take time to research, but in the illustrated Atlas of the Japanese Camps (Original in Dutch) many of the never ending transports of prisoners between camps refer to those ID#’s.
      I wish you well with your search!

    • Hello Babette

      This is the first time I have visited this web site as I am putting together my Mothers time in Indonesia and the POW camps in Bandoeng.
      I regards to what ship were transporting people back to Holland in that time. My Father during the war served on the Dutch ship “Oranje” which was converted to a Hospital ship and at the end of the war it was used to transport people back to Holland from Indonesia. From my records he made 2 trips from Indonesia to Holland. The first trip was December 1945 and the second trip arrived in Rotterdam on the 20/03/1946. After that my Father left the ship.

  19. My mother and older sister were interned at Chimahi. I was born during my mothers stay at this camp. My sister and i can not find any record of all the prisoners of war held at this camp.

  20. My mother and older sister were interned at Chimahi. I was born during my mothers stay at this camp. My sister and i can not find any record of all the prisoners of war held at this camp.
    Is there a way of obtaining such a list.

  21. Thank you so much for sharing the information! Growing up I was always told that my great grandparents were held in Japanese camps during the war. I was told that my great grandfather was apparently well cared for due to his military rank (which I believe was Lt. Kolonel d. Inf. K.N.I.L.) but my great grandmother was not as fortunate as he. I believe both were released after the war and around that time may have left for Holland. Can records be found on prisoners of these camps?

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