World War II: Japanese War Crimes and Attrocities--Mistreatment of Civiian Internees

With the occupation of the Philippines, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Mayasia, Borneo,and the Dutch East Indies, large number of civilians from combatant nations were interned by the Japanese. Conditions gradually deteriorated and the internees were forced to endure horific conditions. The internees were not as abused as the POWs, but the living conditions were still terrible. Medical supplies ran out. Food ws the major problem. The Japanese rations were inadequate and after a while the internees were not allowed to obtain food outside the camps. The Allies tried to send Red Cross packages, but few got through to the internees. The death rates were apauling, especially among the children. One source places the number of Western civilians at 130,000 51,000 men, 42,000 women, and 40,000 chilren). The largest group of civilins were Dutch. There were about 70,000 Dutch women and children or about half of the Westerners interened by the Japanese. They were interned in early 1942. About 15,000 died in captivitu, or more than 10 perecent. They were, howeever, in terrible state dur to malnutrition and lack of medical care. Had the war not ended in Augut 1945, many of the internees would not have survived. One Dutch girl remembers at age 10 reporting to the church in Bogor where the Japanese processed them for different camps. She was in five different camps before being liberated. Her father had already been taken by the Japanese to a mens' camp. Only the younger boys stayed with the women. Her mother had a terrible choice. Should she hold on to Rob the youngest boy or let him go with Will hoping that together they would have a better change of surviving. She finally decided to let him go and agonized about it afterwards. When the British got to her camp after the war, her foot was rotting off. Somehow they all survived, but were forever changed. [Halewijn Brown] There were Americans, Australians, British abd others among the internees. Most of the Americans were in the Philippines. One British boy whose family was in Hongb Kong later described his experiences in The Empire of the Sun which was made into a movie. . Japanese Army aithorities in Tokyo ordered camp authorities to kill the internees at the end of the War to destroy evidence of how the civilians and POWs had been mistreated. As the Americans had broken the Japanese Army codes, some of this traffic was probably picked up, but we do not yet know the details.

Japanese Policies Toward Foreign Civilians

The Japanese Army High Command when they launched the war had no policy on civilian internees and no real interest in them. With the occupation of Borneo, Burma, China (Hong Kong and Shanghai), the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, the Philippines, Shanghai large number of civilians from combatant nations were interned by the Japanese. Conditions gradually deteriorated and the internees were forced to endure horific conditions. The internees were not as abused as the POWs, but the living conditions were still terrible. Medical supplies ran out. Food ws the major problem. The Japanese rations were inadequate and after a while the internees were not allowed to obtain food outside the camps.

Overall numbers

One source places the number of Western civilians at 130,000 51,000 men, 42,000 women, and 40,000 chilren). The largest group of civilins were Dutch. There were about 70,000 Dutch women and children or about half of the Westerners interened by the Japanese. [Archer, p. 22.] We have seen higher number. Another source estimated 80,000 Western cibilins in the DEI. [Dutch Red Cross] There were hundreds of civikian enternment camos located throughout the Japanese Empire.

Red Cross

The Allies tried to send Red Cros packages, but few got through to the internees.

Death Rates

The death rates were apauling, especially among the children. About 15,000 died in captivity, or more than 10 perecent. [Archer, p. 22. ] We have seen higher estimates. The Dutch death raste was higher thn the american and British rate. [Dutch Red Cross] They were, however, in terrible state der to malnutrition and lack of medical care. Had the war not ended in Augut 1945, many of the internees would not have survived. The 10 percent rate is lower thn the POW death rate.

Camp Regimes

There were no standard regulations for the civilian inernment c,ps. The rules varies widely, apparently dependent on local comanders. One author describes the different regimes, "The camps themselves differed enormously. The smallest camp, Pangkalpinang in Sumatra, held approximately four people. The largest, Tjihapit I in Java, held around 14,000. In some areas, mainly Java and Sumatra, the men were separated from the women and children and, from about 1944 onwards, boys over ten years of age (the age differed over time and place) were transferred from the womenís camps to the menís camps. In Java there were special camps for boys and the sick, and old men. In other areas, particularly China and Hong Kong, men, women and children shared the camp accommodation. Some internees remained in the same camp throughout internment: Stanley Camp, in Hong Kong, is one example. Others, particularly those in Java and Sumatra, were moved from camp to camp several times. Accommodation differed from area to area with the Japanese using a variety of schools, warehouses, university buildings, prisons, houses or bamboo barracks." [Archer, p. 22.]

National Trends

The civilians people interned by the Japanese were primarily Westerners living in the Far East. The largest group of European civilians in the Far East were Dutch. There were about 70,000 Dutch women and children interened by the Japanese in early 1942. One Dutch girl remembers at age 10 reporting to the church in Bogor where the Japanese processed them for different camps. She was in five different camps before being liberated. Her father had already been taken by the Japanese to a mens' camp. Only the younger boys stayed with the women. Her mother had a terrible choice. Should she hold on to Rob the youngest boy or let him go with Will hoping that together they would have a better change of surviving. She finally decided to let him go and agonized about it afterwards. When the British got to her camp after the war, her foot was rotting off. Somehow they all survived, but were forever changed. [Halewijn Brown] There were Americans, Australians, British abd others among the internees. Most of the Americans were in the Philippines. One British boy whose family was in Hongb Kong later described his experiences in The Empire of the Sun which was made into a movie.

Borneo

The large island of Borneo was split between the Dutch and British. The Dutch eastern portion was a part of the DEI. The British portion was divided into different jurisdictions, including Brunei and Sarawak. Because of the oil resources, seizing Borneo was a priority for the Japanese.
British Borneo: Batu Lintang camp (also known as Lintang Barracks and Kuching POW camp) was located at Kuching, Sarawak. It was unusual in the Japanese prison camp sytem in that it included both a POW and civilian internment camp. The Japanese soon after conquering Borneo opened the camp complex (March 1942). The Japanese used British Indian Army barracks. They expanded the camp to accomodate more POWs and internees. The camp population varied over time as the POWs were moved for various work assignments and because of mistreatment began to die. At its peak, the camp held about 3,000 prisoners. [Keith, p.76.] Conditions in the camp steadily deteriorated s the war progressed. There was inadequate food and tge limited stocknof medication soon ran out. The POWs and male internees were forced to do forced labor under the most brutal conditions. The internees only had the clothing they arrived with which had to do until they were liberated. About 2,000 British POWs were held in the camp. Only about one-third survived the brutal condition. [Ooi ,p. 636,] The POWs managed to build a radio in secret (February 1943). They were thus able to follow the war news. It was a carefully held secret as those involved would have been executed by the Japanese. While Japanese surrendered (August 15), the Allies did not get to the camp until (September 11). The Australian 9th Division liberated the camp. They found 2,024 starving prisoners,including 1,392 POWs and 632 civilian internees (395 men and 237 women and chilsren), mostly English. The Australians found death orders amongbthe camp papers. The spelled out the method of execution of every and entailed thevmurder of every POW and civilian internee in the camp,including the women and children. The first order scheduled the execution for August 17-18. It was not carried out, presumably because Japan surrenderd. But then Japanese officials after the surrender repeated their order which was scheduled for September 15 with slightly changed murder methods. The Japanese were preparing to follow the orders when the Austrlians arrived just in time to save the POWs and internees. [Ooi, pp. 610, 628, and 648. and Keith, pp. 183 and 206.] An Australian war crimes investigation team worked in Kuching until January 1946. As aresult of their work, morecthan 70 of the of 120 guards were found to have committed crimes, many multiple crimes. [Ooi, p.667.] This of course was what the murder orders were designed to prevent.
Dutch Borneo: The Japanese when they occupied Dutch Borneo found American missionary families working with the Dayak and other indigenous tribes. They were taken to a camp where they were all murdered,includug the women, children,and babies. A man that was up countrywas unaware of the murder and turned himself in so he coukd rejoin his family. The Japanese beheaded him (Christmas Day 1942). [Heimann] The Japanese did not intern the Indonesians and indegigenous people. They did,however, treat them terribly. There were numerous massacres of the Malay and Dayak peoples ,especially the Dayaks of the Kapit Division in Sarawak. The Japanese were haed by the Dayak and other tribal groups. They were horrified by the murder of the missionaries who had converted many and to which they fely close, TheJapabnese also seized crops and animals without compenatuion and abused the younger women. As a result they hid American airmen from the Japanese even though it would have meant terrible retribution if the airmnen were discovered. And when the British flew in a special forces team, thousand of Dayak from the Kapit Division trained to conduct guerilla warfare. They reoortedly killed or captured some 1,500 Japanese soldiers. One recruiting tool was allowing them to keep and display the heads of Japanese they killed. The Dayak and oyher vtribes were rebowned for head huning before it was outlawed by the Briish and Durch. They alsp privided valuable intelligence to help the Australians retake the oil fields at the end of the War.

Burma


China

One British boy whose family was in Hongb Kong later described his experiences in The Empire of the Sun which was made into a movie.

Dutch East Indies

T he 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] This seems higher thn some esyimares we hasve noted. 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. One Dutch girl remembers at age 10 reporting to the church in Bogor where the Japanese processed them for different camps. She was in five different camps before being liberated. Her father had already been taken by the Japanese to a mens' camp. Only the younger boys stayed with the women. Her mother had a terrible choice. Should she hold on to Rob the youngest boy or let him go with Will hoping that together they would have a better change of surviving. She finally decided to let him go and agonized about it afterwards. When the British got to her camp after the war, her foot was rotting off. Somehow they all survived, but were forever changed. [Halewijn Brown]

Malaya


Philippines

America acuired the Philippines Islands from Spain in the Spanish American War (1898). It was America's primary experience with colonialism. After a bloody insurgency, the Philippines became a quiet American outpost in the Pacific. A small number of American military and civilians lived in the Philippines. The civilian included government administrators, military dependents, business people, missionaries, and teachers. Many became very attached to the Philippinrs and Filipino people. It was very clear by 1940, especially after President Roosevelt embargoed oil exports to Japan that war with Japan was likely. It is unclear why so many American civilians stayed in the Philippines. The War Department ordered civilan dependents home. Why many stayed is unclear. Apparently some did not want to leave their husbands. There are other indications that Ameican officials in the Philippines sought to delasy or prevent dependants from returning to America. Their motivations are unclear, but some apparently believed that their presence strengthened the American commitment to the defense of the Philippines. Other civilian dependents apparently believed that America could defend the Islands, especially when President Roosevelt moved the Pacific Fleet forward to Pear Harbor. Civilians in the Philippines like many other Amerians underestimated the military potential of Japan, especially the Imperial Navy. Whatever the reasons, at the time of Pearl Harbor, there were about 6,000 Americans in the Islands. The Japanese seized four U.S. territories (Wake, Guam, two Aleutiansin islands (Attu and Kiska), and the Philippines during World War II. The Philippines at the time was a Commonwealth which the United States was preparing for independence. It had by far the largest number of American civilians interned by the Japanese. The Japanese after invading the Philippines quickly rounded up American civilians and interned them. The Japanese set up internment camps on Luzon and other islands. The largesrt and best known was Santo Tomas. Some of the military POWs were transported off the Islands for slave labor at other locations. The civilian internees were kept in the Philippines. The liberation of these camps after the American invasion beginning at Leyte (October 1944) is one of the most emotional acconts of the Philippines campaign.

Singapore


Murder Orders

Japanese Army aithorities in Tokyo appear to ordered camp authorities to begin killing the internees at the end of th War to destroy evidence of how the civilians and POWs had been mistreated. To date, however, we only have actual documents relted to the POWs. At the time, few commanders foresaw a surrender. As the Amricans had broken the Japanese Army codes, The Japanese after agreeing to surender were allowed to continue sending coded messages. This was because the codes were broken the Americans wanted to follow messages from Japanese authoriries to the units still controlling wide areas in the South Pacific, Malaya, Korea, and China. They wanted to make sure Imperial authorities were complying with the terms of the surrender. Some of the murder order traffic was probably picked up, but we do not yet know the details. We have never seen an account of the decrypts. We do know that there have been documents found instructing Japanese POW camp commabders to murder the men in their hands. [Holmes] As far as we know this relates to POWs. Wecare not yet sure about the civilian internees.


Figure 1.--This photograph shows some of the English children that were liberated from the Batu Lintang camp by the Australian 9th Division s (September 11). The internees were flow out on the RAAF C-47 seen here to Labuan. For most it was their first flight. There were 99 passengers in one flight, including a 91-year old mission sister. The children of course were especially excited and pepered the crew with all sorts of questions. The Japanese campcommander was preparing to kill the POWs and internees when the Australians reached the camp. At first the children here were to be burned alive in their bracks, but the Japanese later decided to poison them.

Liberation

The first camps to be liberated were located in the Philippines. The Americans finally reach the main island of Luzon with landings at Lingayen Gulf (January 9, 1945). The initial American landings were unopposed. Japanese Imperial Army General Tomoyuki Yamashita had been tasked with the defense of the Philippines. The Americans rapidly pushed south. The civilian internment and POW camps were primary objectives. The liberation of the camps is one of the most emotional acconts of the Philippines campaign. Army Rangers and Filipono guerillas stage a dramatic resue at Cabanatuan (Janury 30). Japanese soldiers under Lt. Konishi retaliate by kulling large numbers of Filipinos as Americns were no longer available. By this time the Americans were close to Manila. The American reached Santo Tomas (February 3, 1945), Old Bilibid Prison (February 4), and Los Banos (February 23). Even after liberation tge orderal was not over. After General MacArthur bruefly visited Santo Tomas, the Japanese begn shelling it. Most of tge DEI where most of the Allied civilians were being held was still in Japanese hands at the time the Japanese surrendered (August 14). Getting to them was a daunting undertaking. There wre air drops of supplies while thecAllies did their best to acceot local Jaoabese surrenders and get to the camps. . Some of the camp commanders were preparing to kill the POWs and internees at thec time of liberation. The Australians reached Batu Lintang camp on Sarawak (September 11). The camp commander was preparing to kill the POWws abd internees on September 15.

Sources

Archer, Bernice. Civilians Unfer the Japanese, 1941-45: A Patchwork of Internment (Routledge Curzon: London and New York, 2004), 298p.

Halewijn Brown, Emilie. "The Agonies of internment," The Washington Post (May 29, 2005), p. W11.

Heimann, Judith M. The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II

Holmes, Linda Goetz. Unjust Enrichment: How Japan's Companies Built Postwar Fortunes Using American POWs.

Keith, Agnes Newton. Beloved Exiles(Boston, Mass: Little Brown and Company, 1972).

Ooi, Keat Gin. ed.Japanese Empire in the Tropics: Selected Documents and Reports of the Japanese Period in Sarawak, Northwest Borneo, 1941-1945 (Ohio University Center for International Studies, Monographs in International Studies) SE Asia Series 101 (2 vols) (1998).

Rummel, R.J. "Statistics od Democide: Statistics Of Japanese Democide --Estimates, Calculations, And Sources*. Ch. 3.

Unbroken This is a marvelous source of treatment I believe to be typical and is an inspiring story of survival as well.






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Created: 7:28 AM 6/3/2012
Last updated: 7:33 AM 10/5/2015