Ambarawa Japanese Prison Camps

Ambarawa Prison Camps

Yvonne Vander Kooi, Ambarawa Kamp 7 (detail), painting, acrylic on canvas, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

Ambarawa Prison camps was a group of civilian Japanese internment camps in central Java located near the present day village of Ambarawa on the shores of lake Rowo Penning.  Before the war this had been  the site of a Dutch Colonial army military camp, called Fort Willem.

A number of friends from prewar days in Bandung (or Bandoeng) were moved there from Tjihapit after a grueling train trip.  There were a number of separate camps here , for women and children, for men and for boys. All were subjected to strict conditions of isolation.

Because of the chaos that erupted in this part of Java after the capitulation of Japan, few records have survived.  The book by Wiedermaier  provides an account of the circumstances in the boy’s camp. The accompanying painting by Yvonne van der Kooi also reflects  the situation faced by these young internees.

In the publication, Four Years till Tomorrow,  an English translation of a poem written in Camp Ambarawa by Geertruida van Leenhoff Weygers on 15 August 1944 is included as an entry, and its first stanza is reproduced below:

“Tired of life, as it is now,/ Tired of waiting for peace, still, with a silent smile I see my children enter my space.”

By “space” the poetess refers to the tiny  area in a barrack like environment, that she could call “home”. These areas were carefully measured in centimeters and jealously demarcated. There was absolutely no privacy

Ambarawa 6 held a maximum of about 4000 women and children, Ambarawa 7 held about 2700 boys and some nuns.  A  feature of the Japanese internment policy was the frequent movement of internees from one camp to another for reasons unknown. Several other Ambarawa camps, all essentially on the same grounds  near the village were in existence for various periods of time. A likely reason for these upheavals as a Japanese quest as their defenses crumbled, to economize on manpower needed for guard duty.


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