Starvation due to poor food supply 

Life in a Japanese work camp
Inside one of the Kampong Makassar Barracks

The most important cause of death among civilian internees in occupied Netherlands East Indies (today’s Indonesia) was starvation. Whether starvation was deliberate or an incidental outcome of Japanese policies, is debatable, but starvation was inevitable, and the death toll would have climbed relentlessly if the war had continued beyond August 15 1945.

The concept of starvation , especially on Java, during the mid twentieth century made no sense whatsoever, given its extraordinary fertility and relatively low population. Only gross human mismanagement could bring starvation about.

Dr. van Velden, in her dissertation refers to food supply, as an issue, throughout her book, but does not summarize the situation, which I will try to do here.

Starvation was the inevitable logical outcome of a combination of conflicting Japanese army policy positions, not withstanding Sonei Kenichi’s infamous retort at his trial: Njonja sama sekali mati sendiri; (the lady died all by herself).

  1. Under no circumstance should subject peoples of the Emperor of Japan be dependent on him or his government for any support. Strict self-sufficiency was the order of the day. This implied two consequences for Europeans and their allies, interned by the Japanese army: they either paid for their food or had to work for it.

The result for civilian internees depended on sex. Most men were interned in the garrison town of Tjimahi on the Preanger highlands, where nearby farms could be relied on, using the labour of internees.

Women were gradually concentrated over time in two locations: Jakarta city or in the remote Ambarawa region of mid Java where land, suitable for horticulture either did not exist or was of poor quality. The women were thus almost entire dependent on their ability to purchase food. Within Tjideng a small unbuilt parcel of land was available but with the absence of agricultural implements, the horticulturalists had to make do with forks and spoons to work the unyielding soil. It produced nothing. Upon imposition of Japanese army control, the Dutch guilder was declared an illegal medium of exchange and currency holders were forced to exchange their guilder holdings for Japanese paper money. It soon became evident that the Indonesian population, remaining at large, placed no trust in the Japanese currency, rendering it valueless, and women resisted at great peril to convert their remaining guilder savings. With time and increased hardship, the Japanese army exercised dramatic pressure within the camps, to force women to pool their remaining financial resources and to allow the European camp administration to make bulk purchases of food.

  1. Given the racist-anti colonial policies imposed on the archipelago, particularly on Java and Sumatra, all contact between those within internment camps and those remaining at large, was strictly prohibited. Bartering through, under or over the camp wall, remaining possessions, such as clothing for food was punished with great severity.

4. By the first of January 1945 the food situation had become so dire, that the military administration erected a work camp outside Batavia (Kampong Makassar) for the express purpose of having 3,600 women and children eventually employed there, provide food for the 19,900 women and children in the various Batavia internment camps. I have no evidence than any food was ever produced by this work camp.

Boudewyn van Oort  Nov 2021

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