Japanese Civilian Prison Camps

Japanese  Civilian Prison Camps in the Netherlands East Indies


The camps were mainly located on four principal islands

  1. Java
  2. Sumatra
  3. Borneo
  4. Celebes


The Japanese Imperial Regime committed itself to the capture of  the Netherlands East Indie (NEI)  on November 26 1941, as an act of desperation. By that date the Japanese Imperial fleet destined to  eliminate United States interference  was already at sea, stationed to the north of Hawaii. The desperation arose out of Japan’s inability to halt its war of conquest in China, or to force Chinese surrender while its military machine was starved of fuel thanks to a trade embargo imposed by President Rooseveldt , and the decision  by the NEI colonial regime to do likewise .  The Japanese High Command  undertook to achieve its objective within 120 days , but owing to weaker than expected allied defense, succeeded within 90 days . On March 8, 1942 The Netherlands East Indies capitulated .

Japanese Policy Objective

The objective of establishing  Civilian prison camps was to eliminate  all signs of western influence from the Netherlands East Indies.  This objective was driven by a combination of strategic  and political considerations at the cost of weakening the economic potential of the NEI.  The scorched earth policy implemented  by the Colonial regime to thwart Japan’s access to the oil wealth of the NEI  ensured that  the Japanese government  saw the entire European population as firmly hostile.  A policy of ethnic cleansing  moreover had the attraction of winning support among the huge indigenous population.

The subsequent policy of progressive western civilian incarceration mostly affected five Indonesian islands : Java , Sumatra , Celebes ( today’s Sulawesi ), Borneo and Timur, although tiny European settlements ( mostly missions) had bene established on many other islands.

Implementation of Japanese ethnic cleansing policies

The process of ethnic cleansing  started almost immediately following capitulation , and involved a two stage process:

  1. Removal of all Europeans from their economic roles
  2. Systematic concentration of the European population to facilitate control

The detail of these process varied from island to island , and in the case of Java , a contrast arose between policy on east Java  and the remainder of the island. In this case naval authorities  managed the eastern part  where the naval base, Surabaja, was located, and the Japanese army managed the remainder of Java.

Internment on Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes and Timur  followed a different pattern.