[Probably: Malang, Java:] September 30 03 – March 7 04 [Japanese imperial calendar, September 30 1943 – March 7 1944, Gregorian Calendar (date on the first page)],
[Lampersari, Java]: March 1944 – shortly after July 12 2604 .
Japanese Prison Camps for Dutch Women and Children in Java during World War II
The Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies on January 10, 1942 and on February 28 their army landed on the coast of West Java. In the next weeks and months the Dutch men, living on the island were imprisoned and many were executed.
Shortly after, the Japanese gathered Dutch women and children and relocated them to prison camps, distributed along the island, with the pretext of protecting them from the Indonesians. Harsh conditions in camps, with only limited food and space soon started taking toll on the prisoners, used of comfortable life before the war. Many elderly and weak soon scumbled to diseases as the others were appointed of maintaining the place with hard labor. Education for women and children was strictly forbidden.
Japanese prison camps for women and children were much crueler that prisons form men, that had more liberties, including education and were exposed to less physical harm than women.
In January,1944, women and children officially declared prisoners of war. The situation for them worsened and many were transported to other, harsher and more crammed camps, where they were appointed to do humiliating jobs, such as transporting stones and cleaning toilets. Many young women were taken by the Japanese to entertain them as “comfort women”.
Women were also deported in large numbers to work as prostitutes to Japanese soldiers.
With the capitulation of Japan in the autumn of 1945 the prisoners continued being kept at camps for their security and most of them only left, accompanied by relatives or friends from the outside world. With their homes destroyed and in many cases without husbands and fathers, who perished at an unknown time during the war, the freed women and children moved mostly to the Netherlands.
The Manuscript in Focus
The diary was written by a young woman, probably in her mid or late teens, possibly identical to one W. de Nieuwe, signed on the cover, who was deported to Malang prison camp on September 30th 1943 and to Lampersari in March 1944.
The manuscript is an intelligently written narrative poetry, describing the miserable conditions of the prison camps almost like a musical, with bitterly ironical tone and black humor. A part of the text is formed as poems, as some parts were supposed to be sung to the tunes of popular melodies, mentioned in brackets. The happy rhythms added additional irony to the discouraging situation, the author found herself in.
The diary also includes a prison camp alphabet, where the letters are connected with the words from the prison life, such as sleeping on the floors, surrounded by 100 lice, watery soup, diarrhea etc.
In the first part of the text the author describes Malang camp with the first song introducing the “happy” daily life in the camp with waking up early, eating Indonesian plain or fermented rice dishes (Tapai, Lemper and Ketan) and then cleaning, scrubbing and washing the laundry until the evening. The second song describes a Dutch girl Maud working as a babysitter and toilette cleaner three times per week for a miserable salary.
The text is followed by a bitterly ironic poem about the life in the prison camp, described as located in the mountains above Malang, and surrounded by poles and barb wire. The author sarcastically describes the conditions as “great”, where one is surrounded by doctors, pharmacies and many more commodities, such as hair salons, birthday presents and cakes, entertainment, church concerts, sport activities, ice cream, flowers, fruits, bread, milk, shoes, toys and plenty of food. Children can go to schools and even elderly people have jobs. Saturdays are especially fun on the market. “So everything marches beautifully here. This neighborhood is really nice. If you still had your family and freedom, you would be hellishly happy, But now…”.
In the following poems and songs, made in the early 1944, the author depicts, how women and children were told to pack their belongings and were transported on overcrowded trains without food and water to a new location.
The new location was an infamous Lampersari prison camp, today known as possibly most cruel Japanese WWII camp in Java, where around 8000 women and children were held under atrocious conditions, being exposed to torture, beatings, starvation and hard labour. Women were also deported in large numbers to work as prostitutes to Japanese soldiers.
The author describes the their first night spent on the floor, tired and scared. The conditions in the new camp were much worse than in Malang and the prisoners soon started missing the first location.
The descriptions of Lampersari, with strict guards, lack of food, keeping night guard, trying to understand Japanese commands etc. are made with a same grain of black humor as before, trying to remain in good spirits. The author also depicts friendship among your women and happiness, when the first parcels from the Red Cross arrived in May 1944.
The last entry, being a song, formed as happy tune of young campers at a jamboree, is full of black humor and irony on the “excellent food” the prisoners are receiving, keeping them always slender. It is not dated, but was written shortly after the last date July 12, 1944, ending with optimistic words, that after the rain, the sun will reappear.
After that entry the text disappears, leaving most of the notebook empty. It is unknown what happened to the young woman, who authored those happy lyrics, after that date, which was still a year before women and children could leave the horrors of the prison camps after the capitulation of Japan. Hopefully author survived unharmed until then.
Sadly, many young Dutch women in prison camps in Java succumbed to diseases or were taken in large numbers by Japanese soldiers to work as “comfort women”. Especially the Lampersari prison camp became infamous for this practice.
Other First Hand Accounts
Other similar first-hand accounts on the Javanese prison camps by Dutch teenagers survive until today.
Among others, John K. Stutterheim, who was 14 years old, when he was taken to the appalling location of Lampersari with his mother and brother, was also writing a diary, which he published in The Diary of Prisoner 17326. A Boy’s Life in a Japanese Labor Camp (2012).
In 2009, Elizabeth Van Kampen, who was a teenage girl, when imprisoned in Javanese camps, wrote an article on her ordeal, which almost entirely matches the descriptions of the conditions and treatment of women and children in our diary. (On-line source: apjjf.org/-Elizabeth-Van-Kampen/3002/article.pdf, Elizabeth Van Kampen, Memories of the Dutch East Indies. From Plantation Society to Prisoner of Japan, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 1, No. 4, Jan 01, 2009).