Japanese Camp Life and Lodgings not Free


Amsterdam, 10 August 2002


Board and lodgings in the Japanese Imperial Hotels in the former Dutch East Indies were not free. The principle of the Japanese occupation army was that civilian prisoners had to pay for their own upkeep.


For the people who were prisoners of the Japanese occupation army the most stunning news is undoubtedly the revelation that camp life was not free. The Dutch Government Commission “Van Galen” which had to research the Indische Tegoeden (banking and insurance assets) included an appendix on the question of  “Camp Assets”. This subject was beyond their assignment, but the Commission deemed it valuable to give it some attention. That is why it was only an appendix to the more than 200 page report and consequently both the minister and the media missed it.


The payment for their own upkeep by prisoners of war is strictly forbidden by the international conventions. However, although H.R.H. the Emperor of Japan was one of the many co-signers of the convention of The Hague of 1907 and the Convention of Geneva of 1929, the military powers had never heard of international conventions. And if they had, they could not care less. Their example was, of course, their befriended ally, Nazi Germany, whom they happily copied. The Nazis did the same with the Jews, whom they forced to finance the building of camps Westerbork and Vught (both in The Netherlands) as well as their transportation to the death camps in other parts of Europe. The Commission “Scholten”, which researched the Jewish assets, reported: “the most poignantly judged is the refusal of the then Dutch Government (Drees) to replenish the total amount of the costs for the construction and upkeep of the camps and the deportation, which were financed by the inventories of the victims of prosecution.” (The idea that the Jews paid for their own prosecution was considered an unbearable thought for the government). 


Since the research on  Camp  assets was only an appendix  to the Indische Tegoeden Report it was completely overlooked by the Cabinet (Kok I 1994-1998: Kok II 1998 - 2002). Another reason is undoubtedly the fact that the “Indische Platform” (the negotiation party with the government, which  included “Stichting Japanse Ereschulden or JES) refused to accept that the East Indies Community be divided into various different groups. It was their explicit wish to consider the East Indies Community as an undivided whole. Hence, in the years of negotiations about redress and compensation, the victims of prosecution of the Japaneses went completely out of sight. The result of this decision is clear: to either party “Victims of Persecution” of the Japs ceased to exist. So, the financing of the camps, upkeep, food, medical care and transportations by the prisoners of the Japanese could not be considered “an ‘unbearable thought’ for the Dutch Government .”


The Japanese had clear rules and regulations for the civilian prisoners. First and foremost their bank assets and pensions were blocked in the first month of the occupation, and the Netherlands East Indies banks liquidated. Han Helfferich-Koch reports that she just managed to get a mere 50 guilders from her bank account in the beginning of April 1942. The bank assets went to Japanese banks, amongst others the Yokohama Specie Bank (which appeared to also have an affiliation in neutral Switzerland!). On internment, the prisoners had to surrender all their money but for 10 guilders per person, which could be spent on private commodities. They got a receipt for the amount surrendered. Part of the money was paid into the Camp treasury and part into the Yokohama Specie Bank. And according to various researchers a minute book of receipts and expenditure was kept by the Dutch camp board. The funds were spent on food and other expenses. The interest on bank assets were to be spent “on the welfare of the camp inhabitants” according to the Japanese camp rules. Persons who had no money had to work for a wage of 25 cents. If the work consisted of voluntary work for the upkeep of the camp and the welfare of the co-prisoners, the wages were 15 cents per day’s work plus 100 grams of food. The wages had to be handed in to the camp treasury, although it was sometimes allowed to be personally spend on extra food from the camp shop, (Kamp toko), if open at all. Some camps were rich (especially the men camps). They seem to also have paid for the poor camps (women and boys camps). One author wrote that to this date he had no idea where the money in his boys camp came from.


Naturally, most prisoners were not inclined to surrender all they had. So the part that they withheld was concealed, often so cunningly that it was not found during the frequent room and body searches by the Japanese. Han Helfferich, for instance, writes that she had a few hundred pre-war guilders hidden in her tea cosy, which was never discovered. Others were less lucky. The money that was found was not registered and neither taken in on a receipt. In a rich men camps, as Si Rengo Rengo (Sumatra) for instance, the haves lent money to the camp treasury for the have-nots, for which they got a receipt. In another men camp, from which the prisoners had to be removed, large amounts of money were found (something like a quarter of a million guilders).



From Helfferich-Koch’s book we learn that quite a few families had no money left for extra food. However, she does not mention that these women had to work for their meals. In her camp everybody who could work had to work, and the sick were – on Japanese orders - even deprived from 50% of the food rations, which were already minimal. She also wrote that one day the camp had a debt of more than 12,000 guilders, which had to be replenished with 3 guilders each (4000 women and children). Apparently it was widely known that the women did have at least some money stowed away.  From a diary kept by a teenage girl in the same camp, it can be learned that the prisoners frequently had to hand in ten guilders per person (she was from a poor family of eight). If the women refused to pay they were told that they, and their children, would be deprived from any food for so many days. Her mother was fortunately supported by others.


In their conclusion the Commission “Van Galen” writes: “It is highly probable the money that was handed in was spent on food and the upkeep of the camps, whereby it is very well possible that the money was spread over more camps. Not known is whether the Japanese appropriated the remains after the war. However, up till now there are no indications that during the occupation the funds were spent on Japanese war fare or the war economy” (A Swiss bank was not mentioned).


The only ultimate conclusion of the Commission was that the Japanese occupation army broke all the international conventions on the treatment of prisoners with their rule to let them pay for their own prison camp life.


What happened to the Camp funds after the war?


According to the Commission “Van Galen”, in 1947 an investigation was started by the then interim government (of Netherlands East Indies) into the basis of camp bookkeepings. Ex-Prisoners who loaned money to camp treasuries for the have-nots were asked to document their claim by a receipt or a declaration of his or her camp board. (Ed. I cannot help wondering how, to whom and where this was publicized. Were not the vast majority of ex-prisoners in Holland or en route to Holland, or either in Australia for recuperation at the time? Can anybody tell?).


The Department of Finance in Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) started to pay out reclaimed camp money. For restitution an amount of 1.1 million guilders was reserved. At the end of 1948 the restitution was terminated. How much actually had been returned and to whom is not known, since the documents have disappeared.


According to the report about 100,000 civilians were imprisoned, including women and children. Consequently, we have to conclude that the redress fund was based on not more than 11 guilders per prisoner. Wasn’t that a little undercalculated? 


There was another issue - the quest of the relief fund raised by the Allied countries on behalf of their starved nationals in the Japanese camps in Asia. This fund amounted to 100 million Swiss Francs, of which the Dutch Government in exile paid 2.5 million guilders.


Former “Telegraaf” reporter Jos Hagers, also a former prisoner of the Japanese, published on December 20th, 1997 an interesting feature on this matter. She reported that this food relief campaign never took off. Japan was only inclined to support the help campaign if they got the largest share of the fund, and if all the money was put into the - YES – our very own Yokohama Specie Bank, that was also keeping part or most of our camp money.  Thanks to some clever negotiations with the Swiss authorities, this Japanese wish was agreed upon and 60% went straight to Japan and 40% was put into the Swiss affiliation of the Yokohama Specie Bank. Swiss historian Michele  Couduri found out that the Japanese army immediately blocked that part of the  relief fund that remained in Switzerland, and put in an order worth 17 million Swiss francs with a Swiss firm for new cannons on the verge of the surrender of Japan. So, the cannons were never delivered.


However, there was of course, another legitimate reason for Japan to not having spent one Swiss franc on relief goods for their many prisoners. They would be dead by the 26th of August 1945, anyway. And who wants to spend money on corpses?


What happened to the many assets of the Dutch citizens who were in the Netherlands East Indies during the Japanese occupation, and what was left of the camp money, nobody will ever know. The lawful successors of the Yokohama Specie Bank are not willing to open their archives. And if they would it is highly unlikely that relevant documents could be found. The reason being that between August 14th and 24th, 1945, the army ordered that all documents incriminatory to Japan, the emperor, the army, the air force and the navy or their personnel be destroyed. So there will never be any evidence of whatever money the Yokohama Specie Bank took in.


However, your (grand)parents did get some restitution. In 1955 the Dutch and Japanese governments agreed to a compensation of 10 million guilders with the Stikker/Yoshida Akkoord. Where the assets came from, I haven’t been able to find out yet. But it is alleged that the ten million are the assets, including interest (and perhaps a good fine) that the Dutch government had paid into the Allied Relief Fund in 1944.  In 1956 every head of the family received his or her share to the total sum of between 275 and 385 guilders, which equals between 137.5 and 192.5 days of camp  life for one person only.


The rest will be claimed at a later date, more than 60 years later.


Keep alive!


Lilian Sluyter

Support Group

Stichting Vervolgingsslachtoffers Jappenkamp (SVJ)