The Liberation

August 1945. The Japanese surrender came as unexpectedly to the prisoners of war and civilians in the camps as it did to the Indonesians. Even for the Japanese military. The capitulation was only announced in the camps days later, and not on the same day in every camp.

You couldn't leave yet. The Japanese had the order to keep the prisoners inside until the Allied troops would take over. This announcement was made on leaflets, which were dropped together with food packages from airplanes. At least above the camps they knew were located.

In the first weeks, there was no sign of an anti-Dutch attitude. For example, at the Siringorfingo camp, hundreds of Indonesians and Chinese streamed into the camp, often having made a long journey from remote plantations or from Medan.

Willem Klooster, former editor-in-chief of the Deli Courant, describes how they greeted the former Dutch internees and couldn't hold back their tears. They brought baskets full of fruits, chicken, eggs, rice, sugar, and cigarettes, and asked what more they could do. They told how they had also suffered under the Japanese occupation and how their friends had been murdered by the Kempetai. How everything had been taken from them and how they had been beaten and abused. How they had lived in constant fear and terror for three and a half years under the whip of Nippon.

Touching letters came from Indonesian friends and former staff, showing their affection. (History of Indonesia)

The situation changed drastically in the course of September. (See Bersiap period)

We didn't notice much of the liberation. We were too dazed for it. More food came in. Also the withheld medicines. We were lucky, because for the most difficult to reach camps, the liberation only came in the course of the year 1947!

From later found reports in Singapore, it appears that a Japanese military order was issued on August 1, 1944, to kill all remaining internees. The camp commanders could decide for themselves how. Japan wanted to commit genocide. The remaining Dutch people, who were imprisoned in 155 camps in 1942, had already been gathered in 43 camps by August 1945.

In anticipation of the impending genocide, many trenches around the camps were already dug by the prisoners themselves.

But it wouldn't come to that.

On August 10, 1945, the Japanese detonated their first atomic bomb in Hungnam, Korea (under the leadership of Professor Nishima). Only after that did the USA decide to drop two atomic bombs.

One bomb (Little Boy) on the military city of Hiroshima on August 6 killed 66,000 people and injured 69,000. On August 9, another bomb (Fat Man) on the naval city of Nagasaki killed 39,000 and injured 25,000 (these are just the immediate numbers, many more would follow).

The very first atomic bomb was detonated in the USA in July 1945. So there was no racist argument to drop one on Japan.

Securing the Kokutai (best translated as national identity) and thereby the emperorship was of greater importance to the Japanese army than the death of even the entire population. Even after the nuclear attacks, the Japanese government remained hesitant (Hugo Röling, NRC). Hideki Tojo, who had given the order to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, wanted to continue even after the American atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to him, surrender was a disgrace.

He was hanged in 1948. Hirohito made the decision and ordered to agree to an unconditional surrender, with the important condition that his position as emperor would be preserved.

So were the bombs not even decisive for this decision? Discussion about this at See also "Voice of the Crane" lecture by Hans Liesker.

Cultural differences between West and East and ignorance about this may have hindered communication about this. The surrender did prevent the survivors of the camps from being mass-murdered, as the emperor withdrew this order in time.

On April 23, Korean Li Uck Kwan, working in the General Affairs Department of the Headquarters for Prisoners of War and Internees in Java, gave testimony to the Allied War Crimes Investigation Committee.

Men had the order to incite rebellion among the 2000 men from Tjimahi camp, so that they could be shot dead while trying to escape, which was allowed. (Open the gates!) And if that didn't work, the prisoners would be taken out of the cities under the guise of relocation and killed. (The Japanese civilian camps......)

Even without the military order to exterminate us, if it had lasted three months longer, there would have been little chance of survival for us, because the people were already too far gone and their starvation edema was too advanced.

The question was whether Japan would capitulate on its own. It didn't seem likely. The expected number of dead and wounded on the Japanese side if the pre-war continued was staggeringly high. This death toll would even surpass the casualties of those bombings.

It is of course not ethical to have to weigh numbers against each other, but it is true that the number of deaths in all participating countries would have been much higher if the war had lasted longer. The United States calculated that if they continued fighting, another 250,000 American soldiers would perish and 5 million Japanese.