World War II in Indonesia

Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands named the Dutch East Indies. Until 1942 the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL - Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Indisch Leger) was the mayor force on the archipelago. At the end of 1941 the Japanese launched the Dutch East Indies Campaign. In March 1942 the KNIL surrendered. The Japanese ruled Indonesia until August 1945.

First greeted the Japanese as liberators from Dutch colonial rule. Soon it turned out the Japanese were new oppressors. Millions of Indonesians were put into forced labour (so-called romushas) where many of them died from exhaustian, malnutrition, sickness and mistreatment.

Indo Europeans
Children from mixed marriages were sometimes put into internment camps and sometimes allowed to live outside the camps (so-called buitenkampers). It depended mostly on how European they looked.

Dutch POWs
Were dispatched to work on exhausting building projects like the Sumatra and Birma railway. Many did not survive.

Dutch citizens
Were put into Japanese internment camps (so-called Jappenkampen). Their were camps for women/children and men. Many of these camps were ilocated n former Dutch resident areas or military facilities. Conditions varied but where mostly pretty bad. Some camps had sadistic Japanese officers and almost no access to food. Other camps had better conditions.

Below I will post photos of my travels through Indonesia during 2016 as well as reenactment photos of myself as a soldier of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.

On my channel I have several videos about Indonesia during WW II. Feel free to check them out!


During reenactment event me and others dressed as troops of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army ( KNIL - Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Indisch Leger ) period 1939-1942. (With the exception of one British officer.)

Soldiers with breeches trousers, low ankle boots, puttees, hembrug M.95 rifle, colonial bayonet (very rare, most of us carry Dutch infantry bayonets). As for headgear we have the iconic bamboo hat (looks like the Australian slouch hat). Officers sometimes wore the flat cap instead. There is also the helmet with cover and neck cover. Most of what we carry is reproduced.
Fun fact: for the uniforms curtain fabric from IKEA was used. For some weird reason this was almost identical as the original fabric.

Most soldiers serving in the KNIL were from Indies origin. Most of them were soldiers or Non-Commissioned Officer. Officer ranks were mostly for Europeans.


My grandmother was in a Jappenkamp, and seeing as she recently passed away, I can’t ask her which specific camp she was in. Do you have any idea where I could find this out?


First, you can specify which area of the East Indies. I know that you’re out of luck regarding the specific camp, but at least give the location. Was it in Sumatra? Where was she at the time of the invasion, as far as you can recall?


Hey David, you can try Bronbeek ( Koninklijk Tehuis voor Oud-Militairen en Museum Bronbeek) which is a museum and information centre for our colonial history.

This website might help as well:


I believe it was Java she was on, she was born there in the 1930’s and I’d assume she wasn’t transferred to another island. Her parents as far as I know were both Dutch colonials.


During and after the war the Red Cross made records about the camps, the Dutch records(including the Jappenkampen) were transferred to the Nationaal Archief. So you can look it up in Den Haag or in the digital archive (