Sketch by Jack Chalker

International Red Cross

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War Crimes Document

The Internment of Civilians in Singapore By The Nipponese Authorities

February 1942 to August 1945


International Red Cross Society

There remains tp record one feature of the treatment of internees in Malaya to which may be attributed most of the hardships and privations they were called to bear. This was the denial by the Nipponese authorities of the privilege of having their interests safe - guarded by a Representative of the international Red Cross Society, and of receiving the benefit which that Society traditionally accords to prisoner-of-war and civilian internees.

At no time during the three and a half years under review was the accredited representative of the I.R.C. Society in Malaya (Mr Schweizer) allowed to visit the International Camp or to have any contact with the officials of the Camp except in the presence of Nipponese officers when conversations were strictly limited to discussions of the arrangement (recorded elsewhere in this report) whereby Mr Scheizer supplied the Camp with certain foodstuffs and necessaries.

The privilege of receiving through the International Red Cross parcels of food and comforts was withheld during the first three years of internment with the exception of 200 personal parcels from South Africa (containing no food) received in September 1942, and 500 American Red Cross food parcels distributed amongst 3,200 internees in December 1943. The first general distribution of 1 parcel per internee did not take place until April 1945, followed by a small distribution in June. At the end of three and a half years less than 2 whole parcels per internee had been received.

Only one consignment of bulk foodstuffs was received (in September 1942) amounting to 18 lbs. per head.

General permission to send messages to friends and relatives overseas was granted on 8 occasions only, i.e., 5 postcards & 3 radio messages. The first considerable batch of letters to be received by internees through the International Red Cross arrived in April 1943 (14 months after interment). Reference in these letters and in others subsequently received made it clear that they represented only a fraction of those which had been  despatched. letters were held up for censorship for many weeks (sometimes for several months) after arrival in the Camp. Communications between internees and prisoners-of-war and between internees in Malaya and civilians interned elsewhere under Nipponese control, was strictly forbidden. Thus husbands and wives and other close relations interned in different Camps were kept in ignorance of each other’s welfare. The Nipponese authorities even refused to supply lists of Malayan prisoner-of-war and internees in other Camps under their control in Malaya, Sumatra, Java, ect. and there were some men and women interned in Singapore who throughout internment received no tidings of members of the families (wives, husbands, children. brothers, sisters, etc..) and were kept in ignorance as to whether they had become casualties in the last stages of the Battle for Singapore or during the disastrous evacuation which proceeded capitulation, or had been interned by the Nipponese elsewhere. The 104 male Jews interned in April 1943, were not allowed to write to their wives and families in Singapore although the latter were not interned until nearly 2 years later, i.e., March 1945.

For the last 20 months covered by this report, internees were allowed no official news service of any kind. prior to October 1943, the Camp was supplied daily with a few copies of the “Syonan Sinbun” (the Nipponese successor to the “Straits Times”) and from May until October 1943, there were nightly broadcasts of the news in English from the Singapore Broadcasting Station. News from both these sources was about 75% propaganda and it was the urge to get reliable tidings of the tremendous events which were being enacted in the outside world that was mainly responsible for the “Double Tenth” investigation. After October 1943, the only news supplied to the Camp by the Nipponese comprised copies of two issues of the “Voice of Nippon”, a paper produced specially for prisoners-of-war and internees. The two issues were released to the Camp in February 1944, with the promise that the paper would be supplied regularly, but the promise was never implemented.

The mental strain from which internees suffered during the darker days of internment was in large part due to feeling that the ordinary standards of justice, humanity, and decency, which they had previously taken for granted had been swept away and that no matter how barbarous and unjust the treatment to which they were subjected, they had no impartial tribunal to which they could appeal.

If the International Red Cross Society had been allowed to perform its usual functions in their interests, internees in Malaya would have been relieved of much of the mental strain, anxiety, and physical discomfort arising from the conditions briefly outlined in this report. There would have been no acute shortage of food, medical supplies, clothing, bedding, footwear and other necessaries. Means would presumably have been found to induce the Nipponese to relieve congestion in the Camps, to grant wider opportunities for recreation during the Changi period, and it is hardly conceivable that the grimmer features of the “Double Tenth” incident or of many of the punishments inflicted in the Camps would have occurred under the scrutiny of an observer vested with the prestige and authority of the International Red Cross.

There is little doubt, too, that an International Red Cross representative, had he been permitted to do so, would have arranged much better facilities for communication between internees and their friends and relatives overseas, and that a reasonable service of world news would have been provided. Indeed, if the Nipponese authorities had granted this one concession the story of internment in Malaya would have been fundamentally changed.

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