History · World War II

A Potemkin Village in WWII Java

Mystery Science Theater 3000, World War II-style. This extraordinary documentary shows a film made by the Japanese in Java about the wonderful conditions in their POW and civilian internment camps, with commentary added a few years postwar by a handful of survivors.

The conditions shown were all faked, as the survivors passionately attest: good clothes, food, money, sports equipment, all handed to them for the length of filming, then snatched back again. Two hours of decency, they say, in the middle of 3 1/2 years of misery. It must have been incredibly surreal–but also, presumably, pleasant while it lasted.

Interspersed here is footage of the actual situation, secretly captured by internees or found in Japanese newsreels of the time. Warning: disturbing images of starvation, death, and a dude imitating a kookaburra.

The commentators are mostly Australian and Dutch. The British government would hardly have supported such an expose so soon after the war.

What a bizarre cultural artifact. Gotta love YouTube for finds like this.