Little Known WWII Facts: Death rates among Civilian POWs in the Philippines

Little Known WWII Facts: Death rates among Civilian POWs in the Philippines

The following statistics were provided by Angus Lorenzen and Martin Meadows

(1) The number of internees fluctuated [at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp or STIC], but usually was around 4,000; people were constantly entering and leaving (e.g., missionaries for a time, the sick, and the elderly), and it has been estimated that, altogether, about 7,000 persons lived in STIC.  When STIC got too crowded, the Japs opened another camp in May 1943 at Los Baños, about 40 or so miles south of Manila, and eventually they had about 2,100 (they were freed about three weeks after we were).  STIC was the largest camp, but there were a few others, so the total number of civilian internees in the Philippines was around 8,000 (I am rounding all numbers here).  By the time we were freed, STIC had about 3,800 people (lots of deaths toward the end; see below).  (These totals do not include the circa 150 internees who were repatriated early as part of exchange agreements between Japan and the U.S./U.K.)

(2) Before I discuss the number of STIC deaths, here is a VERY interesting comparison of Nazi camp and Jap camp death rates:

(a) Nazi camps for military prisoners — death rate a little over one percent.
Nazi camps for civilian (non-Jewish) prisoners — circa 3.5% (repeat for emphasis: non-Jewish civilians).
(b) Jap military camps — death rate ca. 40%!!!!!!!!
Jap civilian camps — death rate circa 11% (well over 1,500 deaths out of almost 14,000 civilian prisoners, in all of Southeast Asia).

And now to STIC (Santo Tomas Internment Camp).

Total deaths for STIC internees: circa 400 (390 by one count — 336 males, 54 females).  Can’t accurately calculate the death rate because of the aforementioned fluctuating STIC population; also, a number of older internees likely would have died anyway, though of course they are included in the total (circa 20 have “cause of death” listed as “old  age”).

Another VERY important point, as already noted, is the LARGE increase in the number of STIC deaths toward the end. Of the 400 total deaths, 39 were in January and 48 were in February, and the latter total was despite the fact that we were freed on the night of February 3 (that 48 includes the circa 13 killed by Jap shelling of STIC after we were freed).  In any case, if we assume a “stable” STIC population of 4,000 and 400 deaths, the resultant 10% death rate is roughly in line with the previously cited 11% death rate for all Jap civilian camps; and the same applies to the circa 800 deaths out of circa 8,000 civilian internees in the Philippines.  —  MM

Martin Meadows <

The statistics Martin provides are reasonably good.  For a more precise view, you can refer to the technical paper by Emmet F. Pearson, Lt. Col. M.C., A.U.S., F.A.C.P. “Morbidity and Mortality in Santo Tomas Internment Camp”, Annals of Internal Medicine, June 1946.  The writer served with one of the Army hospitals set up within Santo Tomas, and researched the medical history of the internees based on the camp records, most of which were saved during liberation and were reasonably intact.  Similar records were lost for Los Baños and Baguio.  His numbers are very close to those published by Frederick Stevens in his 1946 book “Santo Tomas Internment Camp”.  He also includes some statistics from the Baguio and Los Baños Camps, though he states the records for those camps are very incomplete.  Here are some interesting highlights.

Census statistics from the three camps at time of liberation were:

Santo Tomas      3,785

Los Baños           2,146

Baguio/Bilibid       460

TOTAL                6,399

Death statistics

Santo Tomas         435

Los Baños                21

Baguio                    20

TOTAL                   476

Stevens shows total deaths as 488

Pearson shows 19 died from the Japanese shelling. Stevens shows 17 internees died plus 4 non-internees for a total of 21, and 1 died of a heart attack during the Education Building hostage situation.

Prisoners in other camps were moved to Santo Tomas between 1942 and 1944, as follows:

Cebu City, Cebu           148 prisoners, arrived STIC 19 December 1942

Bacolod, Negros          119 prisoners, arrived STIC 2 March 1943

Iloilo, Panay                109 prisoners, arrived STIC 16 June 1943

Davao, Mindanao        279 prisoners, arrived STIC 2 January 1944

Pearson lists the main causes of death as follows:

Heart Disease                            82

Malnutrition (and  beri beri)  60

Tuberculosis                              43

Cancer                                       31

Pneumonia                               26

Enemy shell fire                      19

Dysentery                                12

Execution                                  9

Plus, many other diseases, all acerbated by lack of medication and malnutrition.

Deaths at STIC continued after liberation and included 52 in February, 21 in March, 4 in April, and 1 in May.

If you use an average population in STIC of 3800, the death rate was 11.4%.

Pearson has a lot of other interesting information in his paper for those interested in researching it.

Angus Lorenzen

Permission to use this material has been granted by both Martin Meadows and Angus Lorenzen. This is Lorenzen’s statement:

“Any information sent to Maurice is considered “public” information, and can be reused.  Generally we consider it a courtesy if someone reuses the information from BACEPOW sources to provide attribution of the source.

One of the goals of BACEPOW is to ensure that the history of the Philippine internment camps remains accurate.  On some occasions, we have noted that fictional depictions of a camp are highly inaccurate and distort the actual events or people, and in these cases, we have posted reviews to the publisher, Amazon, and other book sellers pointing out where the fictionalization has destroyed the integrity of the author.  Your book, “Only by the Grace of God” is personal experience, which contributes to the true history of the internment camp experience.  The fact that it presents that history from the perspective of three different people should make it an interesting read.

We regularly post a book review in the BACEPOW newsletter “Beyond the Wire”.  If you are interested in having such a review, which would be distributed to members of BACEPOW, archivists of Philippine war history, and the BACEPOW website, have your publisher send a copy to:

 Sascha Jansen

213 Grand Canyon Drive

Vacaville, CA 95687

Angus Lorenzen”