Ex-Burma POW, Jan Bras, Sues for Damages

Expatica reports the story of Jan Bras. Bras is suing the Dutch state for compensation for physical injuries he sustained while he was a POW during WWII. Bras was forced to perform slave labor nearly 70 years ago.

Bras has been engaging in the court battle for five years. He states that his back problems are due to the forced labor he endured after the Dutch surrendered to Japan in March of 1942. Bras and many of his comrades were forced to work on the now infamous Burma railway. The men endured horrific conditions, torture, and death.

After the railway was completed, Bras was sent to Japan where he then was forced to work in an underground coal mine. He was later freed in 1945 when Japan finally surrendered, thus ending the Second World War.

“My father is not claiming for lost earnings. He is claiming for physical suffering and what he really wants is recognition for that,” said Gina Jennings. Jennings is Bras daughter and is also his legal representative.

“From the time he was 28 he has suffered from back-ache as a result of spending three-and-a-half years as a slave to the Japanese,” she told a judge at the Dutch Administrative High Court in the center of Utrecht.

Bras does receive a small stipend for “psychological damages” that he has suffered from the Dutch State. So far, his requests for POW induced physical injuries have been turned down. He first filed a claim in 2009 under a set of bazaar Dutch laws. These laws allow veterans who were affected by the war, be it physically or psychologically, to receive compensation by the Dutch State.

Judges have previously ruled that the back pain Bras is suffering is from a degenerative spine due to old age, not because of the slave labor he endured as a POW when he was 19 years old.

Being a doctor himself, Bras was examined by several medical specialists when he first launched his campaign. Every time, the doctors concluded that the condition was due to his age.


“There are no new medical facts and therefore no reason to change our viewpoint, based on the conclusions by the medical doctors,” Anette Vroom-van Berckel, who examined Bras. Vroom-van Berckel represents the organization, Sociale Verzekeringsbank (SVB) that is responsible for paying the state pensions and grants.

Over 60,000 Allied POWs worked as slave laborers on the Burma railway—a railway that has garnered the nickname of the “Death Railway”. Approximately 13,000 POWs and 100,000 indigenous workers died while working on that railway. The horrific conditions the prisoners endured was captured in a 1950s film entitled “Bridge on the River Kwai.”

The court will give a ruling on Bras’ lawsuit on January 30.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE