Philippine Sanctuary: A Holocaust Odyssey

In January, Dr. Bonnie M. Harris released her new book, Philippine Sanctuary: A Holocaust Odyssey.

Philippine SanctuaryPublisher’s description: During World War II, the United States government and many Western democracies limited or closed themselves off entirely to Jewish refugees. By contrast, a Pacific island nation decided to keep its doors open. Between 1938 and 1941, the Philippine Commonwealth provided safe asylum to more than 1,300 German Jews. In highlighting the efforts by Philippine president Manual Quezon and High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt, Bonnie M. Harris offers fuller implications for our understanding of the Roosevelt administration’s response to the Holocaust.

This untold history is brought to life by focusing on the incredible journey of synagogue cantor Joseph Cysner. Drawing from oral histories, memoirs, and personal papers, Harris documents Cysner’s harrowing escape from the Nazis and his heroic rescue by the American-led Jewish community of the Philippines in 1939. Moving and rich in historical detail, Philippine Sanctuary reveals new insights for an overlooked period in our recent history, and emphasizes the continued importance of humanitarian efforts to aid those being persecuted.

Bonnie M. Harris is a lecturer at San Diego State University and an associate producer for the documentary An Open Door: Holocaust Haven in the Philippines.

Bamboo Bracelet now available!

Merilyn Brason’s new book, The Bamboo Bracelet, is now available for purchase.

The Bamboo BraceletPublisher’s description: It is 8th December 1941. Fresh from England and six months pregnant, Ronny Rynd has left her husband in the suffocating heat of Manila to holiday in the mountain setting of Baguio. Following the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor, she finds herself caught up in the Japanese attack on the Philippine Islands. Alone and vulnerable, this ordinary woman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time must learn how to survive.

Years of incarceration in prisoner of war camps loom as Ronny struggles to bring up her baby, living in constant fear in hostile and primitive conditions. Against this background unlikely friendships blossom to sustain her. Desperate to be a family, the ever-feisty Ronny must confront the dangerous Japanese authorities for permission to be united with her husband, imprisoned in the overcrowded city camp in Manila. But conditions there present different horrors and further heartbreak.

A tribute to the remarkable men and women who created their own functioning society within their camps, this book displays their inventiveness, determination and unexpected humour. It is a story of family life lived in spite of the brutal regime of years in prisoner of war camps.

You can order the book online through the publisher’s website.

Kickstarter campaign for The Bamboo Bracelet

From Merilyn Brason: I am very excited to tell you that, after many years of work, I am publishing my book, The Bamboo Bracelet. This book is based on my mother’s notes of her experience of years of captivity in Japanese prisoner of war camps in the Philippines during World War II.

You may know that my sister was born and raised in these camps. The launch of this campaign coincides with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Japanese POW camps in the Philippines by the U.S. 37th Infantry Division. In order to raise the cost of publishing this extraordinary story, complete with unique photographs, I have launched an online Kickstarter campaign.

If you are interested in getting a copy and seeing this book published please support me on The Bamboo Bracelet Kickstarter Campaign.

My mother was Charis Veronica Rynd, known as Ronny and she was pregnant when the invasion of the Philippines took place and was on holiday in the hills so was incarcerated in Baguio. My father Patrick Gerald Rynd who worked for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in Manila was incarcerated in Santo Tomas. My sister, Catherine Rynd was born in the camp on March 17th 1942. On April 1st 1943, my mother escorted children from Baguio to Santa Tomas to rejoin their families there, and she was reunited with my father. This is verified in The Santo Tomas Story, page 144, by A V H Hartendorp (except that he said that my sister was a boy!). My parents and sister are also listed in Going Home by Robert Colquhoun as being in the same ship to San Francisco that he was in after liberation.

My mother was always going to write her story and made many notes, but sadly never did. Now that I have retired I have taken up the baton and am starting to write about her experience, to pass the story down to my sons if nothing else!

For more information see my Facebook page, my Kickstarter page, or the video below.

Leonore’s Suite — new historical novel by Mary Beth Klee

From the publisher’s website: Historical fiction, inspired by true events, ​Leonore’s Suite is an unexpected coming-of-age story: “I went off to prison in a Cadillac.”

Leonore's Suite coverWith those words, thirteen-year-and-a-half-year-old Lee Iserson leads readers on a surprising journey through thirty-seven months of captivity under the Japanese. A historical novel inspired by true events, this coming-of-age story shines a light on a little known saga of World War II: the imprisonment of nearly four thousand Allied civilians (mostly American, largely families) in Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp. Lee, her best friend Lulu, and their teen buddies journey to adulthood under dramatically adverse circumstances, enduring loss, cruelty, and starvation. Having lost her freedom and her father, Lee wonders: where is God in the darkness? did music have the power to heal?

For the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Santo Tomas (February 3, 2020) comes this rich and unexpected tale. Now available in hardcover and softcover. E-book coming soon!

2019 Books!

Following are the books, fiction and non-fiction, released in 2019 that involved the civilian internment camps or World War II in the Philippines. The abstracts are provided either by the author or the publisher. I hope to make this annual review of books a regular column.

A Child’s Life — Interrupted by the Imperial Japanese Army
by Robert Anthony Wheeler, Santo Tomás and Los Baños internee

Childs-Life-2019-Robert-Wheeler-coverRobert A. Wheeler was born in Manila, the Philippine Islands, where his normal childhood changed drastically when the Imperial Japanese Air Force bombed the city on December 8, 1941, the day after their planes destroyed United States battleships at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands.Bob, his younger brother, Albert, their American father and German stepmother were incarcerated first at Santo Tomas University and later in the Los Banos internment camp, where they spent more than two years with two thousand other Allied men, women, and children, trying to survive on sparse diets under brutal captors.Then, on February 23, 1945, “Angels” came from heaven above to liberate the internees held at Los Banos. Paratroopers from the 11th Airborne Division, particularly the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, rescued the prisoners, who were immediately evacuated to U.S. lines aboard Amtracs by the 672nd Amphibious Tractor Battalion.Repatriated to the United States in April 1945, the family finally settled in California but never forgot the men who saved their lives.

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Along the Broken Bay [Fiction]
by Flora J. Solomon

December 1941. War has erupted in the Pacific, spelling danger for Gina Capelli Thorpe, an American expat living in Manila. When the Japanese invade and her husband goes missing, Gina flees with her daughter to the Zambales Mountains to avoid capture—or worse.

Desperate for money, medicine, and guns, the resistance recruits Gina to join their underground army and smuggles her back to Manila. There, she forges a new identity and opens a nightclub, where seductive beauties sing, dance, and tease secrets out of high-ranking Japanese officers while the wildly successful club and its enemy patrons help fund the resistance.

But operating undercover in the spotlight has Gina struggling to stay a step ahead of the Japanese. She’s risked everything to take a stand, but her club is a house of cards in the eye of a storm. Can Gina keep this delicate operation running long enough to outlast the enemy, or is she on a sure path to defeat that will put her family, her freedom, or even her life at risk?

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Wonks [Fiction]
by William Reese Hamilton, Santo Tomás internee

World War II, The Philippines. Johnny Oldfield tells what it’s like to grow up in a Japanese prison camp, his pivotal teenage years filled with danger and defeat, adventure and intrigue, cruelty and betrayal, starvation and death, survival and liberation.Johnny calls himself a WONK (from the Chinese won gau, yellow dog) a mongrel running with a pack of rebellious kids and viewing his society from the ground up. Separated from his father by the Japanese invasion, he gets his life lessons from a diverse cast of characters: his mother Ruth, a nurse with a strong and independent spirit; Harry Barnes, a storyteller who arrives from China carrying the urn of a friend’s ashes; Southy Jack, an ex-pro boxer who trains boys in the manly art; Polecat, a mestizo pal with an all-consuming hatred for the Japanese; the Colonel, a wise old plantation owner who gives advice on survival; Haverford, a disgruntled alcoholic from Manila’s high society; and Abiko, the feared officer of the Japanese camp guard.This dramatic tale is played out in the heart of Manila, a city once called “the Pearl of the Orient,” now being destroyed by massive bombing, strafing, artillery barrages and mortar attacks.

William Reese Hamilton spent his childhood in North China and the Philippines, where he and his family were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese Army for more than three years in Santo Tomas Internment Camp, Manila. Reese has translated this experience into a new work of fiction, Wonks, inspired closely by the years he spent locked away in Santo Tomas, facing danger and defeat, adventure and intrigue, cruelty and betrayal, starvation and death, survival and, ultimately, liberation.

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A Reckoning : Philippine Trials of Japanese War Criminals
by Sharon W. Chamberlain

After World War II, thousands of Japanese throughout Asia were put on trial for war crimes. Examination of postwar trials is now a thriving area of research, but Sharon W. Chamberlain is the first to offer an authoritative assessment of the legal proceedings convened in the Philippines. These were trials conducted by Asians, not Western powers, and centered on the abuses suffered by local inhabitants rather than by prisoners of war. Her impressively researched work reveals the challenges faced by the Philippines, as a newly independent nation, in navigating issues of justice amid domestic and international pressures.

Chamberlain highlights the differing views of Filipinos and Japanese about the trials. The Philippine government aimed to show its commitment to impartial proceedings with just outcomes. In Japan, it appeared that defendants were selected arbitrarily, judges and prosecutors were biased, and lower-ranking soldiers were punished for crimes ordered by their superior officers. She analyzes the broader implications of this divergence as bilateral relations between the two nations evolved and contends that these competing narratives were reimagined in a way that, paradoxically, aided a path toward postwar reconciliation.

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Philippine Birthmark: The Story of William Singleton Carroll His birth and first three years as a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines 1941-45
by McLean Goodpasture Carroll

Philippine Birthmark tells the story of William Singleton Carroll’s birth and first three years as an unwilling captive of the Japanese in Manila during WWII. Little is known of the bombing of the Philippines taking place the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. This narrative will shed light on the conditions suffered by many Americans in Manila at Santo Tomas Internment Camp from January 1942 to February 1945.

Read the review by Angus Lorenzen published in Beyond the Wire (The BACEPOW newsletter).

Wonks – a new fictional book on Santo Tomás Internment Camp!

Former STIC internee, William Reese Hamilton, has just released a fictional work based on his time in STIC. Born in 1936, William is the son of Samuel and Mary Hamilton. Together, with his siblings, David and Samuel Jr., they were repatriated on the U.S.S. Admiral W. L. Capps, leaving Leyte, on 20 March 1945, and arriving in San Francisco on 8 April 1945.

Wonks, by William Reese Hamilton

Wonks, by William Reese Hamilton

The description at Amazon.com reads: World War II, The Philippines. Johnny Oldfield tells what it’s like to grow up in a Japanese prison camp, his pivotal teenage years filled with danger and defeat, adventure and intrigue, cruelty and betrayal, starvation and death, survival and liberation.Johnny calls himself a WONK (from the Chinese won gau, yellow dog) a mongrel running with a pack of rebellious kids and viewing his society from the ground up. Separated from his father by the Japanese invasion, he gets his life lessons from a diverse cast of characters: his mother Ruth, a nurse with a strong and independent spirit; Harry Barnes, a storyteller who arrives from China carrying the urn of a friend’s ashes; Southy Jack, an ex-pro boxer who trains boys in the manly art; Polecat, a mestizo pal with an all-consuming hatred for the Japanese; the Colonel, a wise old plantation owner who gives advice on survival; Haverford, a disgruntled alcoholic from Manila’s high society; and Abiko, the feared officer of the Japanese camp guard.This dramatic tale is played out in the heart of Manila, a city once called “the Pearl of the Orient,” now being destroyed by massive bombing, strafing, artillery barrages and mortar attacks.

See a write-up on Mr. Hamilton at TheExaminerNews.com.

Next week: A round-up of 2018-2019 books!

“Rampage” now available!

James M. Scott’s new book, Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila, is available now in print and Kindle formats. The 640-page book contains 16 pages of illustrations and 10 maps. General MacArthur’s visits to Old Bilibid Prison and Santo Tomas Internment Camp are detailed. The summary at Amazon.com states:

The twenty-nine-day battle to liberate Manila resulted in the catastrophic destruction of the city and a rampage by Japanese forces that brutalized the civilian population. Landmarks were demolished, houses were torched, suspected resistance fighters were tortured and killed, countless women were raped, and their husbands and children were murdered. American troops had no choice but to battle the enemy, floor by floor and even room by room, through schools, hospitals, and even sports stadiums. In the end, an estimated 100,000 civilians lost their lives in a massacre as heinous as the Rape of Nanking.

Cody K. Carlson, in his review in the Deseret News, says:

The heart of this book, however, is the stories of death and suffering inflicted upon the Filipino people, as well as other ethnicities, at the hands of a vengeful Japanese military whose soldiers knew they could not defeat the Americans. Scott examines massacre after massacre, such as the butchering that took place when Japanese marines entered a Red Cross hospital and indiscriminately bayonetted and shot both patients and staff despite pleas for mercy. No one was spared, not even Filipino film star Corazon Noble, who lived to later testify that she had been bayonetted nine times by the Japanese. Her infant had been bayoneted three times and died. Similar tales of death occurred at places like the German Club, De Le Salle and at St. Paul’s College, as well as countless other incidents that wove together during the battle like a macabre tapestry.

In his review in The Post and Courier, Jonathan Sanchez writes:

In Rampage, the war is agonizingly and microscopically close: the enemy soldiers, the Filipino and American citizens, the American generals. We see what they eat, what they wear, how they survive, how they die.

The review in the Kirkus Reviews states:

In 1945, Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines as he had promised, wanting nothing more than a spectacular military parade through the streets of Manila. The Japanese commander of forces in the field, Tomoyuki Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya,” intended to oblige by withdrawing his soldiers from the city, but an admiral named Sanji Iwabuchi had other ideas. Defying orders, he commanded his sailors and marines to dig in for a house-to-house defense of the city, co-opting some army units in the bargain. With certain death their only option, Iwabuchi’s command embarked on a campaign of atrocities in which more than 100,000 Filipinos and foreign nationals were slaughtered, with orders that they be grouped to save ammunition and then disposed of by burning buildings and, with them, material evidence of the massacre.

In his review in the Wall Street Journal (requires subscription), Jonathan W. Jordan states:

Mr. Scott does one of the finest jobs in recent memory of cutting out the middleman and letting the participants — hundreds of them — tell their harrowing bits of a kaleidoscopic wartime tragedy. The result is an eloquent testament to a doomed city and its people. “Rampage” is a moving, passionate monument to one of humanity’s darkest moments.

On 2 November 2018, Bob Drogin, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, in his review:

Scott, who was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Target Tokyo,” focuses in part on the 7,500 or so Americans and others held as prisoners of war or civilian internees in squalid conditions, and their dramatic rescue by U.S. troops. Although some of those stories are familiar, he adds a heart-rending portrayal of the brutal life they endured.

Other books by James M. Scott include Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor, The War Below: The Story of Three Submarines that Battled Japan, and The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel’s Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship.

Only by the Grace of God now available!

Only by the Grace of God

Now available!

Former internee, Pamela Brink, has announced that her new book, Only by the Grace of God, is now available.  She and her family were interned in three camps during the War: Cebu, Santo Tomás , and Los Baños Internment Camp.

Pamela was only eight-years-old when first interned, but the book also includes the memoirs of her late brothers, Robert and John Brink. The family all survived the War and were repatriated on the M.S. Torrens, arriving in San Francisco on 15 May 1945.

The announcement at Amazon.com has this to say about the book:

Three siblings from the Philippines wrote down what they remembered about being imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II.

Pamela J. Brink, Robert A. Brink, and John W. Brink all survived the ordeal, but only one of them–Pamela–is still alive today. She shares their experiences in this memoir that recounts the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of children.

At age thirteen, John W. was the oldest when they were captured, and his account is likely the most accurate of all three.

Robert and Pamela’s versions are different as they saw everything through younger, more fearful eyes. All three, however, remember being overjoyed when they were rescued from the Los Baños prison camp.

When they were freed, everyone wanted to hear about atrocities, but their slow starvation could not compete with the horrors that Jews suffered in Nazi Germany. Most ignored their tales, and over time, they stopped telling them.

Three adults look back at their childhood experiences as prisoners of war, how they survived, and how they continued on in Only by the Grace of God.

Guerrilla Priest

Guerrilla Priest: An American Family in World War II Philippines

2016 book now available

Stephen Griffiths’ book, Guerrilla Priest,  is now available. Griffiths based his book on the unpublished memoirs of his parents, Alfred and Ernestine Griffiths.

According to the Dancing Moon Press website,

“Guerrilla Priest” captures a special moment in the history of the Pacific War: the formation of the first guerrilla resistance against the Japanese in northern Luzon, Philippines. Major Walter Cushing, Chief Puyao of the Tingguian village of Balbalasang, and Al Griffiths, an Episcopal priest, were key figures in this resistance. Guerrilla Priest describes the events that led to the ambush at Lamonan—disastrous for the Japanese—and the aftermath of that ambush for those who participated. The book also provides an intimate glimpse of the American colonial experience in the Philippines, its impact on the Tingguian people, and a portrait of Japanese soldiers and their commanders that defies stereotype. But perhaps most significantly, it tells the story of how a young American family—Al Griffiths, his wife Nessie, and their infant daughter Katy—managed to survive a horrific war.

Paperback copies of this book are available direct from the author: Stephen Griffiths. Paperbacks as well as eBooks are also available through Amazon.com or ordered through independent book sellers

Hell to Happiness — another former internee perspective

Hell to Happiness, by Patricia V.C. DennisIn late 2015, Australian Patricia V.C. Dennis released her memoir, Hell to Happiness : A Concentration Camp Childhood to a Life of Abundance. Patricia was known as Patricia Veronica Jones, when she was interned with her family in Santo Tomas. Currently available in a Kindle edition, the “book is a true story full of passion, hope and inspiration. International author Patricia Dennis shares what it was like to spend three and a half years growing up in a Japanese concentration camp in the Philippines. Having miraculously survived, she went on to achieve great personal and business triumphs. Patricia’s amazing story provides beautiful lessons on how trust, faith and self-belief can take you from Hell to Happiness.”

Patricia and her family were repatriated to Australia on S.S. David C. Shanks, leaving Tacloban, Leyte, on 26 March 1945, arriving in Townsville, Australia, on 5 April 1945.

Thomas Grover with granddaughters Patricia and Jacqueline Jones, who were released with their parents Australia, 1945

Thomas Grover with granddaughters Patricia and Jacqueline Jones


(courtesy of Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)