The Bar Mitzvah of a WWII Axis Internee by Martin Meadows – reposted

INTRODUCTION. The first order of business for a memoir such as this is to try to anticipate, and to answer, the most likely questions it may raise, in order to minimize any potential uncertainties and/or misconceptions. This Introduction seeks to do just that, dealing first with the title and then broadly with the memoir as a whole. Possible queries about the former, unlike the case with the latter, can be foreseen with specificity, for obviously they will pertain to the title’s individual words and terms; thus each of these will be clarified in turn. [Note: Anyone interested mainly in the event itself and not in terminological issues may wish to proceed directly to the next section, titled “Essential Prerequisites.”] [Note: First, though, a point of procedure to note — to avoid footnotes, only author’s names (and page numbers if relevant) are included in the text; full titles of cited works are listed at the end.]

To begin with, even the innocuous and seemingly inconsequential word “The” requires clarification. That is because, if “A” had been used instead, the phrase “A bar mitzvah” might have conveyed the erroneous impression that there were other bar mitzvahs that took place in similar circumstances. But there is absolutely nothing on the record to indicate that anything of the kind ever happened. Indeed, the mere idea of such a thing no doubt would evoke — from those familiar with the historical record — reactions of astonishment, incredulity, and/or even mirth. The fact is that, on the contrary, “during World War II, Jews interned in concentration camps were unable to mark their symbolic transformation[s] from children into. . . adulthood” with bar mitzvahs. [Quoted from ]

As context for understanding the term “bar mitzvah,” virtually all societies observe so-called rites of passage; these involve ceremonies indicating that certain individuals or groups are eligible, usually based on age, to pass from one status to another, often defined in religious terms. The bar mitzvah — Hebrew for “son of the commandment” — is the Jewish rite of passage, or “symbolic transformation.” Normally observed with a ceremony in a synagogue, it signifies that a male has reached the age of 13, or religious adulthood, and thus is now qualified to fulfill all the commandments of his religion. (For females, the equivalent term is “bat mitzvah” — a relatively recent innovation, dating to 1922.)

Next, the bar mitzvah of the title occurred in late December 1943, during World War II, or WWII. Some might regard the use of both “WWII” and “Axis” as redundant, but it is not — both are included in the title for anyone not familiar with the word “Axis,” and/or with the fact that it is associated with WWII. And as for the word “Axis” itself, originally it meant the Rome-Berlin Axis of 1936; however, since the Tripartite (or Berlin) Pact of 1940, it customarily has been used in reference to the military coalition formed by Germany, Italy and Japan. (They were later joined by five Eastern European countries; and they were formally supported by other countries they had overrun, where they usually installed puppet leaders.)

Last is the word “internee.” Like virtually every country in wartime, the Axis countries regarded as “enemy aliens” those civilians who were citizens of their adversaries, the Allied powers (led by the U.K., the Soviet Union, and the U.S.). As a matter of course, they imprisoned those enemy aliens, or internees, in internment camps (whereas military prisoners, or POWs, were placed in prison camps). In this particular case, the Axis country of the title was Japan, and the relevant internment camp was Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp, or STIC, the location of approximately 4,000 Allied (mostly American) nationals (its official Japanese name was Manila Internment Camp). But the identity of the Axis country leads to an additional question, this one concerning what is not in the title.

Because the Axis country of the title is Japan — or, more precisely, the Japanese Empire — there is one more matter that requires clarification. For an all-too-obvious question could be asked at this point — why use “Axis internee” in the title rather than “Japanese internee,” which would seem to be a much more logical, more accurate, and more descriptive term? There are no less than three compelling reasons for doing so — and all three are equally important.

  1. To make it clear from the outset that the cited bar mitzvah should be considered not just in terms of Japanese antisemitism, but rather of the broader context of Axis — i.e., both European and Asian — antisemitism. (However, the full significance of this point would become clear only in a comparison of the practices and the consequences of German and Japanese antisemitism; but such an analysis must be reserved for a future study, as it is well beyond the scope of this memoir.)

  2. To rely on that broader (European and Asian) context to highlight its particular significance for what is, after all, a Jewish ceremony; whereas with “Japanese internee” that significance might not be as evident, if evident at all. Too, that broader context serves, as noted above, to emphasize the distinctiveness — quite likely the uniqueness — of this particular bar mitzvah.

  3. To avoid confusing Americans (including Japanese Americans), virtually all of whom associate the terms “Japanese internees” and “Japanese internment camps” exclusively with those of Japanese ancestry who were interned in the U.S. during WWII. As former internees of Japan (including myself) can testify, Americans display bewilderment when they learn that those terms do not apply only to those of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. — they are equally descriptive of Japan’s WWII civilian camps and prisoners. The latter, of course, have always viewed themselves/ourselves as “Japanese internees” imprisoned in “Japanese internment camps.”
    (On the other hand, come to think of it, it could be rather amusing to use the term “Japanese internee” in the title, in order to contemplate the likely puzzlement that Japanese Americans would display upon learning that an apparent countryman — as they would infer from the term “Japanese Internee” — had undergone a WWII bar mitzvah, of all things.)

It should be emphasized again that hardly any Americans have ever known that during WWII Japan imprisoned about 14,000 American civilians throughout Asia, including some 7,000 in the Philippines. That ignorance exists because Americans have never had the opportunity to learn about the matter, and in turn that is largely due to U.S. government policy since WWII, as I have explained elsewhere. [Meadows (a).] On the other hand, Americans have been, and continue to be, flooded endlessly with material (some of it propagandistic, it could be argued) about “Japanese internees” and “Japanese internment camps” in the U.S. To underscore the confusing nature of the terminological issue, here is a rhetorical question: Given the American understanding of those two terms, does it follow logically that the civilian prisoners of the Japanese (who were not all Americans) should be known as “American internees” who were imprisoned in “American internment camps”? Merely asking that question instantly exposes its ludicrosity.

It is easy enough to expose the confusing implications of the terminological issue, but that does not answer the question it raises: what, if anything, can be done to resolve this problem? Two possible solutions come to mind. The more difficult one would be to publicize the nature of the problem as the start of a national campaign to reveal the long-unknown (even long-concealed) existence of the WWII American civilian prisoners of Japan. (Needless to say, this will never happen — not even if no other problems confronted the U.S.) The simpler (some would say an unserious) solution is one I will now proceed to implement, by henceforth referring to the Japanese as Nipponese. Some might regard that word as a pejorative; regardless, it will serve to make two key distinctions: (a) between the WWII (Nipponese) combatants and the supposedly “transformed” post-WWII (Japanese) allies of the U.S., in the cold war and presumably thereafter; and (b) between Americans who thus would become known as “Nipponese internees” imprisoned in “Nipponese internment camps,” and Japanese Americans who would continue with the terms “Japanese internees” and “Japanese internment camps.”

While the foregoing clarifications were intended to answer questions stemming from the title, this memoir as a whole no doubt will give rise to additional questions, particularly — given its subject matter — those regarding my attitude toward the Nipponese. In that respect, three potential questions should be mentioned at this point, all of which will be discussed in the Conclusion, where their answers will be more comprehensible.
The first question is whether or not my attitude toward the Nipponese — whatever it may be — is typical of (former) internees in general. Second, it might be wondered whether this memoir portrays our jailers in a positive light, since it calls attention to an unusual if not unique occurrence which could reflect favorably upon them. Third, and most broadly, it might be asked how this specific bar mitzvah episode can be related to the general issue of Nipponese antisemitism. To repeat, the Conclusion will deal with all of these matters.

And now, having set the stage via the foregoing questions — and (presumably) clarifications — we can proceed to the main event, starting with a review of the two major contingencies that required successful completion well before the bar mitzvah synagogue ceremony could take place.

Of the two steps required for the ceremony to occur, by far the most important one was to obtain permission for a one-day pass from the STIC commandant, who happened to be the very last of the Nipponese civilian heads of STIC. An earlier one (the Camp’s second), R. Tsurumi, apparently had been relatively “approachable,” but he had been replaced by what some internees thought was the strictest of STIC’s four civilian commandants, S. Kuroda, who took control on 1 September 1942, along with Akira Kodaki. (Hartendorp describes Kuroda, in part, as “hasty and fidgety and given to snap judgments.” Stevens says that Kuroda “caused the [internees’] Executive Committee considerable trouble.”) [AVH I, 258; Stevens, 369] However, the Kuroda-Kodaki team was replaced (no doubt fortunately for this narrative) on 1 October 1943 by Kitaro Kato, a career diplomat, who served until the Nipponese military took over on 1 February 1944. Kato “was in his fifties and spoke fairly good English”; he had been stationed in London when WWII began in Europe, he was interned there, and he said that his “conditions of internment had been ‘very, very nice’. . . .” [Stevens, 369; AVH II, 23]

Thus Kato was in charge when my parents submitted a request for a one-day pass (for 20 December 1943) to the internee-run Release Department (at that time still headed by its founder, Bert Holland). Its main task was to persuade the various (pre-military) commandants to grant releases and to extend — or not to rescind — releases. But there was a problem with my case, as it did not fall into any of the categories of those eligible to be considered for passes — namely, the aged, the infirm, the sick, children, and women at least eight months pregnant. There was absolutely no reason to grant me a pass, since I had no serious health problems and was not young enough to benefit from the reputed Nipponese fondness for children. Thus I have no idea why the application was successful.

However, I have a couple of speculative answers that may help explain the approval. For one thing, the application probably emphasized that the request had precedents in, and was similar to, the occasions when Jewish adults had been granted one-day passes to attend High Holiday services at Manila’s lone synagogue in both 1942 and 1943. In addition, it likely discreetly referred to the proposed ceremony as a religious confirmation rather than specifically as a bar mitzvah. [The second point is also noted in Cogan, 115] Whatever my parents did, somehow and against all odds it worked. About a week or so before my birthday, we received word from the Release Department that the request had been approved.

Here I must admit that it did not really matter to me whether or not the request was approved. I was perfectly content to remain in what by then was a nearly two-year-old rut — hanging out with pals, shooting marbles, playing basketball, and/or simply reading books borrowed from the Camp library. But indifference certainly was not my parents’ attitude; thus their elation over the approval was dampened by the one condition attached to it: only one parent — either one — could accompany me to the synagogue for the ceremony. Of course, that condition should have been expected; an entire family could not be allowed outside at the same time, to prevent any possibility of their escaping and going into hiding.

The second essential prerequisite, once the release had been approved, was to notify a member of Manila’s un-interned (i.e., non-enemy alien) Jewish community of the date of the proposed ceremony. That task was almost as necessary, in its own way, as was the release approval, because the ceremony required the presence of a minyan, or quorum, of at least ten adult males. Moreover, making advance notice even more urgent was the fact that my birthday fell on a Monday, when few if any temple members might happen to be present. Thus two additional questions had to be answered: could notice be sent out of the Camp, and if so, to whom to send it. Fortunately, there was still contact with the outside (which lasted only until the military took over in February 1944), so that was not a problem. That left the second and much less important question.

After I learned that my father had sent the notice through the package line, regrettably I did not ask about its destination, considering it a trivial matter. Now, however, nearly 80 years later, it is interesting to me to speculate about the likely recipient. On the one hand, the most logical potential recipients were three un-interned men who held the highest “official” positions in the Jewish community: Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, Cantor Joseph Cysner, and Egon Juliusburger, president of the Jewish Refugee Committee, which had been created to oversee an influx of some 1,300 Jewish refugees from the Nazis in the late 1930s. [E.g., see Harris] All three men were recent arrivals in the Philippines, having been among those 1,300 Holocaust survivors. On the other hand, my father might have preferred to notify one of his long-time pre-war friends; however, that alternative likely was ruled out by the facts that several of them were also interned, and that those who were not interned in effect were all “ineligible” to be contacted because of their personal circumstances.
[Note: Recently-acquired information about this matter is discussed below in the second SIDEBAR.)]

SIDEBAR. Primarily because of their extraordinarily intriguing histories and partly due to personal inclinations, this is a digression to list those “ineligibles” (friends of our whole family, actually), as well as to explain why they were otherwise occupied.

    • (a) Otto Rechter, an early escapee from the Nazis, had to care for his elderly mother. (As I have noted elsewhere, my parents and I had moved in with the Rechters as the invading Nipponese army was approaching Manila in December 1941.) [Meadows (b)]
    • (b) Louis Mazur (better known as “Mr. Louis”) was busy running the “Walkover Shoe Store” (located just off the Escolta, Manila’s “main drag,” where we usually bought our shoes).
    • (c) Israel Konigsberg, probably my father’s oldest Manila friend, was busy with his bookstore. (Before we left STIC for the synagogue, my father mentioned that he hoped we would have time after the ceremony to see Konigsberg.).
    • (d) Finally, there was mustachioed Joe Rice (see photo), who did not even live in Manila, but rather on his large farm in Marilao, Bulacan province (where we occasionally visited on Sundays). What I did not know at that time was that Rice had left his farm and had become a guerrilla in the anti-Nipponese resistance.

    [Note: The personal histories I am aware of — those of Konigsberg, Rice, and the aforementioned Cantor Cysner — are so fascinating that they deserve (and may well receive) separate coverage.]

Meadows at Joe Rice farm, July1953

At the Joe Rice farm, July 1953. My parents are on the left, and on the right is ex-STIC Paul A. Schafer, father of my fellow STIC teen-agers and great friends Paul E. and David Schafer.

THE BAR MITZVAH CEREMONY. On that late December Monday in 1943, the “cool-season” weather was seasonable as my father and I prepared to leave STIC — bright sunshine, temperature in the mid- to upper-80s, humidity bearable. It was mid-morning when we said goodby to my mother, left the Main Building and walked toward the Nipponese guardhouse at the front gate. There, we put on our red armbands, bowed to the guards and walked out through the gate onto Calle España. The scene looked much the same as ever, except that the traffic flow consisted of fewer cars and many more horse-drawn vehicles. During the war the latter conveyances — carromatas, carretelas, calesas — had demonstrated their superiority to the lowly automobile, having been unaffected by wartime gasoline shortages and/or lack of spare parts.

We did not have to wait long for an unoccupied carromata to stop for us. The ride that followed obviously was greatly enhanced by the novelty of being able to observe Manila’s sights once again, starting with the busy streets of the main business district leading to the Pasig river. Even the polluted Pasig looked good to me as we crossed it on the Jones Bridge. Then came the old familiar sights, such as Intramuros, the Post Office, the Metropolitan Theater, various government buildings, and then on Taft Avenue the iconic Art Deco jai alai fronton (which was to be lamentably and unreasonably demolished in 2000). Outwardly, at least, the city’s architectural features had not noticeably changed during the Nipponese occupation.


Jai Alai front on Taft Avenue, Manila 1950s

I did not have a watch, but my guess is that it probably did not take much more than an hour or so for the carromata, moving in fairly heavy traffic, to cover the distance (about four miles) between STIC and our destination on Taft Avenue (which the Nipponese had renamed Daitoa Avenue). Upon arrival, my father paid the cochero in the occupation-era currency derisively called Mickey Mouse money. Then, on time for the provisionally-scheduled noon ceremony, we entered the synagogue, Temple Emil.

[Note: Emanuel Maurice "Emil" BachrachThe synagogue was named for Emanuel Maurice “Emil” Bachrach, a Russian-born American. It is generally believed that Bachrach was the first American Jew to permanently settle in the Philippines, where he arrived in 1901. He soon developed extensive business interests, and financed the construction of the synagogue, which was completed in 1924. (Even my father, who arrived in the Philippines in 1928 in the U.S. army, worked for Bachrach in the early 1930s, and later established his own business, the Manila Office Equipment Co.)]

Temple Emil, Manila, 1940; Bachrach Hall on the right

Temple Emil, Manila, 1940; Bachrach Hall on the right

Seeing nobody in the temple, we entered the adjoining structure, Bachrach Hall, which served as a social site for the congregation. At once we saw that there was indeed a minyan of at least a dozen men gathered there. No women were present, nor was anyone of my age, nor do I recall that I personally knew any of the adults, except of course for the aforementioned Rabbi Schwarz and Cantor Cysner. (Before WWII Cysner had taught me to read Hebrew, and also had attempted to teach me to play the piano — in vain, but through no fault of his own.) My father of course knew several of the attendees, and the warmth of their greetings reflected the passage of the two years since they had last met.)

SIDEBAR. Relevant at this point is the aforementioned recently-acquired (since 2020) information concerning the question of who had received the notice my father had sent out from STIC. That information came from the daughter of a man who actually was present at my bar mitzvah ceremony. That man was Isidor Lippman Cassel, and his daughter is Lotte Cassel Hershfield; the Cassel family was among the 1,300 Holocaust survivors who, as previously noted, arrived in the Philippines in the late 1930s. According to Lotte Hershfield, Egon Juliusburger — the previously-cited president of the Jewish Refugee Committee — was the man who phoned her father (and others) to inform them of the need for a minyan for my bar mitzvah. [Hershfield] (But it remains unknown — and unimportant — whether the notice went first to Juliusburger directly.)
[Note: In his phone call to Cassel, Juliusburger seemed to imply that he was being watched by the Nipponese, for he advised Cassel “not to fear the Japanese patrol that would be observing” the synagogue at the time of the ceremony. Thus it is interesting to note that in April 1944 the Nipponese imprisoned him and members of his family after discovering a short-wave radio in his home.] [Hershfield; Ephraim, 120 ff.]

There was little time for my father to catch up on news of the outside, for not only did we have to return to STIC, but in addition he wanted — as noted earlier — to make a stop at Konigsberg’s bookstore on the way back. Despite the exigencies of time, however, the ceremony had to be delayed briefly, due to an overlooked obstacle — I had not read any Hebrew for more than two years, and I needed some practice before the ceremony could begin. To that end, my one-time Hebrew mentor Cysner provided some necessary assistance; and soon, with his patient coaching, I was able to (somewhat haltingly) read Hebrew text once again.

Cantor Cysner at Temple Emil, Manila,1940

Cantor Cysner at Temple Emil, Manila,1940

When the results of my brief (about five-minute) rehearsal met with Cysner’s (apparent) satisfaction, the ceremony quickly got under way. Rabbi Schwartz called the gathering to order, made a few introductory remarks, and then it was my turn (with Cysner hovering vigilantly at my right elbow). All went fairly smoothly (with the help of a few Cysner prompts), and the service was completed in short order, with a minimum of formalities; in fact, it was quite perfunctory, and of course necessarily so — and gratefully so as far as I was concerned. (And there were no “refreshments” either.) So, after a round of congratulations, we thanked everyone and said our goodbyes.

THE RETURN TRIP. We left Temple Emil, crossed Taft/Daitoa Avenue, and flagged a carromata for the return trip. My father decided that we had enough time to stop at Israel Konigsberg’s book store on the Escolta. In reply to my question, however, he explained why we could not make a short detour to see our (former) house on Calle Agno, one block west of Taft/Daitoa. In addition to the time factor, he said, we could not risk it anyway, because men at the synagogue had confirmed what we had previously heard in STIC — that Nipponese officers lived in our house. So, it was on to see our old friend Konigsberg.

Hyman and Dacha Meadows at the Joe Rice farm, December 1951, Konigsberg on the right

Hyman and Dacha Meadows at the Joe Rice farm, December 1951, Konigsberg on the right

The ride from the synagogue to Konigsberg’s bookstore was routine. We arrived there in mid-afternoon, probably around 2 p.m., which left enough time for us to return to the Camp by 4 p.m. as required. I noticed that the Escolta seemed to be less busy than usual, and that also applied to conditions in the store, where there were no customers at all; this was fortunate for us, from the standpoints of both privacy and time. Hearing us enter, Konigsberg quickly came forward to meet us. After effusive greetings, he and my father retreated to the rear for a private conversation, leaving me to browse through the store’s contents, as I used to do before the war.

SIDEBAR. The first item that caught my attention was not a book but a large magazine-type publication (though with firmer paper), about players in the National Football League. This subject would not have attracted me before the war, but in STIC I had become interested in sports, both as a participant (in a basketball league) and as an observer of various kinds of games. Anyway, my find was so compelling that I still remember the names of some of the included players, with each one’s full-page (black and white) photo on the left-side page, and his league statistics on the right-side page. It is perhaps understandable that I have always recalled those players who became big-name stars (e.g., future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman); but for some odd reason I have also remembered the name and photo of a long-forgotten player, Ken Strong, who was pictured in (posed) punting stance. Looking him up online, I learned that he was indeed a noted punter (and halfback), and I even found a 1935 photo (below) resembling the one in the booklet.

NFL player Ken Strong, 1935

NFL player Ken Strong, 1935

While browsing, occasionally I glanced back, wondering how long the two would talk, for it was getting late. Once I saw Konigsberg pass something to my father; as I learned when we were back in the Camp, it was a wad of Mickey Mouse currency. Had I known that, I would have been quite concerned that the front-gate Nipponese guards would find the money when we returned; as it is, I still do not understand why they failed to do so, and I never did ask my father where he had hidden the money.
[Note: I learned after WWII that Konigsberg had provided money to intermediaries for the benefit of POWS and internees as well as of guerrillas. When in 1944 the Nipponese discovered that, they arrested him, and he narrowly escaped execution.] [Ephraim, 67]

When Konigsberg and my father finally finished talking, they returned to the front of the store, fortunate that not one customer had entered to interrupt them. Seeing the NFL booklet that I was still holding, Konigsberg kindly told me that I could keep it, to my delight. We then said our goodbyes, left the bookstore, and hailed a carromata. The return trip to STIC was uneventful, and despite heavy late-day traffic we arrived there by 4 p.m. The ensuing inspection by the guards at the front gate was perfunctory, no doubt mostly because we were carrying nothing that needed to be inspected (other than the NFL booklet).

Back in the Camp, we walked up the driveway to the Main Building, where my mother was waiting anxiously to hear all about the events of the day. Then it was time to get in the chow line for the evening’s usual watery “stew.” Special for my birthday, however, that was supplemented by a dish combining rice with a can of corned beef, which was prepared in our “kitchen” — a small shack, located in the middle of the West Patio, among many other such units. The meal was an absolutely delicious luxury that could be afforded because we had heard that Red Cross “comfort kits,” as they were known, had already arrived in STIC and would be distributed in time for Christmas (a development that in time served to prevent many internee deaths from starvation).

Thus ended an event that, in light of the treatment that Jews received elsewhere during WWII, some might regard as an interesting and quite noteworthy occurrence. For it is virtually certain that, to repeat, this was the only instance during WWII when any of the Axis powers granted anyone permission to leave any kind of detention camp, however labeled — internment/concentration/prison — for a bar mitzvah. Whatever the case, it is time to present whatever conclusions/generalizations can be gleaned from the foregoing narrative.

CONCLUSION. This account will close, first of all, by providing answers to the three questions that were posed at the end of the Introduction. As noted there, any such answers should be more understandable at this juncture, and thus they should be better able to effectively dispel any uncertainties and/or misconceptions that this chronicle may have elicited.

The first question concerns the issue of whether or not my attitude toward the Nipponese, whatever it may be, is typical of (former) internees generally. Obviously I cannot know the answer to that; what I can say for sure, however, is that in no way was this memoir written with the thought, or even just in the hope, that it would reflect the attitudes and beliefs of former internees — nor, furthermore, is it designed to influence the views of former internees, or of anyone else, for that matter. In short, no broad inferences should be drawn from what is simply a purely personal report intended only for the record, as it were.

The second question is whether this chronicle serves — intentionally or not — to portray the Nipponese in a (relatively) positive light. How so? As specified earlier, simply by virtue of the fact that it calls attention to a little-known and unusual event that could reflect favorably on the Nipponese. That may be so, but facts are facts, and should not be ignored or concealed. In any case, the recounting of this episode is intended only to fully describe it and not to pass judgment on it — although of course such judgments by others may be unavoidable, whether positive or negative. Nevertheless, the answer to this question is unequivocally in the negative, insofar as intent is concerned — that is, no positive judgment of the matter is intended. Additionally, the validity of that assertion can be supported even apart from the element of intent, as explained in the final answer.

The third question (which in effect broadens the second one) is how this particular episode is, or can be, related to the general issue of Nipponese antisemitism. Ideally, this account should deal with the issue of why the Nipponese authorities allowed it to occur, despite the history of antisemitism in Japan [e.g., see Kranzler] and, more broadly, the genocidal antisemitism of Japan’s Axis partners (two factors that would explain why the event could enhance Nipponese repute, as just pointed out). However, such a discussion, to repeat, would be well beyond the scope of this memoir, which moreover would be inordinately lengthened by coverage of such a complex matter (although it is one I may tackle later). But then what can be said about this episode, apart from the antisemitism angle, to support the above assertion?

That assertion, to repeat, is that a positive judgment is not intended of the fact that the Nipponese allowed such an occurrence. The latter can be explained in large part by evaluating it within the context of two significant and related facts — namely, that STIC was still under civilian control at that time, and that therefore there were still in effect the policies allowing occasional internee releases (mainly for health-related reasons), the package line, and trips out of STIC by internee food buyers. Furthermore, the significance of that situation is enhanced — rather than negated — by the fact that it contrasts sharply with the one that would have prevailed had my birthday occurred just a few weeks later. For, to repeat, on 1 February 1944 the Nipponese military took complete control of the Camp and immediately imposed a total clampdown — no releases, no package line, no buyers’ trips, etc.

It could be argued, therefore, that the Nipponese grant of a pass to leave STIC for my bar mitzvah, regardless of its uniqueness and in light of the conditions just described, was not a radical departure from prevailing (civilian) Nipponese policy for the Camp — and thus, regardless of my intent, it was not necessarily deserving of commendation. On the other hand, though, considered on its own merits, the event certainly could be regarded not only as atypical but also as quite remarkable. Indeed, within the broader context of WWII as a whole, and particularly the genocidal antisemitism of Japan’s Axis partners, the bar mitzvah episode recounted herein undoubtedly was a singular one in the history of WWII.

Sources cited: